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The Grommet: Reshaping How We Discover, Share and Purchase Products

  • Broadcast in Entrepreneur
Kelly Scanlon

Kelly Scanlon


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They call them Grommets and define them as products with purpose, invented by people with stories. And on this episode of Smart Companies Radio, you'll meet the two women behind all of those grommets or consumer products, more than 2000 since 2008. Julies Pieri, Co-founder, and CEO of The Grommet says she and Co-founder Joanne Domeniconi grew tired of watching fewer and fewer remarkable consumer products making it to the marketplace and decided to do something about it.

The Grommet is Pieri's third start up. She was named one of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2013 and one of Goldman Sach's 100 Most Interesting Entrepreneurs in 2014.

Domeniconi who is also the Chief Discovery Officer of the product launch program at The Grommet spent over 20 years at Stride Rite Corporation as Vice President of Product Development. 

On this episode you'll also learn about a new ebook featuring contributions from over 100 inventors, Makers, and entrepreneurs who have launched on The Grommet since 2008 and how you can get the book for free.

To hear more shows hosted by Kelly Scanlon, visit our archives.


0:36 Kelly Scanlon

Good morning. Welcome to Smart Companies Radio. I'm Kelly Scanlon, publisher of Thinking Bigger Business Media. Our guests today are the co-founders of "The Grommet" which is a site that has launched more than 2,000 consumer products since 2008, I'm sure a lot of you heard about it, and those co-founders are Jules Pieri, she's also the CEO and Joanne Domeniconi, who is the co-founder and chief discovery officer. Now Jules, has been named one of Fortune's Most Powerful Women entrepreneurs in 2013 and one of Goldman Sachs' 100 Most Interesting Entrepreneurs in 2014 and Joanne has extensive experience creating and launching consumer products and she spent over 20 years at Stride Rite Corporation as vice president of their product development. Both Jules and Joanne were invited in June 2014 to the Whitehouse Maker Faire to launch the Grommet wholesale platform and we're going to be hearing about that too. They both have recently published an e-book called "Makers Who Made It: 100 Stories of Starting a Business". Welcome to the show today.

1:42 Joanne Domeniconi

Thank you.

1:43 Jules Pieri

Thank you.

1:46 Kelly Scanlon

Like I said, there's a lot of buzz about the Grommet, about the maker movement and what is it about it that is so appealing both to the people who are making things and starting these businesses as well as to consumers? What's the allure?

2:02 Jules Pieri

You know I think a student at MIT said it fast a few years ago when I was there just talking to a freshman orientation class and the student, he said, "You know the Grommet? It's just one of those businesses they want to have exist," and I think the reason is if you're helping small business people, independent, product creators, find an audience and succeed... every other person who encounters that hopes that someday The Grommet will be there for them.

2:34 Kelly Scanlon


2:35 Jules Pieri

Whether it's to support one of those businesses or to be one of those product creators. So it's really really fundamental human connection to a mission and a group of products and companies that people just want to see supported and that's what we do.

2:50 Kelly Scanlon

How did you conceive of this idea? What inspired you to launch the Grommet?

2:55 Jules Pieri

Oh, well Joanne and I both had long careers in product development and product launch. So, we were seeing something happening that we kind of independently mutually didn't like which was the the best products weren't winning. Even from our big companies, we would -- Joanne in particular, this is the very, very core to her work, right? She was leading product development.

3:16 Kelly Scanlon


3:17 Jules Pieri

Again, it was very big business. So for both of us, I had subsequently moved on to Playskool with all the same effect and we realized for a small business it's a thousand. It's sometimes harder and that just wasn't right. You know, why was it that was happening, and it was a really simple reason, that retail had gotten super consolidated and retail buyers who are really making the decisions for all of the market -- and in the case of toys, that was really like four people in the country form a large Big Bucks store. And we said, "That's not right." And it pissed us off.

3:47 Joanne Domeniconi

To think that we said, "I thought was that the more innovative and breakthrough a product was, the less likely it was to succeed," because the other thing that happens here is that people don't understand what they don't expect.

4:05 Kelly Scanlon

What do you mean by that?

4:08 Joanne Domeniconi

Well, people -- what you're not expecting -- the most innovative products are unexpected and they're hard to understand and people have to work to kind of envision their use or their relevancy in their life, and so that is hard.

4:21 Jules Pieri

For example that would be a launch Speed Bet in 2011. Now imagine when that product comes walking in the door, hoping to reach The Grommet audience... Even for ourselves, it was the very first wearable device we've seen that connected your own data to a device on your wrist to the manufacture to a community, potentially to a retailer. And that was mind blowing, even to us, to spend our entire day thinking about these things. So there's a lot of translation that has to happen --

4:51 Kelly Scanlon

That's right.

