Entrepreneur Looks To Data To Make Her Mark

By David Nicklaus St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Karen Frame runs a company providing coupons and information to folks interested in natural products. Instead of hoping shoppers will visit in-store kiosks, her company, "Makeena", reaches them through their mobile phones and the internet.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Karen Frame has essentially built the same company twice using different technology.

In the 1990s, she designed information kiosks for natural-food stores. On the verge of a national rollout for Wild Oats (a chain that was later acquired by Whole Foods), her company fell victim to a financial scam and had to be dissolved.

Two decades later, Frame runs another company providing coupons and information to folks interested in natural products.

Instead of hoping shoppers will visit in-store kiosks, her new company, Makeena, reaches them through their mobile phones and the internet.

To achieve a better result than she did the first time, Frame is relying on her experience as an attorney and officer at several technology companies. She's also relying on an accelerator program run by Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, a St. Louis group dedicated to helping women launch successful businesses.

Makeena is based in Boulder, Colo., but Frame has rented an apartment here during the program. She grew up in Champaign, Ill., so she liked the idea of working with down-to-earth Midwesterners for three months. She's soaking up business wisdom from people such as Tina Klocke, a Prosper mentor and former chief financial officer at Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Early this month, Makeena took a bold step by acquiring CommonKindness, a natural-products coupon site based in Sausalito, Calif. The firm says the deal makes it the No. 2 online platform for grocery coupons behind industry leader coupons.com.

Frame emphasizes, however, that Makeena is a data business, not a coupon company. It expects to make money by selling information about shoppers -- which stores they visit, how much they spend and what they buy -- to retailers and consumer-products companies.

Frame, 53, is an accountant and lawyer by training. She learned computer programming as a grade-schooler and began shopping at natural food stores while in law school at the University of Illinois. Those interests formed the foundation for her first startup, which folded in 1998, and for Makeena, which she launched in 2014.

She hadn't planned to grow by acquisition, but the deal took shape after she met the founder of CommonKindness in November. "I could see how Makeena could become a lot bigger much quicker," she said.

If Makeena wants to be in the data business, scale is important.

"She can really move the needle on how many people she has interacting with the platform and how much data she collects," said Mary Jo Gorman, managing partner of the Prosper accelerator.

Frame wants to raise $1 million in capital to integrate the acquisition and boost sales efforts. Learning to pitch to investors is an important part of the Prosper program.

"Karen has done a great job listening to us and learning the kinds of things she needs to say to the investors," Gorman said.

"She's a fast learner."

Frame will move back to Boulder after the program ends next month, but she's open to possibly having a St. Louis office someday. She's also exploring ways to collaborate with some St. Louis technology firms.

Boulder's thriving technology and natural-foods sectors, Frame says, don't always talk to each other.

"The natural products industry people are not technology types, and the tech folks thought Makeena was just a coupon app," she said. "We're not; we straddle the two different worlds."

In St. Louis, she's found it much easier to talk with people from various industries. "Everybody is really collaborative,"

Frame said. "I feel very fortunate and grateful that Prosper has been here for the next phase of growing the company."

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