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Founder Stories: Supergoop ☀️

Head West Team
Updated February 1, 2024

How Supergoop founder Holly Thaggard started a $600M+ sunscreen empire

Supergoop's Tech Stack:

Ecommerce: Shopify  (switched from WooCommerce in 2018) [✅ our recommended eCommerce platform]

Email: Klaviyo [✅ our recommended email marketing platform]

SMS: Attentive [read our guide on SMS marketing platforms]

Influencer marketing: Grin

Customer support: Gorgias  [✅ our recommended customer support platform]

A/B testing: Dynamic Yield

Personalization: Nosto

Marketing automation: LiveRamp & AtData (Rapleaf)

Analytics: Peel

Heat maps: Hotjar

Returns: Loop

Back in Stock: Back in Stock

Reviews: Yotpo [read our guide on reviews platforms]

Site search: Algolia

Subscription: Recharge

BNPL: Afterpay

Retargeting / Display Ads: Criteo

Social commerce: Howl (Narrativ)

Podcast analytics: Spotify Ad Analytics (Podsights)


Holly Thaggard grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a child of entrepreneurial parents. Her mother was a successful portrait painter and her father ran an industrial machinery business. From a young age, Thaggard was drawn to performance and business. She started playing piano in second grade, then switched to the harp in fifth grade, dazzled by its uniqueness and potential. She thought if she could become good at the harp, there would be a lot less competition. By high school, she was performing as “Holly the Harpist” at events around town, charging impressive rates ($100 per hour). Great money for a ninth grader.

Thaggard studied music at Louisiana State University but found herself more interested in performing than academia. After graduation, she moved to Dallas and built a thriving business as a professional harpist, playing at country clubs, weddings, and corporate events. Throughout her performing career, Thaggard honed her sales and marketing skills, sending personalized letters to potential clients and carefully raising her rates over time.

The Idea

In her late twenties, after meeting her future husband Ty, Thaggard began winding down her harp business to start a family.

Holly and her husband Ty

But an unexpected blow came in 2005 when a close friend was diagnosed with skin cancer. Thankfully, the friend survived, but Thaggard realized that skin cancer results from cumulative sun exposure over a lifetime, not just occasional beach trips, and became determined to make daily sunscreen use a social norm. She read a study from Memorial Sloan Kettering that said 70% of people don’t wear sunscreen regularly, and the number one reason why was because it didn’t feel good on their skin.

Thaggard’s original plan was to install large sunscreen dispensers in schools (like hand sanitizer dispensers) and promote daily sunscreen application through an educational curriculum. She began to learn everything she could about the sunscreen industry. She learned there was a national sunscreen symposium, and she reached out to every chemist that was speaking at the event to pick their brain about sunscreen.

She learned there were two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. UVB rays cause the burning of your skin and the changing of its color and UVA rays which cause aging and penetrate deeper into the skin and cause skin cancer. She learned that UVB rays are present in all seasons and no matter the weather (even on cloudy days).

Her goal was to create a sunscreen without the controversial ingredients oxybenzone, propylene glycol, parabens and a handful of other ingredients she had identified as potentially harmful. Most chemists told her it wasn’t possible.

Through the sunscreen symposium, she eventually found a California based chemist who believed in her vision and thought her idea presented an interesting challenge. They were willing to work with her pro bono to develop a formula that met her criteria.

She spent two years working with the chemist to develop a formula free of the controversial ingredients like oxybenzone that had a feel and texture that would make someone want to apply it. They would mail samples to Holly via FedEx, and Holly would give feedback on each sample. Holly began informally referring to the samples as ‘goops’. She would ask her friends and family to test the new ‘goop’.

Most manufacturers used oxybenzone to achieve a sunscreens protection because it was cheap. Holly and the chemist found the more expensive ingredient avobenzone could be just as effective.

After 15 or 20 iterations of the product, Holly finally received a formula she was happy with. It felt great on the skin and was also effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays (SPF 50). She was so excited to have landed on a final version, she exclaimed, “This is super!”. At that moment, she realized she had both the final product and the brand name “Supergoop”. Her ‘goop’ was ‘super’ compared to all the other sunscreen products on the market.

The launch

Holly now has the formula and a name for her product. She designs the original logo for her sunscreen (which remains largely similar to this day) herself in Photoshop based on her handwriting. The next challenge is to get it into schools.

The coming soon page for Supergoop

However, Thaggard soon discovered that as an over-the-counter drug, sunscreen is actually prohibited in many schools across America. Undeterred, she decides to pivot her strategy and focus on private schools where the rules aren’t as strict. She uses skills she learned from listening to Zig Ziglar tapes with her father and from her previous harpist career to pitch her idea to private schools across Dallas.