4:52 Jules Pieri

From, you know that company, and frankly we're the company that helps them do that. And that's two every single day. We see 300 products a week and we're seeing the future of Fitbit this week. We all need that same kind of assistance to find their own community, their own audience, and people who will support and appreciate their product.

5:15 Kelly Scanlon

So you were both in the corporate America and you saw that some of the best, most innovative products were not making it to the marketplace because of so much consolidation. And you saw this then as an opportunity to evaluate those products yourselves and bring them to the market and you mentioned "Fitbit". Give us a timeframe. How long has The Grommet been in business and when did you launch it?

5:35 Joanne Domeniconi

We launched October 20, 2008. So it's been seven years and every single day since then, every weekday, we've launched a new company and its product.

5:47 Kelly Scanlon

What have been some of your most interesting products over that course of what, seven or eight years that have been the most intriguing I guess...

5:57 Jules Pieri

Oh well, of course, you're asking the wrong --

5:59 Kelly Scanlon

-- yeah. All of them right? (Laughs)

6:01 Joanne Domeniconi

I think they're all interesting. We've covered 16 categories. Everything from toys, housewares to the pet products and 13 other different categories. We live at the, kind of, heart and innovation in each of those categories and we've developed an "expertise" to kind of know what the really interesting and innovative stuff is. So if you think back -- if I think about some of the products that we've launched that you might be familiar with, Jules mentioned "Fitbit", we identified "Fitbit" in 2009 when they were just coming off with pre-orders and look at their... about to or just became a public company...

6:42 Kelly Scanlon


6:43 Joanne Domeniconi

...in 2015. We worked with SodaStream. We work with Bananagrams. More recently, we worked with girls engineering toy, Goldieblox --

6:54 Kelly Scanlon

Oh yes!

6:55 Joanne Domeniconi

-- and we're looking for courageous entrepreneurs and breakthrough products that will interest and engage people who care about innovation and want to be, kind of, the first to know about what's happening in the world in terms of the consumer products.

7:08 Jules Pieri

So I can tell you about a couple that are arriving right now. One of them would be a product called "Bondic" invented by a dentist and dentists -- you know you might have experienced them using a UV light to cure their work in you work. Well imagine having that same sort of plastic, really, really durable, that's cured with the UV light to fix your glasses --

7:29 Kelly Scanlon

-- Oh! Yeah...

7:30 Jules Pieri

-- or to fix you know, most harder objects that might have what would have previously been an impossible break. "Bondic" can fix that. So a dentist transferred an idea from his dental chair to a manufactured product.

7:42 Kelly Scanlon


7:43 Jules Pieri

And the other one that is really trending and offending, literally, is Axis Drones. So drones are a really important product in general for a lot of applications and an amateur product is super interesting right? For a company to experience drones inexpensively, a $49 drone. And that's something that also will sell out, for sure. This quarter both on The Grommet and beyond, and for that manufacturer -- and we helped launch them earlier this year.

8:14 Kelly Scanlon

That's amazing how mainstream drones have become. And you were talking about the "Bondic". Is that how you said it, Bondic?

8:24 Jules Pieri

Yup. B-O-N-D-I-C.

8:26 Kelly Scanlon

Yes. I could use some of that last year in the airport when my glasses essentially as I stood up to board. They split right across the nose (giggles) and I couldn't, nothing would fix them and I ended up having to get a new pair so.

8:39 Jules Pieri

This week I have a retainer. Speaking of dentists, because I had adult braces and my retainer has been cracked for a long time. I didn't really do anything about it. Suddenly, like the half goes down in the drain...

8:51 Joanne Domeniconi

People want to know if they can fix their teeth with it. That's a little scary, but --

8:55 Jules Pieri

(Chortle). I didn't know that.

8:58 Kelly Scanlon

Oh my gosh! So when you go through this evaluation process, you said that you have a process in place and that you -- you launch a new company everyday. You've launched 2,000 since 2008 but you've evaluated about 60,000. Tell us about the process, from start to finish, I'm a listener and I'm a maker and I want to get my product in front of you. How does that all start? And take us through all of that up through the decision-making process and getting it launched.

9:25 Jules Pieri

So as mentioned, we are looking at 300 a week and a good steal of those are inbound suggestions from either the creator of the product or somebody who loves the product and another half of it is literally are on scouting because we're out and about. So, they all come in the door and we do an initial screen on whether the product's interesting because that's kind of table stakes right?

