Defining Moments: Life at SeeLevel

The title of this article is significant for a number of reasons. Defining Moments: A Brand New Day, was is the title of our first book. It is about how we met and described in the preface below. SeeLevel is a made up word that describes our lifestyle.

Is this the beginning of a book? Yes and no!

Is this an article? No, it is much more than that!

DM2 CoverDoes it belong here or in a place of its own? Here is perfect because this book, article, blog, musing et al. is about the experiences that we have and how they affect and effect us. Thus this perfect title for our live is really the beginning sentence to whatever this turns out to be.

Every day is a defining moment in our lives at SeeLevel. What we notice, what we read, what we hear, what we see and what we feel makes our day. Deciding to awake each day and create what our day will be like is our new challenge. Starting each day with a positive intention helps to form the day and sets the tone for our perspective.

Our preface summarizes our first book and carries us through how we finally realized our dream to be doing work and living life on the road.

Defining Moments: Life at SeeLevel

Preface: Bob Root and Wendy Steele

Happiness is Free!

Have you ever wished to consciously change your life? Would you change your career, your past or reacquaint yourself with life, love and passion? We did!

Our story is just that! We were two people that had just about all you could desire. Fortune 500 executive positions, jet setter lifestyles, nice cars, boats and much of what upwardly mobile career minded people aspire to achieve. Our problem? We were unhappy because we had not yet found each other. A chance meeting outside Santa Fe, New Mexico was a defining moment which we acted on. Fighting against all odds, we pursued a 3,000 mile romance. Defining moments began to unfold as we decided to change our lives and pursue a simpler lifestyle together. The faster we made changes defining moments would fall in front of us again. Faster and faster they came. Compressing years of a conventional life into months we started to realize that we were not confronting experiences, we were creating them. When we truly learned to embrace defining moments as messengers we ceased to confront them and began to pursue them with a passion.

We found happiness and created a new balance. We checked out of our corporate careers and checked back into life. We went from being Corporate Warriors to Dream Warriors

What we now know is that defining moments in our lives were messengers, not harbingers. Life renewed can begin again at any age and at any time! As long as you are with the right person, happiness is free!

Our story is about how a series of defining moments helped to develop a product that helps many people. Our products are an extension of us. There is a little bit of us in each bottle and the positive intention we have for those who experience Keys Soap lives through our products and our team.

Defining moments are so important to us that we wrote a book titled, “Defining Moments, A Brand New Day”. It is the story of how we met, fell in love and started a new life together.

The Keys Prequel

This is the true story of how it all began. Bob Root and Wendy Steele met at an executive retreat in the mountains outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their defining moment, their chance meeting, brought together two people who made life changing decisions to embrace multiple fears and obstacles and use them to dream bigger, find purpose and seek a more fulfilling simpler life.

It is a story of a meeting so profound that they left their high-powered corporate careers, Bob as a high tech CEO from Silicon Valley and Wendy as a VP of Coca-Cola, to be together and build a new life. It is a story about checking out of the go-go fast paced life of high-flying executives and checking back into life. It is a story of true love, the defining moments that brought them together and a new simpler life of love, balance and being on purpose.

Changing their lives, Bob and Wendy left their corporate positions; Wendy moved from the east to join Bob in California. Their meeting was so profound to them that it gave them the courage to do just about anything…try anything. Their coming together was freeing and full of adventure. Living on Bob’s boat in San Diego harbor was idyllic. It required shedding a lot of stuff! They were ecstatic to have each other. Their lifestyle was as simple as their love profound. Meeting later in life, they felt they had a lot of time to make up. Their decision to leave the corporate grind and pursue a simpler lifestyle required that they reinvent themselves.

cover_angleTheir book “Defining Moments, A Brand New Day” was written to help others discover freedom. The simple book tells all about their relationship, their personal tests and the trails they blazed. It is worth reading to gain a complete understanding of how Keys Soap came to be and why you are reading this now!

