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John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Jules Pieri. She is the co-founder and CEO of the Grommet and author of How We Make Stuff Now. So Jules, thanks for joining me.
Jules Pieri: Thanks for having me, John.
John Jantsch: So maybe not everybody’s heard of the Grommet. Let’s start there. Explain what the Grommet is, and maybe more importantly, why you thought the world needed it.
Jules Pieri: Sure, so every day at 10 a.m Eastern we launch and reveal the story of one innovative manufactured product from a small business. Along the way, we’ve come across some products that definitely have become household names like FitBit, and Soda Stream, Otterbox, S’well water bottles. And the reason we founded the company was that as retail got bigger and bigger it was becoming increasingly difficult for small companies to break in. At the same time, technology, even the internet alone, were making it possible for better products than ever to get created from small companies. So there was a misfit in the market and a big opportunity.
John Jantsch: So tell me this, are these companies already in business kind of trying to find their way, and you find them and give them a lift? Or, do you actually somehow partner a little deeper than that?
Jules Pieri: It’s all over the map. We look at three hundred products a week. Some are inbound, most are about to be in production, are in production, or just out of crowdfunding.
John Jantsch: With a name like Duct Tape Marketing, I get asked this question all the time, is there a name story? Why the Grommet?
Jules Pieri: Yes, [inaudible] the silly one is I love grommets, I love hardware. I would say that the more business-y reason, because that’s important too, is first of all, I’m pretty good at building brands and I think we can get definition to this word. It was a word that was easy to say that a lot of people didn’t know what it meant and I kind of like that.
Jules Pieri: For the second reason was that if people did know what it means, that it’s a piece of hardware like a tent and a tarp, the round silver thing. It would be like a wink to them because that would be people who might understand products and creating products.
Jules Pieri: And that third reason is that specific hardware is like a humble hardworking entity and that’s how I kind of saw our company. That we would be kind of surrounding these embryonic companies and protecting and helping them.
John Jantsch: Yeah I fall into the wink camp because I’m doing the skull at about nine thousand feet in the Colorado Rockies, and camping and tarps and all those kinds of things are really important to our livelihood.
Jules Pieri: Oh for sure. I’m very happy to have the wink person on the other end of the line.
John Jantsch: You know the term maker now kind of seems like it’s carved out its own space in business lexicon. How in your opinion is somebody who claims to be a maker different than somebody who claims to be an entrepreneur or a business owner?
Jules Pieri: Well first of all, a hundred and thirty-five million Americans claim to be a maker, and they’re not all entrepreneurs. So clearly it’s a broad spectrum from people who are just doing hobby projects in their garage to people who are going all the way through to becoming what we call a Grommet. Honestly it’s interesting you point out that it enters the lexicon because when we started business ten years ago I was struggling to find a word to describe these companies because brand didn’t cover it, manufacture didn’t cover it, inventor didn’t cover it, entrepreneur didn’t cover it, sure as heck wasn’t going to call people vendors. So we were sort of dancing around a word. We called them partners, but that’s kind of vague. And then this word started emerging and I watched it and waited to make sure it stuck and also that it was broader than craft or hobby. It’s even broad in that it be descriptive of software entrepreneurs, like people who make things, but for the most part it works for us.
Jules Pieri: I will say there are some Grommet makers who wouldn’t identify with the word because it sounds too crafty to them if they produce a tech product. But I can tell you I’ve been pruning in the soups for ten years, I haven’t seen a better word. I do like the word.
John Jantsch: Yeah and I think like you said it’s like a lot of things, you know. There are a lot of makerspaces I belong to. I do it because I’m trying to make some stuff I want. But a lot of people have businesses that they’re running out of those spaces. I think it’s just become more acceptable. It’s kind of like fifteen years ago self-publishing was still seen as a not-so legit way to get a book out there, and of course now it very much is.
Jules Pieri: Right, exactly. Right like people are doing it for themselves and whatever rooted us into creating.
John Jantsch: Do you run across dreamers in this business? In other words, Kickstarters out there, I’m just going to put my thing out there and I’m going to get fifteen million dollars because I saw somebody else do it, and it’s not that hard.
Jules Pieri: Well, a dreamer who stays at the dreamer level won’t succeed. I mean there’s nothing wrong with starting with a dream, but the tenacity and stick-to-itiveness and just the sheer organization it takes to run a Kickstarter campaign would quickly weed those folks out. They wouldn’t see things through to the end of a successful campaign.
Jules Pieri: And yeah we do see people who maybe don’t understand what we do, which is really the spotlight and amplification, and they’ll send us a concept and think we will build the business around it. And you know, it’s just a misunderstanding, but not everyone wants to do the work and it’s a heck of a lot of work. That’s a core reason why I wrote the book to help people do the work.
