Success Wears Sneakers Preview: Meet MaryAnn Bekkedahl, Keep’s Co-Founder & President

mary ann bekkedahl

On Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Vivaldi will host a panel discussion at our New York office you won’t want to miss. Click here to register for the event.

Moderated by Vox Media, “Success Wears Sneakers: What can big brands learn from the city’s savviest startups” will include perspectives from panelists  MaryAnn Bekkedahl (Keep), Liz Wald (Indiegogo), Andrew Yakub (Rayton Solar), Marie Cosnard (Happn) and Andrew Lin (Caviar).

To give you an idea of what’s to come, we talked with  MaryAnn Bekkedahl about the upcoming panel and her experience as Keep’s Co-Founder and President, where she works to oversee all company operations, consumer marketing, customer acquisition and business development initiatives.

How important is customization for customer engagement? Have you found that the gender and psychographics of the target audience matter in terms of how much impact customization has, or does it have more to do with the nature of the product?

Customization is very important for any digital experience, but especially for shopping. It is one of the outstanding improvements that technology makes possible… and one of the most notable ways that technology creates businesses that outperform real-world businesses. Best example, Google. Anyone still have a set of hardcover dictionaries around? A Yellow phone book? In retail, there’s literally no edge case where personalization doesn’t outperform standardization. (That said, over-personalization can be a problem. Say you buy a baby gift for a friend, then that store shows you baby items each subsequent time you visit… and you don’t have a baby.)

Media (like Men’s Health in this example) is great at telling you what the thought leaders or influencers are declaring as the hot trends. Media should be “top down” so-to-speak, and bring point of view to content. Media is best, though, when it then personalizes upon itself – showing you articles relevant to you, based on prior engagement with the site or service.

OK, back to shopping. At Keep, in particular, we have a marketing team of five young women who on any census report are exactly the same person. Single, similar HHI, rent in NYC, have roommates, work at a startup, date boys, love shopping. HOWEVER, they are as different in their fashion and other product choices as they are similar in all else. Boho chic, Streetstyle, Hipster, Prepster and JerseyGirl. They all see a different view of Keep, and love it for the personalization – and serendipity – it delivers to them. Short answer – psychographics matter, and technology can work wonders to show every unique person products they love.

Keep isn’t your first experience in the world of startups – prior to co-founding Keep, you had spent time at another startup, Adkeeper. What things that you saw or experiences you had at Adkeeper were influential in shaping your strategy for Keep?

My biggest learning from AdKeeper that translated over to Keep is that you have to have end-consumer buy-in (slash-love!) for your product in order for it to work. AdKeeper was an advertising technology, and advertisers loved it. Problem was – consumers did not. There is simply no business in launching a product that the end-consumer doesn’t adore, because often at a startup, it’s the only strand of hope you have. But it’s a good one to have! Keep was immediately embraced by the audience it intended to serve, and success with the end-consumer literally smooths the way for all kinds of hiccups you can face along the way.

The interactive aspects of Keep mean that it isn’t just an e-commerce destination, Keep is also a social media network. Faced with a product and platform that offers so many opportunities and ideas for innovation, how do you choose which paths to pursue in growing Keep? How do you differentiate between an avenue that is likely to meet a dead-end soon, versus an opportunity that will further elevate your brand and propel Keep forward?

Great question, and timely, at that, since we recently took commenting OUT of the Keep platform. We believe that shopping is not as social an activity as many – including us – believed a year ago. Of course, sharing is important (“hey friend, do you like these for me?”) but the in-platform @-mentioning and commenting wasn’t vibrant at Keep and therefore hit the cutting room floor.

This happens a lot. How to choose which paths to pursue? A cocktail of the following: seeing what works elsewhere, not just at competitors, but at other products/services your audience is using… seeing what’s trending by observing small startups and what’s getting funded and what’s getting traction with millennials… listening to what the team wants and believes in, and then seeing how hard they fight for it, or how well they can articulate why the feature should be built, or not be canned.

Online shopping is convenient and easy for consumers, but they also have much more time to contemplate online purchase decisions, resulting in abandoned shopping carts, a phenomenon that has been a challenge for online retailers. How does Keep think about and address this challenge?

Keep is one of the solutions to this very problem! Specifically, mobile cart abandonment. There’s no polite way to say it – checking out on a mobile device sucks. We call it “thumb yoga,” and our goal is to eliminate it completely! You see something in your mobile browsing session that you might want to buy. You put it into a shopping cart (which requires too much effort on a mobile device – creating an account, establishing a password, etc). Or, you take a screenshot (dirty little secret – people screenshot LIKE CRAZY). Then, you do something else, and the likelihood of digging that item up again on a laptop or desktop is slim. With Keep, you can easily put the item into a Collection, perhaps called, “think about,” or you can checkout with two taps and the item is on its way. No more thumb yoga.

In the past couple of years, e-commerce and its reach have grown exponentially, and the online shopping industry in the United States is expected to grow to $434.2 billion by 2017. A decade or two ago no one would have fathomed that we would be able to buy clothes from websites, and today we’re able to buy everything from groceries to cars online. If you were to completely stretch your imagination and think of the most astonishing possibilities, what do you think is going to be the next big thing in e-commerce?

SO MANY THEORIES, SO LITTLE TIME! Ok, one theory is this: the powers of technology make it possible to disaggregate all the merchandise across the web, and put it back together again in any shape or form anyone wants. A blogger selects five shirts from five different stores and puts them onto her blog. Keepers collect merchandise from all over the web and put them into Collections for others to discover and buy. Aggregated commerce is a huge trend right now, and a lot of the innovations are basically department stores with great merch and no walls or shelves. At some point, do the multi-brand retailers become obsolete, or at a minimum, just expensive warehouses for e-commerce businesses? Does a customer care if their Marc Jacobs bag actually comes from store X vs. store Y, as long as they get it quickly, at a good price, with a good return policy?

What about Keep are you most proud of?

The many, many inventions we’ve made and put into our products. We are doing things that no one has done before, and while it’s scary – and make no mistake, much of it will not succeed – it is DIFFERENT, and therefore, exciting. Our team is brave and brilliant. That gives us all great pride.

To hear more from MaryAnn and all our Success Wears Sneakers panelists register for Vivaldi’s June 23rd event here.