President & Co-Founder, Keep.com
Listen up die-hard shopaholics—this one’s for you! MaryAnn Bekkedahl, 45, has taken the mobile e-commerce world by storm as Co-founder and President of online start-up Keep—and has no plans of slowing down. Being able to boast a career in fashion isn’t easy, but after graduating from the University of Michigan, MaryAnn worked her way up and eventually found herself in charge of fashion advertising at Men’s Health magazine. This eventually gave her enough knowledge and a strong platform to launch Keep.
After years of working in the industry, MaryAnn knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to fashion and e-commerce. What makes Keep so unique is that it lets a community of shoppers decide what they like. There are no buyers setting trends. And Keep’s recent launch of the first and only universal shopping cart is another game changer. Now, shoppers can buy any product from any store, anywhere—in one checkout process! Keep totally customizes the shopping experience in a way that no other company has managed to replicate.
So what’s the secret to her success? MaryAnn says simply to do what makes you happy. It’s advice we’ve all heard, sure, but in this day and age is all too easy to forget. She followed her dreams and that led to a career that combines all of MaryAnn’s passions into one: fashion, selling a product she believes in and changing the future of e-commerce forever.
Copy: Sydney Brodie
Photos: Lauren Kallen
her starting point
When did your passion for style and fashion begin, and what first steps did you take in order to establish yourself as a pro?
I was put in charge of fashion advertising at Men’s Health magazine, which was actually quite successful in attracting and delivering results for American brands and Italian designers. I found myself at shows and parties in Milan and NYC, mixing with the fashion crowd and finding it all very fascinating. I literally never had the right outfit on and felt like a bull in a china shop 100 percent of the time. Thankfully, I managed to square my poorly clad shoulders, smile through the wrong lipstick shade and chat my way into the biz and be successful at my job. I learned so much from those experiences and am forever grateful to my mentors Steve Bruman and Warren Christopher who taught me style when I was a wee klutz in my twenties.
What do you love most about working at Keep.com? What is the company culture like?
I most love that we’re innovating in an unchartered and clearly massive marketplace: e-commerce, particularly mobile commerce. It’s an industry where in two years, five years, ten years, we’ll look back and say, “Remember when we used to shop like that?” I love being part of the new, even though it’s not yet clear what that will be.
Keep’s culture is very fashion-oriented, yet not exclusive or too fancy. We aim to serve stylish women in their twenties and thirties who seek the latest trends, unique finds and statement pieces within any budget. The office is always abuzz with two topics: fashion and tech. What Emma Stone did/said/wore and what amount Facebook paid to purchase WhatsApp. It’s a great (and relevant) mix because Keep is fashion-meets-tech for the future of shopping.
her big break
What is the most challenging part of your job? How do you keep yourself from getting burnt out?
Focus is challenging. There are literally endless opportunities for innovating in the commerce landscape, and at every turn I see something I’d like Keep to be doing. Staying the course we’ve chosen and avoiding distraction is one of the hardest things to do when you’re innovative, and innovating.
If we had the chance to peek at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
Wake at 5:45 a.m. Get three humans cleaned, fed, dressed and out the door (husband manages self). Meet with bloggers, retailers, editors and reporters about partnerships and initiatives at Keep. Work with marketing to plan new member acquisition and existing member retention and growth. Work with editorial to insure that the voice of Keep is strong, on-brand and going beyond our four walls to attract new members. Work with product and tech to prioritize features and company plans. Drink wine, eat fabulous home-cooked food, play with kids, bring laptop to bed to work a few more hours (sexy, right?).
How much of your role involves working closely with cross-functional teams like marketing, manufacturers, etc.? How much of your role includes creative skills and how much includes business skills (i.e. budget, managerial, analytical)?
At a start-up, everyone wears multiple hats, and as president, I pretty much need to carry my hat rack around with me at all times. Every day I’m engaged in strategies and the execution of new and existing plans in marketing, financial modeling, recruiting across all disciplines, PR and growth planning across our entire business.
In our fast-paced world, it can be difficult to stay ahead of the game. So how is Keep different? What sets it apart from other companies like it?
In e-commerce, it’s actually not so difficult to stay ahead of the game. The game has just begun, the rules aren’t yet written, the players are just getting onto the field. It’s so exciting to be one of many inventions in a field as large and explosive as e-commerce! Keep’s unique take on e-commerce is to leverage the taste and passion of the crowd to source and merchandise the best products currently available on the web for stylish women. We don’t rely on retail buyers to decide if green is in or out, we let the community decide, with the entire web’s merchandise at their disposal.
Translating passion into a career is tough. What advice would you give to women trying to figure this out?
Do what makes you happy. Pollyanna advice, sure, but it’s true. I loved selling and found myself just as happy selling ads at a men’s magazine as any other, even though I’m not a man. I just believed in the product and loved the sell. Now, at Keep, it’s the best of all worlds! Helping women discover the style and décor products that help them define themselves, while making an impact on the future of e-commerce—woot, woot!
How do you handle work/life balance?
It’s all life. I love working. I love building businesses and creating value in the world. I work everywhere, all the time, including on road trips, after the kids’ bedtime and in the early mornings before the rest of the house wakes up. I engage my kids in my work as well, sharing events from the day with them and celebrating milestones at the office over dinner with them at home. It’s what I do, it’s who I am, there’s no trick to “handling” that with a family. You just do.
And finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What’s next for your career?
I look forward to each milestone at Keep: new record days of app installs, new tastemakers discovering the platform, new notes from shoppers appreciating what we do. We’re onto something big here, and looking forward to how big is what makes each new day fun.
Published July 10, 2014