John Jantsch: Yeah and actually I should backtrack. You have to start as a dreamer or nothing’s going to become of it, but obviously like you said it’s the implementation that is really what differentiates.
Jules Pieri: That 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration is absolutely true.
John Jantsch: So we sort of weighted into this already, what are some of the common mistakes that you see this group of makers falling for?
Jules Pieri: Somebody asked me that because, whether or not someone reads a book, I want to hit off the biggest mistakes. The first one would be not accepting the market opportunity right up front. Really doing everything you can to shape and quantify the potential customers for your product and getting beyond talking to your friends and family who will all tell you your product’s a great idea. You want to find strangers in the hard, cold light of day who will be able to embrace your idea or data that shows the market for your idea. So I would start there because it’s heartbreaking to me if they want a full-time endeavor they’re not looking for a moonlight side gig, they really want to build a business, I like them to go after a big target so that they can have lots of shots and goals. Name the company after your vision, not your first product.
John Jantsch: No, I was just going to say even working with established companies on their marketing the first thing I’m going to know is what problem do they solve and I think sometimes that’s a really good place to start for a product, isn’t it?
Jules Pieri: Yeah, and keep yourself really honest there. Sometimes it’s hard to find the kind of data so you can’t always satisfy that itch and it’s one you should try. There is obviously a kind of data out there about just about any population or market, but sometimes if you’re on something super new it’s hard to find that data. But then you do your best to substitute that with your own labor to satisfy yourself, it’s worth pursuing.
John Jantsch: Yeah, some of the biggest hits have been people that created something that solved a problem people didn’t know they had until it was there.
Jules Pieri: Right, I would say this is a pretty good example. Now, it was hard to quantify the number of people who would want that data on their wrist or in their pocket. Exactly, the prior product would have been a kind of clunky speedometer that had no connectivity to a community or to a manufacturer to your phone. So it’s not a great comp, but it was pretty easy to assume that people were interested in fitness and that steps if they were captured in a convenient sort of waterproof, well-priced, good form factor way, that’s not a hard leap to assume that could be interesting. But some products are a harder leap.
John Jantsch: And the many duplicates are probably a testament to the popularity of that.
Jules Pieri: Yes, the second area though, you asked me for things to avoid. Name your company after your vision, not your first product because retailers like a full line of products and you don’t want to limit your own opportunities with your name. So an example outside of the product area would be TaskRabbit, which was originally called RunMyErrand. Now people think of TaskRabbit for just about anything, whether it’s a handy personal project or assembling IKEA furniture or picking up dog food, which was the original inspiration. And RunMyErrand is way too narrow and it’s expensive and hard to change the name when it needed to be changed.
John Jantsch: Yeah, good point. So one of the challenges I suppose is somebody creates a good product, maybe they raise the money in a Kickstarter kind of way, but distribution is really going to make the difference. I know that distribution, you know if you created say a board game and then you couldn’t crack the New York board game buyer, you weren’t going to get in the market. What’s the best path for that kind of maker to circumvent the traditional distribution channels?
Jules Pieri: Well, frankly that’s at the heart of why we started the business because there wasn’t a really good path in that. The traditional channels, by the way, are still powerful. Going to trade shows is still a very credible thing to do, I wouldn’t discard that. People still do engage reps who will present your product to retailers when they have the relationship. People still do some traditional trade advertising, but the downside of all that is it does kind of feel kind of 1970s in terms of we live in a digital world and everything I just described and looked at, it is not virtual, it’s showing up. So we try to crack that in terms of creating that community who give products the audience and visibility, and that just simply didn’t exist, we start the Grommet.
Jules Pieri: I will say social media was super important to me in starting a business. At first, it was Facebook, primarily a vehicle to climb that audience, and today I think the closest thing or the best route other than some of these I just mentioned would be Instagram. Instagram is pretty brilliant for if you can make the investment, it’s a serious investment, in great content and consistency. It’s the only thing I’ve seen that, kind of gist in the Grommet, this sort of universe of doing it for yourselves and finding the community directly. It’s a sophisticated platform so the imagery must be beautiful, the copy, the video, has to be on par with everything else there. But there are breakouts that happen there and certainly for anyone with a big budget you can master Instagram and all the social platforms. But assuming without a big budget it’s going to be more about sweat equity and putting in the time to create great content.
John Jantsch: But I’m glad you mention that though because I think a lot of people with all these digital channels, the promises there to reach all these millions of people, but I really think some of the most effective marketing is figuring out how to integrate some old school with some new school, and not necessarily depend on one or the other.
