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Keys, Thievery Corporation and – An Unlikely Group.

Keys, Thievery Corporation and Cafe Cody – The Beginning

Every company has many stories of how it started and defining moments that changed the course of its history.  For us, Thievery Corporation and Cafe Cody were defining moments.

Every entrepreneur has good days, average days and some really bad experiences that teach, scar and modify you.  Creating defining moments mark course changes for everyone.  It is how we respond that separates us all.

Keys is no different, but with the caveat that we chase defining moments rather than avoiding them.  Change is good, so constant change must be better.  Innovation follows function, but form follows emotion.  Recognizing our core need to innovate and change, there are so many defining moments and we embrace all of them.

Thievery CorporationOne such story is our close encounter with the musical group Thievery Corporation and how they and a small internet radio station in Mallorca Spain altered the direction of our company numerous times.

So this story starts like all other Keys stories.

Boy high tech Silicone Valley CEO meets girl VP at Coca Cola.  They have a 3000 mile relationship, fall in love and run away together for a new life away from the corporate grind.  They plan their getaway to the Caribbean on a 85’ sailboat when a diagnosis of Melanoma changes their direction forever.

Keys was born in earnest to create products that Wendy could use to battle off the skin distress Wendy suffered from the chemicals in prescription products prescribed to her after her Melanoma surgery.  

Keys started over 15 years ago building natural skincare products with the help of many friends who advised, guided and helped in sometimes the simplest ways.  The advisors and advice were too numerous and great to single out just one.

So, in those early days we had developed four products that included Solar Rx SPF, Island Rx soap, Windsurfer soap and Tortuga lotion.  In our little factory, we employed manufacturing techniques from a combination of high tech and Coca-Cola.  We manufactured, shipped and designed everything ourselves.  All were chemical-free, vegan, gluten-free and completely whole natural. Our skincare factory resembled more of a food production process.  Rightfully, loyal customer adopted our products and we experienced good growth in our little niche market.  Many of this customers are still with us today and feel more like family.  

One of the early stories became the foundation of our close encounter with the music of Thievery Corporation and our long support of a little internet radio station in Mallorca Spain called

What is funny is the event lead to one of our fastest, most beloved and highest selling products.  Eye Butter was not born out of need, but more want.  So, here is that story.

Eye Butter and Thievery Corporation

One day, in our early days, a call came in form a industry supporter of Keys asking if we would like to present and be a part of an event in Hollywood for 300 Hollywood Makeup Artist.  Sponsored by the Environmental Media Association, the event launched us into many movies, TV shows and a very nice relationship with, then first lady of California, Maria Shriver.  

The answer to whether we wanted to participate in the makeup artist event was an immediate yes.

Circa 2006

As the story goes, the person on the other end of the phone said, “the only problem is that you need a product that will interest the makeup artists.   Oh Great!  The event is a couple of months away and we had no idea of what to design.   Wendy had used Tortuga for everything from a lip cream to eye cream.  She thought, we need an eye cream anyhow, so why not do that.

Years before, I had been to an industry trade show in New York City and ran into this wonderful woman from Ghana who had sent me samples of her Shea Butter.  There were several types and I was using the unfiltered unprocessed version for our Tortuga lotion and Solar Rx.  It was and still is the most amazing ingredient that we get from the tribe directly in Ghana.  Part of the problem with using it for an eye cream was that it’s color is grey and the amount I would have to use in an eye cream would make the product grey.  Not so desirable.   I remembered that one of the sample she sent was a beautiful yellow.  I dug it out of a cabinet.

It only took 10 or so tweaks to get the formula for the new eye cream.   After those experimental versions, I had enough to makeup just one jar to show our team.  We gathered around a big teak table that was our conference table and just about everything else work surface.   I popped the top and the smell of fresh cucumber stunned everyone.  The yellow color was perfect and the consistency excited everybody.   This would be it for our future eye cream and our entry pass to the Hollywood makeup artists event in Santa Monica California.  The event coordinator agreed that it was perfect and asked me to makeup 300 samples for their gift bag.

But what to call it.   We sat around the table throwing out ideas that got worse as we went on.  From the Coca-Cola influence, all Keys products have names that have some special meaning.  Tortuga, Island Rx etc became the naming standard for Keys.   So, just Eye Cream would not work.

I had filled the jar with a French pastry piping bag with a fluted tip to make it look more attractive.  One of our teams young son said it looked like butter and suggested Eye Butter.  Although we had been trying to bring cucumber into the name, Eye Butter it was.  We were running out of time.

So, I am an engineer with a predisposed opinion about everything.  When the event coordinator asked for 300 samples, I just assumed that it would be the full 15ml jar that I had showed them.  Little did I know that I was the only company that brought full size products to the event.

