By day, Dr. Zak Zarbock is a full-time pediatrician in South Jordan, Utah. By night (and also by day, and weekends) he is building an empire of natural remedies for coughs, colds and allergies.
"I was tired of interacting with frustrated parents," Zarbock said. Repeatedly, he was told of sick children up all night coughing, and "nothing was working." He decided to find a solution. "I'd always kind of had an interest in business."
At the time Zarbock began researching his second career, the FDA was recommending that young children shouldn't take cough medicine. Then he found a 2007 Penn State study suggesting buckwheat honey was better at stopping coughs in children than over-the-counter drugs (OTCs).
That same year, Zarbock—the father of four boys—took $10,000 of his own money, combined it with $10,000 each from a family member and a friend, and formed Zarbee's, with the aim of making safe, effective and natural cough medicine.
Zarbock is not a chemist, and had no manufacturing experience, but Utah is home to several nutritional supplement companies like Usana and MonaVie. There is a large base of contract manufacturers with experienced formulators, and Zarbee's hired one to create its first product: a cough suppressant made of buckwheat honey,vitamin C, zinc and natural flavors, "because buckwheat honey doesn't taste very good on its own," said Zarbee's CEO Bryce Johnson.
Product in hand, Zarbock started giving away samples to local pediatricians. Finally, he went to a local grocery chain and asked, "Who makes your decisions on what you put on your shelves?" Eventually, the doctor said, he worked his way up to the buyer for the store and struck a deal. Soon, "We were outselling the competition six to one," said Johnson. "We were killing it."