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.

The Best Kept Post Kickstarter Secret

Me at Out of Town news in Harvard Square. Feeling goofy, but also happy, while taking the photo.

Me at Out of Town news in Harvard Square. Feeling goofy, but also happy, while taking the photo.

Leigh Buchanan wrote an incisive piece about The Grommet and it’s in the current issue of Inc. magazine. I was thrilled to discover that our story is part of a cover story called “8 Women Who Could Own the Future.”  My response: “Moo ha ha ha ha.” (And I wish I could get an advance payment on that possible ownership to help with the college tuitions.)

When Leigh interviewed me she kept coming back to the question of “Why is Grommet not better known?”  While 1 in 50 American households follow our daily launches (we can see that in our email metrics), there are 49 others who may not.  I see that as opportunity, not failure or even disappointment.

I guess if I had to point to a couple reasons for our not being ubiquitous, though, they would center around our “doing it the old fashioned way” in terms of earning our business inch by inch.  Secondly Joanne and I are not the 19-year-old college dropouts that make favored media subjects–including the cover of this issue of Inc. magazine!  Nothing against the founder of Theranos–I am in awe of her. But the press always gravitates to the “wunderkid” over the knowledgeable veteran.  Go figure. I am just grateful no one printed the nonsense I would have spouted in my twenties, and that our story–today– was one of the Inc. magazine eight!


Elizabeth Holmes, college dropout founder of Theranos

Here is the article in its entirety, and including a couple corrections that are footnoted.

Long before hacker spaces and 3-D printing, Jules Pieri understood how the thrill of invention curdles into the agony of distribution. “The really innovative prototypes wouldn’t get produced,” recalls Pieri of her time at Playskool, where she was vice president of strategic planning in the 1990s. (1)

 The problem, she observes, has been driven by the shrinkage of specialty retail and the ascent of Walmart and other outlets that want products to sell at predictably high volume. “Retailers want to repeat the past with a little tweak,” says Pieri. “Our job was to innovate and advance. I didn’t see a way out.”

As an industrial designer, Pieri reveres craft. As a Harvard MBA, she understands strategy. In 2008, she and co-founder Joanne Domeniconi hatchedthe Grommet to bring strategy to craft’s rescue. (2)  Since then, the company has been on a mission to forge the maker movement’s disparate, idiosyncratic community into a major economic force.

The Grommet is a product-launch platform. Weekly, its staff chooses seven products from 300 contenders, vetting not just for appeal and quality but also for obscurity. Weekdays at noon, the site unveils these products, organized into nine socially conscious categories, such as Made in the USA and Underrepresented Entrepreneurs (for example, those over 65).

“Some people say we’re what you do after Kickstarter,” says Pieri; indeed, roughly 25 percent of the site’s products emerge fromcrowdfunding campaigns. “Everyone who’s been through crowdfunding knows that launch is exciting, but then it’s usually crickets.”

Lisa Q. Fetterman, co-founder and CEO of sous-vide upstart Nomiku, says the Grommet has given her business early cred among retailers. “Some investors will look at us, see we’ve been through Y Combinator, and do a check mark,” says Fetterman. “If we’re selling to Target someday, the buyer will see we are on the Grommet, and that’s a check mark.”

Last year the company launched a wholesale channel; an even newer venture positions it as an intermediary between a few major retailers-;including Anthropologie, CB2, and Staples–and makers without the operational muscle to handle such accounts.

For a company with Industrial Revolution-size ambitions, it has remained strangely under the radar. Pieri has raised $4.5 million from angels; the not-yet-profitable business projects 2015 revenue of roughly $35 million.

Unfortunately, though, Pieri’s champion of little guys has caught the attention of the biggest guy possible. In July, Amazon spun off a similar platform called Launchpad, which partnered with accelerators, crowdfunding sites, and VC firms, including Andreessen Horowitz. Pieri acknowledges that inexperienced product companies might be tempted to go that route. But, she says, “savvy makers will forgo the quick hit and realize that Main Street and specialty retailers are their true key allies.”

(1) Leigh Buchanan did such a good job writing this piece that I hate to quibble.  But I was never a VP at Playskool. I consulted directly to Meg Whitman, who was President at the time.

(2) I do revere craft in my personal life and purchases. But we did not set out to rescue craft with The Grommet. Joanne and I have deep expertise in manufactured products.  Only about 5% of Grommets would be considered craft. We do love them, but we mostly leave handmade products to be associated with the rightful owner of that space: Etsy.  That’s fine with us. Craft products are not scalable enough for our business.

2 Responses to “The Best Kept Post Kickstarter Secret”

  1. philwein

    It’s a well crafted piece. Even post YC demo days the companies usually lull and fall off. That’s one of the issues with Kickstarter. You build up that momentum and at the height of the momentum you stop marketing.


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