The event came and the opening speeches started as volunteers handed out the treasure bags for the makeup artists.   Being somewhat respectful, the makeup artists sneaked a peek at what was in the bag.  Almost everyone noticed the big Eye Butter jar and could not resist.  I am still friends with some of the makeup artists I met that day.  We still laugh at what happened next.

The makeup artist could not resist and as Amy Smart, the eco inspired actress began to speak, the artists dug into the bag and pulled out the Eye Butter.  Unbelievably, the room filled with that smell of fresh cucumber.  Everyone dipped into the jar and started to apply it to their eyes directly on top of their makeup.  It was controlled chaos.  The event coordinator was thrilled, but her east coast counterpart was perturbed at me and remains so to this day.

After my part, it took me over an hour to get out of the hotel.  The makeup artist had a million questions and a bunch of opinion of how it should be refined.  Great event!  It was the beginning of Keys in Hollywood, but it also was the beginning of our relationship with Thievery and Cafe Cody.

As I said, Eye Butter is consistently in the top 5 products we sell yearly.  Seasonally, it moves into the #1 position frequently.  Okay you say, but who is this Thievery Corporation and what is  More important, what do they both have to do with Keys?

The Thievery Cody Connection to Keys

My trip to California from our factory outside of Annapolis Maryland was bittersweet.   Yes, I was heading back home to LA ,but it would be alone and not with my pal and sweetie.  The reason was that just a few weeks prior to the event Wendy fell off a ladder and tore just about every ligament in her right ankle.   She would be relegated to cruising around the factory using an office chair as a makeshift scooter with ankle elevated.   No way could she fly or standup for even a few minutes at the event.

So, I was off to LAX.  It was a lonesome trip with the only upside that my 3 million miles on American Airlines scored me a first-class upgrade.   Walking out of LAX, I was greeted with the wonderful weather of the Southern California’s center of everything.  I gathered my boxes of samples and bag to head to the rental car agency.

When I jumped into the car, I decided to take the coast road to the Marina Del Rey Marriott hotel.  I arrived a bit early for check-in, so I got to hangout in the lobby.  That is when it happened.

The MDR Marriott is very trendy and contemporary.  Sitting in the lobby, I heard music like I never heard before.  It was an interesting combination of a downtempo beat, a bit of reggae with almost jazz scat singer vocals.   Determined to find out who the artist was, I went to the from desk and asked what the music was.  The front desk person said she did not know.  Out of character, I said, I need to know now!  I even shocked myself at my aggressive behavior.  Then I heard a voice from my side of the counter from an older hip looking guy.  He said, the music is called Chill and that is Thievery Corporation’s “Lebanese Blonde!”  He said there is also a guy in Mallorca starting an internet radio station and it is called Cafe Cody…   There are lots of artists including big names like Madonna recording the genre.  I thanked him and out of curiosity I asked how do you know.  He said he was with SONY music and was in MDR for meetings.

I have always believed in coincidences, but this one would turn out to be life changing for me, Wendy and Keys.

Excited, I checked into my room and called Wendy.  She thought I was insane as I tried to explain the music.  I spent the rest of the evening trying to listen to Cafe Cody.  Today, you can just click the link, but ten years ago it required all sorts of software and tweaking to listen.  It was internet bootleg music in the early days.

So I did the event and headed back east.  When I arrived, my first task was to get Cafe Cody up on our internet at the factory and broadcast it throughout.  It was an instant hit with every human, dog and cat at the factory.  Friends who visited became instant fans.  Chill music still plays in our offices with the factory listen on Chill-day which comes just after Outlaw Country Day.

The Story Continues

Clearly, when I hear Thievery’s Lebanese Blonde, I am immediately transported back to the MDR Marriott and that first encounter with Thievery Corporation.

Part of the irony of the story is that we have never been able to see them live and that is about to change.

Thievery Live!

It was not without trying, but we could never connect with Thievery live.  Even though they were based about 35 miles west of our factory in Washington DC, no matter the appearance, we were either out of town or torn away for business.  A couple of times we were close within a few hundred miles.  Once, we were scheduled to be in Las Vegas and Thievery was going to be at The Brooklyn Bowl, but we had to cancel.

The inspiration for this article is that a couple of weeks ago, Wendy received a marketing email from Thievery that they would be in Reno NV the 4th of September around Burning Man time and over the labor day weekend.   Hmmmm.  We both looked at each other and said yes!  It is only a four hour drive from Eugene where are new factory is located.  …and it would be nice to get away.  So Wendy began.  show tickets?  Got ‘em.  Hotel reservation on labor day??? Got ‘em

So here we go and will update you on what it was like for us to finally here Thievery live.

