Jules Pieri of The Daily Grommet Wants to Make You Think Outside the Retail Big Box
Last month I wrote about the Daily Grommet, an e-commerce startup in Lexington, MA, whose website features one cool new product or service—a “grommet,” to use the company’s term—every weekday. Far from being yet another automated online store, the Daily Grommet puts its own staff members on camera to record short, homey, informally edited videos explaining what’s compelling about each day’s product, including their creators’ backstories. Yesterday’s grommet, for example, was an “athlete-engineered” sunscreen that doesn’t sting your eyes, developed by a former Apprentice competitor named Josh Shaw. In the video, Daily Grommet CEO Jules Pieri and chief discovery officer Joanne Domeniconi sit in the squinty-bright sunlight outside the company’s headquarters and demonstrate the product’s non-stinging, non-greasy credentials on their own skin.
That personal approach, along with the staff’s discriminating tastes, is winning the company a lot of fans. “If I buy [products] via Daily Grommet, I know that Jules’s team has tested them and determined that they’re actually excellent,” comments Dan Weinreb, a software engineer at Cambridge, MA-based ITA Software who is a repeat customer.
Pieri says the hands-on approach won’t keep the company from scaling up. She has plans to launch up to a dozen topic-specific versions of the Daily Grommet that would focus on sports gear, food and kitchen products, garden accessories, and the like; each such “vertical” could ultimately earn $25 million a year, she calculates. That’s ambitious for an angel-funded company that’s less than a year old, but it might not be too far-fetched. There’s growing buzz (and venture activity) around the category of so-called “curated marketplaces,” from Woot to Gilt Groupe, which seem to attract a more loyal following than typical e-commerce sites.
In a lengthy interview on July 7, I asked Pieri for the whole story behind the company— why she started it, how the product selection process works, how the company hopes to make money, and what it’s like to be a woman technology entrepreneur in New England. Here, as promised, is a complete (well, slightly pared down, but still pretty long) version of our talk.
Xconomy: What’s it like to be running an e-commerce company in the Boston area, rather than Silicon Valley or some other more likely place?
Jules Pieri: At the end of the day, I do think people form their impressions of an area by the products that come out of it. With Tokyo you might think of consumer electronics, with Detroit you think of cars, with the West Coast you do think of consumer Internet. I made a decision to locate the company in a place that isn’t broadly known for consumer Internet, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be and shouldn’t be. We obviously have the education resources and the technology credibility and the workforce to use technology effectively. And we have some consumer businesses—VistaPrint and Zipcar are well known, and there is a long list of not-so-well-known ones.
X: Can you tell me a little about your own background, and how you came to start an e-commerce company?
JP: I grew up in Detroit, on the wrong side of the tracks, definitively. At the University of Michigan I studied industrial design, graphic design, and French. Right out of college I went to Paris and worked as an intern, then got a job as an industrial designer for Burroughs, before it was Unisys, and then Data General here locally, where I designed computers and packaging for computers. Then I went to Harvard Business School, followed by a stint in Dublin, Ireland, from 2001 to 2005. My husband and I wanted our family to have an overseas experience, so we … Next Page »