As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

When is this startup “real”?

I’ve been thinking of Grommet’s milestones to date, and the many bazillions to come. But before I forget them, I want to record moments of note which incrementally moved the endeavor from “gleam in my eye” concept to…what? Hmmm…I think we are in “gestation phase” now.

(I am still into recording my children’s milestones too, so this feels like normal behavior to me. Maybe this post is the business equivalent of a baby book.)

But I still ask the question, “When is this startup real?” Here’s a taste of the early days journey:

  1. Cali Tran introduces me to a lively entrepreneur, Grant Kornman. Tell him about the opportunity for product introductions–specifically–and commerce–generally–in social media. I am halfway describing a business. He says, “You should do that.” I think, “Maybe I should.”
  2. I go home and do what a designer does…I draw a picture of the idea. Customers, cultural influences, trends, new technology and behavioral opportunities, and a possible solution. I think I like it.
  3. The next day I do what an MBA does…I create a rough financial model. It looks like we can make money too.
  4. Dan Nova tells me all startups feel like a blob at first. That single thought seems to inspire me to keep going…OK with the ambiguity, again, anew (this is my third startup after all).
  5. I visit my son at college and on the plane home read an alumni publication full of interviews with people who started companies. Some of them on fairly thin premises. I write my own “why I want to start a company” list.
  6. I carefully, gingerly explain the Daily Grommet idea (though it did not have that name then) to husband Des, Drew Beja , Deb Pine, Dominique Hurley. I tell each of them that it is raw and fragile, and please be honest, but gentle, in their feedback. I think if any one of them had thrown up on it I might have folded. (I chose them carefully, of course. And Des always had veto power anyway.) The response is encouraging. There are offers of investment. That is the first real brick in the foundation.
  7. I take the idea to Dayna Grayson, on an instinct that she will “get” it, but be critical. (And clearly I had a predilection for talking to people whose names begin with ‘D”.) She barely knows me so she has no reason to hold back. She gets it. She spends lots of time over several weeks advancing and challenging my ideas. Des and Drew do too.
  8. I cut off all conversations with other companies–I’d been chatting with a few startups about joining their teams.
  9. I develop the idea with Dom–who adds lots of “science of marketing” insight, and product development expert Aaron Oppenheimer, who thinks out customer experience, architecture, branding clearly with me.
  10. Get introduced to entrepreneur and technologist and social media gorilla, Chris Herot. He takes a couple meetings to absorb Grommet, and begins acting as a de facto advisor.
  11. Buy the url, after buying a bunch of other even more ridiculous and non-starter names.
  12. I go to Cyberposium at Harvard and meet the faculty social media guru, Misiek Piskorski. Ask him to be an advisor and he agrees.
  13. Dayna introduces me to David Eisenberg of Rakuten (now at BzzAgent) and he offers to be an advisor.
  14. I call Jim B-school buddy, and partner-to-be. He’s in. Second brick. We get going more earnestly on studying small product producers and that supply chain.
  15. Take the idea to Dave Cancel…on Rudy Rouhana’s recommendation. (Had never met Dave.) Figure Dave will give me good founder advice, CTO stuff, and be critical about my data asset assumptions. He surprises me by actually getting the idea on a deep consumer level–I didn’t know his wife has spent her career in this arena, and he clearly pays attention to her work.
  16. After an interesting diversion helping a Venrock/Highland seed stage company (where I learn a lot more about venture capital, UGC, digital IP and ownership issues, and getting a seed company to Series A) I get back on track to really start fundraising for Grommet.
  17. Have lots and lots of meetings with potential angel investors. ‘Nuf said. With the exception of one dreadful NY meeting, uniformly engaging and usually pleasant. (But that one meeting– what a jerk!! Someone who felt if he personally could not understand something it must not be worthy. Sometimes people are too smart for their own good.) But I am not looking so much for friends as investors, so have to keep talking myself up through these meetings. This was the hardest part, so far. I liked the meetings, but I didn’t like not knowing if we had early viability.
  18. I spend a lot of time going to social media, VC, technology events. At one point I put “Daily Grommet” on my name tag. No one laughs.
  19. VC Nick Beim tells Jim and me that we are working on something big, and we should just quietly make it happen. He predicts people won’t understand the idea–it’s early–and we should not make it our business to educate them.
  20. Meet former VC and entrepreneur Nataly Kogan, and we start a regular breakfast rendezvous to help each other.
  21. Get tons of recommendations for startup attorneys. Pick Paul Oakley at Sullivan and Worcester. Love working out the details of incorporation and our fundraising deal. Paul is very clear and wise, and his work makes everything seem more tangible. Third brick.
  22. Open a bank account. Shouldn’t be, but felt like fourth brick. Something about seeing that check book, even though I only put in $5K of my own money to get it started.
  23. I start interviewing software developers, designers, keeping an eye out for budget office space.
  24. Go to Nantucket Conference. “Re-meet” Jeff Yolen, who seems taken with the Grommet idea and acts as my wing man all weekend. He turns out to be the James Brown of business networking, so very lucky that he offers to be an advisor.
  25. Meet lots of very, very helpful people on Nantucket. Founders, investors. Good people. Continue to get lots of advice and help from several of them.
  26. Move out of my home office (I’m going crazy there) and camp out with pal Omar Khudari in his office space.
  27. Three business school classmates invest.
  28. Meet Bill McCullen through a circuitous route. He and partner Elon Boms, of Launch Capital, make Daily Grommet their second investment.
  29. Had had a good response from Diane Hessan a couple months back and she strongly encourages me to submit Daily Grommet to Springboard for consideration for their upcoming ALLTHINGSMEDIA VC forum.
  30. Jim completes our round and we are “funded.” Fifth brick.
  31. Write first check on Grommet bank account. Sixth brick, or at least a stake in the ground. THIS, for me, is the most real moment of the business.
  32. Take space at 6 Wallis Court, alongside Pod Design, and Agile Commerce (who are building our online experience). Paint the walls, get visiting Irish friend and IKEA expert Cillian Murphy to assemble all the furniture. Move in. Seventh brick.
  33. Make the final cut for ALLTHINGSMEDIA.
  34. Recruit Joanne Domeniconi, consumer products rock star, with whom I worked at Keds. She becomes our Chief Discovery Officer. Eighth brick.
  35. Dayna introduces me to Emily Lapkin, who has deep content creation and UI experience in our space. She becomes immediately invaluable as an advisor.
  36. We have a logo. Ninth brick. Seems a little lightweight to say so, but starting to visualize the business makes it more real for me. Wireframes, screen shots start appearing, with the same effect.
  37. Write about Daily Grommet in this blog. Tenth brick.
So now we’re building the customer experience, Joanne is sourcing Grommets, Jim working out ops, I took a little time off from fundraising, but that starts again, biz dev and team building needs are ever present. The usual startup stuff.
So are we “real” yet? What are the stages of real? Launching, of course. First transaction. First successful day of fulfilling orders. Building out the team. Next financing. Press. Publisher partners. Community. Numbers. Getting to cash flow positive. Attracting competition.
My middle son Gray says, “Mom, take it easy. You are way too happy about this Grommet business. What if it fails?” I tell him about the Teddy Roosevelt “Man in the Arena” quote we have on our office walls. Jim grew up with this quote framed, in his dad’s study, and when my friend Paddy Hayes used it to start his recent published book, and sent it to me, we knew we had to frame it for ourselves. (See end of post.)
So, today, I focus on the milestones, which are mainly the good things. (Notably, almost all having to do with people helping us out.) We’ve dealt with some hard stuff already, but are acutely aware that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I figured out a long time ago that you have to learn what you can from the knocks, appreciate deeply the boosts, but mainly keep on moving. I guess all we can say is, “Bring it on.” And I’ll keep asking, “Are we real yet?”
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”…Teddy Roosevelt

