Launch stories: Vacation by Poolside FM

New sunscreen brand Vacation is the first product from Poolside FM, a retro internet radio station with one million listeners.

Natalie Sportelli

Head of Content
Vacation is the first product from Poolside FM, an online radio station Marty Bell launched in 2014.

LAUNCH STORIES

Life's a beach - if you're the founders of a new sunscreen brand. Founded by Marty Bell, the creator of internet radio station Poolside FM, and Miami-based entrepreneurs Lach Hall and Dakota Green, Vacation is a new brand of "leisure enhancing" sunscreen promising to tap into nostalgia to transport you somewhere more sunny.

Developed alongside a board-certified dermatologist and perfumers behind scents by Clinique and Tom Ford, the SPF 30 sunscreen is set to launch its full product line in June. Vacation draws upon Poolside FM's popular mix of upbeat tunes and nostalgic 1980s beach movies and has already attracted the likes of traditional venture capital firms including Brand Foundry Ventures and BFG Partners as well as angel investors Maisie Williams, Trevor McFedries, the CEO of Brud, which oversees digital avatar Lil Miquela, and the former president of FOCUS Brands Kat Cole.

Thingtesting checked in with Bell, who (appropriately) launched Vacation yesterday from a beach of his own. He's been living in the Dominican Republic since the beginning of the pandemic.

What inspired you to create Poolside FM and then Vacation?

I launched Poolside FM back in 2014 as a kind of personal virtual getaway. I was deep in the startup grind and living in the grey Scotland Highlands, and was looking for some sort of respite from a world that can be far too serious at times. I put together a website (now also an app for iPhone and Mac) that pairs two of my favorite things: serotonin-boosting super-summer tracks, with scenes from '80s beach movies. This rich, nostalgic world grew around it, and it steadily began to draw hundreds of thousands of listeners from all around the world – something that still blows my mind.

After our listener base doubled in size overnight in 2019, I reached out to the Poolside FM community for help with continuing this trajectory, given that my day job was (and is still) building a finance app called Nude. This led to me connecting with Lach Hall and Dakota Green, who had been working on a sunscreen company at the time. They answered my call for help and we set out to create what would become Vacation by Poolside FM.

Of all the products out there, why sunscreen?

Happiness and summer are so linked together in my head, which is part of the reason why I created this virtual getaway in the first place. I’ve had hundreds of companies reach out to discuss partnerships at this point, but none of them ever felt like a strong enough fit. Poolside FM uses layers of nostalgia to create instant feel-good vibes; the music, the visuals, the interface and way you interact with it. Sunscreen is one of very few products that you can achieve that level of instant-nostalgia with, which is why I was immediately interested when Dakota and Lach reached out.

The category was long overdue for someone to come in and make it fun again – my favorite brands ever are ‘80s sunscreen brands, which all still exist today, but as very boring interpretations of their former selves. It’s a product that to me is linked to carefree childhood holidays, where I’d spend the whole trip slathered in sunscreen (thanks to my neon-pale Scottish skin).

With classic notes like banana and coconut, the smell of Vacation’s SPF 30 Classic Lotion alone (we’re calling it the world’s best-smelling sunscreen) instantly transports you to paradise. Vacation is a way to bring that nostalgia and happiness of Poolside FM to the physical world.

Was it always a plan to launch a product off the success of the Poolside FM community?

Definitely not, I’ve pretty actively avoided turning Poolside FM into a business as I don’t want to lose the magic it has by trying to directly monetize our website and apps. When I connected with Lach and Dakota I realized that Vacation would be the perfect “real world” extension of the brand, where we could start building a real business without changing any of what’s working so well now.

What role does nostalgia play in the brand and why does that resonate with the Poolside community?

Going back to that idea of sunscreen’s ability to impart instant nostalgia, we’ve built Vacation as a 360° immersive brand world. Just like with Poolside FM, it’s a very sensorial experience. From the visuals, to how you interact with the site and our addictively nostalgic signature sunscreen scent, we want Vacation to transport you to a carefree beach holiday in the 80's where the sun is always shining and the piña coladas are on tap at the poolside bar. 2021 feels like a good time to lean into the nostalgia of a more (seemingly) carefree era in our collective memories, and our hope is that the brand will make you feel like you’ve been to that paradise and back.

Vacation says more than 10,000 business cards were made the first day the site was live.
What does it mean that customers can claim an "honorary position in the company?"

Fans and visitors can claim their very own ridiculous honorary job title at the company at Vacation.inc, making us the fastest-growing sunscreen company in the world, by (honorary) employee headcount. Want to be a Shrimp Cocktail Designer at Vacation Incorporated? Or our Head of Coconut Scented Lobby Ferns? Choose the position that feels right to you, then we’ll send you a virtual business card with your uniquely generated role on it. We spent far, far too much time and resources on this thing, but we can’t stop laughing every time we play with it. This kind of entertainment x commerce is what we hope Vacation will be known for.

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