I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Anticipating egg on my face, and apologizing in advance

Two weeks ago we had fully vetted a potential cooking tool Grommet and had it scheduled to run imminently.  We used the product multiple times.  We made the final video, wrote the story, negotiated the commercial terms.  I think we had done everything but shoot photography.  It was a “go”.  But then Katherine tripped on a negative review in a Dutch publication (the product is a European import).  She doesn’t read Dutch but she could read “trouble”.  She dug deeper, found enough to worry about, and Joanne cancelled the Grommet.

It caused all kinds of headaches for Joanne to make this decision.  Someone on her team had to face an upset product supplier.  Hours of lost work.  A messed up Grommet calendar.  A need to accelerate another Grommet.  Yet everyone knew it was the right thing to do.

But here’s the rub.  This will happen again, and we might miss the bad news and release the Grommet story.   The internet is our friend, we can find negative reviews in a nanosecond.  But if a product is new, or if the bad news is slow to surface on the Web, we could get “caught” by a disreputable new player or product.

I’m very pleased we are developing a new submission process which will openly publicize the ideas we are seeing.  What is now visible only to our team will live in a  public “Citizens’ Gallery”  on our site.    This change is going to be huge:  people will be able to get more welcome exposure for their submissions on the Grommet site, and that will also continue to raise the quality of them.

Here’s a first mockup…it’s undergoing revisions, but we want to share it anyway:

Bigger than that, to us, is that we will have a broader chance to hear multiple points of view on a product.  We will open up ways to comment on a Grommet idea.  By exposing our incoming submissions we will have a much better chance to learn about the possible Grommets from people who are committed to helping us maintain the quality and trust we have built, together, at Grommet.

But….for brand new products even this new Citizens’ Gallery is not enough.  Sometimes products fail after months of use.  Sometimes social entrepreneurs do not really give the share of revenue that they commit to at the beginning of their endeavor.  Sometimes they green-wash a product.  Sometimes the front-facing part of the company is professional but the service and operational ends are not.  We have so much experience in figuring this stuff out that we haven’t yet had a massive disappointment.  We don’t cut corners.  We have a nose for the truth, at every level.

But we will miss something important someday.   It’s just inevitable.  We are a small team.  We don’t pretend to be Consumer Reports or Underwriters Laboratory.  Our evaluation of a product, and the people and company behind it, is very holistic (more on this in a later blog post).  We will get duped or just make some errors.

For this, I will ask for all the input our community can give, once we start exposing our idea submissions.  But I am mainly, here and now, apologizing in advance.   When we get caught short we will move swiftly and powerfully to correct any errors.  It will be deeply upsetting to me and to the Grommet team, and our community.  So I am apologizing now.

7 Responses to “Anticipating egg on my face, and apologizing in advance”

  1. Dan Weinreb

    I do not think you owe any of us an apology. On the contrary; the fact that Joanne was being so careful and energetic, and that you are willing to pay the price when the time comes rather than recommend a grommet that you know has problems, demonstrates your commitment to high quality. You succeeded in keeping the egg off your face! It’s easy for people to talk the talk, but when it comes time to really have to pay something, that’s when we can tell that you really and truly mean it. Sure, sooner or later you might make a mistake, but now everyone knows how hard you’re trying. So, don’t feel bad. Celebrate!

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Thanks for sharing that point of view Dan. It does kind of turn the conversation upside down. I guess when you are so close to something, like we are, you might lose some perspective on the 99 things you do well, and focus on the 1 you don’t. I am writing about that future 1% because it can indeed tear down the other 99 if you don’t deal with it well. But I still appreciate what you said, very much.

      Reply
  2. Jill

    Jules, the transparency that you, Joanne and the team bring to the process is encouraging, refreshing and completely in line with your philosophy of citizens commerce. Thanks for walking the walk – you keep me inspired.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Jill, Thanks for the kind words. You might give us too much credit…we also know that being transparent lets us be humans full of foibles, which gives us comfort as we try to cram two days of work into each one. We are bound to mess up here and there.

      Reply
  3. Giff

    I applaud your decision, and it is exactly this integrity and transparency that draws people to the DG brand. Sure, something, sometime will trip up, but I have no doubt that the company will handle it with grace (albeit with some unavoidable stress). Most people forgive imperfection when they get honesty, best effort, and clear communication! It is a shame they so rarely get it from old-school businesses.

    Reply

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