In order to afford their inventory, Holly maxed out her Amex credit card reaching its $30,000 limit. She also didn’t have a warehouse at the time, so she convinced her manufacturer to warehouse the product for her.

Despite her best efforts, Holly realizes the strategy of getting sunscreen into schools isn’t going to scale, so she decides to pivot again into retail. She begins attending trade shows and pitching her product at kids focused retailers. The business is doing about $45k a year and one Thanksgiving Holly asks her dad for a $25k loan to keep the business afloat. 

Holly in an early Supergoop office

At this time she receives a chance call from the skincare buyer at Sephora - Kim Holt. Kim had been shopping at Giggles, a now defunct children's retailer and purchased a tube of Supergoop. She liked it so much they called up Holly who at the time had her personal phone number on the back of the Supergoop containers. She advised Holly to get more press for her new brand if she wanted to be carried in large retailers like Sephora.

An early version of the Supergoop website

At a Las Vegas trade show, Holly strikes up a conversation with a nearby vendor who turns out to be Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby. At the time, Holly had been trying fruitlessly to land PR representation. After one phone call from Roxanne, Holly gets representation from the top NYC PR firm - Berman Communications. They are only making $45k at the time, but Holly commits to a 12 month retainer with the PR firm at $8k per month ($96k total). 

This leads to press mentions in key outlets and helps land Supergoop in Barneys New York and positioned her sunscreen as a prestige skincare item. Revenue grows from $45k in year one, to $150k.

Supergoop Vanity Fair Roundup

In 2010, Holly decided to call the Sephora skincare buyer who had previously contacted her. Holly doesn’t reach her but leaves a voicemail telling her that she will be in San Francisco and would love to meet. She doesn’t hear from the buyer but flies to San Francisco anyway. Late that night she gets a return phone call from the buyer who asks Holly to come in the next morning and pitch in the Sephora offices. 

Her father had always taught Holly to do things in twos. He said the best time to accomplish something is right after you’ve accomplished something, so Holly decides to contact the Nordstrom buyer right after her Sephora meeting and pitch Supergoop.

At this time, Holly and her husband are tapped out financially. Thankfully, her younger brother, a successful New York entrepreneur, is willing to invest $750k into the fledgling business.

Holly and her brother Stephen

After the investment, the Sephora buyer who had been silent since their meeting calls her back and says that they want to carry Supergoop but only for 12 weeks in the summertime. This goes against the everyday, all year ethos of the brand and Holly pushes back. They agree to a smaller shelf presence (only 6 inches), but to offer Supergoop year round.

In 2011, they launched in all Sephora stores and 47 Nordstrom stores. She also launches a new innovative product - sunscreen wipes. An easy way to reapply sunscreen on-the-go.

When shelves were repeatedly sold out of the wipe product, she personally restocked Sephora locations, sometimes directly handing product to sales associates. This “reverse shoplifting” illustrated Thaggard’s scrappy determination to make her products ubiquitous.


In 2011, the brand hit $600k in sales, and they doubled or more than doubled in each subsequent year. 

Holly goes on to raise a $2M friends and family round of financing which includes the tennis star Maria Sharapova. She had found the product at Sephora and it was the only one she was able to compete in because it didn’t burn her eyes when she sweat.

Maria Sharapova with Supergoop

Holly built out her team, hiring Amanda Baldwin as brand president to manage day-to-day operations. The company reached profitability and did a reported $20M in sales in 2017 and doubled to over $40M in annual revenue in 2018.

While the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges, Thaggard pushed ahead, expanding into new markets like Sephora Canada. She also finally achieved her original mission, as many states now allow sunscreen in schools. Through tireless advocacy, Thaggard made sun protection part of the everyday health and beauty routine for millions worldwide.

The Exit

In 2022, Supergoop did $250M in sales, a 65% YoY increase from 2021. After bootstrapping Supergoop for over a decade and slowly building it into a leading sunscreen brand, Holly decided to sell a majority stake in Supergoop to private equity firm Blackstone.

The sale reportedly valued Supergoop at $600-700M. This provided the growth capital and resources Holly needed to scale Supergoop more quickly into new markets globally, while still maintaining her vision. Blackstone gave Supergoop the capabilities to accelerate international expansion, navigate regulatory requirements abroad, and validate the strength of the brand Holly had built. Holly and current CEO Amanda Baldwin retained significant equity ownership after the transaction.

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