I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Frame, CEO & Co-founder of Makeena, a company focused on helping millennial moms (and others) discover and buy “good” products for them and their families anywhere they shop .With over 20 years experience as an executive in the software and data industries. Karen is a three-time tech co-founder, and this is her second company in the natural products space. She earned her B.S. in Accounting & Business from Indiana University and her J.D. from the University of Illinois and attended the University of Oxford. She’s worked for Intel and GM, and taught entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up as a science professor’s kid in Central Illinois, and lived on a house on a lake across the street from a field sprayed with pesticides. Every. Single. Year. Many of those people who swam in the lake (not to mention the fishes and other beautiful living creatures) are sick or are dead. This is the reason why I am so passionate about organics.
(And, above is just one of my back stories. There are a number of them that led me to create Makeena: (1) I learned how to code as a kid (1969/1970), and that technology can be a tool for good, (2) I wrote a book in second grade (1970) where one of the passages was that when I grew up I wanted “to be a lawyer so I could feed all the starving children in Africa,” (3) when I was in grade school my mom used “food stamps” and coupons to help us make ends meet, (4) I met my former husband (who had been an organic farmer and vegan) my second semester of my first year of law school (1987) and he was the one to introduce me to the world of natural products, (5) I became a vegan while at the University of Oxford (Summer 1987), and remained a strict vegan for twelve years, (6) I ended up in Boulder, Colorado, the silicon valley of natural products companies, (7) I was a co-founder of two touchscreen kiosk companies in the 1990s, one that was focused on helping the consumer navigate the natural products store, (8) I worked my way up as an in-house attorney to become the general counsel of a software company with a whole host of good and bad business experiences, and (9) I taught in the entrepreneurship program at the University of Colorado where I had my “aha” moment as I was listening to one of my colleagues teach a class.)
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I realized I was a true founder when I left my family for six months to live in a partially completed room while I participated as a cohort company at the Telluride Venture Accelerator.
I realized I was a scrappy founder when I participated in Jason Calacanis’ Founder University in San Francisco, and had to sleep in a van on Treasure Island in order to attend!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our vision and mission are aligned — in a good way. I truly believe that we have built a business model that can scale and make a difference in a bigger way. When you aggregate all of the great mission-driven consumer goods companies in one place where the consumer can then learn, buy, and save, you can create smarter/better consumers — and a happier, healthier world.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Keep on vision with your team. Don’t get (too) distracted! And, remind your team to really truly care about your customer. Value your team’s ideas and uniqueness. And make sure that you offer growth opportunities. It shows that you care and are committed to them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My spouse. I gave up a flourishing in-house legal career to bring Makeena to life. I am grateful that he has been supportive of me being a founder of a company that could end up doing some great things in the world.
My father. He instilled in me the sense of purpose I have, and the openness to learn and do better.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am truly hoping that I can take all of my experiences and my resilience to really make better products more affordable for everyone. It’s important to level the playing field between brands like Wonder Bread and Ezekiel bread, Cascade and Ecover, Vicks and Gaia Herbs, Head & Shoulders and Earth Science, and Secret and Primal Pit Paste!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
Listen and learn. Surround yourself with people smarter than you.
Makeena wouldn’t be where it is today without a LOT of smart people who care and have cared about Makeena’s vision and mission. One of my early lessons was that I needed to really listen to my advisors/mentors and to my team — and to trust my gut. Makeena was derailed in 2016 by a scammer who was sniffed out by my team as a scammer, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I should have listened to my advisors.
You need a tremendous amount of compassion. People before profit. This makes sense every time.
In the end, I moved on and chose not to pursue filing either a criminal or civil complaint against the person who scammed me and Makeena.
You need to let some things go. Do the best you can with the resources you have, then move on.
You never know where your next opportunity may come from. Make friends, not enemies. Never burn bridges. Remain open to possibilities.
You have to have thick skin. Don’t take it all personally. Focus, focus, focus.
I am a sensitive person, and I need to remember, to stay focused on Makeena’s vision and mission.
You will always be selling.
You need to have sales skills mixed with a lot of passion because you will always be selling your vision and your mission — to investors, the community, your customers, and the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi
Most of my other favorite life quotes are from Eleanor Roosevelt:
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
You must do the things you think you cannot do.
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
There are so many people I would love to learn from (not just ONE person). Some of them include Arianna Huffington (woman, the way you built your media empire is so incredibly impressive), Warren Buffet (humble, and so, so smart — as well as a good person), Melinda and Bill Gates (love that the two of them are taking their enormous wealth and trying to make the world a better place), Mark Andreessen (he went to my alma mater — love his ingenuity in creating the browser for the world wide web — I was a very early adopter, and how most of his investments have made such a positive impact in the world), Jane Pauley (she went to my alma mater, her persistence, grace, and street smarts are inspiring), Richard Branson (see below), Ev Williams/Jack Dorsey (because I absolutely need to meet the man who married my first unbelievably smart, sassy, and oh so terrific legal assistant at my very first in-house position — not to mention that Ev, Jack, and Biz built a different type of communication technology that has made an impact on the world — good and bad — as we know now), Ken Powell (CEO of General Mills — because General Mills really is not just a very large successful CPG, but because the people who work there, love working there, and General Mills really is trying to do better by supporting organic farming and more), Tony Hsieh (because he focused on happiness at Zappos), Mark Cuban (he’s just a smart business man with a big personality, and he went to my alma mater, Indiana University), Yvon Chouinard (because he committed Patagonia to being an outstanding place to work, and to be an important resource for environmental activism (for example, the on-site cafeteria offers “healthy, mostly vegetarian food,” and Patagonia provides on-site child care — also he committed Patagonia to “tithing” for environmental activism), Oprah Winfrey (she is, well, just Oprah — wow, just, wow), to name a few!
Richard Branson inspires dedication, and persistence. He also embodies the fact that success is a journey, not a destination. “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over.”