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Jules Pieri

Author Archives: Jules Pieri

Founder and CEO of The Grommet.

  • Earth Day isn't for us

    There’s a scene in Mad Men in which Don Draper, his wife, and kids are having a picnic and basking in a gorgeous sunny day. It’s a picturesque view of the vintage American family. After a few minutes they ready to leave. Don throws his empty beer can into the field. His wife, Betty, shakes out the trash-covered blanket onto the ground and the Drapers drive away. End scene.

    Were this a 2017 portrait of family perfection, the Drapers would’ve carefully separated paper from plastic and driven them to a proper receptacle in their energy-efficient 2012 Prius. But their actions in the show are a subtle nod to the way things were just 50 years ago. Paper, plastic, aluminum, it didn’t matter - leave it. It was the world’s problem to dispose of.

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  • The Power of Small

    “We all succeed when small businesses succeed.” You heard this line ad nauseum throughout the election cycle, but practically, outside of a sound bite, what does that look like?

    It starts by looking something like this.

    US-map-Ace-locations

    We are Jules Pieri and John Venhuizen, the CEOs of The Grommet and Ace Hardware and we are bridging local store owners, Makers – and you, to help small businesses thrive.

    We passionately believe that there is power in small. The small business. The little guy. The dreamer. The inventor whose vision could be the next big thing. The folks who wake up every day with a chip on their shoulder because they have to duke it out against the shackles of bureaucracy and the Goliaths of business every day. We believe that there is a liberating strength and might in our collaboration.

    We share many of the same goals. We want to strengthen Main Street. We want to amplify the maker movement and launch a new and different kind of industrial revolution. We’re working together to bring more early-stage businesses into your backyard. This creates jobs for people you probably know, gives you higher quality products and bolsters your local economy.

    The-Grommet-and-Ace-Hardware

    We believe in the consumer. We know that consumers yearn for more than cookie-cutter, commoditized, generic stuff anyone can get from nearly every store. We know that consumers still believe in discovery, values-driven brands and a local face behind their retail purchases.

    We firmly believe that there is more to the shopping experience than just faceless interactions and drone delivery. Together, Ace and The Grommet, we can offer our customers more of what we believe makes America special, the unbridled creativity of the local entrepreneur.

    And we’re not budging. We’ve seen the business landscape stacked against the underdog for too long. The way we can tip the scales is by investing in innovation. So we will. And we hope you join us.

    You play a vital part in this success. We humbly ask for your continued support. Visit your local Ace, try these innovative products from the Grommet. It takes tenacity, guts and grit to build a company and help it grow. Learn more about our collaboration that’s putting Grommets in Ace stores in your neighborhood, including more than 170 locally-owned Ace Hardware stores just last month.

    Thank you for your support, for supporting small.

    Jules-Pieri-and-John-Venhuizen

  • The (March) Madness of Entrepreneurship

    It’s the season of brackets so I filled out my own. Not for the NCAA basketball tournament. That’s easy. Michigan wins, end of bracket. I’m told that would be “busted.” Mine is a bracket of skills one needs to succeed as an entrepreneur. Game on.

    ...

    Sweet Sixteen

    Opportunity Region

    (1) Tenacity over (8) Charm

    A slam-dunk. There will be legendary hills and valleys in starting a business and when you’re sitting in a room by yourself going crazy, charm will get you nowhere. Every single day you need tenacity.

    (3) Energy over (6) Intellect

    Similarly, you need energy day in, day out. You’re a battery cell for the rest of the team. The leverage of your energy is much more useful than intellect. You need intellect, but it doesn’t excite your team.

    (4) Salesmanship over (5) Financial Acumen

    Salesmanship beats financial acumen because you can hire financial acumen. You can also teach it to yourself. Salesmanship is more innate. However, one fallacy about salesmanship is it’s a type of person. Lots of personalities can be killer great salespeople. It doesn’t have to be an extrovert or someone who likes to backslap; it can be anyone if they can establish a rapport and credibility in their idea.

    (2) Resourcefulness over (7) Courage

    You can be a successful founder and fall into a puddle every night due to a lack of courage. Courage isn’t an inherent quality. But resourcefulness, especially early on, is essential. It’s trading low value assets for high value assets. Our team at SXSW put this into practice. With a tighter budget than most, they couldn’t throw money at the problem but still had to make an impact. You can judge for yourself how they did.

