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 firm 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 offered 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 firm, JMK Consumer Growth Partners. His goal was to make a handful of investments in companies with cult followings. Supergoop was a natural fit: 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 significant changes, the first of which pertained to geography. "The kind of people we need to have working with you on this brand, we are not going to find them in San Antonio," Kenney recalls telling her. Thaggard also knew deep down she'd need to open a New York City office, 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 floated 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 difficult 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 just hallucination."
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 associate at private equity firm Apax Partners, so she understood the dynamics of the investor-founder relationship.
In 2016, Baldwin became Supergoop's president and opened a New York office. This "second headquarters" now houses 30 employees; there are 12 in San Antonio. Thaggard credits her with bringing clarity and structure 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 recalibrating 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."