11 Responses to “When is this startup “real”?”

  1. Change Agent Des

    It’s exciting to see Daily Grommet grow from the hand drawn picture of an idea to the real startup that it is today. For me there were a few key ‘proof points’ along the way.

    1. When you presented to me the picture of the idea and I realized it was not only a picture of a great idea but it was also a picture of you and your experience. There are probably very few people in the world with the ‘perfect storm’ collection of experience – both in markets and in start-ups – that will allow this particular idea to be the success that it can be.

    2. When you went off to a meeting with one of those very few people with the background and experience such that they SHOULD ‘get’ your idea and, in each case, those few special people said, “You are on to something really big here.”

    It is a great idea and, with the people you’re pulling together on the team, both as employees and advisors — and with your market and startup experience — today Daily Grommet is real and tomorrow it will be a success.

  2. julespieri

    Wow. SO nice to have such support and enthusiasm from the home team. All founders should be so lucky. 🙂 Now if you could get Gray to stop calling the company “Daily Metal Ring”.

  3. Christopher Herot's Weblog

    Daily Grommet…

    Jules Pieri muses on her blog whether her startup Daily Grommet (for which I am an advisor) is “real” yet. Given the progress to date (raising capital, hiring employees, renting office space) they are already real in the sense that multiple people a…

  4. Nataly

    Jules, this was so great and fascinating to read. Truly. And I’m honored to have been included as a step on your way to making this real.:)


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