Jules Pieri of The Daily Grommet Wants to Make You Think Outside the Retail Big Box

8/12/09Follow @wroush

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movement. You’re giving people an opportunity to really support the little guy, the innovators.” I think that actually transcends income. I think about my college roommate, who works for a pesticide action network and has been in green and social enterprises all her life. She thinks deeply and thoughtfully about the things she buys, because she can’t afford not to. Even though her income wouldn’t be considered upper-echelon, she is a Grommet customer. So it’s not about having the most disposable income, it’s about spending thoughtfully. There is a great William Morris quote—”Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” That’s a way of thinking that’s bigger than any demographic.

X: But I think it would be fairly easy for a cynic to say that the products you feature may be innovative or eco-friendly or socially conscious, but they’re also luxury items that wouldn’t be affordable to most people around the world. For example, I think of one of your June grommets, the Arghand Soap Pebbles, which are made by cooperative laborers in a war-torn region of Afghanistan. It strikes me that those would really appeal to the housewife in Greenwich, Connecticut, who’s looking for a story to tell at her next cocktail party, to underscore how socially conscious she is for buying them.

JP: I’m not interested in Greenwich Housewife. I’ve been on the other side of the product world for a long time, creating products and trying to launch them. I’m interested in making each and every daily grommet bigger and better and more meaningful than it was before I saw it. This is the really high-level thing. It’s a new way to do things. You are taking what used to be the power that was aggregated in product buyers and retailers and handing it over to the people who can help make these products meaningful and pass on these wonderful discoveries and success stories. It’s about people, and the Daily Grommet is the platform. And because of people’s hunger for these kinds of experiences, if we do this right, it’s infinitely scalable. Bass fishing alone is a $7 billion industry—there are so many categories and activities where if we can get these stories told, it will be a new way for products to succeed that may never have had a chance before.

Left to right: Joanne Domeniconi, Jules Pieri, Jen Lockwood, Barbara Gordon, Patti Purcell, Wendy Chandor.

Left to right: Joanne Domeniconi, Jules Pieri, Jen Lockwood, Barbara Gordon, Patti Purcell, Wendy Chandor.

X: I noticed that your entire staff is female, and I wondered whether that was deliberate or accidental.

JP: It’s not deliberate—honestly, they all just happened to be the right people for the job. Patti Purcell, for example, started BodyShop.com, and has been funded by Brad Feld [of Colorado's Foundry Group] three different times at three different startups. Wendy Chandor is from VistaPrint, where she was in charge of acquisitions and consumer products. Again, she was the right person for the job. The only twist on that is that a couple of our part-time people are what I would call “relaunchers”—people who took a career break [to raise a family]. That is obviously an overwhelmingly female thing, and I have a personal understanding of that phase of life, and of the untapped potential of that part of the workforce. I saw one report arguing that the “Celtic Tiger” phenomenon in Ireland was driven entirely by the re-entry of women into the workforce. That, for me as a businessperson, is a really smart thing to pay attention to.

X: I’m also wondering what it’s like to be a woman leading a technology startup in a region where you can count the number of women venture capital partners on one hand.

JP: I was at an MIT event two weeks ago with VCs and entrepreneurs, and I noticed that they kept saying, “Well, when a couple of young guys start a company…” It’s not deliberate, but I think investors have a pattern in their mind, which does tend to be a couple of young guys. Then I walk in, and they can’t project that on to me. I think investors are really good at pattern recognition, and when you don’t fit that pattern, it’s something that can actually be helpful, because you can get people to sit up and pay a little more attention. It’s to my favor in getting appointments, anyway. After that I probably do have to be Ginger Rogers to some extent, doing everything Fred did backwards.

In college, I was selected as the top student from the university to go to a national industrial design conference to present my work. I presented the work, and my dad was there, and after the presentation a man in the audience walked up, and my dad introduced himself, and the man said “Oh boy, industrial design is an entirely male profession—she’s going to have a hard time.” And my dad said, “You don’t know my daughter.” I like the improbable. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I moved my family to Ireland with no safety net. Compared with moving your family overseas, starting a startup is child’s play. You can’t let what other people perceive to be insurmountable obstacles get in the way. I have a responsibility to my own ambitions, and to the team, and the idea.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.kathiestamou.com Kathie Stamou

    Jules is a real inspiration for entrepreneurs especially if they are women. The Daily Grommet is a fantastic idea and seems to really fill a void in the market. I love it that someone is reviewing and showing me new and interesting products that I have not yet discovered.

  • http://www.iRelaunch.com Carol Fishman Cohen

    This thoughtful, insightful interview was a pleasure to read. I learned a lot too. As a fan of Jules Pieri’s and a repeat customer of Daily Grommet, I can attest to the quality of product, attention to detail and creative use of design elements throughout the site, the packaging and the product literature. As an entrepreneur myself, I appreciated hearing the evolution of Jules’ vision through company launch, and especially appreciated how she values the “relauncher” segment of the labor market as a source of current and potential employees.

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