Are we crazy.  Well Yes, but it pays to be a bit crazy most of the time.  I just only wish that words could capture what Thievery and Cody have meant to us.  The music has sustained us through good time and not so good times.

Everyone at Keys is inspired by different things.  Two things we all share at Keys are a love of Thievery Corporation and   To both we are grateful and forever fans because they both have bright us meaning and have been a thread of normality for us.

It is just another story about Keys and one of the important ones.

Rememberin the past, living in the present and planning for the future.

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A 20 Year Anniversary – Bob and Wendy Back In Santa Fe

This January 1st marked the 2oth anniversary for Bob and Wendy.  What began as a chance meeting at Larry Wilson’s Ranch in Santa Fe New Mexico turned into a lifelong passion for each other and their projects.  This is one of those stories about how Keys started.

20 Years in a Snapshot

What happens when a brainiac boyfriend discovers his smokin hot girlfriend has Melanoma.  He fixes the problems!

Wendy Steele, Keys CEO and Founder, fondly says that Keys is all her fault. The reality is that she survived deadly Melanoma but could not beat the chemicals in prescription and skincare products that left her skin a train-wreck. Wendy experienced just about every type of skin disorder imaginable and all we traced back to the Dirty Dozen chemicals in about 98% of the skin care and prescription products available OTC and from doctors.

Wendy’s boyfriend, Bob Root, a former Silicon Valley CEO/Engineer undertook the project to develop products to help Wendy. He gathered information from Harvard MD’s turned naturopaths to aboriginal healers. He realized that there was a pattern and scheme to skin health. It was to be Chemical-Free. Thus the Keys tagline of Chemical-Free Skin Health®.

Bob’s products worked and worked quickly for Wendy.   Friends with similar disorders, their family members with something as simple as dry skin, through acne and skin cancer suffers found relief using Bob’s products that he gifted them. Creating the Keys line was not a decision, it was market demand that brought out the initial four products and stunned the burgeoning natural products industry. Why, they all still had some chemicals and Bob’s did not!

Functionality is paramount at Keys. Coming from Silicon Valley, to Bob, products have to do something. Great if they make people feel good, but in his mind, they have to solve problems. He solved his girlfriends problems and the precursor for anything Keys makes is that it has to solve problems people are experiencing without using any chemicals.

So, in a snapshot, here is what you can expect from everything Keys makes:

  • All products solve problems and make people (and their pets) feel good
  • All products are free of man-made chemicals. Ergo Chemical-Free
  • All products use the highest quality whole natural ingredients
  • All products have the highest proportion of functional ingredients with no scrimping or compromises
  • All products are priced fairly well below chemical-laden pharmaceuticals because of the very high tech low overhead business systems Keys employs. They were the first 100% cloud-based company in the natural products industry.
  • All products are natural whole ingredients
  • All products are Vegan
  • All products are Gluten-Free
  • All products are non-GMO
  • All products use organic or wild-crafted ingredients

Bob and WendyBob in his top selling book, Chemical-Free Skin Health®, points out that it was a lot of trial and error to develop those first four products for Wendy. My incentive was that Wendy was in trouble because of western medicine and I was determined to figure out how to solve her problems naturally. The other 45+ products in the Keys line were all inspired by skin disorders and problems related to him by loyal customers that believe in him. He does not take that lightly!

You can read more of the story in detail below. Now Bob & Wendy are married and still developing products, giving speeches, writing books and listening to what customers have to say. Funny, Bob still refers to Wendy as his smoking hot girlfriend and she as her brainiac boyfriend. 20 years solving problems and making people feel good together with chemical-free skin health products.

Read More History Here

You can read Bob and Wendy’s personal story in their book, “Defining Moments” on Amazon

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Keys Congrats Ele Keats – Insidious 3 Movie Opens Big

Keys, A Big Fan of Ele Keats

incideousWe wanted to give a big Keys shout-out to Ele Keats who is staring in the movie Insidious 3 premiered in Hollywood this weekend.  Ele has a prominent part of the movie and we are so happy for her success.

Ele has been a fan, mentor, avid beta tester and dear friend of Keys and Bob & Wendy almost from the very beginning of our company.  She has been instrumental in guiding us into making a natural skin care product that could compete with conventional Hollywood makeup brands.  She has introduced Keys to so many people in Hollywood which has immeasurably helped us in our growth and success.

Ele, was the lead actress in the Indie film Snowflake and appears in numerous television commercials.  She is a true chameleon in that she can change her look and demeanor in a split second making her a very directable actor from one movie to the next.  We predict that you will see and hear a lot more from Ele.

