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.
One 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 CafeCody.com
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.
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 CafeCody.com? 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…cafecody.com. 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.
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 CafeCody.com 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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