Jules Pieri (Co-founder and CEO, Daily Grommet)
Interview Date: September 14, 2012
Jules at her office in Lexington, MA
Jules Pieri grew up in Detroit, Michigan. She got her BFA from University of Michigan in industrial design, graphic design and French. Jules started her career as an industrial designer for three big computer and telecom equipment companies. Later in her career, she worked at two other startups and eventually launched her own in 2008; in her own words: “There is a big difference in joining one and starting one”. After working for a few years as an industrial designer, she decided to go to Harvard University for MBA. She felt combining her industrial design experience with a management degree would be a great combination. She graduated from Harvard in 1986.
In 1986, Jules joined the startup Design Continuum (now Continuum) as Vice President. Continuum is similar to IDEO where the primary service is product innovation consulting. Jules brought in a lot of business for them and helped change the course of the company. She saw the company evolve from a start-up to one of the ten largest product design and engineering-consulting firms in the US. In 1992, she joined Stride Rite/Keds as Vice President of Strategic Planning. Before joining Ziggs in 2006 as President and COO, Jules worked at a number of other organizations. Ziggs was a professional networking platform. Its competitor was LinkedIn which emerged as the leader. Jules describes the rationale for joining Ziggs as: “I joined because social media is really interesting to me, those were the early days of social media”.
As for doing a startup, Jules says it was very helpful to come from her kind of background and upbringing. She knew from a very young age that it was up to her to do what she wanted. She continues to say, “My family didn’t have the resources to save me if I screwed up. They didn’t have the pattern of success and expectations. It was a blank sheet in front of me because they didn’t have much expectation. Knowing there were no constraints, there were no role models for me.” Her upbringing, background, the fearless attitude and her experience at school and two startups has a lot to do with the launch of her own – “Daily Grommet”.
What is Daily Grommet?
Jules Pieri started her venture named “Daily Grommet” in 2008. Daily Grommet is a marketplace of fresh new product discoveries. Daily Grommet helps people launch new, innovative products into the marketplace. It is a marketing platform that enables innovation. Jules describes Daily Grommet’s vision as: “We take undiscovered products and help them succeed. Best products don’t always win, that is the hard-core reality. It’s almost parallel to how Oprah made books popular. She had 2 things, which are really important – she had trust and audience. Daily Grommet utilizes the same concept for products and companies.”
Jules mentions that she never wanted to be a CEO but always wanted to be involved with creation of new products. Her motivation lies in enabling other people to succeed. She says, “These are the people who solve problems differently and for them the hardest part is gaining customers”. And that is exactly what Daily Grommet helps them with. She continues to say, “We betted on something that was never going to end. That is Human innovation and human creativity”.
Who are the Customers?
Just like any business, customers are extremely important for Daily Grommet. But that is not all Daily Grommet needs. They need customers as well as the manufacturers (partners). Jules says, “Model like this is chicken and egg thing. It is a marketplace. Daily grommet needs both the manufacturers (partners) as well as customers. If we don’t have manufacturing partners we won’t have customer. If we don’t have audience, having partners wont help”.
The typical Daily Grommet’s customer is controlling the household spend. The typical customer profile is 35-55 year old age range and mostly women. They usually control 70% of the economy.
What were the challenges?
When asked how she survived in the competing market place, Jules explains: “My team was tough. Huge tenacity, belief, commitment, passion, endurance were all contributing factors. Sheer mental, physical, mental and emotional stamina were extremely important. It was very hard in 2008 for any startup to survive with the market crash. More experienced entrepreneurs took a break from what they were doing as they knew how hard it would be. I didn’t quit. It was really hard”. Access to capital in 2008 was impossible due to the market conditions. Venture capitalists were terrified. They preferred to put dollars in saving companies that they had already invested in. As a result it was hard for anyone who was just getting started to finance their venture. Consumer world was exploding. A lot of deals businesses were starting up at the same time such as Groupon. Daily Grommet wasn’t like any of that.
Jules attributes her entrepreneurship mindset to some of the elements in her upbringing. She says, “As a kid everything was new in my life. I was the first person to go to college in my family. Elementary school gave special opportunities. I was the first girl in Detroit to wear pants to school. That is because I liked change. This is what an entrepreneur also does. Entrepreneurs like change“.
Jules continues to say: “A lot of startups apply ideas from something that exists and come up with another idea after modifying the original. However, when the idea is original, many times you will think this is not going to work. Especially when you don’t have concrete evidence that it’s going to work. That way it is hard but you need to believe in yourself. A lot of people have made huge sacrifices for this business. We always had angel financing but had to be stretched thinly for so long“.
