In late January, Supergoop! celebrated the fifth birthday of their cult-favorite Unseen Sunscreen with a flood of social media content from beauty influencers and die-hard customers alike. Champagne, candles, confetti and cakes, shaped like the product itself, all shared in the cheery and fresh aesthetic the brand has made their ethos.
But how did Supergoop! founder Holly Thaggard and CEO Amanda Baldwin go about creating a category-defining, universally beloved product? Like many people faced with a challenge, they sat down and made a list: everything everybody hates about sunscreen.
“It’s sticky. It’s tacky. It smells. It has a weird white cast to it,” YPO member Baldwin remembers them jotting down. “We said, ‘let’s just see if we can cross off all the things at once.”
And then they did. Unseen Sunscreen is a clear, weightless, scentless oil-free makeup-gripping primer with a SPF 40 formula that protects against UV, infrared radiation and helps filter blue light. It quickly garnered rave reviews, selling out four times in its first year in 2018, and in 2022, Supergoop! sold an Unseen Sunscreen every 14 seconds.
“We’re a culture of builders, so our [Supergoop! team] often says things like, ‘Well, this didn’t exist before; I’m going to go create it.’ That’s the unifying thread behind all of us,” says Baldwin.
As a leader today, you’re not just leading an organization. You’re leading a group of people who exist within the business, but they also exist within a much broader world and they are impacted by a lot; those aren’t two separate things. So, it’s about striking the right balance, bringing everybody along for the ride, and making sure everybody is taken care of when the world changes on you. ”
— Supergoop! CEO Amanda Baldwin share
Thaggard and Baldwin’s tenacity and commitment to their cause are among the many leadership qualities that have earned them success — including a 2021 majority investment from Blackstone Growth — and accolades, such as being named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2022 National Overall Award winners. Earning top honors among 206 other U.S. regional winners (including YPO members, David Heath, CEO of Bombas, and Joe Kudla, CEO of Vuori), the award recognizes entrepreneurs who are building a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous world for all.
“I never grew up expecting this would be the path that I would take. So, it was this moment of acknowledging and recognizing myself in a little bit of a different way than I probably ever have,” says Baldwin of sharing the honor with Thaggard. “But it’s really about the team; it’s a win for everybody. Our mission is to change the world, so when you get a megaphone like this, it’s an amazing opportunity and it puts visibility onto our brand.”
Making the case for consumers
Thaggard launched Supergoop! in 2007 after a dear friend was diagnosed with skin cancer at the age of 29. A former teacher, Thaggard wanted to promote healthy habits early by getting sunscreen into public schools. She eventually pivoted and created her own sunscreen designed to be both effective and hassle-free, creating a new category: a lifestyle brand dedicated to UV protection.
“We really believe that we can change the trajectory of how people think about sunscreen,” Baldwin says of creating consumer behavior that did not exist before. “It’s not like we launched a new lipstick and we’re telling you ‘use ours over another company’s; it’s better.’ It’s more like, you’ve never heard of lipstick before and we’re trying to explain to you why it matters.”
This is where putting a megaphone to the message is vital, she says. But the branding of Supergoop! is nothing like a lecture about harmful rays. Rather it’s sunshine itself, using aspiration, bright colors and positivity – right down to the exclamation mark in their name.
Their message has been received. A survey from industry research firm Mintel found that nearly one-third of U.S. consumers aged 18-24 say they are applying sunscreen more in 2022 than they were one year ago.
We’re a culture of builders, so our [Supergoop! team] often says things like, ‘Well, this didn’t exist before; I’m going to go create it.’ That’s the unifying thread behind all of us. ”
— Supergoop! CEO Amanda Baldwin share
Today, the rightfully dubbed Experts in SPF™ have more than 40 SPF-boosted skincare and beauty products from bio-retinol treatment to eyeshadow sold in 12 countries through their own direct-to-consumer website and with retail partners such as Sephora and Ulta.
