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.

Five years of freaking out in public: Happy Birthday to The Grommet


Our Marketing team asked me to write a post noting the five-year anniversary of The Grommet’s launch.  Hoping to get over my writer’s block, I asked Joanne to give me some ideas.  Here is our conversation, pretty much verbatim.

Jules:  “So I’m supposed to write a blog post for our October 20th five-year anniversary.  What comes to mind?”

Joanne:  “Oh man I remember that time like it was yesterday. When you called me about this idea, I was on a break after my last startup.  I was exercising a lot, pretty tan and damn fit.  But I was feeling unproductive so I was happy to do something new.”

Jules: “Uh, I think you over-corrected.”

Joanne: “No kidding! You should tell people how much this aged us.”

Jules:  “Speaking of that, Marketing suggested I do a timeline of photos of the two of us. I hate looking at photos of me.”

Notice the empty shelves....just a few scattered possible Grommets.

Myself and Joanne, a few months before our launch – sometime in 2008. Notice the empty shelves!

Joanne (scowling) “Me too. Maybe just a couple. You could show that one of us with those empty shelves for future Grommets. I remember when our advisor Chris Herot took that picture and told us we would look back at the early days in that funky old office as the most fun time of all.”

Jules: “It was fun, it was anything but glamorous to get going—remember that post about budget travel when I saved money by  sharing a bed with another startup CEO?  Or the time I literally walked my shoes off for this business?”

Joanne: “And it was so fragile.  Remember that blog post you wrote about building it brick by brick?  You should share that one.”

Jules:  “I will never forget the letter a total stranger, Katherine Klinger, wrote us out of the blue when we launched.  She told us,

“No one else on the web is doing what you are doing for product creators. Other sites may feature a product quickly and then move on. You’re making a mechanism that will help product creators create buzz and word of mouth momentum for their products. For a full 24 hours, all you show is that one product, how it works and why it’s special. That’s so great.”

“It was so validating.  And it is so great that we ended up hiring her, despite the fact that she lives in Minnesota!”

Joanne: “The steady stream of weekly love letters from our partners are my favorite thing.  It makes me so happy that we now have a book full of them.”

(Readers can click on the photo below to see a closer view of what people wrote to us.)

Jules:  “Thinking of those early days, I’d like people to know what it felt like to get over our self-consciousness about doing video.

Joanne:  “I didn’t want to be on video at all. The first week of doing it made me nauseous, I was so nervous.  We both were.  Why don’t you show how bad we were at it?  Something really embarrassing.”

Jules:  “Hanky Panky!

Jules: I also think people might be interested to see an early version of our site. I found one from 2008.

An early image from our 2008 website.

An early image from our 2008 website.

Joanne:  “Oh, by the way, if you are going to include any photos, maybe that one Jen Lockwood took in front of the Grommet sculpture.  I look good in that one.”

October 6, 2008--Jules and Joanne 14 days before launch

October 6, 2008–Jules and Joanne 14 days before launch

Jules:  “I should share that old blog post about What it is Really Like to Get Your Photo in the New York Times.”

(By now a reader will start thinking we are terribly vain.  Actually we are incredibly neglectful of our appearances.  We just work. And work. And work. And it shows. I hope its not that apparent in this most recent photo of us in our new office) 


Joanne: “I’d like people to feel what some of the early breakthroughs were like.  How about that 2012 post that shared some of our numbers or the one about Squatty Potty or the one just this year about three great comments we loved?

Jules:  “One of the best moments ever was when Rakuten invested.  Their immediate strong belief in us totally defied stereotypes about insular Japanese businesses.  It was so gratifying that after all these dozens of American investors simply didn’t get us, Mickey understood our business in a nanosecond.”

Boy do I look like a fangirl in this photo.  But it's true.

Our first visit from Mickey, the CEO of Rakuten.

Joanne:  “We’d never be here without an incredible team.  It’s amazing to think about how much smaller we were just a year ago.  Maybe share that photo of us two years ago around Thanskgiving.”


Saying “Thank You” to our community during Thanksgiving.

