Startup Spotlight: Sundots
Startup Spotlight: Sundots
Meet Erica Zahka – CEO and Founder of Own The Boardoom, an on-demand professional closet and business mentor!
GH: What is Sundots?
Sundots is a sun-protection company with the mission of sun-protection innovation backed by scientific evidence. Sundots uses novel natural ingredients to create sun-protective gummies.
GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did Sundots get started?
The company’s beginnings was based on Sundot’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Emilia Javorksy’s dermatological research on oral photoprotective agents during her time in Harvard’s Wellman Center for Photomedicine. During her research, Dr. Javorsky found that the active ingredient, polypodium leucotomos, had sun-protection properties when taken orally.
Following her research, Dr. Javorsky decided that this had to be made into a consumer product. Her colleague, Dr. Jeff Karp shared the sentiment that science is most effective when it gets expressed as real products and to make this happen, Dr. Karp introduced her to Chris Tolles.
GH: How did you build your team?
“Sundots has a very virtual model, focusing on low overhead and a lean business model.”
From the beginning, the company sought out driven individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit. Chris found that in their creative director, Elena Potter, who helped the company develop a brand even before their launch.
Over the summer, they added three individuals to their team: two from Babson and one from a Boston University Norwegian exchange program coordinated by Professor Ian Mashiter. Chris shares how the three had a similar hunger and drive for excellence and has done amazing work for the company.
Chris Tolles, Founde and CEO of Sundots
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
“As an entrepreneur, I feel the need to have a founding role for an impact-based company.”
When discussing the philosophy of Sundots and its founding members, Chris exemplifies an important aspect of being a successful entrepreneur: he believes in his product. After realizing the importance of sun-protection, Chris became determined in making a successful sun-protection company. It is a goal largely motivated by his desire to protect his kids from the dangers of the sun. Chris’ drive for Sundots success can be traced to his desire to change the world for the better.
As for running the company, he believes in operational efficiency: “We believe that being profitable early is important. How do we choose tactics that are super attributable? How can we be really lean?”
While early-days Amazon and Uber’s philosophy centered on rapid growth with the aim of short-run loss and long-run profitability, Sundots takes another route and aims for a slower and steadier sustainable growth.
“Rapid growth ‘no matter what’ can be dangerous.”
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
“The first thing that comes to mind is when we first began looking for a manufacturer, we did not know how difficult gummy manufacturing is. You literally need a PhD in Organic Chemistry.”
At the time, Sundots was still at the beginning stages and the company was ‘non-existent’ selling a product that had never been on the market. As a result, most manufacturers were unwilling to take the risk.
“Ten out of eleven said no. Nobody wanted to take the risk; we needed to find someone entrepreneurial.”
Gummy manufacturing for Sundots can be difficult and risky. In one gummy, the volume of polypodium is relatively larger than most gummies (200mg). It is a technically difficult job.
“At the end, we found a manufacturer willing to undertake the job–it was just good timing, good luck, and the perseverance of Dr. Javorsky.”
GH: What did you learn from your first customers?
From his first customers and first successful indiegogo campaign, Chris discovers that his hypothesis has been proven out:
“We wanted to make our products a format of people’s daily habits; we want to require as little as possible.”
Sunscreen is a useful sun-protection product but the issue is the poor user-experience. As a result, people use it topically and on the days the miss it, they get hit with UV the most. Sundots aims to change that, making sun-protection an enjoyable and fun daily experience.
“One of our customers told us how they have to take statin, a form of daily cardiovascular medication. One of those ‘save your life’ medication. Afterwards, she said she takes Sundots as a reward for taking her medication.”
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
Sundot’s Indiegogo launched this past March with glowing results and Chris attributes a lot of its success to the Boston ecosystem along with the great resources the Boston community provided.
Chris shares how much positive press the company has received from Boston-area publications.
“Jon Saltzman from the Boston Globe did an article on us. He’s a journalist that does a lot of the exposé, debunking types and it was just a great to have some good publicity from him… There’s so many ways to be visible in the ecosystem.”
Chris also shares how great and friendly Boston’s startup community is: “You ask for help, you get it.”
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
“Boston is great city for science-based start ups but its consumer brands are not as strong.”
Coming from a entrepreneurial field based in both the consumer and science world, Chris shares his sentiment of how Boston’s consumer market is lackluster when compared to that of NYC’s or LA’s. He adds that Boston is well-known for their hard tech and fundamental pieces, but there is room for improvement scene for consumer products.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
‘You know your business better than anyone else’ – this is the best (but in the moment felt like the worst) piece of advice. When receiving feedback and input from others you must listen and consider all of it, but you can’t act on everything that everyone else suggests. You have to trust yourself, your research, your vision, and pick and choose what ideas to pursue. It felt like the worst piece of advice in the moment because sometimes you just want to be told what the best or the correct thing to do is – truth is, no one really knows!
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
“We have a lot to be thankful for. In the startup world there a lot of things people want to see: ‘the product works’, ‘consumers love it’, ‘lots of good press’… We have hit six of those in the past six months.”
Sundots has achieved a lot of “the big picture goals” they sought out to hit. The company continues to experience rapid growth and Chris attributes a lot of its success to the good work done by those who have been a part of the journey.
GH: What does the future hold for Sundots?
“We are not a gummy company. We are not a polypodium company. We are a sun-protection company. We have a lot of amazing products in the pipeline. We will continue to sell products made with high quality ingredients.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Chris shares his hopes that Sundots will one day define a category of sun-protection and hopefully, start an expectation.
Learn more about Sundots!