Hostess with the Mostess

Houston-based subscription box startup plans expansion and new subscriber features

Lindsey Rose King created a seasonal home goods box that shows consumers how to enjoy each item. Courtesy of Mostess

A few years ago, Lindsey Rose King offered to host her friend's engagement party, and she realized she had no clue where to start. There weren't any real resources out there for her to seek out.

King created Mostess, a seasonally curated home goods subscription box aiming to make it easier to host friends and family into their homes. The company was founded in January of 2017.

"I came up with the idea out of a need," says King, founder and lead curator, "it's hard to casually invite people into your house."

Almost two years later, King has managed to accomplish a lot of her goals, and Mostess has a great retention rate of subscribers with about a 30 percent growth each quarter, King says.

"We have a 5 percent churn rate, so 95 percent of customers have been customers since their first purchase," says King.

Mostess moves to disrupt the retail space by changing how consumers shop for home goods, accessories, and tabletop items. The box presents products in a different setting than consumers are used to seeing in a brick-and-mortar store by combining products from different brands and lines that may not be typically paired.

"Consumers are getting a product because we are referring it and picking it for them," King says. "We're choosing for the consumer, rather than them choosing themselves."

Growing business
In need of more space, the growing company recently moved into a warehouse in the Houston-area in a partnership with Alpha Graphics West Houston to launch its first local fulfillment center.

Currently, Mostess ships to 48 states, and next year, King says she wants to be able to ship to Alaska and Hawaii by July. Since the box has already got some buzz around it in Canada, King says she hope to be able to start her first international shipping there by 2020.

Mostess is in the wrapping up its busiest season; the company just released its winter box, which, along with the autumn box, King says subscribers usually purchase additional boxes for friends and family.

Looking forward to 2019, she's got exciting advancements for her subscribers.

In 2019, Mostess will begin offering slight customizations to each seasonal box and a special evergreen box. Customers will be able to purchase add-on items beginning with the spring box, such as extra candles or accessories in addition to what is offered. The Mostess evergreen boxes will have neutral and classic home accessories and hosting pieces. King says she wants these boxes to be a go-to gift idea or party-hosting asset for everything from a housewarming to an engagement party.

Starting from scratch
King first had the idea for Mostess toward the end of her 10-year stint living in Washington, D.C. Anticipating a move to Houston, King began to research local bloggers and small businesses to build a support system and platform for Mostess prior to the launch.

"In the small business world in Houston, there is the blogging community and there are actual small businesses," says King. "Both are very active and both very open to chatting about how to make business work between both of you."

King tells InnovationMap that Houston is an ideal city for an entrepreneur, offering a collaborative community of friendly, laid back, and hard-working small business owners.

King shares that she launched Mostess without any outside investment, using only her personal funds to get the product off the ground and relied on her friends and family as a test market. From there, she sought feedback from every single customer and potential customer, collected data, and tweaked details leading up to the launch.

"There was not a home goods subscription box on the market," says King, "I didn't have something to model after."

Elegant items shipped to your door

Paige Baker/Mostess

Mostess memberships begin at $120 per seasonal box.

Houston-based Moleculin has three different oncology technologies currently in trials. Getty Images

Immunotherapy and personalized medicine get all the headlines lately, but in the fight against cancer, a natural compound created by bees could beat them in winning one battle.

In 2007, chairman and CEO Walter Klemp founded Moleculin Biotech Inc. as a private company. The former CPA had found success in life sciences with a company that sold devices for the treatment of acne. That introduction into the field of medical technology pushed him toward more profound issues than spotty skin.

"Coincidentally, the inventor of that technology had a brother who was a neuro-oncologist at MD Anderson," Klemp recalls.

The since-deceased Dr. Charles Conrad slowly lured Klemp into what he calls the "cancer ecosphere" of MD Anderson. In 2016, the company went public. And it looks like sooner rather than later, it could make major inroads against some of the toughest cancers to beat.

Klemp observed that while Houston has the world's largest medical center, "the tragic irony" is that other cities have far more biotech money ready to be invested.

"The Third Coast is really starved for capital," he says. "What drew me into this was I was one of the few entrepreneurs that lived here that knew the ropes in terms of tapping into East and West Coast capital structures and could make that connection for them."

The company has three core technologies currently being tested with some success, but the most promising is called WP1066, named for researcher Waldemar Priebe, "a rock star" in his native Poland, according to Klemp, who works at MD Anderson. Though Priebe came to the U.S. in the 1980s, he is still an adjunct professor at the University of Warsaw and conducts some of his trials in Poland because it's easier to get grant money there.

WP1066 uses propolis, a compound of beeswax, sap and saliva that bees produce to seal small areas of their hives, as a base. The molecular compound that Priebe discovered affects STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription), a transcription factor that encourages tumor development. In short, the active compound in WP1066 both downregulates the STAT3, a long-time Holy Grail in the cancer research world, and directly attacking the tumor, but also quieting T Cells, which allows the body's own immune system to fight the cancer itself. Essentially, it works both as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

WP1066 is demonstrating drug-like properties in trials at MD Anderson on glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that recently took the life of the hospital's former president, John Mendelsohn, as well as John McCain and Beau Biden. It is also being tested against pancreatic cancer, one of the most virulent killers cancer doctors combat.

Priebe also created Annamycin, named for his oldest daughter, a first-line chemotherapy drug that fights Acute Myeloid Leukemia without the cardiotoxicity that can damage patients' hearts even as they beat their cancer.

WP1122 uses yet another mechanism to fight cancer.

"Most people don't know that morphine is essentially a modified version of heroin," Klemp explains.

The difference between the poppy-based drugs? Heroin can cross the blood-brain barrier. It's described as the dicetyl ester of morphine. WP1122 is the dicetyl ester of 2DG (2-Deoxyglucose), a glycolysis inhibitor, which works by overfilling tumor cells with fake glucose so that they can't consume the real glucose that makes them grow.

"The theory is, we could feed you so full of junk food that eventually you'd starve to death," Klemp elucidates. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and is metabolized slowly, meaning that it can be made into a drug in a way that 2DG cannot.

What's impressive about Moleculin is its diversity of drugs. Most companies have one drug that gets all or most of the attention. Moleculin has strong hopes for all three currently in trials.

"It's essentially multiple shots on the goal," says executive vice president and CFO Jonathan Foster.

Moleculin has 13 total employees, five of whom are based in Houston. An office in the Memorial Park area serves as a landing pad for employees and collaborators from around the world to get their work done when in Space City. The virtual office set-up works for the company because experts can stay in their home cities to get their work done. And that work is on its way to saving scores of lives.