Jules:  “Let’s take a new one at this week’s team meeting.”

Our team in October, 2008.

October 10, 2013, settled in our new office in Somerville, MA (about 7 people missing!)

Joanne:  “People would probably like to see a picture of the very first Grommet, Bunny Tail Blanket.  And they might be surprised to know that we launched products like Bananagrams, SodaStream, FitBit, Alex & Ani, Food Should Taste Good, and IdeaPaint. I’m really proud to know we are now able to launch the game-changers of tomorrow and leveling the playing field so they can win.”

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 2.57.24 PM

Jules:  “Man, who knew that would happen from those early days when we worried if we would ever run out of good ideas?”

Joanne:  “I no longer worry about that.”

Jules:  “I don’t really feel like writing a blow-by-blow.  It would take me all weekend.  And it could be really boring in the end.”

Joanne:  “You wrote our history already in your blog.  How about you share that one about “True Tales from the Front” you wrote in 2012 that covers some of the pain and the one about our office move that covers some of the triumph?”

Jules:  “Good idea. I feel so much better.”

Joanne: “Don’t write too much. Keep it light.”

Jules:  “OK.”

(I always listen to Joanne.)

P.S.  A happy addition.  On the day I released this blog post, we also crossed over to welcoming our 1 millionth email subscriber at The Grommet!  As our video director Jesse Buckley said, “I remember when that idea was just a twinkle in our eyes.”

24 Responses to “Five years of freaking out in public: Happy Birthday to The Grommet”

  1. Dennis

    Great web-site. Cool products and a great vision you now shared with us. Pray and stay humble. God will take care of the rest. Best wishes on your continuing success. Dennis

  2. Barbara

    I look forward to your latest discoveries every week. Congrats on the 5 years!!

  3. tami hernandez

    I just started my own business and you two are quite an inspiration. I will not be quitting my day job any time soon , but who knows what the future holds;)

  4. Boni

    Thank goodness “that guy” Mickey GOT your vision!! All it takes is a few “on board” people & a mind set of FUN. That is what I am aware to bring each day! Thank YOU all! Keep going. -))

  5. Erin Saxton

    Congrats on your success!! The Grommet’s concept is what I always tried to achieve during my holiday gift giving segments as a producer on The View – that was difficult 1x a year – and all of you do it every darn day – impressive!! Now I’m a marketing/communications consultant, and from the moment I laid eyes on your site – I knew I was an instant fan!

    –Erin Saxton

    • julespieri

      You made my team very happy with your recognition of the high wire and blood-sweat-tears act we pull off every day. Your professional credibility for this comment means a lot to us.

  6. Laura

    Congrats! Great story. Fun pics. I laughed out loud at the hanky panky video. And I am super excited about crossing the 1M threshold on the consumer side. Onward and upward!

    • julespieri

      I wince when I look at that video but I was actually kind of proud of it at the time. We did it our second week and it was hard to screw up the courage to talk about thong underwear. But we wanted to start flexing our muscles for being unexpected early.

  7. Greg MacArthur,Viewpoint 2000

    Have always been a big believer in not listening to the nay sayers and you are a good example of hard work and in a belief in an idea and pursuing it.
    I was impressed at the start with these qualities you have so the next five years will prove even more successful.
    Greg MacArthur

  8. Mary

    Gee Jules bowled over by what you’ve achieved since Mount Pleasant Days1
    Well done and to Des- the great supporting act behind you!xx Don & Mary

  9. Steve Fisher

    It has been a privalege to be part of your business. Thanks for sharing this interview and a most hearty congratulations on 5 years. It’s a great story. Wishing you many more. Steve @ zip-it Opener.

    • julespieri

      Steve, I will never forget how your mother was the inspiration for your invention. I will also never forget the Thanksgiving my team spent anticipating the big launch of the Zip-it and its concurrence with a Boston Globe article. Several of us were jumping back and forth from the dining table to the computer to make sure things were going OK, all day long. It was distracting and exciting! Our families will probably never understand…. 🙂


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