    A more extreme case was our early office furniture. It was largely rejects from failed startups. I’d be driving around on the weekend, find a chair on the side of the road and pick it up. Seriously. Here’s my blog post detailing what our Director of Wholesale, Jason McCarthy, called our chairs: Sh*t on Wheels. We had to work and sit somewhere so we found a cost-effective way to do it. You need that constant bartering mentality.

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  • Introducing The Grommet Wholesale: At The White House Maker Faire today!

    whitehouse_image

    In conjunction with President Obama at the first ever White House Maker Faire, we are officially launching The Grommet Wholesale Platform. Our goal since we founded the company back in the insanely challenging year of 2008 has remained exactly the same--to level the playing field so the best products can win. Our executive careers at big companies like Keds and Stride Rite told us that the business of product launch was massive--but also very broken. So we set out to build a place where inspired (but often new-to-the-rodeo) product creators had a chance to succeed, and where their stories could be shared with a caring, supportive community. Since our classic startup beginnings, working out of a single room, we’ve been able to build a product launch platform that’s powerfully catapulted over 2,000 Makers and their products. This is meaningful work--but it’s not enough. So we’re charging out again to revolutionize another part of the traditional retail model: wholesale. It’s overdue for a 21st century makeover and we’re launching a new b2b e-commerce site to do it.

    The Grommet Wholesale

    Welcome to The Grommet Wholesale. Our platform provides a critical missing resource to build sustainable Maker businesses by creating a more convenient, organized, and curated online platform where Retailers can source the newest and most imaginative products for their stores.

    Untitled-2 Here's a look at the welcome to retailers on our site.

    Forming a massive sea change in product creation, fifty-seven percent of adult Americans identify themselves as Makers.  Their product development is entirely technology driven and they are seizing unprecedented access to rapid prototyping, crowdfunding, hacker spaces, and small run manufacturing resources to form a vibrant, new American industrial renaissance called The Maker Movement. This means that more worthy products than ever are hitting our pipeline each day and we need to prepare them for scale.  The business of wholesale is a traditional one.  Purchase orders are still written by hand or transferred via email attachments.   Product sourcing often occurs through catalogs, trade shows and sales reps appointments.   These avenues are, and will remain, valuable.  Yet wholesale needs to catch up with today’s digital world, streamlining the process for both Makers and Retailers. Our furthering of the Maker Movement is even being recognized by President Obama himself as The White House is holding its first ever Maker Faire today.   We’ll be there with big smiles on our faces, to embrace their support and basking in the moment. We have been working in this space before it even had a name.  It’s deeply gratifying to have the Commander in Chief of the nation recognize our central role in enabling the Maker Movement.

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  • We're The Grommet Now

    We changed our company name from Daily Grommet to The Grommet.  This shift represents a doubling down in our commitment to “Grommet.” As the company has evolved the word “Daily” has become superfluous, while Grommet is enduring.

     

    I chose the word Grommet in 2008 when this company was just a gleam in my eye.  Why?  Those reasons remain equally true today:

     

    • As an industrial designer and product geek, I simply love hardware!  And I have a strong fondness for Grommets in particular. In most applications, like shower curtains, carrying bags, and outdoor gear, Grommets are a humble piece of hardware that simply makes things stronger and better.  And they can have real wit and humor when applied in unexpected places like stationery, and as a decorative texture on apparel.
    • The name is like a “wink” to Makers.  Most people don’t know what a Grommet is.  That’s OK!  It made the name all the more appealing to me because that meant we could define it whatever we wanted.  But for a fellow hardware or DIY person, it’s a subtle wink—a little bond and connection.
    • Like the hardware, Grommets are products that “make things better” too.  In the case of a new technology or a smart invention, these products can help us in our daily lives.  In the case of a domestically produced Grommet--or one that is manufactured in an impoverished area--they can create needed jobs.  They can preserve a craft, or a quality way of producing a product that is at risk of disappearing. In the case of a company founded by a woman, a young grad, or a senior citizen, they can give lift to an under-represented entrepreneur.  As social enterprises, Grommets can fundamentally improve lives.  As green or sustainable products, they can improve the planet.

    Finally, people often call us The Grommet, so we decided to go with the flow.  We like it better too.

     

    It makes us smile to know that the simple act of buying or sharing a Grommet is a truly powerful act.  It empowers us as citizens and consumers to support the companies creating the world we want to live in.

