When you start a business you are constantly looking for evidence that you are not crazy, and that you are working on something that matters. In quiet moments of fear or self-doubt at The Grommet, here is the fundamental question I’ve asked myself when looking in the mirror: “Do people ‘get’ what we are trying to do?”
I am predicting that 2014 is the year when that question finally gets erased.
To assess that tipping point I don’t look at facts and figures: I dig deeper into the soft stuff. In particular, I study the stories and anecdotes from Grommet supporters. Most are from people I have never met. But the story below came via my college roommate’s mother.
“Yesterday I was in Fairmount Letters, a small shop selling paper-related items and small gifts in Cleveland Heights, waiting in line to pay for a few greeting cards, and I began to listen to the woman ahead of me who was chatting with the sales person– evidently a friend– about a place where she’s done “half her Christmas shopping,” some sort of web site. “No, not like Kickstarter, the items are ready to buy, it’s thegrommet.com,” she dictated to her friend, who jotted it down.”
“I spoke up immediately to register my three degrees of separation. The woman could not say enough about the site. She mutes the music when she logs on because otherwise her kids swoop in to see what they want.”
On the surface, this is a story about nailing that great gift. And people do that terrifically well at The Grommet. But I hope something more is behind this anecdote. I hope this person has a sense of being part of something bigger than buying a product. In that ordinary–yet most powerful–consumer act, she is voting for a different way of doing business. She is supporting brilliant and creative people who might not otherwise get to build businesses at all. And when a fresh kind of innovator and Maker gets to start something they don’t do it according to the old rules of business. Instead, 2,500 Grommet Makers are shaping our economy around deep values that matter: creating domestic jobs, enabling employment in impoverished areas on our globe, creating social enterprises, fostering planet friendly business practices, preserving craft, inventing new technologies, giving back to the community.
Gary Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Farm, speaks about a simple but highly radical belief. He says business has traditionally been about “subtracting” something from someone else: taking something away from the competition, business partners, employees, consumers, and the environment. He believes, as do I, that business can be additive. It can make things better, not worse. There are indeed real-live win-win scenarios in contemporary enterprises like Gary’s business and The Grommet. Business could be a force for good, if we set aside our cynicism but also raise our expectations for what a business can and should do in the world.
So maybe the woman in the Cleveland shop was truly just excited to be giving really thoughtful gifts. But what she also did was create a multiplier for good with every dollar she spent on a Grommet, with every conversation she had about these wonderful Grommet Makers, and with every gift she gave that made a new positive dent in the world.
I am hearing more and more of these kinds of stories, which made 2013 such a joyous experience, and why I expect 2014 to be the year where that kind of joy truly hits a tipping point.