Opening the door to her Lexington office, Jules Pieri looks familiar. She assumes I recognize her from her Daily Grommet videos, but it’s something else, something more far reaching than that: a sense of ubiquity, of universality, of a force of energy that makes sense to me. She smiles. I smile. Okay, maybe it is just the videos.
“So who came up with the name, Daily Grommet, and why grommet,” I ask Pieri, who sits across from me looking rather comfortable in her vintage Keds-button down shirt and a pair of jeans. “Grommets appeal to me,” she says. “I have a background in industrial design, and to me a grommet represents a significant upgrade in quality. It’s like shower curtains with stitch button holes vs. shower curtains with grommets. You know the ones with grommets are going to hold up. A grommet is more of a concept that doesn’t have a well-known meaning.” What I take from it is Pieri could convince me of anything. Maybe this is the force that seemed familiar to me? The sense that I’m being convinced of something and somehow I’m fine with it.
Daily Grommet (www.dailygrommet.com) was born in October of 2008. Pieri launched it with her partner Joanne Domeniconi from seed money she worked hard to raise. “We launched a start up at the worst possible time,” says Pieri. “It took a lot of steel to make it through those first years, but with every new disruptive business there’s one company that gets to be the leader. Think Pandora. Ebay. Craigslist. Groupon. Google. You get this special lift off from being there first, as long as you’re authentic and good at what you do. And we were, and are.”
Pieri is a storyteller, and that’s one thing she truly loves about her company. Daily Grommet is all about product discovery, and the story behind each product. “We are a marketplace of fresh products, powered by Citizen Commerce, a revolutionary way to discover, share, influence, and buy products online; products that reflect our own values.” Daily Grommet was born from the idea that people, not companies, should drive the marketplace. And that consumers might be looking for something that isn’t readily available at the big retailers. “Each day is a new product, a new company, a new story, and a new way to connect with the community of consumers we’ve built with blood, sweat, and tears,” says Pieri.
And who am I to question that? I believe her because her words make sense to me. I believe her, not because she is tenacious, which she is, but because she’s authentic and she speaks with passion, warmth, and conviction, just like the stories about the people and companies that are presented every day as videos and prose on the Daily Grommet.
Jammy Packs. Zip Lines. Faux animal hats. Themed craft kits. Bag sealers. Dog paw washers. Daily Grommet has anything and everything a consumer could want. Each product earns its status as a grommet by its own merits. And each comes with its own story. I ask her what was the very first grommet. Pieri can’t remember the first, but remembers the third. A chocolate company from San Francisco. She says she’ll find out the answer before I leave.
I pause to regroup, taking in the story, and decide to switch gears knowing full well this next line of questioning may unleash the Pit Bull—the moniker her previous co-workers affectionately gave her because of her relentless pursuit of her goals. I ask her if she would characterize herself as a hustler and she recoils as in pain. But a minute later she says, “You’re right. I own that word.” And truly she does. She tells the story of how she decided to go to boarding school to escape the chaos of the Detroit public school where she went to junior high. “I snuck down in my parents’ office and called the school and had them send me an application. It wasn’t until I got in with a scholarship that my parents learned of what I had done. And this was one of the first times I realized that scary things pay off for me.”
I decide to continue with this line of questioning. Clearly there was more to say. I ask what it’s like being a female entrepreneur in what many still consider to be a man’s world of business. Now there’s an audible pause. I can hear today’s video being produced from the other room across the hall. The words seep through the small crease at the bottom of the door, but I can’t make out what they are. I lean to my right and try to listen, but then I’m startled as Pieri starts talking. I don’t show it. I’m sure she knows.
Scary things pay off for me she continues. She tells the story of being invited to speak at a national conference for industrial design after winning the prestigious IDSA Student Merit Award at the University of Michigan. After her presentation a man approached her father and told him that his daughter would never make it in a man’s world. “Really?” I say. “He said that? So what did your dad say?” Pieri responds, “He said you don’t know my daughter.” No kidding, I think to myself.
Pieri lives what she preaches, and exposes her three kids to the same “scary things” philosophy. In 2001 she moved her family to Ireland for four years, feeling a change of scenario might help broaden their horizons. This made me wonder, since I’m a father of three myself, how she was able to get her kids with the plan. I mean that must have been quite an upheaval. Pieri laughs and tells me she recruited the help of a friend, and her friend’s older kids. And with them in her corner, she was able to get her oldest son, 12 at the time, on board. Then it was only a matter of time before she was able to convince her two younger ones how great an experience it would be.
I’m thinking this is a great idea, but I’m also certain my skills as a facilitator are nowhere near as developed as Pieri’s, especially since she is comfortable as a leader and a mentor. I can see this in the way she interacts with her co-workers. I also surmise this because she goes out of her way to ask me what my story is. Her sincerity makes it easy for me to open up to her. Too easy.
“So what advice would you give a budding female entrepreneur?” I ask as part of the same line of questioning.
She says women wait because they never think they’re ready. They shouldn’t wait. They should just go for it. I interject the analogy that makes the most sense to me: you mean like having kids? No one’s really ever ready to have kids, and if they actually waited until they were ready they wouldn’t have them. She says that’s a perfect analogy, and that she’s going to use it and make it hers. She’s kidding of course, but I’m fine with it. In fact I know if I see her again she’ll be able to convince me she said it. And I’ll believe her.
Her definition. Her cause. Her passion.
“So what was the first grommet?” I ask as I’m packing up my stuff to go. “Oh, I almost forgot,” she says. She goes across the hall and asks her video team if they can remember. I hear her say, “Oh yeah, that’s right.”
Bunny Tail Blankets.
I think what a funny product to be the first. But at the same time I’m really curious to hear the story behind the product. This gets me thinking about grommets and how Pieri has redefined the word, and how with a new way of thinking she launched an entire company that is redefining the way people consume. A smart upgrade.