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A Conversation with Supergoop! CEO Amanda Baldwin

Many entrepreneurs want to understand the keys to getting funding and growing small businesses into multi-million-dollar global brands. For the newest Leadership Lessons episode, Comparably CEO/Co-founder Jason Nazar enlisted an expert with experience working for GoldmanSachs on Wall Street and as a former investor for L Catterton, the world’s largest private equity firm for consumer brands. She was also an executive for global luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moett Hennesey (LVMH) and Estee Lauder. Amanda Baldwin utilizes her deep brand knowledge and investor’s eye to her current role as CEO of Supergoop! where she has created value and scaled the beauty brand profitably.

Baldwin has guided the category-defining influential beauty brand through an unprecedented era of growth since joining in 2016; revenue doubled in 2018 with 400 percent year-over-year e-commerce sales growth. Its DTC business more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, with sell-out success at Sephora, Nordstrom and Blue Mercury. As the first and only lifestyle brand dedicated to UV protection via ingredient-conscious, first-to-market SPF innovations, Supergoop! has earned multiple industry accolades, including Allure’s “Best of Beauty” list seven years in a row, four CEW Beauty Awards, and TIME Magazine’s 2019 Best Inventions.

“I’ve really fallen into a place where I feel like the demands of the job are 100 percent aligned with what I’m best at,” Baldwin tells Nazar during the spirited conversation. “That doesn’t mean that there won’t be more iterations along the way, but I’ve come to this place where running a consumer brand that’s in a high growth situation is playing to the things that I’m passionate about, and also plays to my strengths.”

These are 10 leadership lessons from this talk with Amanda Baldwin, including how this first-time CEO built her identity from the best parts of her mentors to how a chief executive is never done learning:

1) Always remember your mission when making strategic decisions. A mission is not just something floating out there in our best thoughts; it’s a skeleton key or a Swiss Army Knife that can get you where you need to go on the most important days of your working life. “When you’re making strategic decisions, go back to that mission and ask yourself, ‘Is this in service of the larger mission?’” Baldwin advises.

2) Substance over style matters in fundraising. When you are looking to raise funds, Baldwin argues that “substance over style” is the key, and that someone with a deep command of their business will win every time over a slicker salesman with more flash but less to say. “I think people who are exceptionally good at fundraising are people who are also great leaders and masters of their craft.

3) Consider limiting the amount of fundraising you take in, and focus what funds you do take on hiring the right people. In general, Baldwin thinks that too much focus is put on companies with huge valuations, and too little on companies that are more conservative and practical about the funds they raise. “We’re super capital efficient,” she says. “We haven’t raised a lot of money so we haven’t had fancy headlines about that stuff. And I take a lot of pride in that.” As far as where to spend, she adds, “Things tend to take longer and be more expensive than what you thought they would be, but finding incredible people to go on this journey with you is imperative.”

4) Build company culture with intention. Baldwin admits that the issue of the right way to build culture vexed her for years. She often sought advice from other CEOs, and the common feedback was to build it with intention because culture is a product of decisions, as opposed to something that you hope will eventually sprout.

5) Build your leadership style from the best parts of your mentors. Baldwin says she built her CEO style from various influencers: “I was definitely collecting nuggets all along the way and I quickly zeroed in on identifying each person’s special, unique gift.” She’s still in contact with many of those folks, she says, and often knows exactly which one to go to when she needs advice for a particular situation.

6) A great CEO knows how to collaborate and get the best work out of their teams. It comes down to simple respect for your co-workers and the ways and conditions under which each particular one can do their best work. “If you want to do great things, you don’t accomplish it as an individual, you accomplish it as a team,” Baldwin insists. “It’s not about how fast one person can get there. It’s how fast we can get there together and how happily we can get there together.”

7) Practice makes better. As a first-time CEO, Baldwin says she’s not afraid to say that she’s gotten some things right, but mastery of other areas of her job still personally eludes her. “Like anything else in life, it’s practice that works here,” she shares. “I don’t know that it makes perfect, but it definitely makes better.” Leading 10 people vs 50 vs 500 is vastly different, so you may need to adjust how you lead as you scale.

8) Leadership happens when you’re not in the room. Baldwin says some of her proudest moments are when she steps away from whatever is going on in the moment to watch the interaction of the rest of her team. “If I see smiles and laughter, then I know I’ve got this,” she tells me. “I read a book by a Harvard Business School professor who said that leadership is what happens when you’re not in the room. And that line just really stuck with me.”

9) Discover where you want your career to play out by having varied experiences early in your career.After several early jobs, from a beloved art gallery to Goldman Sachs, Baldwin realized her fascination was for how aesthetics and numbers were intertwined. She recalls one such thunderbolt moment that struck her: “I was sitting there at a board meeting and said to myself, ‘I think I want to be here when the board meetings are over and I want to see what it’s like to actually execute on this strategy.”

10) Find the thing you love to do and how to make a career out of it first versus the other way around. The first job Baldwin ever wanted was to design window displays for New York City department stores. She wondered not just how they were made, but how they helped the store move items. She later realized that she had early instincts about branding and storytelling as an interesting way to uncover her creativity.

For more from the hour-long conversation with Baldwin, watch the webinar here. This ever-growing treasure trove of invaluable chats get our listeners into the minds of successful leaders, from the CEOs of Zoom and Nextdoor to GoDaddy and DocuSign, as they share one-of-a-kind advice for current and future entrepreneurs.