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Beauty Innovation & Leadership with Supergoop!’s CEO

Sunscreen, beauty product, palm leaf shadow, against yellow background. Amanda Baldwin, CEO of Supergoop! discusses the company's brand innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership, and current consumer trends.
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In this episode of TD Cowen’s Retail Visionaries Podcast Series, Amanda Baldwin, CEO of Supergoop! speaks with Oliver Chen, Retail and Luxury Goods Analyst. They discuss the brand’s innovation, distribution footprint, and future growth opportunities. They also discuss Ms. Baldwin’s views on entrepreneurship, leadership, and current consumer trends.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to Cowen Insights, a space that brings leading thinkers together to share insights and ideas shaping the world around us. Join us as we converse with the top minds who are influencing our global sectors.

Oliver Chen:

SPF for everyone every single day. It’s Oliver Chen here. I’m Cowen’s new platform’s retail and luxury analyst. Thrilled to be here with Amanda Baldwin. She’s the CEO of Supergoop. This is a visionary podcast series about visionary ideas and people. So what is Supergoop? It’s the first protective skincare brand that puts SPF at the forefront.

                We’ll discuss beauty trends, the future of skincare and growth opportunities with Amanda Baldwin. Who’s Amanda Baldwin? She’s the CEO of Supergoop where she oversees the company’s marketing sales, product development, operations, and finance divisions. Amanda’s a veteran in the beauty industry and she has experience from both an operating and investment perspective holding positions at Dior Beauty, Clinique, L Catterton and Apax partners. She graduated from Harvard and has her MBA from the Whartons School.

                Amanda and I also started the Wharton Retail Club together. So I’m thrilled to have her here now, and to see all the success that she has had. So, Amanda, what is Supergroop? How was this business founded? What’s your main role and strategies now?

Amanda Baldwin:

Well, first of all, thank you for having me Oliver. We do go back a long way. We both knew each other when our dreams of a career in the retail industry were just dreams. So it’s always a trait. So Supergoop is, as you said, the first and only lifestyle brand 100% dedicated to sunscreen. My job, my team’s job is all inspired by our visionary founder, Holly Thaggard, who had the idea to change the way the world thinks about sunscreen. That came from an incredibly authentic place of a friend who was diagnosed with skin cancer at age 29.

                Holly saw an incredible void in the market for feel good SPF that you would actually want to wear every day. That the sort of importance of change was going to be driven by product, and by creating a brand that people loved at a time when people usually ran screaming in the opposite direction when they heard the word sunscreen.

                I think that is the gift that we’re given every single day is that mission, is that sense of purpose of that sense of clarity. And really my job is been put a business strategy and a team against that vision, and to really be inspired by it every day and to take that really, really, really big idea, which still drives us and break it down into a strategy and bite size parts.

                Okay, well that means this year, we’re going to try and do this and next year we’re going to try and do that, and kind of make it something that we can build towards and really to hire and lead an extraordinary organization. I don’t do anything on my own. I have an incredible team, and we’re adding to it very, very quickly. That’s really what I do all day, but everything we do really comes from that incredible origin story.

Oliver Chen:

It is a dream that we’re here together and that you’ve also developed a category, a creating product. What does that mean? What’s been happening in skincare, and what is feel good SPF?

Amanda Baldwin:

Yeah. It’s really interesting. It’s the thing that I saw when I first sat down with Holly, and first heard her story. I was really inspired by remission, but I also really understood as beauty industry veteran that SPF is literally the number one thing you can do for your skin period, full stop, scientific fact. Yet nobody was really focused on it. The reason is because what we do is really hard. It’s regulated, it’s complicated, it is a product development, huge amounts of hurdles. I just got off a call with PD, and it’s just like there’s always a big challenge. We love that challenge, but I think most people would shy away from that.

                I think it took somebody from outside the industry to say, “No, actually I’m going to embrace that challenge head on. I’m going to do the hard stuff because I have to do the hard stuff.” I think that’s what I saw when I met Holly, was how incredibly important this was, how much we could actually sell a product as you opened up by saying to everyone every single day, and how important it was to be able to do that. That was a really big opportunity and that if we could do it and we could do it well, it was something that was really unique. I think that just doesn’t show up on your doorstep every day. That was the dream that I bought into five and a half years ago.