Toward the end of their book is the account of Wendy’s skin cancer and the profound effect it had on Bob. Another defining moment, cure Wendy. Another, leave the sunny Southern California climate to protect Wendy. Another, uproot their business as corporate coaches and move east to a less sunny climate. And another defining moment, find a way for Wendy to regain her active outdoor lifestyle.

From Scripps Clinic in LaJolla California to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Hopkins trained dermatologists. Intense experimental sunscreens. Lotions, cleansers and more skin Cancers removed. You are never really cured of Cancer, you learn to hunt it, find it early and get rid of it. Still, spf 30 head to toe clothing, spf 45 sunscreen at $75 a tube and staying out of the sun from 10am to 2pm was not a choice, it was Wendy’s lifestyle. The emphasis is on the word “life.”

All of this permitted Wendy to regain some of her outdoor life. A friend who runs an extreme triathlon store in San Diego found a light weight spf 100 swim suit used by Australian Kayakers and offered it to Wendy. Now Wendy could go swimming again. A waterproof sunscreen on her face, hands and feet and she was able to enjoy the warm waters at their favorite Bahamas beach at Runaway Hill on North Harbor Island. Even though people pointed at the strange sight of a woman covered head to toe in 90 degree weather, it did not bother Bob or Wendy. There was freedom and liberty in these new swim clothes.

You can always tell Wendy from a distance because of her stylish flowing sun clothing and her big hats. A 5”+ brim is a must. The more exotic the hat the better Wendy likes it and her favorites are from Montana. Many compliment her on the look and the style, not knowing that they are in fact life protection!

Wendy’s deteriorating skin became another defining moment. This time all of the sunscreens, cleansers containing Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, parabens, glycols and lotions that clogged her pores began to weigh heavily on Wendy physically and mentally. A nervous scratch on the neck and red welts appeared and lasted for hours. The skin around her knuckles cracked from just washing her hands. She itched all over. Worse, the dermatologists now were prescribing steroid creams to quell the itching and cracking. She used more of it over time, with lessening results. At one point, Bob counted over 30 different things in a custom cabinet he installed in Wendy’s closet to house her skin preparations and medications.

Another defining moment came when Wendy nearly broke down from the itching, cracking, welts and bumps that had become part of her life.

Bob previously in his life spent many hours in and around the waters of Southern California. For years he used Dr. Bronners Castile soap that was made in San Diego. That is all he used from head to toe. Wendy always commented that Bob’s skin is the softest of anyone she knows. Bob knew that what he used was pure and that it was free of chemicals. In his own moment of frustration, he asked Wendy to stop! The simple request was for Wendy to stop using everything and instead use Bob’s soap. She agreed and promised not to put anything else on her skin for a week.

Two days went by and it was better, but the smell bothered her and it was just not right as it felt too drying for her skin. They both knew though, that they were on the right path. Bob, a serious Creole chef by avocation decided he would find a way to develop his own liquid soap. Creating a lab in a mini-kitchen he started with natural olive, jojoba, avocado and coconut oils to create a new base soap. Every day there was a different bottle in the shower with instructions from Bob to Wendy saying “try this.” He searched the internet for discussions and holistic practitioners from around the world.

People responded to Bob’s requests on forums. Bob recalls that he had one person that was particularly helpful, yet he was not fast to respond. Sometimes days would pass for Bob’s questions to be answered. He asked his e-mail friend why the delays in responding. He said that he would only get to the place in his village where there was a computer once a week or so and that if I would ask all of my questions at one time, he would attempt to answer them. Bob’s first question? Where are you? The answer… from central Australia!

Now Bob had many faceless friends and the answers to Wendy’s skin problems were clear. Essential oils from Spain, India, the Caribbean, Costa Rica rainforest and the orient found their way into his lab. At first it was an ounce of this in a small package coming from some faraway place and then it was cans, bottles and large containers.

