The Role Change
She didn’t know she
wanted an investor—
or a diferent position
in her own company.
Holly Thaggard wasn’t looking for help for her San
Antonio–based, kid-friendly sunscreen company,
Supergoop. Being open to ideas, though, she met with
lots of people. “I just took all those meetings. Investors wanted to get to know us. We were not obviously
raising capital in a formal round at the time,” she says.
One of those meetings was with John Kenney, a partner at San Francisco–based private equity frm TSG
Consumer Partners. By the end of their conversation,
in late 2012, she had an investor.
Supergoop’s sunscreen sales amounted to about
$1 million—not enough to interest TSG. Instead,
Kenney ofered to put up $100,000 of his own money.
A sucker for an impassioned founder story, he was
drawn to Thaggard’s verve and mission to protect
people of all ages from cancer-causing UV rays.
In late 2013, Thaggard learned the 20-year
PE veteran was leaving TSG to start his own frm,
JMK Consumer Growth Partners. His goal was to
make a handful of investments in companies with
cult followings. Supergoop was a natural ft: JMK
invested $4 million of a $6.5 million round in
Supergoop, in 2015.
The day after the deal closed, Kenney and JMK
co-founder Sarah Woelfel met with Thaggard in
New York City to hammer out a growth plan. Kenney
proposed two signifcant changes, the frst of which
pertained to geography. “The kind of people we need
to have working with you on this brand, we are not going
to fnd them in San Antonio,” Kenney recalls telling her.
Thaggard also knew deep down she’d need to open a
New York City ofce, and agreed.
But the second major change was something she
hadn’t anticipated—new leadership. “What makes founders so great as entrepreneurs only very rarely makes them
the best person to run a business once it gets into the tens
of millions of dollars,” Kenney says. “Their experience is
not around process.” He foated the idea of recruiting a
president to run the company day to day so Thaggard
could manage product innovation and general evangelizing. “You carefully prepare for that, and are candid that
it’s not about taking control of the business,” he says.
Thaggard took the advice in stride, but the idea was
difcult to process. Eventually, though, the notion became
liberating. She knew her strengths were product intuition
and sales—not ops management. “Not only am I not good
at it, but I’m actually uninterested in it as well,” Thaggard
says. “I came to realize that
vision without execution is
Kenney and Woelfel
helped direct the executive search, which led to Amanda
Baldwin, who had run retail strategy for the Dior brand at
luxury goods company LVMH. She’d also been an associ-
ate at private equity frm Apax Partners, so she under-
stood the dynamics of the investor-founder relationship.
In 2016, Baldwin became Supergoop’s president and
opened a New York ofce. This “second headquarters”
now houses 30 employees; there are 12 in San Antonio.
Thaggard credits her with bringing clarity and struc-
ture to Supergoop. “She is the glue that holds all the
leaders of our team together,” she says.
Supergoop sells online and in stores such as
Sephora, Nordstrom, and Bluemercury, and it generated
$40 million in revenue in 2018. Thinking back, Thaggard
is struck by how a casual conversation ended up recali-
brating Supergoop’s trajectory. “I cannot tell you how
fortunate I feel to have met John,” she says. “It’s almost
like having a new high-level person on the team—who
doesn’t get a salary.” —CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN
She had to ask herself: What
do I do best? The answer
proved to be liberating.