Christine Koh

Hello!

I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Featured Mama Jules Pieri

pieri1.jpgWelcome to Boston Mamas Rock! – where we’re giving a voice to fabulous local mamas from all walks of life. Read on for today’s interview with Jules Pieri, mother of three and founder of Daily Grommet, a website dedicated to telling the true stories behind fresh finds. Then nominate yourself or a friend!

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Jules Pieri, Founder, Daily Grommet

Christine: Welcome, Jules! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you in person and look forward to learning more about you and sharing your story with our readers via this e-interview. You founded a website called Daily Grommet, which we’ll get to in a minute, but can you first share a bit about your background? What path were you on prior to Daily Grommet?

Jules: I started life as a happy little industrial designer. Eventually, dealing with the “suits” convinced me I could do even more for the cause of good design if I knew more about business. Now I’m told I was the first designer to get a Harvard MBA! After that I had lots of great gigs working on consumer products and brands, like Keds and Playskool. I even worked in France and Ireland. Just prior to Daily Grommet I was the President of Ziggs.com, a social network for professionals.

Christine: At Daily Grommet your mission is to tell the story behind cool products. What inspired you to launch Daily Grommet and why are you so committed to telling the story behind various finds?

Jules: It still shocks me that products show up on store shelves totally naked and unarmed. Meaning that their stories don’t get told. People love to know the inspiration behind a product, or why a customer loves a product. The folks who create great products are real heroes to me and I want to shout it from the rooftops. The proliferation of social media and video finally make it possible to tell those stories powerfully and efficiently. When you give people a good story, and they can see the passion behind a product, they gladly share it.

Christine: What would you say is the most unusual product that’s crossed your doorstep? What’s your favorite little known find to date?

Jules: I guess the most unusual is Laundry Tree’s Soapnuts. They are these homely little brown nuts that grow in India, Indonesia, and Nepal, get dried, and actually clean your laundry when you deploy three or four of them in a little linen bag. Eco-friendly, cost-effective, and hypoallergenic. What a winning combination. However, Christine, asking me my favorite Grommet is like asking me to choose among my children. But I do admit to a particular soft spot for anything truly inventive. And craft.

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Christine: Your site is so pretty and streamlined (i.e., devoid of glaring ads), and you don’t get paid to feature products. So without giving away your secrets, how does this business work? Or is Daily Grommet a passion project (in the sense of not being revenue-driven)?

Jules: Thanks for the compliment! You are right, we don’t get paid to feature a product…that would corrupt us immediately. But we do, when practical, commit to buying inventory and actually selling our Grommets. So in that way we have a really classic e-commerce model. It’s unusual, though, in that we only sell a given Grommet for 24 hours and then after that we pass our customers straight on to the supplier. But we do try to make it really quick and reliable to buy directly from us. And fun too…we like to ship a surprise or two along with our Grommets.

Christine: I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several members of your team and truly have been amazed by how passionate and friendly everyone is. Did you handpick your staff from prior personal or professional connections? In creating a business from scratch, how have you managed to achieve such a great interpersonal office dynamic?

Jules: Wow! This question absolutely tickles me. I have been thinking about it for two straight days. I did indeed know three of our team members before, from school or work. But the rest of the team (we have nine) came our way more recently. As for creating an appealing office culture, I think you do begin, and end, with the people you bring in the door. In our case, I guess my co-founders and I share the belief that being “nice” or “friendly” is totally compatible with being effective, passionate, and high achieving. Why not? Only Hollywood believes you have to be a bitch to get things done.

Christine: Your team collectively has 21 children. What strengths and weaknesses come from being a business run by a group of busy (possibly sleep deprived) parents?

Jules: Well I bet any of your readers could answer this one. My partner Deb always says, “If you want something done well, ask a busy person.” My experience is that parents who juggle paid work, and children, figure out how to be amazingly efficient. I love that. As for weaknesses, I guess there can be a bit of a “spotty zone” in our office in the late afternoon when one or many of us is fulfilling family obligations. But we make up for it by cranking hard in the earlier parts of the day, and we can be very productive together in our jammies, working from our homes in the evening.

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Christine: So many moms wrestle with the work on and off ramping situation. Tell us more about your kids and how their arrival intersected with your career. Where were you at professionally when they arrived? Did you take time off? How did parenthood change the way you functioned professionally?

Jules: Without wanting to sound like a battle-weary, battle axe, Christine, I really have tried it all when it comes to work-family balance. Full-time, part-time, and no-time work. I had my first child at age 29, three years post MBA. I now have three teenage sons. I worked part-time until the birth of number three. I had demanding executive jobs and I felt lucky to have them, but also pretty darned stretched. When you work part-time you are hammered at home and hammered at work, never giving either situation enough. But that was the right solution for me for many, many years. After my third child arrived I cried “Uncle” for two years and did only volunteer work. Then I ramped back into part-time before finally getting back into full-time when my oldest was 16. I’ve been full-time for four years now. Now that I am in such a demanding professional situation, I am very grateful for those years when I invested so much time in my children. It’s like a bank account I draw on now that I need it.

The only thing I know for sure is that no solution works permanently, and that every one of them feels a little bad. And a little good. Getting used to that tension took me many, many years. It is so easy to assume that the woman down the street has it all figured out. I am quite sure no one does.

The other way this shaped me is that I am open minded about work arrangements and very determined to make Grommet a success so that I can tell a story about how unconventional career paths can be very effective.

Christine: What has been the most challenging thing about being an independent mamapreneur, juggling the high demands of a new business with family life? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom for aspiring mamapreneurs?

Jules: I have to admit that waiting until my sons were teenagers makes this venture a heck of a lot easier than if I had done it earlier. So my real admiration is reserved for mothers of younger children. Now that is hard—to found a company and raise small children. I guess the biggest piece of advice I have is to take your business seriously. Get household help, as much as you can afford. Rent office space as soon as it makes sense. If you want to do something big, plan for it, assume it, get funding. If you are in a phase where small makes sense, just bide your time until big makes sense and don’t feel an ounce of guilt over it.

Christine: We’ve talked all business up to now. Tell us about the favorite things you do to unwind or any hidden/unusual talents you may have.

Jules: My favorite therapy is baking—pies, cookies, cakes. And I love any kind of mindless handcraft activity that yields a beautiful result. You can see that in the Daily Grommet business cards, which require hand assembly. This labor-intensive design is really an indulgence of my own quirk in that area. I also love to hike and be outdoors. I started to learn to rock climb this year, until my partner-in-crime moved to Singapore. I am looking for a climbing partner to go to the Boston Rock Gym with me on Tuesdays. I hope you can help me find one with this interview.

Christine: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?

Jules: I grew up in Detroit. I love the Motor City people. No attitude, whatsoever. And they really can dance! But you can’t beat Boston for access to just about anything. For instance, we are going to the ICA this afternoon, there is a fab Argentinean restaurant in the next town, and we could be at the ocean in 25 minutes today, if we wanted to.

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