SpaRxFinally, the experiments were complete. After over 100 variations and trials, Wendy’s skin was reversing and getting better. She was prescription free, SLS free, chemical-free and lotion free. Her nervous scratch on her neck no longer welted. The itching was gone. The little bumps on her face had disappeared. Even some small moles that once looked pre-Cancerous now look normal. The early product name was simply written on the bottle “Spa Rx”.

Bob and Wendy are fortunate to have good friends from around the world. Bob loves to cook and when they visit, they stay with Bob and Wendy in their home. People would ask what the strange shaped bottles were in the shower and next to the sink with Sharpie pen scribbles. Bob and Wendy would tell their story and ask people to try them. Curiously (and probably with some trepidation) they would try the liquid soap, later remarking at how wonderful their skin felt after one shower. All asked for some to take home with them.

keys_original_productsOne of Bob’s good friends, Teunis, lives in the north of Holland in a place called Groningen. He is a world renowned industrial designer and suggested to Bob that he should create a label for his product so that people would feel more comfortable about trying it. So Bob set out to develop a label for his creations. He sat for hours at the computer, creating a design and then he would e-mail it to Teunis. Back and forth they shared ideas. Finally, Bob had a label that he would print out on his high resolution inkjet printer. He would painstakingly cut them to size, laminate them and then spray glue each label on a bottle at a time. It was a labor of love as it took about an hour per bottle. When other friends came to visit, the “laminated label product” was in the shower and next to the sink. Still with no idea or intention of actually making soap and selling it to the world, their friends just assumed that it was already “for sale” and asked to buy some soap to take home. Bob would simply hand them a free bottle.

Bob and Wendy, sensed another defining moment…they realized that many people wanted to try their soap and they seemed to love what it did for them. So, it seemed the next logical step was to attend a tradeshow where they found suppliers for production bottles and label producers. In the fall of 2004 they looked at each other and agreed to go for it! Wendy, through her years of personal experiences knew how many people could be helped by the soap product, and is a natural spokesperson. Bob with all of his positive intention for Wendy had become quite the expert on holistic skin care.

In the interim, Bob had invented soap for himself. His active lifestyle includes sailing and motor sports. He developed a soap primarily of orange and white grapefruit that made his hot tired skin feel clean, rejuvenated and tingly after showering. So, they decided to produce about 500 bottles of each soap and test market the product.

keywest_samplesIn Bob and Wendy’s coaching business, they work with high performance teams that are looking for ways to streamline their performance. Traditionally, these companies, “go to sleep” around November and don’t awake until February or March. It is a holiday-end of year-new year thing! So Bob and Wendy used the off time in Florida to begin test marketing in Key West and Florida. Knowing that they were headed south, Bob developed two professional labels with the help of his friend Teunis.

Heading for the Keys, they named their product Keys Soap. It was as good as a name as they needed to test their soap and they could develop brand names around it. Wendy’s soap became “Island Rx”. Bob’s private soap became known as “Windsurfer” because of the active lifestyle of the Windsurfers that call Key West home. They deemed the products to be Islandceuticals because they solve skin problems, stimulate the senses and create positive emotions.

“We just started handing out labeled bottles of our soap creation to friends, random people we met and to shop owners in Key West and in Florida”, Wendy said. “The only thing we asked was that they contact us to let us know their thoughts about the products. From motor sports events in north Florida to friends that withstood all the hurricanes in mid-central Florida’s east coast, we handed out bottle after bottle”.

The realization came quickly that they had a product people liked. People wanted to buy more and asked where they could get it. Bob and Wendy would say to them, “Here have another bottle.” It was becoming real . Bob had also developed an anti-bacterial hand soap that was all natural, chemical free and used spearmint and orange essential oils. It became know as “Galleyon”. During their Florida trip, Disney, their dog and companion, struggled with hot spot and itching skin, so Bob developed “Muttineer”. It is a product that contains all natural ingredients including Neem oil for itching. Bob blended essential oils to calm the dog so that he would tolerate sitting with the lathery Neem oil blend on him to get the full benefits—with NO SLS!

