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#IC100 ‘Live Case Study’ Allows CEOs to Advise Pioneering Company

Written by Liz Holden

The Grommet, a pioneering product launch platform, has become an influential force in the burgeoning “maker” movement. The Grommet introduces consumers to a new product daily, and has launched such “household name” products as SodaStream, FitBit and Pandora Mobile. Since its founding in 2008, The Grommet’s popularity has exploded: In 2014, according to the company, about one in 200 U.S. residents were regular Grommet viewers.

At the 2015 Inner City 100 Conference & Awards, Harvard Business School Professor Lynda Applegate asked the audience of CEOs to act as board members for The Grommet, advising its leaders at a crucial juncture in the company’s evolution. Applegate, co-author of a case study on the company, shared the stage with The Grommet’s co-founder and Chief Discovery Officer, Joanne Domeniconi. The case study was unique in its timeframe: As a “live case study,” it allowed participants to explore the ongoing decisions facing Domeniconi and her colleagues as their story continues to unfold.

Why advise The Grommet? The seven year-old company now finds itself at a crossroads, as CEO and co-founder Jules Pieri recently discussed in a blog post. In the post, Pieri divided the company’s story into three chapters: survival, redemption and velocity. She described the company’s velocity period, beginning in 2015, as crucial: “You’re no longer the scrappy upstart. But the business is still fragile in its own way. It has not necessarily fully claimed its corner and certainly has not scaled to full sustainability.”

The company has long been defined by its mission to support makers. The Grommet’s role, as Domeniconi put it during the breakout session, is “serving the little guy while they’re growing big.” This is a complex task. The Grommet’s leaders see themselves not only as product launchers but also as key players in a “maker ecosystem” that includes providers of funding, logistics, packaging and other components of product development and delivery. The company has built a strong network of affiliate partners that allows them to connect makers with key resources and to address issues hindering the makers’ long-term success.

Through their network, the Grommet’s co-founders have been able to identify unique business opportunities at various stages of the maker ecosystem. In 2014, the company launched The Grommet Wholesale, which connects makers to large retailers, a task that can be a major challenge for independent makers.

As the website’s popularity has grown, so has the number of submissions – according to the case study, The Grommet averaged 200 proposed products per week in 2013. With this visibility, the company faces the question of whether to continue to focus on small, independent makers, or whether it should also be a force to scale larger enterprises.

As The Grommet evolves, the maker economy continues to gain traction. Since The Grommet’s establishment in 2008, 3-D printing has revolutionized the maker movement. At the session, Applegate showed attendees a video explaining the revolutionary technology shaping manufacturing. 3-D printing is adding value to the maker economy, and The Grommet is left to decide how to capture that value – should The Grommet take equity in the companies they launch, for example?

“No one executes a vision,” Applegate told attendees. “You execute projects and initiatives to get you there.” Depending on the projects and initiatives The Grommet chooses next, the founders’ vision can go in very different directions. As the company scales, Pieri and Domeniconi are left to balance the best way to grow and nurture the maker movement they have helped to revolutionize.

The Inner City 100 is ICIC’s annual conference and awards ceremony honoring the 100 fastest-growing inner city businesses in the U.S. At the 2015 Inner City 100, these speakers were joined by others including Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Harvard Business School Professor and ICIC Founder and Chairman Michael E. Porter, University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley, Boston Beer Chairman and Co-Founder Jim Koch, Hill Holliday CEO Karen Kaplan and Uber East Coast General Manager Meghan Verena Joyce. To learn more about the Inner City 100, please email Eliza LaJoie.

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