9:47 Kelly Scanlon


9:48 Jules Pieri

We've seen so much, we can tell if something is innovative, potentially, at solving a new problem. Something about it is really interesting hook. Then quickly, we have to figure out, is it really well known? Because our community promises that you'll be discovering new things from us. So we screen quickly to make sure maybe it's something great but we missed it. And if it's not well known, that's important, and then --

10:11 Joanne Domeniconi

And good for us.

10:12 Jules Pieri

Yes. And then we're looking for a particular value. One of the things that we intuitively found our way to is from the beginning of the business and now quantitatively have proven is that people are looking for products that do something more than just deliver an assumption of the product. They're looking for companies that, say, are coming from unexpected corners of the world or products being made in the USA or new technologies or green social enterprises --

10:40 Kelly Scanlon


10:41 Jules Pieri

--or under represented entrepreneurs or crowd center products. Those are things we call value. So, it's sort of three things, the products gotta, you know, looks to be great, it's undiscovered, and there's something deeper or richer that our community will get in line behind and get attached to.

10:58 Kelly Scanlon

Exactly. And that's what the appeal of it is, as you say. How would somebody go about presenting a product to you though?

11:05 Joanne Domeniconi

We have an online submission portal that anybody who, either have a product that they've created themselves or even a member of our community who knows about a product that should be on our radar can submit that idea to us and we'll do the follow up post submission.

11:23 Jules Pieri

It's super easy to find. It's right at the top of our site on the left top-hand, you know, top of the head around our site.

11:29 Kelly Scanlon

Yes. And I love the name that you have given this whole process and this whole concept or philosophy, "Citizen Commerce". You know, that just seems to fit exactly what you just said.

11:41 Jules Pieri

You know how that got born, I was sitting, actually pitching our own business to an investor and describing how we were organizing a community to be very powerful, to act on these things, like to really sort of you know "level the playing field" for these products, and this person says to me, "Gosh, that reminds me of citizen journalism. That reminds me of Citizen Science. You're doing Citizen Commerce." And I was, "Yeah, I've been looking for two words." And I lived with it overnight kind of kicked it around the kitchen, brought it to Joanne, applied for a trademark, got it.

12:12 Kelly Scanlon

Yeah. And it's obviously taken off and it describes what you're doing so well. We're going to take a quick break. When we get back, we're going to be discussing the new e-book that Jules and Joanne have published called, "Makers Who Made It: 100 Stories of Starting a Business". You're listening to Smart Companies Radio on Blog Talk Radio. We'll be right back.

13:50 Kelly Scanlon

Good morning. Welcome back to Smart Companies Radio. I'm Kelly Scanlon, publisher of Thinking Bigger Business Media. We have some fantastic guest on this morning. Jules Pieri and Joanne Domeniconi who are both the co-founders of "The Grommet", which is a product launch site that's launched more than 2,000 consumer products since 2008. In the first half of the show, they have been talking about the concept behind it, about their Citizen Commerce philosophy, about how they vet some of the many, many ideas that are presented to them. They're launching a business a day on this site. It's pretty remarkable. Now recently, they have written a book called "Makers Who Made It: 100 Stories of Starting a Business" to help people who are interested in starting these kinds of businesses. So tell us about the book. I said it's you know, it's to help those who are trying to make something and get it to market, but it's really more than that. Tell us about the inspiration for the book and what it does.

14:51 Jules Pieri

Well, you can imagine when we talked to these dozens of companies, we've become pretty fluent at helping them solve problems and here's the reality. They're sitting in isolation solving the same problems over and over.

15:08 Kelly Scanlon


15:09 Jules Pieri

So he says, "Why don't' we just pull this together in a really easy to access information tool and resource." So we got out to a hundred of our makers and asked them some of the questions we knew other people would want to ask them. And so it's a compilation of their tips and lessons learned, successes, failures and it's organized by type of products. So let's say you're considering creating a food product or a new internet of things product. You can dive right in into those types of entrepreneurs and find out their lessons learned. And then we have some pretty cool stuff at the beginning of the book too. Mark Hatch, who is the CEO of TechShop, and a really important person in the phase we're in, Maker Movement, introduces the book. There is an endorsement from Meg Whitman and Joanne and I tell our own stories about our careers as well and how we formed The Grommet, because that's something that people are also interested in and we wanted them to understand, you know, where were coming from as well, what our role is in helping these companies.

16:15 Kelly Scanlon

Yeah. It really sounds to me like, if this is the community sharing tips with others who might want to become a part of it or who are interested in making these unique types of products, that it's just, the book is an extension of that community. You know, you're sharing ideas from the community and it's not just another dry "this is how you start a business" kind of book. It's very interactive in that way, I guess.

