JAKWELLNESS12 Week 11: Q&A With Supergoop! Founder, Holly Thagard

This week’s JAKWellness12 Career post is an interview with Supergoop! Founder, Holly Thagard. I am so inspired by Holly’s story and how she has managed to completely disrupt the sunscreen industry as an entrepreneur. Inspired to start Supergoop! after a close friend was diagnosed with skin cancer, Holly had to change her business model after realizing her initial plan wasn’t feasible, but that didn’t stop her from creating a massively successful sunscreen brand that is now sold in major retailers across the country. You guys know how much I love Supergoop! I’m so honored and thankful Holly took the time to answer some questions about entrepreneurship, standing out as a candidate and how to find time for yourself as a business owner. If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments! Check out last week’s interview with Lindsay Need, Talent Manager and founder of Parker Management, here.

Q&A with Supergoop! Founder Holly Thaggard

J: Was there a specific business decision/moment that was a turning point for Supergoop! making it into the recognizable brand it is today?

H: Despite the fact we haven’t always had a big marketing budget, our brand has consistently had strong year over year growth.  I’ve always believed in pouring my time and capital into investing in product.  We’re trying to change the way the world thinks about sunscreen so product is everything.  My personal focus has always been on creating unique, clean, feel-good ways to deliver SPF to the skin so that people want to apply SPF every single day. 

In late 2015 I took a step back to reflect on our growth and map out how we were going to continue scaling at this pace.  Being as SPF-obsessed as I am, I knew that product and mission should always remain my focus –these are two things I am uniquely qualified to do as a brand founder.  But I realized that I could sure use help in building and leading a team and running the day-to-day operations, finance, sales and marketing of the brand.  My brother, who is a significant investor in Supergoop!, has also always been my sounding board and together we agreed to go out in search of a President. 

Eight months later in the Fall of 2016, we had an agreement in place with Amanda Baldwin who, at the time, was on the operating team of LCatterton but also had a background in the beauty industry at LVMH and Estee Lauder. She was also a young mom which was never a requirement, but I felt like it was a big plus for the role.  This would be her first position as a President and Stephen and I were 100 percent certain she was the perfect fit to work alongside me and fortunately she felt the same about us!

Amanda and I quickly together set out to strengthen our retail partnerships and build an A+++ leadership team that could then build out the team underneath each of their positions.  When everything and everybody clicks, things just start working and the coming 12-24 months was definitely a big turning point for Supergoop!.

As a founder and an entrepreneur, I believe it’s critical to identify your strengths and not be too proud to ask for help. I’ve always loved to create and start projects alone but I’ve also never hesitated to ask for assistance and advice.  Team is everything and it can make a real difference in the awareness of a brand.

J: When launching your business what was your biggest mistake/regret?

H: While I have made lots and lots of mistakes, I have no regrets as everything that has happened in my career is part of our very special Supergoop! brand story that is unique to us.  I believe whole-heartedly that everything happens for a reason. 

For example, I went to college to become an elementary school teacher.  After my first year of teaching third grade I realized I felt totally claustrophobic being in one place all day long.  Little did I know my time in an elementary school was later what I reflected on when my friend was diagnosed with skin cancer.  I never once noticed a tube of sunscreen on school campus despite the fact children were outdoors playing during peak hours of UV exposure. 

I turned this into an opportunity to create a fun and playful SPF brand full of spirit.  I spent my first two years of building Supergoop! pounding the pavement of elementary school classrooms.  I quickly learned sunscreen, as an over-the-counter drug, was prohibited on school campuses and after much effort trying to change these antiquated laws that existed I knew I had to pivot to retail.  After this experience I often thought those years were wasted time.  Only recently have I realized they were not a waste but rather the timing just wasn’t right. 

Fast forward ten years and now through our giving program, Ounce by Ounce, we’re able to fund Supergoop! in school classrooms across America which is something we couldn’t have done without strong retail partners in place.  It’s pretty exciting to me as we prepare to ship to over 1,000 classrooms in America this year.  And I now realize I’m still teaching, just not confined to the four walls of a classroom.

Entrepreneurship, in particular, can be crazy and it can be a very difficult path but I believe all things will fall into place when the timing is right.  If you want to create something great you must stay focused and continue on no matter what comes your way.   

J: What advice do you have for someone applying for a job? What do you think makes a candidate stand out? 

I’m always impressed by candidates that have spent time building their own brand and investing in themselves throughout their career.  Nothing turns me off faster than to look at a candidates LinkedIn profile, or scroll through their social channels, and realize they have no direction and/or haven’t taken time to make connections in life that are meaningful or worse, even update their personal profile.  LinkedIn is an essential personal branding tool and one that helps us learn about others, their interests and priorities. 

J: What’s your number one piece of advice for someone starting their own business?

H: Once you’ve made the decision to devote your life to making or creating something that you feel matters or something that hasn’t been done before, trust yourself.  Don’t ask too many people for their thoughts or opinions.  I had no focus groups. 

The world wasn’t ready to hear about SPF back when I started Supergoop! in 2007.  We were the first chemical sunscreen in the world to be formulated without oxybenzone and a paraben-backed preservative system.  Bringing a clean chemical formula to market was something I was passionate about but even the chemists I spoke with were discouraging.  Friends and family didn’t understand why this was important to me.  Looking back now I was a little ahead of my time, but I was also teeing our brand up nicely for what is important today.

J: I was blown away that you were responding to comments and interacting with people on one of my Instagram photos about Supergoop! How do you find balance as a Mom and CEO? How do you make time for yourself and your family while running a major company?

H: Ha!  Did I mention I’m genuinely SPF-obsessed?  I can’t help but be interested in all things Supergoop! but finding a balance is also important to me, particularly as I’ve gotten older in our brand and I realize how important it is to enjoy the journey.  As packed as my schedule is while traveling, I make it a point to hit my Soul-Cycle classes, schedule dinners with friends & family, and even my spa/massage appointments so that I come back refreshed and not exhausted, as travel will sometimes do to your body.

Even doing that I still feel it’s a work in progress and I’m always trying to figure out how to balance work/family better.  Last year I asked Emery, our thirteen-year old daughter, how I was doing as a mom and she quickly responded that she and her brother already know they need to wear sunscreen every single day, I needed to get out there and tell the rest of the world.

6 Comments

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  1. Allie says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share with us! I live in South Florida and am obsessed about making sure I always have SPF on. Seeing people around me have spots removed starting at a young age is terrifying. It’s amazing how much people still kill their skin to get a tan, so thank you for creating a brand that works and makes skincare cool. xAllie http://www.theallthatglittersblog.com

  2. Meg says:

    While I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in northern climes, wearing sunscreen, and working long hours indoors, I felt the need to double down on the SPF midway through my 30s when, even having been relatively good about sun protection, I was still seeing some sun-related aging. I’m using SPF 40 or 50 daily now, and it makes a huge difference. I love that Supergoop! products cover evenly, last well, don’t irritate my hypersensitive skin, don’t smell too sunscreeny, and truly provide the protection they promise. Thank you for sharing more about your company!!

    • Jessica says:

      That’s so great to hear. I agree, it took me forever to find a good sunscreen that didn’t make me break out or irritate my skin when wearing it everyday.

  3. Clarie says:

    I just felt we two are sitting and talking to each other while I was reading your post. I loved your style.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    This was fantastic! As an orientation and mobility specialist working with kids, I am always outdoors! I am now paranoid about what the sun is doing to my skin and I’ve been on the hunt for a better lip and skin sunscreen! Making a big purchase now!!

    • Jessica says:

      It has been a game changer for me. I never leave the house without wearing it! Hope you find some products you love.