Oliver Chen:

At Cowen, we’re really focused on innovative brands and innovation. Supergoop has had a really unique approach to product development and the younger customer and transparency. Could you speak to some of those efforts, and how you think about innovation and your assortment?

Amanda Baldwin:

Yeah. I love this brand because yes, we sell goop in a jar. That’s where the word Supergoop came from, was the idea that the goop is indeed super, but we’re so much more than a just a traditional beauty brand. Because what we really are trying to do is solve a problem. All of our product development comes from, okay, well, somebody’s not wearing SPF. Why aren’t they wearing SPF? How do I actually create a product that’s going to change their point of view?

                The most fun that you have when you work at Supergoop is that you meet somebody who uses the product, and they’re like, “This is the one that changed my point of view about sunscreen.” There’s certainly some products that are best sellers and they have a huge following, but what I love is the sort of the long tail of the one that actually did something for someone.

                That’s really where we see the opportunity, because we certainly know that about… I’ve seen stats anywhere from 85 to 95% of people do not wear SPF on a daily basis. 85% of Supergoop users do. That’s a huge change in behavior. That comes by creating product that actually makes you sort of say like this is actually something that I want to do. It’s part of my routine. I know it’s like sort of the easiest thing you can do when you wake up in the morning is drink your glass of water and exercise and wear your SPF. Probably takes the least amount of time and effort of all three of those.

                So that’s really what drives our product development, is trying to figure out how to create something that puts a smile on someone’s face and that they really enjoy using. Our brand is about that too. I say we sell sunshine for a living. You don’t wear Supergoop if you’re going to sit on the couch and feel bad for yourself. You’re out and about even in the crazy world that we live in today, it is about sort of we say living bright, and that spirit of positivity and having the glass half full I think is really powerful I think now more than ever.

                The thing that I also really loved about this brand when I first met Holly was I felt it was a movement, not a moment. That so many times brands are built just for a particular moment in time. That what she had created was going to stand above that. I’ve already seen it as the world has shifted and changed many times. I’m sure we’ll continue to as I lead the organization and then we go global, and we’re in different geographies with different mindsets about product. There’s something very universal about our brand spirit that I think is really special.

Oliver Chen:

Amanda, I use the glow stick. Could you speak to your product portfolio? What are your hero products if that’s an approach you take in addition to how you think about breadth versus depth? A related fundamental question, what about distribution footprint direct to consumer versus great partners you have like Ulta, and Sephora?

Amanda Baldwin:

Yeah. Again, all this is so driven by the mission of making sure we’re changing the way the world thinks about sunscreen. So that’s a big idea, which means what we need a lot of different types of products. We used to say 40 plus. I was talking to my head of marketing team. I was like, I think it’s time to add… is to make it 50 plus. Like I said, you have some what we call proud pleasers that are really easy and adaptable across skin types and tones and lifestyle. Something like unseen sunscreen is an incredible gift to our business, and has a really universal appeal, because for a makeup wearer, it’s sort of this beautiful gripping primer. If you are a guy with some stubble, it doesn’t get sort of caught in the beard.

                Those are two very different consumers using the same product, but finding something equally meaningful in it. I think that that’s something really special about our product. Then we have some ones that are really unique, but they’re always driven by purpose ambition. So we make an eyeshadow, which the landed on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the top a hundred inventions of the year. Then the whole purpose of that product is that five to 10% of skin cancers are found on the eyelid. So how am I going to get SPF onto somebody’s eyelid? Well, I’m going to create this beautiful sparkly shadow. If you’re like me, that’s the thing that you walk around on a Saturday morning with always.

                So I think it really comes from a place, like I said, and obviously those skews play very different types of rules. One is about bringing somebody into the SPF family, and then something like an eyeshadow is really for the person that’s really already bought into this concept, but we need to service both. We even have a baby line because we found that our millennial, makeup loving millennial muse in Sephora was starting to have kids. What was she going to put on her baby when she was at that six month doctor’s appointment where they say it’s time to start wearing sunscreen. So I think we’re always driven by that consumer need and really kind of always trying to think.

                It’s an interesting thing because when you’re creating things that nobody has seen before, you’re listening, but you have to listen for signals and you’re not necessarily saying, “Oh, I can already see exactly what I have to go create.” That’s sort of the magic of the process.

