Makeena CEO Karen Frame on Making Healthy Products Easily Accessible
Karen Frame is passionate about using technology for good. As Co-Founder and CEO of Makeena, a rewards program that helps consumers navigate the world of natural products while saving money, she’s determined to make healthy products more accessible. She also aims to use data & technology to bridge the gap between better-for-you companies and their consumers.
Kevue sat down (virtually, of course) with Frame to learn about her business and her passion for using technology to help people and the planet. Here’s what she had to say:
A number of things happened in my life that led me to Makeena. First of all, my dad was a science professor at the University of Illinois. My dad helped develop PLATO, a computer-based educational system that helped kids learn science and mathematics, social studies, and English... way back when, before everyone was doing school online thanks to stay-at-home orders. I was raised to be curious and ask questions, and I even learned how to code when I was about 4.
I grew up in the middle of corn and soybean fields on this little lake. The cornfield next door would always have a crop duster. Pesticides were obviously sprayed on the fields, but the runoff went into the lake. A lot of people around the lake (including people in my family) are either sick or dead as a result. In second grade, I was asked by my teacher what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to feed all the starving children in Africa. Don’t ask me where that came from! But I did become a lawyer.
I met my former husband— who had been an organic farmer— in my first year of law school. He taught me how to be a better shopper and understand what words like organic, gluten-free, and plant-based truly meant. We used to go to Strawberry Fields, this teeny little grocery store where there was always someone there in customer service to help you figure out the best natural products. The people were super friendly, and the store was easy to navigate.
When I moved to Boulder, CO, I started shopping at larger natural food stores. In those days, there weren’t the same choices we have now. I would go in and be confused about where to find things and what products to buy. One day I thought: what if we put touchscreens in natural product stores to help consumers when customer service isn’t available. And that was the start of Natural Interactions, an earlier start-up I launched. Retailers were super interested in us, but we were inexperienced entrepreneurs.
After working as an in-house lawyer for several software companies, I was asked to teach for the University of Colorado’s Entrepreneurship program. I was talking with a colleague about exchanging textbooks with a mobile device when I thought: I should take Natural Interactions and focus on the brands (instead of the stores) to help people find natural products all across the US, regardless of where they shop. I was trying to figure out what I can do that can make a big difference in people’s lives, and I really wanted to get natural products in the hands of consumers.
On Makeena, The Free Rewards App for Good
Makeena is a free rewards app that helps consumers find, discover, and save on healthy and eco-friendly products. It’s available all over the US, and we don’t care where or how you choose to buy. You can buy online. You can buy in-store. All you have to do to earn rewards is add a product to your shopping list, then scan the UPC barcode on the product and your recipient after purchase. When you’ve earned enough in rewards, you can cash out through PayPal or Venmo.
We’re the only B-Corp that focuses on rewarding customers for making purchases that are better for you and better for the planet. We give back to the Equal Justice Initative, No Kid Hungry, One Warm Coat, and Feeding America. We’re always trying to figure out other ways to give back.
Makeena just launched a new website too! The app is where you save, and the website is where you learn. We have a page called The Community Page, where everybody can talk about natural brands and where to find their products. You can also sign up for Makeena Mix on our site, where users can receive free samples of natural products.
How Makeena is Bridging the Gap Between Natural Brands and Their Customers
My goal is for millions of millions of consumers to use Makeena, saving them thousands of dollars on better-for-you and better-for-the-planet products. When they think about buying something, they go to Makeena— whether it be our site or the app.
We’re very altruistic in what we do, but ultimately, we’re a data insights company. We also want to help natural brands figure out who their consumer is and where they’re shopping. If Makeena users have questions about the brand, they can engage with the brands directly through our app to ask them. It’s really creating this 1-on-1 direct connection between the consumer and the brand. As a result, they can be more efficient with their marketing dollars, grow their revenue, and (hopefully) lower the price of their products to make them more accessible.
Eventually, people will be healthier, and we will live on a cleaner planet.
Frame’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
If you have an idea but don’t know where to start, surround yourself with smart people. Find people that are smarter than you. And not just advisors and mentors, people on your team-team that are dedicated. Know that it takes a village to build something great. Treat everybody the way you want to be treated, with as much honesty, integrity, compassion, and kindness as you can.
Always be realistic about what you are building. Is there a need for it? Are there problems that you are trying to solve? You have to be passionate about what you are doing. I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have that burning reason why inside of me—not just making money, though. You have to love what you’re doing because you wake up every morning, and you’re instantly absorbed in it.
You have to do what you say you’re going to do. That’s a big part of being a business owner. You could be super passionate but not have a well-thought-out business. You have to find a way to make money too. Figure out what business model works and make sure there is a plan to get there. You’ve got to be resilient, gritty, and tenacious, but also have a great attitude. You have to have an intellectual curiosity because running a business is a 24/7 job… sometimes even when you’re sleeping.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
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