Jules Pieri: I would agree with that. It’s still true that, for instance, going to trade shows, there’s a million reasons why it’s helpful. It’s not just for finding buyers, they have showcases of innovative products and competitions, and Shark Tank like environments where you can get a lot of great advice and make great connections. You can walk the booths and not only see competition, but talk to people who maybe aren’t competitive but have cracked some manufacturing issues or packaging issues that you have ahead of you so you can get really smart really fast. It’s like this mini university under a horrible convention center roof.
John Jantsch: That cement floor is no fun either.
John Jantsch: So you already hinted at this idea that if you’re going to play on Instagram you’ve got to have beautiful images and content and whatnot. How often do people underestimate the role of design in the whole picture?
Jules Pieri: That’s like I’m a hammer and you’re a nail asking me that question because I’m a designer. Here’s the deal, whether you’re creating a package or creating a product or some piece of marketing communication, it generally costs the same amount of money to produce something bad as something good. The shortcut you take is the front of skipping the pro, it’s keeping the advice you can get from somebody who has done some of this work before, it’s a costly skip is basically what I’d say. There are very few products that can’t benefit from the designer, which they’re available at the other side of a few keystrokes on the internet in many cases. Certainly, good networking can lead to good designers, so I think it’s a super important investment and certainly consumers don’t overlook it. This is a key differentiator in products so I’m not sure why people would skip that step.
Jules Pieri: Here’s an example where it often gets skipped. Quite often when you’re offshoring and producing in another country there will be a proposal from the factory. You know, here’s your cost all in, they may offer to design product, they may offer to design the packaging, and quite often the results show that this effort was done by people who don’t understand the market you’re serving or don’t have the commitment that you have to quality or don’t even use the language the way you would use it, the materials you would use. So it feels like you’re saving money, right? Have this thing delivered all the way from wherever, but it’s an expensive ten dollars sometimes.
John Jantsch: I always say this to people, listeners have heard this from me before, but I frequently hear my kids when they’re looking, and they’re in their upper 20s-30s, and they’ll pass a company by, oh their website was terrible. The experience was not good. The design was so old school, not even looking into that company. So I think people, especially when that three-four seconds is all you’re getting, it makes a difference.
Jules Pieri: That’s a good point because that’s where what you just described exactly what your kids say is where this phenomenon of the direct consumer businesses like Warby Parker or Harry’s or Cas-Ker are winning because those companies understand that from the very first contact, whether it’s an Instagram post or website or return policy or ability to chat, these are companies that definitely get you in serving what you consider to be a modern experience, a customer-friendly experience. And I suit your aesthetic or your vibe or your values.
John Jantsch: Yeah and that’s why stories are such a big deal too. It’s not just the nice looking website, it’s the story too. So speaking of stories, do you have a favorite one you want to share from your thousands I guess now from the Grommet?
Jules Pieri: One that I think sums up the crazy extremes happening in the world that I’m living in with makers is we have a maker who created a product that is called the Negg and it is a way to at home, little tiny device, about the size of a cup, that peels a hard-boiled egg with a couple shakes. So it’s genius, it really works, and the entrepreneur who created it was a web designer, an entrepreneur who has a web designer consulting firm, and basically she saw a void in the market and went after it.
Jules Pieri: And so Bonnie, who needed to prototype the product, she had figured out how to do this essentially, she miniaturized what commercial egg peelers do for the home in a non-power device. And she signed up for a 3D printing course at her local library. So Bonnie shows up for this class. Now Bonnie, you’re probably going to be surprised to hear, is 76 years old. And she shows up for the class and the instructor walks into the makers space in the library, and the instructor is 11 years old, and therein is born the Negg. It’s made in Connecticut and a very, very successful product thanks to the meeting of those two generations.
John Jantsch: That is a great story and I have to tell you my own little story then. There was a little deli, just a one-two person place that was right around the corner from my office. I love egg salad sandwiches, they make great egg salad sandwiches, and one day she didn’t have anymore and she said, I just got tired of peeling the eggs. So I need to tell her about it.
Jules Pieri: Yes! Oh my gosh, yes. Exactly.
John Jantsch: That’s funny.
John Jantsch: Jules, where can people find more about the Grommet, more about you, but then also, How We Make Stuff Now?
Jules Pieri: Actually it’ll be a website with exactly that title, How We Make Stuff Now, and it talks about what’s in the book, I made a video about the book there, but also it is a great place for additional resources. I list out chapter by chapter the references in the book, but I’ve been adding them every week as I learn things after the publishing of the book. I’m going to keep that as a living document to help me personally.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Well Jules, it was really great to hear your story, great to hear about the book and the work that you’re doing. It must be really gratifying to see some of these folks that are struggling that you’ve really lifted up.
Jules Pieri: It feels like my life’s work and I’m really proud of it.
John Jantsch: Thanks for joining us. Hopefully we’ll see you out there on the road.
Jules Pieri: Yes, thanks John.