One day in the winter of 2008, Malibu surfer Max Baumann was people-watching at the Los Angeles International Airport. Australia-bound to catch waves with friends and train with a high-performing instructor, he was in high spirits. He appeared to be an anomaly.
“People getting tickets from LAPD, mile-long security lines, nervous travelers getting on the plane for the first time … I felt this hectic vibe come over me,” Baumann, 24, recalled.
He then noticed several recurring themes in the hands of these stressed-out travelers: Red Bull, Monster and Starbucks. The world doesn’t need another energy drink, he thought, but quite the opposite—a stress-relief beverage.
Several months later, he brought in three trusted friends and fellow surfers who were then attending UC Santa Barbara — Caleb Davidge, Mitchell Raisch and Russell Fager — to form The Chill Group, Inc., and in March of 2010, Just Chill, an all-natural, stress-relief beverage, was born.
“That’s something you tell someone who’s too stressed out, too anxious, too angry, too irritable, all of the emotions we want to reverse to positive emotions,” said Baumann, the company’s founder, CEO and president.
Ironically, Just Chill is becoming all the rage in the multibillion-dollar beverage industry. Last December, the beverage earned the title of BevNet’s Best Relaxation Drink of 2012. The award for Best Marketing went to Red Bull Stratos for its record-breaking sky-diving stunt in October.
“It’s kind of like the Oscars for the beverage industry,” said Davidge, 24, The Chill Group’s co-founder and sales manager. “It was cool to see all the big dogs in the industry up on stage, and then they said, ‘Best Relaxation Drink of 2012… Just Chill.’”
The proprietary drink is an all-natural “chill blend” of L-theanine (the dopamine-increasing amino acid found in green tea), lemongrass, ginkgo biloba and ginseng and other essential vitamins including Magnesium, Zinc and Vitamins B and C. Just Chill, Davidge noted, sets itself apart from competitors by skipping melatonin and kava, commonly used ingredients that cause drowsiness and other side effects.
The lightly-carbonated beverage now comes in three flavors—the original Tropical flavor, and the newest additions, Caribbean and Rio Berry—and is available in retailers including Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and Gielsons throughout Southern California.
Last January, Davidge, a Manhattan Beach native, came across an article in Inc. Magazine that foreshadowed a turning point for the young entrepreneurs.
Titled “10 Hottest Businesses to Start Now,” it stated the top industries with the biggest projected growth over the next five years. Online gaming development, internet publishing and corporate wellness services all made the cut, but topping the list was none other than relaxation beverages, forecasted to grow 24.8 percent annually.
“We were looking at each other like, no way,” he said. “Once that happened, a lot of people started turning their heads.”
That included the established folks behind beverage incubator L.A. Libations, which propels small-scale brands like Aloe Gloe, coconut water Zico and bottled water illy into the mainstream market. Baumann received a call from Danny Stepper, a partner at L.A. Libations who has previously worked with the likes of The Coca-Cola Company and Anheuser Busch. The two met, and a contract was signed in August.
“When Zico signed on with them, they were at a $7 million revenue mark, and they brought it to a $75 million mark,” Baumann added. “We feel like we’re on top of the world starting 2013.”
With big prospects looming in the near future, the young surfers and entrepreneurs remain grounded in the simple goal at the root of the company’s founding.
“We’re trying to make the world less uptight and more laidback in the long run,” Davidge said. “It’s not about the beverage we’re selling, it’s about the lifestyle.”
Baumann quickly added: “Having a clinically proven ingredient that backs that lifestyle and values is one of the best perks in the line of work we do.”