16:41 Jules Pieri

Yeah. It's pretty cool because one of the things we haven't talked about is everyday, we released a video about these companies and beautiful photos of their products and the founders, and because this is an e-book, all of that kind of media is also in the book. So when you say it's not dry, it's quite you know, it's quite the opposite.

16:58 Kelly Scanlon


16:59 Jules Pieri

You know all these rich media. And the other thing that's pretty cool is we've learnt -- you know we went out looking for these responses because you don't know what you're going to get back at all. And they flooded back very quickly. People were dying to tell their stories. They were very generous. And the one step that really surprised me was that only 10% of these 100 makers had any prior experience in the product category they're working in.

17:27 Kelly Scanlon


17:28 Jules Pieri

So these are lawyers switching over to outdoor gear. You know, these are former ER nurses who are working, you know and beauty products. It's all over the map and that's very encouraging. It's sort of back to you know, "Why does this business inspire people?" It's actually not us, you know The Grommet inspiring people. It's these makers that are inspiring people and people love to see that people like them are doing something that might look like a future dream in their own life.

17:59 Kelly Scanlon

Right and you're providing the platform that allows all the communication and sharing to take place. It sounds like a fascinating place to be. When you talk about these people and that they had other professions. Where they -- did they decide to come up with these ideas based on their own need or was it hobbies that had had before, a little bit of both or other? Where are they coming up with these ideas if it was not something that was already part of their background?

18:26 Joanne Domeniconi

Well, actually you know, it's kind of funny. Every story is so individual. Sometimes it's happenstance, sometimes people are just driven to solve a problem. Sometimes it's a family business that they takeover and recreate. So, you know the story of how and why a person is driven to create is as much human nature as it is, you know entrepreneurship. I think that is kind of a funny thing about it. I always marvel at the reason why.

19:00 Kelly Scanlon


19:03 Joanne Domeniconi

Yet, it's the story and the journey that is rich. That as Jules said, what we've learned and what I've learned and have been amazed by is that every product has a story and it's journey is lending that journey to that purchase equation. It's powerful and I think at it's core, The Grommet story telling is the soul of what we do and we create value and meaning for new to market products. It's that human connection.

19:42 Kelly Scanlon

Yeah, people like to know what's behind what they're buying. That makes it all the more attractive to them. It's just like, until I went out many, many years ago to Napa at Sonoma, a wine, you know a bottle of wine was just a bottle of wine on the shelf until I started visiting the wineries and meeting the people behind it. Now, every time I buy a bottle of wine I understand so much better about what goes on behind it. So, I think that is attractive to people and that you've hit on something there. Tell us about the launch timing. 2008: The Recession. Did that have any impact on the people deciding, you know maybe they got laid off during that time or maybe they thought, 'what do I have to lose after all of these that we've gone through already? You know, I'm gonna take a gamble and go after my dream.' Did the recession have any impact on making the Grommet a success?

20:36 Jules Pieri

Absolutely! I'd say there were three things that collided. The recession was definitely one. People were saying, "Well, what I thought was perhaps secure is not as secure. I'm going to bet on myself..."

20:47 Kelly Scanlon


20:48 Jules Pieri

...and then number two, access to technology is inexpensive for prototyping or just simply the internet for researching an opportunity, it became very, very present to ordinary people. And then, most of LA, not quite 2008 but more like 2010, the crowdfunding platform provided yet another boost to this burgeoning activity because the crowdfunding platform like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have solved the problem that was pretty big which was, "How do I get that first production run, you know production run of a product?..."

21:26 Kelly Scanlon


21:27 Jules Pieri

...because you cannot get financing easily if you're a brand new entrepreneur in a brand new space.

21:34 Kelly Scanlon

Exactly. Tell us about your visit to the White House in June of 2014 to you know this Maker Faire, of course now it's getting White House attention. Kansas City has a Maker Faire every year. In fact our publication, Thinking Bigger is getting ready to launch in 2016 a whole; you know two-page spread every month dedicated to KC Makers. "KC Made It" is what we're going to call it. This is something that isn't dying out. It wasn't a fad. It's actually gaining momentum and of course, you just got back a year ago from the White House, so tell us about that experience and where you see this movement going.

22:15 Jules Pieri

Joanne was actually invited back again this year.

22:17 Kelly Scanlon


22:18 Jules Pieri

She's been in there twice now.

22:19 Kelly Scanlon


22:20 Jules Pieri

On the same post.