Oliver Chen:

Amanda, what about distribution and engaging customer and building community through retailers or direct to consumer?

Amanda Baldwin:

Yeah. Look, as a business person, I’ve always believed that the consumer is going to tell you where you need to be in distribution. That’s really about saying like what is my brand supposed to do, and where is that consumer and trying to meet them where they are. Sephora has been an extraordinary part of our journey. We’ve been there for over 10 years. They met Holly when she was just Holly, didn’t have a team. She told me stories, the styrofoam presentation… the actual, like easels that she’d go and pitch on. It’s sort of an incredible story of backing a founder way, way early in her journey. It’s been an extraordinary trajectory for us with Sephora who were always being near and dear to our heart. We barely had a website when I started five years.

                So like DTC was this huge opportunity, and it’s been so fun to watch that business go from a few hundred thousand dollars to now a serious chunk of our business, and we’re launching globally. We just launched in Ulta about a month ago. So there’s still so much opportunity for this brand, but we really try and think about who are we servicing? Where are they in their journey? Are they at the beginning of their SPF journey? Are they already really savvy about it? What we’re seeing is that the consumer is certainly learning and learning quickly. As we look forward, we’ll sort of continue to say, “Where can we continue to find people who aren’t wearing SPF yet.” And help them understand why this is so important.

Oliver Chen:

Amanda, well, how do you think about price points and accessibility and balancing that to your consumer? How should we think about skincare and cosmetics? In many ways at Cowen, I’m seeing really the blurring of these aspects as well.

Amanda Baldwin:

Yeah. Price point very important to us. It’s very part of our strategy. It’s really from a philosophy of we make very high quality product. SPF, as I said, is complicated, expensive to manufacture it. It requires a high level ingredients. We’re making a clean formula with a lot of added benefits. But at the same time, I don’t want you to treat it in a precious way. We failed at our mission. If you just dab on a little bit, and you’re afraid to give it to your friends. So I want tube to be out at… if you’re at the beach and you’re sharing it, I want you to reapply it. I want you to apply it we say generously and often. That is the rule. So you cannot have a price point that is prohibitive to that. Over time, I hope that we’re able to service more and more consumers and we’ll see where that takes us.

                We have a play line that’s sort of better basics that really is designed for that. I think it certainly is an opportunity for us to go forward. Again, everything that we do in this brand is about like, how can we make sure that [inaudible 00:13:13]. We’ll know we’re done when wearing SPF is in the morning is like brushing your teeth. So we got a long ways to go. Look, when it comes to kind of how do we think about product and product sort of assortment, it’s very much again driven by servicing all of those people.

Oliver Chen:

What do you think about the categories, Amanda and cosmetics [crosstalk 00:13:32].

Amanda Baldwin:

Oh, yeah. So look, I think as we’ve now established, you and I have been at this for a while. I’ve watched the ebbs and flows of, are we in a makeup cycle? Are we in a skincare cycle? Like fragrances dying, fragrances back. So I would say I’ve just watched it come and go. I sort of know that there is some sort of like natural cycles to this that I think is driven by consumers, and honestly like when they open up their cabinets, what do they see? Oh my gosh, I have 10 face masks. Maybe I don’t need anymore face masks. I got a hundred eye shadow pallets. Then they kind of drain their supplies and then they come back. So I think it happens very naturally in the industry.

                I think that there are sort of natural demographic shifts that tend to drive that as well. So, I think the makeup cycle tends to come with that next generation, when they enter into the prestige. I’ve always been in the prestige care, but when they really enter into the category more generally, I tend to start with makeup, but go to skin. One thing that we’re seeing now is starting with skin earlier.

                So I think there are definitely some shifts that are happening there, but at the end of the day, the thing that also I loved about this brand is it doesn’t matter what cycle we’re in. If we’re in a makeup cycle, then that’s great by us because we’re going to figure out how to get SPF into a primer. If we’re in a skin care cycle, we’re going to talk about a moisturizer and we’re agnostic to that. That’s one of the things that I love about this business is that the cycles may come and go and I think they will continue to. You could almost see them coming although the world is hard to predict these days. But I think we’re kind of good no matter which way it goes. The only category we don’t play in is fragrance.

                So although that one has been really fascinating to watch that category explode over the past couple of years as I hear from my colleagues in the industry, and in a world that people thought maybe no millennial would ever wear fragrance again, and here we are.

