In Episode 14 of Earned, Conor chats with Amanda Baldwin, president of influencer-favorite sunscreen brand Supergoop!
Amanda’s background is nothing short of distinguished: she completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard and worked as an Investment Banking Analyst at Goldman Sachs, before earning her MBA from The Wharton School. Amanda has experience on both sides of the aisle, working in private equity at Apax Partners and L Catterton, as well as leading from the brand side at Clinique and Dior. In 2016, Amanda joined the startup world and became President at Supergoop!, a brand that has taken the beauty community by storm and helped make sunscreen fun—and a staple in influencers’ makeup routines. From January to September of 2020, Supergoop! powered $23.5M EMV from 3.7k content creators across 14.8k posts, representing respective 36%, 63%, and 100% year-over-year surges.
In the episode, we learn how Amanda, who won “most likely to become a Fortune 500 CEO” at Wharton, went from being an investor on Wall Street to falling in love with the beauty world—an industry she admires for being driven by evolution and innovation. Amanda emphasizes the importance of an “always be learning” mindset, and reveals what drew her to working at a smaller brand. We dive into mission-driven organizations and how Supergoop!’s mission to educate people about the importance of SPF is powerfully changing consumer behavior. Conor and Amanda also discuss Supergoop!’s marketing strategies and Amanda divulges why she prioritizes the brand’s internal culture as much as external brand operations. We learn a few of Supergoop!’s leading values, and Amanda shares how she aligns building a 100-year brand with short-term investment horizons. Finally, the pair dive into influencer marketing, and Amanda shares how Supergoop!’s team values human-to-human relationship building, while also compensating influencers for their work.
We’ve included a couple discussion highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, listen to the podcast below, or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“We need to be as thoughtful about culture as we are with everything else”: Amanda’s Approach to Cultivating Supergoop!’s Strong Company Culture and Values
Conor: Did you have pre-existing values outside of Supergoop!’s basic mission statement? Because for those thousand decisions that we're talking about here, you want to make sure that they are aligned on a consistent basis. Have you gone through that process, or is it something where the mission drives the decisions?
Amanda: It has been super deliberate. At the end of 2018, we had hired a lot of our leadership team and had some great people joining us, and I remember picking up my head and saying, I've been really thoughtful about our strategy, I've got a financial model that's a million pages long, I've got a product development calendar that we have more stuff than we know what to do with. We need to be as thoughtful about culture and how we operate internally as we are with everything else.
And so like any good startup president would, I started Googling, “How do you cultivate culture?” and I started reaching out to people, [which goes] back to this idea of “always be a learner.” I reached out to some people who held very senior roles in HR, and I talked to a lot of brand founders and asked, “How are you doing this? How are you thinking about it?” Whenever I have a new thing that I'm trying to figure out, I start talking to a lot of people and just try and listen. I've learned that you've got to just listen and try and see the patterns and everything. We couldn't afford to have a fancy firm come in here and do an off-site and all of those things, so I figured out how to do it ourselves. And we did have an off-site and we put together something and our wonderful copywriter made it sound fabulous. And it's something that we can go back to all the time and it's on the walls of the office. We've re-read it multiple times. So this way, when people are not in the office—we've actually come back and edited it in the last six months and said, “What of this is still true? What of this needs to be tweaked, and how do we make sure it still stays relevant?”
So we certainly have not left that up to chance. And I don't think you can. I think it’s easy to think you can. I think I might have thought that I could, and I've learned that just because it’s in my own head doesn't mean that it's in somebody else's, so getting very explicit about things is super helpful for people, especially as an organization grows. It was definitely a moment where I knew we were going to hire a lot of people, so what were those cues that we were going to look for as we brought on new team members so that we would kind of bottle up all the magic and never lose it?
Conor: So what are those values?
Amanda: I'll certainly share some of them with you. We say, “We are teachers and we are students.” That's our first one. That goes back to [Holly Thaggard, Supergoop! founder] being a teacher before she created this brand. We are teaching the world to use SPF. We’re also students, and we don't expect ourselves to always have the right answer. We can always change. We can always do better. We can teach each other new things, and we really want to empower people to be experts in their domain. That is a really important one. Another [value] that we talk a lot about is the importance of just being nice. Nice is never overrated. You can never regret doing the right thing. That's actually pretty powerful. Through all of the last six months, there's been a lot of talk out there about productivity. That's actually not my measurement. Our team is crushing it, they are super productive. But I look for happiness, I look for joy, I look for learning. Those are the things that get us up every morning.
“The greatest long-term stories were built on the back of long-term decision making”: Creating a 100-Year Brand in the Investment Landscape
Conor: You mentioned this 100-year brand concept that I know LVMH really stands behind. So for you, one of the things I've thought is interesting is you have this 100-year brand concept, but at the same time, you've been involved in private equity, and I would imagine that Supergoop! does have some investors as well. How do you manage those expectations in saying, “I want to build this for a hundred years. I don't want to build this for five, even though I know that's your investment horizon.” How have you navigated that? Do you find that’s a difficult concept to kind get them aligned with?
Amanda: No, because I don't think they are in a conflict. I think many people assume that if you might only own something for five years or seven years or three years or whatever it ends up being in a private equity portfolio, that by definition means you have to be shortsighted in your decisions. And I actually think it's the reverse. I think the greatest exits, the greatest long-term stories, those were always built on the back of long-term decision making, not making decisions minute-by-minute. Look, I'm lucky, I have a board and a founder and a support system around me that certainly share that belief and are aligned that they're not in conflict, but I think that it's a misconception that they pull in opposite directions. Because I think if you're really building equity value, equity value to your point is based on—look, the numbers are important. I started with the numbers. The Excel spreadsheet, that is still something that I think about, but there's things that don't go on a spreadsheet. There are things that won't fit in a spreadsheet. And those are the things that I think really create something special. And I think if you create something, the rest will take care of itself. You still have to hit your numbers every month, don’t get me wrong, but I see them as mutually reinforcing, not in conflict.
“These are not transactions, these are people”: Supergoop!’s Philosophy Behind Paid Influencer Partnerships
Conor: Let’s talk about influencer marketing. How would you describe your influencer philosophy? How do you work with the creators? Tell me a little bit about your approach.
Amanda: First it goes back to finding people that are better at it than I am. So I'll start by saying that. We've got a wonderful team who tells me what we’re going to do. But I will say a few things on top of that. One is relationships. It just goes back to our culture and these are not transactions. These are people, and this is their livelihood. This is their purpose. This is how they are expressing themselves to the outside world. So, we really think about it as, this is a relationship, and it’s about human-to-human contact. And tools are really helpful to help you meet the right person, but that's not what it's about. Our team really thinks about it that way, treats people that way, and interacts with them in that way. It’s a friendship, it's a relationship.
And yes, I'll be the first to say, we pay for when we need content that's very specific and in a certain moment in time, and we do that happily because I really look at it as, this is what their career is. How could I expect somebody not to be compensated for that? That's only fair. But it grows into a lot more than that. We have a wonderful founder who they can ask if they have questions at any time. We try to make things fun and create joy in people's lives. That really goes back to our brand, you know, really try to create education, create aha moments. I just don't ever want to see it as a transactional thing. And usually out of that comes more content and more exposure that maybe wasn't a part of the quote-unquote campaign. So I think it's like anything else, that if you really think about your story and how to communicate it to another human, then you're in good shape.
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode onSpotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts to catch up on our 13 other episodes, featuring brands like ColourPop, INH Hair, Ana Luisa, The North Face, and Huda Beauty.