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Advice for entrepreneurs: Playing the long game

Angela Winkle, RC and Communications Director for the Womens’ Students Association, reports on the WSA’s most recent Fireside Chat, with Jules Pieri (MBA ‘86), CEO of The Grommet.

By Angela Winkle, RC

It’s that time of year — RCs are abuzz with visions of Field 3 projects that will turn into the next overnight (or at least over-semester) success, while a sizable number of ECs continue their network searches (on a now fairly beaten track) to find the right startup gig for next year. At a WSA Fireside Chat last week, Jules Pieri shared a different, wizened view of what success looks like in a startup, or in a ‘small business’ as they were known when she graduated HBS in 1986.

Pieri calls herself the first designer to graduate HBS. And in the 90s, with industrial design experience in one hand and a HBS MBA in the other, she got mad. She got mad that the best products didn’t win and that in consumer industries such as toys, the retail market was dominated by a handful of large companies who weren’t interested in innovation. More than getting mad though, Pieri started to notice opportunities to change things.

Pieri was early to the social media party – she saw that it was the ultimate leveling tool for people to change the course of political campaigns, or the success of a movie, over the course of a weekend. And, she saw, this could be applied to business.

This was the kernel of The Grommet. In a world before crowdfunding, Pieri had  a vision to take the power of social media and use it to help the best products win. The Grommet is where makers with ideas are brought together with consumers who want the ‘best’ products, where ‘best’ is all encompassing, from socially responsible development to domestic production, to an interesting story of how the product came to be.

But a vision wasn’t enough, and it’s been a hard slog for Pieri and The Grommet team since its founding.

The lessons for entrepreneurs that emerged from Pieri were:

  1. Go big: make it worth your time.
  2. Expect it to take time: Pieri’s view is that anything worth doing will take 5-10 years. It may even take a lifetime. But given her dedication to her vision, and the big problem she is trying to solve, that’s okay with her.
  3. Know what matters: Early on, as a cash strapped start up, you can’t do everything so you need to be clear about what matters most. For Pieri this was the trust of the Makers: ‘I never wanted to have to apologize to a Maker. I would apologize to everyone else, but we had to do right by the Makers because the trusting relationship with our Makers is the core of The Grommet.’
  4. Have a vision and make sure it’s your vision: ‘Imitative start ups are fatally flawed’, says Pieri, ‘if you’re not the lead dog then how do you know why or when you need to turn left?’ Instead Pieri lives two years in the future, always planning for what’s next in the pursuit of her vision.
  5. Be confident in your vision: The most striking thing about Pieri is her unwavering confidence in her vision – it is infectious and no doubt has been a key success factor in The Grommet’s hard-won success.
December 4, 2014
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