Oliver Chen:

Yeah. Quite different to see the evolution of these categories in new ways get reborn. What about competition? You’re in a competitive sector, Amanda. So what really sets you apart? What would you say your core competition is?

Amanda Baldwin:

So I’d say a couple of things about competition. Our number one competition is people not wearing sunscreen. I fundamentally believe that. Our t-shirt says wear sunscreen. It doesn’t say we’re a Supergoop. If we do what we need to do every day, we are growing a pie. Now what happens when you grow a pie? What happens when you grow a category is many people take notice and they say, “Oh, well, that’s really interesting. Let me try that too.” That tells me we’re doing something right. If we were sitting here and I was five years into this journey and nobody else was interested in that, then we would’ve failed at our job.

                So, we’re having a lot of success, but that we are very aware of other people launching products in our category. But this is where 20 years of experience at formulate, our willingness to break down walls. The fact that we talk about this 365 days a year, and that it comes from such a beautiful, authentic place.

                We’re not doing this because it is a cycle or because it is all of a sudden cool, we made it cool. I was just on an NPD. They did this great sort of state of the union addressed to the beauty industry, and SPF is now cool. I will be so bold as to say that I believe that is because of this brand. That means we’ve done something really great for the world and that we really are changing a cancer that affects one in five people. That’s what we’ve got to stay focused on and just keep doing what we do better and better, which I really believe every time we launch a product, every time we launch a mark marketing campaign, we up the bar. That’s really where we have to keep our heads and our focus.

Oliver Chen:

Amanda, what about your leadership as a female CEO, and different aspects of the evolution of that? We both go way back, and have been in different industries together, and you were on Wall Street as well before. What are some things that you’d like to speak about as that relates to that side of you as an entrepreneur?

Amanda Baldwin:

So I’m always learning. I think leadership is you’re not born knowing how to do it. I think maybe one is born with some instincts and some inclinations and some desire for it, but it is a skill that I work to try and get better and better at every day. One of the really amazing things for me personally out of this journey has been that I’m leading a different organization, and a different team every time I turn around, because it’s scaled so much.

                What Supergoop needed from me when I started day one and what it needs for me as I look out over the course of the next five or so years, it’s going to be a different thing. That to me is really exciting. It’s daunting. I have to learn to lead in a different way, and that the things that got me here are somewhat valuable. But they won’t be the whole mix to get me from here to there I think.

                So I think I just try and be really authentic about it. I spend a lot of time thinking about it. Am I getting this right? Could I do it better? Reading, absorbing as much information as I can and trying to take the feedback when I get it from my team. I have a great team who tells me when I’m right, and they tell me when I’m way off. That’s really valuable to me. So I think some humility around it is really important.

                It’s interesting to me because I don’t know that I fully understood what that meant when I was starting. I think I looked at leaders as they had everything figured out, and they were sort of on a stage and saying all these really important things. I think I’ve realized that it’s a daily practice, and that it’s about the little decisions. It’s not just about the big speeches. It’s about the little decisions and how you are every day. I hope I get much better at it as I go.

Oliver Chen:

Amanda, you just brought up that topic of authenticity. What does that mean to you as a leader?

Amanda Baldwin:

I think it’s two things. I think it’s about really being very true to the business, and true to what you’re trying to… to me, leadership is about gaining some clarity about where you’re trying to go. Really thinking about that and seeing through… you’re thrown thousands of pieces of data every day and trying to distill that down into, okay, well, this means that we should go there. Sometimes that information changes, and you got to be like, “Okay, well, we were going there, but we’re going to adjust a little bit over here.”

                So I think a lot of what I do is about the authenticity of being true to the information in front of you, and true to the brand and true to like what you’re trying to accomplish. Then it’s about being true to your people. I think, gosh, this has been one of the… and now we’re on two years of some of the greatest challenges that I think any of us have faced. As a leader, when you really have to keep making decisions, there’s an authenticity that’s required of leadership at this moment. Because the information changes that much faster on you. Just trying to figure out what’s the best thing for the business.

