Sunscreen startup sets its sights on high performance athletes.
Kevin Fuller has never completed a triathlon.
“But my first one is coming up,” he’s quick to add.
Fuller is cofounder of Zealios, a Bend startup focused on making sunscreen — and chamois cream, shampoo and conditioner — for endurance athletes, specifically triathletes.
“After doing our research, [cofounder Austin Britts and I] saw the sunscreen marketed in America as a very interesting field where you have a ton of different products out there but not a lot were hitting the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to performance,” Fuller says.
There seemed to be two branches of sun protectant: products that were effective for a short period of time but quickly washed off, and zinc-based formulas that were useful long-term but left an undesirable texture on the skin.
“We saw a good opportunity to bring a product to the market that not only blocks a broad spectrum of UVA/UBA, but has zinc, felt like a normal lotion and doesn’t have a chalky, greasy feel.”
Fuller and Britts were working for a Seattle trading company, trading raw materials like the ones used in their Zealios products, they were approached by California chemical manufacturer Ron Hinck with a formula for a superior sunscreen and chamois cream.
“We thought it would be a fun chance to get things started with our own company, so we both moved down to the Bay Area to start the company,” Fuller says. They founded Zealios in Berkley in 2012. They founded Zealios in Berkley in 2012 after Paul Berg, of Seattle, invested in the company. Fuller says Berg himself battled skin cancer, so finding a product like Zealios was important to him.
The 35-year-old cofounders tested the products at local swim meets with the sunscreen and chamois cream. In 2014 things picked up, and the product line was expanded. Fuller says parents were asking for a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner that left their children’s hair looking less like green steel wool.
“We heard that once, twice, three times. Multiple times later we said maybe we should listen to what they’re asking about,” Fuller says.
But it wasn’t until Britts relocated to Bend — with Fuller shortly en route — that Zealios found its niche. The products were already in use by some cyclists and swimmers, so looking at triathletes as an entry point made sense. They began by attending the Wildflower Triathlon in San Antonio last year.
“We noticed the sense of community in the triathlons we would go to,” Fuller said. “We thought it would be a better market to really try to own triathlons. Our goal is to have Zealios be endemic with triathlons.”
Focusing on one market worked — Zealios’ sales grew 300% last year. But rather than try for a brick and mortar, or shelf space in retail stores, Fuller says they want to focus on events and online.
“We’re conscious of the fact that with especially triathlons, brand awareness is very important. So we’re very focused in building the brand, not just trying to get into as many stores as possible,” he says.
Entrepreneurs shouldn’t start a company just for the sake of starting a company, says Fuller, who spends most of his spare time outside or training for his first triathlon.
“I’m a ‘ginger,’ so whenever anyone asks, ‘Why do you do it?’ I joke it’s just so I can prolong my life,” he says. But “you want to find out if your niche is needed and that you’re going to be adding something to the fold.
I would have never guessed I would get into the world of personal care products, but it’s been a very interesting and awesome ride.”