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  • A killer tool for revealing company culture : Stop, Start, Keep

    Jairo is elated to eat frozen yogurt!

    My most memorable course at HBS was taught by a young instructor (now professor) named Tom DeLong. It was called Career Management. I liked it for two reasons. First, it was the only self-reflective course I encountered at HBS and it exposed an atypical side of my classmates’ thought processes. Second, Tom was brand new at the school and was somehow less guarded than the average teacher. That made me root for him.

    One little exercise for healthy communications Tom shared was an idea to discuss what aspects of a relationship you wanted your partner to “Stop, Start, or Keep.“ It is simple, but very powerful, in the way it balances positive and negative feedback, and because it elegantly and somewhat dispassionately gets to pretty deep ideas.

    When Grommet was on the cusp of growing dramatically in Q3 last year, I asked my team that same question. “While it’s just us chickens here, before a whole bunch of new employees show up, what aspects of our culture and behaviors do you want to Stop, Start or Keep?” The team had a lot of Keeps, a lot of Starts but not a lot of Stops. (Actually the lack of Stops worried me…were people holding back?)

    I was charmed that one team member, Adam Russell, said, “I want to keep having all the birthdays and celebrations. I really don’t think any big personal event has gone by at Daily Grommet without us taking time to mark it.”

    So it was fitting that we took the whole team for frozen yogurt yesterday to help Adam have his own Happy Birthday.

    The whole team couldn't be happier for an afternoon frozen yogurt treat!

     

    One of the things I decided to “Start” is a quarterly “Bloody Knee Award.” It was inspired by the Roxanne Quimby quote, “I believe that success is just getting up one more time than you fall” and my own crazy face-plant a couple months ago. I realized that there are always going to be people on our team who might be battling a particularly hard set of circumstances and we should recognize them.

    Our first recipient, for Q3 2012, was Julia Kemp. She curates and produces the Grommets and for a period from May to September she single-handedly covered most of our launches (with a key assist from Kate McLeod). This crushing workload occurred right on top of demanding planning her own September wedding. Julia’s extreme contribution and strength in the face of a killer challenge is highlighted by the fact that we now have SIX people covering that same set of responsibilities she handled alone!

    Julia Kemp...with our new Bloody Knee AwardJulia Kemp…with our new Bloody Knee Award

    So try this. Whether it is with a spouse or a child, or a business partner, or even your whole team. What would you like to Start, Stop or Keep doing?

  • The Grommet Grill with Whoopi Goldberg!

    We're kicking of a new series of quick interviews with people in our community.  They tend to be people who are uber-passionate about the companies and products they support.  So we decided to turn the table and ask them to imagine what they would do if they were on the "creator" side of the equation.  We're calling this series the Grommet Grill.

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    Daily Grommet Q & A with  Whoopi
    Here's our first respondent:  the indubitable Whoopi Goldberg.  Her co-workers on The View say she's pretty tough to buy for…since she is a super savvy consumer herself.  So we were especially curious to know what catches her eye.

    Grommet: If you were a product, what would be your tagline?

    Whoopi:  You're good to go!

    Grommet: What's your favorite product ever, and why?
    Whoopi:  Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, because they do what they say they're going to do .
    Grommet: If you could invent a product, what would it have been?
    Whoopi: The company that records what alarms should sound [like] ... and designer fire extinguishers.
    .............

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    It sounds like Ms. Goldberg runs a sparkling-clean household.  As she knows, we have a Grommet for that.  Several, in fact.  And we can only imagine what sounds Whoopi would record for the next generation of alarms.
    Thanks Whoopi!

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    Be sure to follow @WhoopiGoldberg on Twitter.
    We'd love to hear YOUR answers to these questions as well. Leave your answer to one of the above questions in a comment below!

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  • Who says startup offices have to be quiet? Bring on da noise

    Yesterday at Grommet: Annaliese Godderz, Ray Hallare, me, Jesse Buckley. Ray said, “Aww, it’s my first thank you note at Grommet.”

    I’ve always been struck that many technology startups are very, very quiet offices.  No “Mad Man-esque” phones ringing or typewriters clacking and office chitchat.  Not a lot of visitors in and out. Startups usually have open plans and banks of people hunched over computers, silently absorbed in a private headphone stream.  People have told me that open plans can kill conversation…since nothing is private and everything is potentially intrusive to your co-workers.  Beyond that, startup customers don’t often call, and most digital businesses actually work hard to prevent that difficult phone service expense in the first place.  Automation and self-serveare the mantras.  We’re not like that at Grommet.  It’s the loudest startup I’ve ever experienced.