It’s easier to build a house if you’ve lived in one
When Baldwin joined the Supergoop! team in 2016, she brought an extensive resume working as an executive at storied beauty brands such as Dior and Clinique, as well as experience working in private equity.
“I worked for some incredible leaders. I was sitting in the room with them, watching and learning how they maneuvered through complex business decisions, how they communicated, and how they worked with internal and external stakeholders and their retail partners, she says. “All that I just absorbed. And there’s not enough discussion about that part of your career. That whole period is incredibly valuable.”
Working for and alongside such talent in the earlier days of her career gave her a frame of reference for success.
“When I met Holly and heard her story and what she wanted to create, I saw all the building blocks of what I had seen happen, but nobody had built it yet. … That doesn’t come along every day, and my bar was so high for what makes something really special.”
Now as an entrepreneur, Baldwin says she’s experiencing the many steps between the million-dollar business she joined and the multibillion-dollar business that she and Thaggard are working to create.
“It’s easier to build a house if you’ve lived in one, so I have a sense of what we need to look like at the end,” she says. “But putting all of those pieces of the puzzle together, and in what order and how to prioritize, that’s what I’m learning in the trenches.”
Turning obstacles into strengths
Unlike a lot of beauty products in the U.S., sunscreen is heavily regulated — something they are seeing even more as they work to get more Supergoop! products on additional international shelves. But despite the more complicated infrastructure and longer timelines, Baldwin says it’s more than worth it.
“We’re selling something that protects you from skin cancer — full stop. So [our products] should not be treated the same way that you treat blush; it’s just a different thing. So, I really respect the fact that [we’re] regulated. In fact, I sleep better at night, knowing there are so many checks and balances on what we’re doing.”
Baldwin also views the heavy regulations as beneficial barriers of entry for would-be competitors: “Doing something that’s complicated and hard to replicate is a good strategy,” she says. “And I think what makes it hard is what makes it great.”
Keeping culture a priority
Baldwin says it didn’t take long into her tenure to realize that what the Supergoop! team had assembled from product development to branding, was something special.
“I have to figure out how to bottle this up,” she remembers thinking. She spoke with other CEOs about how to create culture and quickly learned it was all about intention. “It doesn’t just show up. You have to be as purposeful about it as you are your strategy and product development.”
She also went straight to the source, interviewing Supergoop! staff about why they came to the company and why they stay.
“First, everyone had a story about why they cared. They were users of our product or they had a personal experience with skin cancer,” she says. “Then, it was a conversation about what it takes to be in a company where you’re building. This is not a company that is about the status quo; so, you have to love that.”
Baldwin says they’ve learned to give a lot of freedom to their team members, who have built up domain expertise and developed deep technical knowledge. For her, that means she focuses much more on the macro, with time spent on hiring decisions, staying abreast of geopolitics, the economy and what’s coming for the company and its strategy in the coming years.
I worked for some incredible leaders. I was sitting in the room with them, watching and learning how they maneuvered through complex business decisions, how they communicated, and how they worked with internal and external stakeholders and their retail partners. All that I just absorbed. And there’s not enough discussion about that part of your career. That whole period is incredibly valuable. ”
— Supergoop! CEO Amanda Baldwin share
And to make sure all the puzzle pieces come together on the day-to-day work she’s not close to, she has developed this exercise:
“I close my eyes and put everybody at a table. Is there somebody representing all the different points of view that need to be represented? Because not only do you have to make sure that those voices are incredibly diverse and real experts at what they do, but they need to feel empowered to go and do what they do,” she says. “At the end of the day, culture is a product of the people who are here, and how they interact with each other and how they interact with the outside world.”
She also realizes that things are a lot different than when she was coming up earlier in her career.
“As a leader today, you’re not just leading an organization. You’re leading a group of people who exist within the business, but they also exist within a much broader world and they are impacted by a lot; those aren’t two separate things,” she says. “So, it’s about striking the right balance, bringing everybody along for the ride, and making sure everybody is taken care of when the world changes on you.”