County native turns family-oriented deals into thriving business -- Gazette.Net







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As an early follower of deal-of-the-day websites like Groupon and LivingSocial, Jamie Ratner noticed that many of the deals weren’t really geared toward families.

Though her degrees were in criminal justice and security management, and she was the security manager for Washington, D.C., law firm Williams & Connolly LLP, Ratner saw a need and ran with it. She opened Certifikid in 2010, contacting family-friendly businesses to get them to advertise discounted services or products through her website and email service.

The business hit $1 million in revenue during its first full year in 2011. From focusing on the Maryland-Washington, D.C., region, the business expanded to include pages for deals in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Last year, CertifiKid grossed $3.5 million.

“Though I didn’t study business in college, I always wanted to have my own business,” said Ratner, 36. “I had to learn a lot on the job.”

Local roots

Growing up in Rockville, Ratner graduated from Wootton High School. She was attracted to the criminal justice field partly based on being a fan of the television show, “Law & Order.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in security management from Northeastern University in Boston. She worked in security for Williams & Connolly for almost five years before starting her business.

About 20 employees are scattered across Maryland and other parts of the country, working out of their home offices. Ratner runs CertifiKid out of the Potomac home she shares with her two children and husband, Brian, an attorney who specializes in antitrust litigation and has provided legal advice to the business.

Butler’s Orchard, a farm in Germantown that holds events such as a pumpkin festival in the fall and Easter-themed festival in the spring, is among the most popular local businesses involved with CertifiKid. Other popular partners include Disney On Ice, Gymboree and Imagination Stage.

Imagination Stage in Bethesda was the site on Monday for a first-time conference for local family-oriented businesses that Ratner organized. About 200 people turned out to network and hear speakers such as Pam Felix, co-founder of the Rockville-based California Tortilla restaurant chain.

The event may turn into an annual one, Ratner said.

Running a business doesn’t leave Ratner with much time for anything else, though it’s a bonus for her young kids to get to go to many events and family-themed attractions that work with CertifiKid. Long hours, including working weekends to find new deals, are the norm.

“It’s practically a 24-7 operation since it is online,” Ratner said. “When I’m not running or spending time with my family, I’m working.”