“Our job is to level the playing field,” said Jules Pieri, co-founder and CEO of The Grommet, at the 7th Annual Disruption Dinner during Women Entrepreneurship Week.
“Every week, I see an idea that blows the top of my head off,” she added. “And, we look at 200-300 (ideas) a week. … I’ve realized that sometimes an idea is just waiting for that person to pursue it. I have such confidence in human creativity, (and it has) been fueled by this experience.”
Pieri and her co-founder, Joanne Domeniconi, are the masterminds behind The Grommet’s ever-popular online marketplace discovery platform that has launched more than 3,000 products, including those from alumni businesses, Bombas, Mighty Well, Think Board, IdeaPaint, and more.
The pair led an honest discussion about the importance of innovation, opportunity, risk, and partnership with the Babson College community in celebration of Women Entrepreneurship Week. They were joined onstage by moderator and assistant professor Jennifer Bailey, and alumni entrepreneurs Maria del Mar Gomez Viyella ’16, co-founder of Mighty Well, and Jessica Do Tully, Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab® Miami alumna and founder of Palmpress.
The Art of Discovery
Through The Grommet, Pieri and Domeniconi reshape how consumer products get discovered, shared, and bought—empowering independent makers and small businesses to realize their entrepreneurial potential.
“We are kind of peeking (behind) the curtain and telling stories about the entrepreneurial journey and the people behind the products,” said Domeniconi.
In light of sharing others’ stories, the two shared a bit of their own.
Pieri and Domeniconi met as co-workers at Keds where, they say, they had “beautiful R&D capabilities,” but the best product ideas wouldn’t ever make it to market. “It made no sense to me,” Pieri said.
What they learned then was that “if the ‘big guys’ (didn’t) want it, it (wouldn’t) get made,” and “that’s just not fair,” said Pieri. So, together, they set out to solve this problem.
“I knew that it was going to be a struggle to transition myself from a company to a startup, where I was on my own,” shared Domeniconi about launching The Grommet. “But, I felt I had a talent I could add to the equation. … I was smart enough to learn, or fake it until I did learn … and I never walk away from a challenge. Neither one of us have.”
Pieri likes a two- to three-person leadership team, at best.
“One is incredibly difficult … three is acceptable, but I think four is a stupid idea,” advised Pieri, speaking from experience.
“We’re very different people,” added Domeniconi. “She’s the outside person, spends a lot of time … fundraising, networking … (and) she’s the CEO. She’s the boss. When she makes a decision, I am respectful of that and I find a way to support and embrace.”
Pieri and Domeniconi equate the act of co-founding and leading a business to a marriage. And, “a marriage is hard,” said Domeniconi.
Leaning on Community
Maria del Mar Gomez Viyella knows a thing or two about co-founding teams. Alongside Babson peers, Emily Levy ’16 and Yousef Al-Humaidhi ’15, del Mar Gomez Viyella helped launch Mighty Well—a consumer brand that designs products for chronically ill patients. One that Marie Claire also just described as the first mover and leader in its category.
“We started here at Babson when (Emily) was diagnosed with a medical condition, and there was nothing out there on the market she felt could meet her needs,” shared del Mar Gomez Viyella. Passionate about the cause at hand, the Mighty Well team set out to get their first product to market, and they did so very quickly. They were successful in doing so, said del Mar Gomez Viyella, “because we were in this environment where everything is about entrepreneurship.”
Jessica Do Tully agreed. By learning from women leaders and being around other women-led companies as part of the WIN Lab, “that was the community I needed to make (Palmpress) a real business, not just a product,” she said.
Both have faced challenges and opportunities that made for some key strategic decision making, and they relied heavily on the experts and community around them to help push them forward.
“Just take the first step, iterate, and try to see what the market says. … You’ll learn from that,” said del Mar Gomez Viyella. “What Babson really helped (with was) to think of the bigger idea, the bigger market, the broader opportunity.”
Take a Walk, Look Ahead
For Pieri and Domeniconi finding the time to communicate, openly and often, is a simple, yet key differentiator to their success with The Grommet.
“We take a walk every Friday morning at 8 a.m.,” shared Pieri.
“I highly recommend meeting outside of the office and walking in nature, where you can separate yourself from even the air in the office,” Domeniconi added. “We work through stuff. It’s a meandering conversation usually, but if there’s things on our mind, we get them out.”
When asked what they looked forward to most, Domeniconi closed with some exciting news for the many makers, inventors, and innovators in the room.
“One of our major initiatives in 2020 is to make a rapid expansion to (The Grommet) catalog and to give more access to entrepreneurs. I’m super excited about that.”
This event was co-hosted by Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL), The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, The Lewis Institute, the Weissman Foundry and the Hoffman Family Center for Undergraduate Career Development.