                Then what’s the best thing for your people and how do those all come together. Just being really open and honest with people that you get it wrong because the information changes so fast and you make a decision. I hope it is something that comes out of this all as a silver lining is just an understanding that those of us sitting in my seat don’t have all the answers, and a willingness to sort of adjust and know that that’s actually a sign of strength to say like, “Okay, well, this changed, and now we’ve got to think about it a little bit differently.” That’s not a sign of weakness.

                That it would be a sign of weakness to be really stubborn, and to see the world change, and then to not change with it. So I think being real about it, and being okay with the imperfection of it, I think is something that we’ve all been taught.

Oliver Chen:

Yeah. Thinking about test, read, and react, that’s a huge principle, and innovating and the idea that you can embrace the right kind of failure. It’s part of the growing process. We also believe strongly disruption is opportunity. [crosstalk 00:21:58] innovate in many forms, where you’re synthesizing all the ideas in the new. One funny thing is like the mall was the original internet, and the mobile in the mall, the metaverse of the mall [crosstalk 00:22:10].

Amanda Baldwin:

Well, and it’s all kind of a variation on a theme when you think about it. I think the things that don’t change are sort of fundamental humid needs for connection, and self-actualization, and they just kind of come forward in different ways. It’s the thing that I actually studied when I was in college and kind of got me interested in the consumer world was really well, why do people do what they do in the first place?

                That curiosity is at the underpinning of everything that I do, and that I think about strategically. I think that it’s always fascinating to see how that evolves over time. But it’s kind of consistent in some of the drivers behind all of it. It’s just manifested I think in new, different ways.

Oliver Chen:

Yeah. I think what we think about is the cultural relevance and the evolution and the dynamicism of intersecting culture with brand. Also this idea of magic and emotions and logic. So your product is high performance. It has efficacy. But it also you feel a certain way in this world of consumer discretionary. You can have both too with the integration of healthcare and cosmetics and health and wellness where that’s an opportunity too.

                I know that you’ve listened to me a lot and taking my advice over the many years. What advice do you wish you had actually like five years ago, five to 10 years ago that you wish you had back then when you thought of now?

Amanda Baldwin:

Well, I’ll start by saying I always believe that everything happens for a reason, and that it’s all part of the journey. I would never wish for advice that would’ve saved me some of the challenges along the way, because I think I’m better for them. But I think that there’s something incredible about coming into a young entrepreneurial business. I’m very careful that to say I’m not the founder. I wasn’t here at the beginning. The stories I’ve heard about the beginning are incredible.

                But what I have learned is that the entrepreneurial journey is a wild roller coaster. I don’t think I knew that because when you’re in bigger organizations, that there’s much more of a steady pace. There’s sort of something established already that you’re shepherd being along. It can be really exciting to learn a lot from it, but it didn’t feel like a roller coaster in the way that you get when you’re in a young business. I think being comfortable with that, I usually find that one of the greatest things that I’ve learned in life is to embrace things for what they are.

                I think that entrepreneurship, and building something is a wild and wonderful roller coaster. Being prepared for that and expecting that maybe would’ve been good to know in the beginning. But maybe not knowing what I was getting myself too was the best thing that ever happened to me. So that’s probably one thing I would say.

Oliver Chen:

Amanda, as we close out the session, it’s been lovely to go through so many great topics with you. What’s the next phase of growth for Supergoop? What are some challenges and opportunities? If you have any closing remarks as well.

Amanda Baldwin:

Yeah. We’re at a really exciting inflection point for this brand. We just received an incredible investment from Blackstone Growth. We have amazing new partners who have surrounded me with some of the smartest, most strategic thinkers that I have had the pleasure of working with in my career. I feel like it’s day one again. I feel the way that I did when I showed up for the first week at Supergoop. I was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s so much to do. This is so exciting. There’s so much opportunity.” Okay, now what? I feel that way again.

                So as I look forward, again, like our true north, our mission that’s never going to change. We get to just do it on a bigger platform now and with a bigger audience and a bigger scale and we can make a bigger impact. So, I think as we look forward, it’s not going to change what we do every day. We just get to do more of it, and make a difference for more people.

Oliver Chen:

Well, Amanda, it’s great being here with you. Retail’s about dreams, aspirations, and performance, and execution and innovation, and also growth. This whole access of authenticity has been so important to our success, and what the customer and employees really care about. So, thanks for spending time with us.

Amanda Baldwin:


Speaker 1:

Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for the next episode of Cowen Insight.

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