How to Start a Startup : Insights from The Honest Company

Smithers Apex: What are some of the biggest challenges in starting a business in the Cleaning Product Industry?

Brad Barron: Personally, I think the #1 challenge facing new brands in the cleaning industry is the deeply engrained consumer purchase behavior.  Consumers shop the aisle on auto-pilot and they buy what they know – products and brands that their parents used or that they’ve been using for years.  It’s such a low involvement category that it’s extremely difficult to break through the clutter with a new brand, especially when you don’t have the leverage to get impactful shelf space from retailers.  


Smithers Apex: What do think are some of the biggest trends among new startups in the cleaning industry? Ie: organic, convenience, etc. And why?

Brad Barron: Obviously, I think we are all seeing the major growth in the natural/organic segment of the cleaning market.  To me, this is just reflective of the new, modern consumer – they’re more educated and they understand the connection between the products they consume and their health.  It started in food, moved into personal care, and is now trickling into categories like cleaning where the products aren’t ingested or on your body, but simply around you.  I think this is just the beginning and the entire industry is shifting to serve these more educated and conscious consumers. 

I also think hyper-segmentation is an interesting way new brands are entering.  For example, Hero Clean is a brand that markets itself as building cleaning products specifically for men.  I think it’s so tough for a new brand to come in and target the masses because the space is so competitive and it’s difficult to have a meaningful point of difference.  I like going after a niche, serving that market really well, and then building on that success with future extensions that can serve larger audiences.


Smithers Apex: What are some of the biggest innovations going on in the cleaning industry, right now? Either within startups or just in general.

Brad Barron: To me, there’s so much innovation going on in cleaning, it’s going to be tough to narrow this down to just a few! 

I think robotic cleaning solutions are really interesting.  It’s all about making cleaning easier – people never wanted to spend 8 hours on a Saturday cleaning their home and now the technology is enabling us to do less to maintain a clean and healthy home. 

I’m also interested in how our clothing materials and the surfaces of the home are changing to enable easier cleaning.  For example, there are new coatings and textures being used on refrigerators so greasy fingerprints don’t show up.  As these surfaces evolve, there will be less need to clean as often, but also the need for brands to adapt and come up with solutions that work on these specialized surfaces without damaging them.

Finally, the growth of the cleaning service industry could be the most disruptive thing happening to the category.  With apps like Handy and TaskRabbit, cleaning services are at our fingertips and are extremely affordable.  Cleaning brands need to start thinking about that small business owner or commercial cleaning person that is buying the product.  They shop in different channels, have different values, and use the products in different ways.  We need to develop products that suit their needs and marketing messages that speak to them.


Smithers Apex: What are you most looking forward to hearing at Cleaning Products US, this year?

Brad Barron: Personally, I’m really interested in the sessions on fragrance.  I see fragrance playing a much larger role in the consumer’s purchase decision, but it is also one of the product components that could be most irritating and sensitizing to the consumer.  I’m excited to hear how the fragrance houses are addressing issues like ingredient transparency and building more plant-based fragrances that smell just as complex and balanced as synthetics.

I’m also looking forward to the session on waterless cleaning as I believe water scarcity may be the most important issue facing our generation.  I’d love to learn about new ingredient technology that can enable waterless cleaning so that marketers like me can start working to educate the consumer and change behavior.  It’s going to be a LONG process (concentrates have taken 10+ years and still aren’t widely accepted), but the more water we can eliminate from cleaning the better – costs go down, environmental impact goes down, and we can get products to the consumer with less hassle and damage.