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  • Day-tripping for mushrooms with a toddler

    Killian, trying to wrap his mind around the friendly stranger showing him strange things growing out of a cardboard box.

    The single best thing about building Grommet has been watching the ongoing success of our Grommet partners, like Back to the Roots Ventures. The founders are two young guys who came up with the idea to recycle coffee grounds into mushroom growing kits. I took a road trip to visit them at their Oakland CA facility, with my two-year-old nephew Killian in tow. Community outreach is a big part of their ethos at BTTR, so the team was most welcoming to a little boy.

     

    Before our arrival, we negotiated our car around a live police sting operation (seriously) to get to the Back to the Roots office and manufacturing facility. Killian was not impressed with the Oakland Police Department activities, but this little red front loader going into Back to the Roots really got him going.

    Our host for the tour, Mai-Ling Garcia, is in charge of their direct to consumer (as opposed to wholesale) operations. She is standing in front of a bunch of BTTR mushroom growing experiments in this photo. I guess you could call this area their R & D lab.

    It was fun to see the original Back to the Roots boxes. It’s come a long way! These older versions do not communicate enough value or enable gifting. With Daily Grommet’s video format we can work around compromised packaging, but it is a very real problem when the Grommets get send out “into the wild” to compete on store shelves.

    Visible behind the green packages are some cool hydroponic experiments happening. This is part of BTTR’s mission “to make food personal.” I.e. they are working on bringing production into the home in all kinds of ways.

    Here is what the Oyster Mushrooms look like at first, and then a couple days later. (Kind of an eerie blue color to begin. Not something you would pop into your mouth on a woodlands ramble.)

    This is Nikhil Aurora, co-founder, with the rest of us. (The man sports a constant smile!) I was lucky to catch him, as he had unexpectedly pushed back a trip to D.C. Nikhil was headed there in a few hours because he and his co-founder were scheduled to receive a big deal White House Empact100 List award.

    Here’s the reason why Nikhil delayed his trip: he had a last minute command-performance meeting with the Peets Coffee retail team at the BTTR facility. This meant a lot to me because my sister Lisa runs supply chain operations for Peets. In a bit of serendipity last year, I connected her with Nikhil to help BTTR increase its flow of used coffee grounds from Peets’ coffee shops. I love when we can pitch in and help break a log jam for a Grommet partner, by virtue of our networks.

    In this clean room is the man who expertly blends the mushroom spores, coffee grounds and growing medium to create each hand-packed kit.

    BTTR is on track to hit $5M in revenue in 2012. Their holiday ramp-up is yet to start but here are hundreds of kits “aging” before they are sent out for distribution.

    It’s so great to see where these hard-working entrepreneurs have taken such an improbable idea. I look forward to seeing what Nikhil and his co-founder Alejandro Velez do next. Whatever their new product might be, the Grommet community will be very interested.

    This is Killian saying goodbye to the BTTR team…who all work out of this same turquoise colored room partitioned off from the production facility.

    Finally, here is the original 2011 video we produced about Back to the Roots mushroom growing kits. They keep on selling, the mushrooms keep on growing, and BTTR is really making food personal.

     

  • When your office used to be a parlor....there's no telling who might show up.

    Daily Grommet's team is spread out across three buildings in the center of a prototypical New England town, Lexington, MA.  Our original building, which we still occupy, is a converted Victorian house.  This is me, in front.  My office is on the ground floor and my desk faces the window.

    Me, in front of one of the original Grommet office building

    I was sitting in my office and saw these people outside.  They piqued my curiosity and I inquired why they were so interested in our building.

    Turns out the woman on the right, Ruth Fullerton, lived here for several years as a young bride, after World War II.  She had three babies while she lived here.  My office is her former living room.  Our conference room, where we shoot Grommet videos, is her former kitchen.

    This is our landlord Dan with Ruth in our office entry area, her former dining room.

    Our company happened to be making big news on the day Ruth took a tour.  She got a big kick out of that, to think she changed diapers and stirred soup in the same location that places like the New York Times (article in the photo behind Dan) and the Wall Street Journal are featuring.

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