ExpoeastlogoSOStill not sure, they returned from the Keys and began to talk about the experience with some of their clients at Pfizer. One recommended to attend a trade show called Natural Products Expo East and another suggested listing their products on this report by the Environmental Working Group called Skin Deep that listed personal care and cosmetic products based on their safety.

Armed with this information, Bob contacted the show management for Expo East and was told the show was sold out for years. Then, just a few weeks before the show opened in Washington DC a salesperson called to say that a booth had opened up in the personal care area and were they interested. Yes! And they scrambled for the next two weeks to create literature, PR materials and a booth that would make the company look real. Bob recalls that this is when we really learned about our friends. Our friends at Pfizer helped us with the positioning, our industrial designers worked to create logo’s and images that were professional, but not fancy. A look of a natural medicine but with a feel of simple elegance. A look that was not too serious and spoke of a serious alternative health product.

boothThe day of the show setup, Bob & Wendy wheeled in a brand new booth with an image shot at sunrise in Key West, The new Keys logo and the tag line “Chemical-Free Skin Health” in large bold letters. The PR material had the same message and the company looked like a seasoned pharmaceutical company. It was interesting Wendy recalls, because all of the booths around us were massive and paid workers assembled thes huge booths. Around us were a number of startups that all had a warm hippie image. We were so different and we did not realize at that moment how different we were.

The next day the show opened and the Keys booth was very different in appearance. What was also different was that our booth was packed with people. Not dealers, who were winding their way through the front of the show, but press, other manufacturers, industry analysts and show management. It seems that the Keys story was one that no one believed possible. That was to make natural products that actually did something, had no preservatives and was affordable. That day began the Keys quest for Natural Medicines.

Keys sought to grow and develop. We recognized a gap in the market and we wrote a business plan as if we would seek out investors. In fact, the purpose was not to search for investors, but partners in manufacturing, finance and sales. Coming from high tech, Bob was used to selling a concept of something new. Wendy’s background at Coca-Cola taught her to be customer centric and focus on marketing a simple message. The gap we saw was somewhere between pharmaceutical products sold at high prices and the natural products differentiated by organics, scents and the lack of certain chemical ingredients. At Keys, we knew we had to make products that solved problems and made people feel good. Again with the concept that less is more!

The search for partners did not go as quickly as we hoped. Our intent was to be a self-funded bootstrapped organization that sold only on the internet. This way, we could remain a virtual company and maintain our product pricing by focusing our efforts on product development and listening to our customers. We found quickly that another set of defining moments would rocket our small company to a new higher altitude.

Our friend at Pfizer had convinced us to list our products on the EWG Skin Deep site. We did that and completely forgot about it when the newest version was release and Keys was number one or two in every category that we made products. Our website traffic quadrupled and sales went up as well. Still small, we sought a partner to manufacturer our products.

Skin Deep and its leaders proved to be a defining moment for Keys in a number of ways. The notoriety was great, but you cannot base you business on one source of promotion. Clearly the people at Skin Deep were a cause that we could get behind by being a Safe Cosmetics Compact Signer. We support the concepts and principles while also respecting that being a Compact Signer means continuous research, improvement and development. By far, the number of defining moments associated with the EWG Skin Deep family has been remarkable. Ironically, there was one defining moment with them that forever changed who we are and started an entirely new addition to our direction. It was and is the world of High Definition television and motion pictures.

A few years ago, The Breast Cancer Fund and the EWG asked if we would participate in an event in Santa Monica California. The event was to promote the concept of safe cosmetics to a large number of Hollywood makeup artists. Would Keys like to participate by including one of our products in their goody bag and be there to answer any questions. Our answer was an immediate yes, but there was only one major problem. We did not have a cosmetic product and worse, we did not have a plan for one.