What is Citizens Commerce
USA Patent and Trademark Office have patented “Citizens Commerce”. It is the term used at Daily Grommet to describe what happens there on a daily basis. The basic idea is to give people the launch and marketing platform so the companies and products can succeed, gain audience and trust. The products and companies get surfaced and supported.
Jules says that she could imagine social media coming together to help people fund projects and products. And that is what Daily Grommet does by creating a launch and marketing platform so those companies can succeed and gain audience and trust.
“These days, you can figure out how to create a great and better product cheaper and faster because of technology. But distribution is the hard part. Wjat is difficult is to get these products to stores and into peoples hands. In US and most of western economy, retail format is consolidated to larger chain stores. Business model doesn’t support diversity of products. For the sake of efficiency they need fewer vendors and fewer products. So taking a risk on an unknown company or product is hard for them and doesn’t fit their business model“.
That is the problem that Daily Grommet fixes. “When Daily Grommet launches a product, within 24 hours they know if it can be successful in the larger market place. If people have a winning product, retailers don’t tell anyone. Daily Grommet tells people”. Daily Grommet is responsible for taking that information to the media and explain why this product is worth considering. This shortens the time cycle to success. A few of the best sellers at Daily Grommet can be found here.
Strategy to Find Great Products
At Daily Grommet, there are hundred’s of ideas that come in every week. Out of these, Daily Grommet usually picks five products (a week). The team then tests these products. There are two very important things that Daily Grommet looks for. First, if the product is a discovery. Daily Grommet team researches to see if this company is something worth knowing about. Following are some of the criteria taken into consideration while evaluating a company or a product:
- Is it innovative on technical basis or is it an invention?
- Does it solve a problem?
- Is it a green product?
- Is it domestically manufactured?
- Is it a new business model?
The answer to these questions can be the reasons why the product might be worth discovering and newsworthy. For Daily Grommet, this is half the battle won. The second most important thing that Daily Grommet looks for to accept the product is make sure that the company is who it claims to be. It is important to confirm that the story they are telling is true.
For Jules, Daily Grommet’s most valuable asset is Trust, for the business. “People trust us”, she adds.
When asked if she could do things all over again, would she do everything the same way or do something different? She said maybe she would have waited another year or two to start. As stated earlier, Daily Grommet was launched in 2008, which was one of the worst times to launch a startup. She says, it is paying off now. Daily Grommet has over a thousand partners. The team got a lot of experience and learned a lot. But if they had waited, Daily Grommet wont be having what they have now – thousands of partners and the experience.
When asked about the difficulties she faced launching Daily Grommet in 2008, she says that she didn’t anticipate how the psychology of the crash would hit the investors. She was naïve and she moved forward with the launch.
Who is the Competition?
Jules doesn’t believe that there is any direct competition for Daily Grommet. No one has anything along the same lines. However, great journalist curate products and tell great stories about products and companies. Jules describes this to be somewhat a competition as journalists market the products through their articles.
For others who are trying to do similar thing by enabling innovation, Daily Grommet can be compared to Kickstarter and Pinterest. It is similar to Kickstarter because they are enabling innovation by creating new funding resources. Whereas Daily Grommet enables innovation by picking up where the innovators left off. Daily Grommet creates business model around getting new companies get awareness and distribution. Both Daily Grommet and Kickstarter are trying to enable innovation. Pinterest is relevant because they do social curation. Pinterest does it in a more narrow way than Daily Grommet.
How is it Rewarding?
“A reward for Daily Grommet is when they hear back from their partners telling them how much Daily Grommet has changed their business“.
She also attends a number of seminars a speaker at schools describing what Daily Grommet does. She says “When I go to schools, I find it very energizing to see that people understand what we do”.
Daily Grommet was launched in 2008, the same year as the last market crash when the dow slumped over 750 pts. It has been fours years since then and Daily Grommet has survived and is growing.
Amrita: It was really inspiring to see Jules talk about her experience when Daily Grommet was launched. No doubt it was one of the hardest times to launch a business. But her dedication and strong will made her move forward.
Jules loves to “Live life without regrets”. This attitude made her take the step to launch despite the circumstances. She says that she trusted her instincts. When choices she made didn’t work out, she knew her instincts were telling her otherwise. And last but not the least, she adds “timing and luck are bigger factors than I knew”.
In September, 2012 Daily Grommet announced Series B funding led by Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten (who had also invested in Pinterest just a few months earlier). Rakuten tag line for its US business says: “Buy from People, not the Internet”. Which goes so well with what Daily Grommet does.
In 2012, Jules was also appointed to work with faculty and students at Harvard Business School in research and mentoring capacity for the academic year 2012-2013.
Amrita: Thank You Jules for taking out time for this interview and for the wonderful inspiration you have been and will be for all Women in Business.