Thank you Ele for all that you have done for us and we join everyone in wishing you even more success.  Enjoy the moment!

Click Here to read the article about Ele from a few years ago.

Ele has opened a store for her jewelry, so when in LA go visit.  Her is her information.


Ele Keats Jewelry
13028 San Vicente Blvd. Ste. 103
Brentwood, CA 90049
view google map »


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Safe Cosmetics Bestows Champion Status On Keys Care

Market Shift: Keys Care Receives “Champion” Status – Fulfills Safe Products Pledge

Consumer demand for safer products drives fastest-growing market segment

The  Campaign for Safe Cosmetics announced today that Keys has achieved the highest recognition earning “Champion” status by meeting the goals of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, the Campaign’s voluntary pledge to avoid chemicals banned by health agencies outside the U.S. and to fully disclose product ingredients – a pioneering practice in the cosmetics industry.

“Congratulations to Keys for being a ‘Champion’ and for demonstrating that it’s possible to make personal care products that far exceed current safety standards in the United States. A growing number of consumers are seeking personal care products that do not contain hazardous chemicals, and our report shows that making safer products is not only possible, but is also part of a successful business model,” said Mia Davis, organizing director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and coordinator of the new Safe Cosmetics Business Network. Continue reading Safe Cosmetics Bestows Champion Status On Keys Care

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UltraHealth…What A Concept! A Real BHAG!

UltraHealth…What A Concept!  A Real BHAG!

by Bob Root, Keys technologists & founder

In tech, we had a phrase that we used to differentiate really big projects.  BHAG stands for a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  When I helped to start Keys, we had some big hairy goals.  Universal Wellness was perhaps the biggest.

Remember, I am from high tech engineering, a practicing quantum physicist and a dreamer.  Ergo a futurist who believes anything is possible.  The adage that anything new is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration simply means to me that usually one person or a few have the spark of an idea and then it takes many more people working hard over a period of time until the rest of us get it.  In all endeavors, we all are both leaders and followers at some point in time.  The concept of Universal Wellness is not new, but it certainly is becoming a BHAG with many leaders and many followers of Natural  and Functional Medicine.

Mehmet Oz (Dr. Oz) and I have a similar BHAG.  To put ourselves out of business.  Universal  wellness will do that.  Continue reading UltraHealth…What A Concept! A Real BHAG!

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Gathering Thyme, New Bay Area Keys Reseller Opens in Marin County

Gathering Thyme is a new community herb shop and holistic health education center focused on providing Marin County and the Bay Area with exceptional natural healthcare products, education and support.  “Keys is very excited to add Gathering Thyme to our reseller list because they are true trusted advisors in their community,” said Wendy Steele, Keys CEO.

In the retail shop you will find a wide selection of high-quality locally-sourced herbal products including the very best in bulk herbs, teas and spices; Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic herbal formulas; practitioner-lines of dietary supplements; a terrific selection of organic face and body care products for women, men and children; a large selection of new and used natural healthcare books; bulk salts, clays, and body care products; and herb and health related supplies and gifts.


Continue reading Gathering Thyme, New Bay Area Keys Reseller Opens in Marin County

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Ele Keats Actor – Artist – Keys Fan

Ele Keats   Actor Artist Keys Fan!

When we started Keys, we began small with a few products and some real fans.  Our core belief is that products should solve problems and make people feel good about themselves and what they are using in and on their body.

As we have grown, we feel it is time to honor some of those that we have helped, have been with us for a long time and those using our products in unique applications.

Featured Keys Customer:  Ele Keats, Hometown:  Hollywood California

Continue reading Ele Keats Actor – Artist – Keys Fan

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Finding your Voice at the California Women’s Conference

By Wendy Steele, Keys  CEO

So what happens when over 20,000 women convene at a special conference in Long Beach CA hosted by The People’s Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger and California First Lady Maria Shriver?   Well, we are about to find out!  Keys is excited to participate in the CA Women’s Conference events on Monday October 26 and Tuesday October 27.  During the event, Keys is exhibiting with one of its LA based retail partners Lavender Natural Beauty.   If you are in Long Beach, please visit with us on site at the conference in Booth 846.

I am struck by the great potential for thousands of women who I believe will be inspired by what they hear, see and feel in the next 2 days.  Perhaps the greatest gift is listening to others passionately share about the defining moments in their lives.  Recognizing defining moments, on the job, with their health and at times of great loss and great celebration is a monumental step to helping women to find their voices.  During the next several days,  I look forward  to hearing from thousands of women, individually, as they share their own defining moments and speak out about what is most important to them to fully live their lives.

More later  from the Night at the Village Event and tomorrow’s events! Continue reading Finding your Voice at the California Women’s Conference