Sometimes things just naturally go together, like peanut butter and jelly or puffy coats and shorts. For Zealios, a formerly Berkeley-based startup that recently relocated to Bend, it’s their line of personal products and triathletes. “The second we dipped our toe into the triathlete community, we started growing,” says Austin Britts, Zealios co-founder.
Britts and his co-founder, Kevin Fuller, started Zealios in 2009 in a quest to develop a better zinc-based sunscreen — one that was water and sweat proof, lasted through workouts and didn’t turn your face white.
The pair were coworkers at a chemical trading company in Seattle, and they were intimately familiar with all the ingredients that go into skincare products, the good and the bad. “We wanted to create a product that performed really well and was really safe,” Britts says.
They worked on Zealios on the side of their day jobs, first launching their sunscreen in 2011 and then later a well-received line of swim shampoo and body wash. They also triumphed over near disaster: After raising $50,000 in seed money to fund their first production order, a supposed business partner took the money and disappeared. “We had 60% of our seed money stolen,” Britts says.
Not to state the obvious, but that was a low point. (The founders won a lawsuit and are now trying to collect those funds, Britts reports). They quickly regrouped, doubled down with their own savings and started again. Both Fuller and Britts are longtime rugby players, and in fact, played semi-professionally after college. So they’re tough cookies, and in this case, they got knocked down and came back fighting.
In 2014, they quit their jobs to work on Zealios full-time. Britts relocated from California to Bend last summer. He’d long wanted to move to Bend, and then after seeing the support for outdoor products companies here, he pulled the trigger. “We met with Gary Bracelin (of Bend Outdoor Worx), local business owners and the Oregon Outdoor Association,” he says. “Everyone was incredible, super welcoming and willing to help and make connections — it was amazing.”
The company also really dialed into local triathlete scene, bringing on Jesse Thomas and Heather Jackson as brand ambassadors, going to events and providing products for athletes to try. “In terms of skin care, there was really nothing culturally attached to triathletes,” he says. “Our products are perfect for them.”
Now, the company is humming. Zealios hired its first employee last year, grew 300% and is on track to hit more $500,000 in revenue in 2016. “I think now we really feel like a startup because we have startup problems that come from growing fast, like trying to manage our cash flow and growth,” Britts says.
The products are for sale on Amazon, in retail shops in California, including Mike Bike’s and at the company’s website. Britts and Fuller are even starting to train for their first triathlon, an effort to honor a rugby friend who recently passed away.
“I’m not built for distance,” Britts says. “But istanding on a finish line of a tri is amazingly inspirational and makes you want to be a part of it.” Welcome to Bend Zealios!
Founders: Austin Britts and Kevin Fuller
First product on market: 2011
You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].