22:24 Joanne Domeniconi

Yeah. I mean, our invitation to the White House was quite an honor and the reason that they invited us was because we were announcing the launch of our wholesale platform. When we started The Grommet, we were taking the stories of these makers directly to consumers, but six years later we created a new phase. We pushed the new phase of our platform that was aimed at independent retailers, main street retailers. One of the way that main street retailers compete with big-box stores is by having unique, distinctive products, and what better way to access distinct, unique products would be to engage with new to market makers. And so, we launched The Grommet Wholesale in June 2014 and what we were essentially doing was connecting little guys. Little guy makers with little guy retailers.

23:23 Kelly Scanlon


23:24 Joanne Domeniconi

Main street to maker. And because 2 out of 3 new jobs in this country are created by small business, this is a really powerful movement just for our economy. It's going to change the face of our country. So the Obama administration and OSTT, Office of Science and Technology policy and via that to make our announcement at the White House about this new platform that would connect little makers, little businesses, creating products to main street retailers who would sell their product.

24:06 Jules Pieri

And I think you hit right on it Kelly is what the White House and people in general around this want to make clear is this is not in the corners DIY movement --

24:16 Kelly Scanlon


24:17 Joanne Domeniconi


24:18 Jules Pieri

-- this is well beyond the level of a science fair or craft. These are viable enterprises creating real jobs, repatriating manufacturing in many cases. So we represented one of the most important business entrepreneurships against us because after a few weeks, we have 65 people at The Grommet. We've had, you know professional investors, we've had long careers ourselves. This is not a hobby. This is not, you know a casual endeavor. This is a real enterprise, helping these companies and that was meaningful to the White House folks.

24:52 Kelly Scanlon

Absolutely. And as you say, this is something that is going to continue, from everything that we've seen so far is going to continue. It's only going to grow stronger and I think probably the millennials too, this is probably a hit with them wouldn't you say? Because they like the social aspect of companies, they like the uniqueness, they're very savvy online. So they're almost a built in audience for you right?

25:18 Jules Pieri

Yeah. Their general expectation of business is that, "Great. I'm a capitalist. I expect you to be a for-profit enterprise, thought what more do you do?"

25:28 Kelly Scanlon


25:29 Jules Pieri

And so it's kind of funky. When those entrepreneurs come in the door with their products, their business models have layers that are completely natural for them to have: the mission, the before profit mission driven companies. And at first you kind of wonder if they're a non-profit because they talk so much about...

25:46 Kelly Scanlon


25:47 Jules Pieri

...who they are in the world and what their impact is. So they're not your grandfather's company. They are really vibrant and interesting in new ways and here's the funny thing. It's not just millennials who care about this, baby boomers or just generally older people. Always move to a little bit higher kind of sense of legacy --

26:11 Kelly Scanlon


26:13 Jules Pieri

-- spirituality, impact. So these two generations for the first time in history have practically the same value set. That's really powerful.

26:22 Kelly Scanlon

Yes. It absolutely is. We are short on time now, so I want to make sure that anybody who wants to get a copy of the book knows where to go and get it. How would they best get a copy of the book, the e-book?

26:35 Jules Pieri

It's free first of all, free to download so no barriers to getting the book and if you just Google, "Makers Who Made It", you'll find it. You'll find how to download it onto the normal e-book. You know, whatever e-reader you have or onto your desktop if you prefer to read it there.

26:53 Kelly Scanlon

Okay, so --

26:54 Joanne Domeniconi

Yeah. You can actually download it right from our site and then lower on the homepage in the lower center; you can download it right from The Grommet site.

27:02 Kelly Scanlon


27:03 Jules Pieri

Hey, you know that's good (crosstalk) where's that?

27:05 Kelly Scanlon

Yeah, you learned something there about your own site. Now, just very importantly when she says thegrommet.com, "The" is part of the URL. So, thegrommet.com, go out there. Look over the site. You'll find a lot of interesting new products. Like she said, they're launching one business a day and you can also download the book, "Makers Who Made It: 100 Stories of Starting a Business". We really appreciate you coming on the show today and we're also going to go ahead, for all of you who are listening, we are going to print an excerpt of this in our magazine in January as we launch the KC Made It column as well. So, thank you so much for your time today and with all the great work that you're doing.

27:47 Joanne Domeniconi

Thank you.

27:48 Jules Pieri

Thank you.

27:49 Kelly Scanlon

And if you'd like to learn more about how to grow your business, please visit our website at Ithinkbigger.com. Follow us on Twitter at IthinkBigger and on Facebook, Thinking Bigger Business Media. Have a great weekend. We'll see you next week.