Bob and his team of natural medicine practitioners and aboriginals like Thomas went to work. They had been working on a lip therapy that could be modified to a eye cream, so they set off to take the product concept and reformulate it to be good for the eyes. Together they agreed on the Shea butter base and an idea to create a natural cucumber extract by distilling organic cucumbers. The addition of some exotic oils created a product that not only improved the fine lines around the eyes, but it also seemed to hide other imperfections form the cameras eyes.

The product was ready. 300 hundred full size samples in a jeweled jar were made. A literature card was also made. The only thing that remained was to get on the airliner to LAX.

In the interim, one defining moment lead to another. Many hard to deal with and not so obvious at the time.

About a week before the adventure to Santa Monica, Wendy fell from a ladder. Her ankle was so severely sprained that the doctor told her she would have been better if she had broken it. This left Bob as the sole representative from Keys headed for LA.

California is Bob’s home. As much as he has traveled, the LA lifestyle is where he is happiest. So getting on the plane to LAX was both bitter and sweet. Arriving with bags collected he headed for the Marriott in Marina Del Rey. Not too far from Santa Monica, he chose it because it was close to Venice Beach, a relatively quiet haven in LA. The first of many defining moments occurred as he walked through the front door of the hotel. It was the music. Familiar sounding, but not. Compelling, but distant. Bob just sat in the lobby listening to a point where he asked the front desk, “What is this music?” After a few people, a bellman said, “I don’t know where we get it, but the music is Chill!” This would prove to be as significant as any other defining moment from that weekend. The subsequent discovery of Café Cody in Mallorca Spain transformed much of Keys to what it is today. We say it moved us from being driven to inspired. Certainly a defining moment for everyone at Keys

Bob arrived early at the meeting at the Fairmont Hotel on Wilshire blvd a bit early to see what was going on and to deliver the 300 full-sized samples for inclusion in the goody bag. What happened next was a series of very significant defining moments the least of which will be a life long friendhip with Judy Shils, the founder and leader of The Marin County Cancer Project ( ), Teens for Safe Cosmetics, Kathleen Beeton noted Hollywood makeup artist, the Breast Cancer Fund team and members of the EWG team.

We were too small even for the smallest contract manufacturers. We then decided that to meet our volume requirements we developed our own manufacturing facility around a Silicon Valley concept called “work cells.” A concept where the products move around the people and not the people around machines. We reached out to friends in the food industry and people we knew in Napa in the wine and cooking oil industry for their expertise in small efficient machines. Our micro factory was efficient, but we still knew that at some point we needed to expand.

There are many more products in the wings that are undergoing development and testing. Bob feels a little like he is back in Silicon Valley in the early days when innovation was king and none of the companies were public. Wendy remembers her days at Coke, back in the bottling business and having a whole lot more fun.

It is a story of love, a book to capture the meaning of defining moments and creating new experiences all toward a positive intention. We hope that their message will wake you up and slow you down and help you learn to appreciate the simpler, healthier and better things in life. One of those things to enjoy is Keys Soap. Try the soap; it just may very well be the inspiration of your own escape back to humanity, life and love.

Although Keys and her products will play a role in where we go, what we see and what we feel. This musing is about us and our lives at SeeLevel and those defining moments that shape our days.


To all that have helped us get to this defining moment. To those that thought we were/are crazy. To Endeavor, our first motor coach that carried us to here with 90,000 miles of safety, security and adventure. To Disney, our crazy Bichon pup who has pooped in 47 states and traveled over 100,000 miles with us at SeeLevel. To Isabel, the cat, who adopted this family days before hurricane Isabel. To Wendy’s parents who present the yin and yang of our life. To Gordon who understands and lives vicariously our life on the road …and to Eleanor whom cannot figure out our desire to be homeless. Finally, to the Grizzly, our new home on wheels, you carry on the duties of Endeavor with much more strength and gusto!

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