28 May 2019

INK: Maker’s Manual

by Jen McFarland Flint


Since cofounding the online product discovery platform The Grommet in 2008, Jules Pieri (MBA 1986) has enjoyed a front-row seat to the launch of 3,000 consumer products—including household names like Fitbit, SodaStream, and S’well. From that vantage point, Pieri noticed that entrepreneurs wind up solving many of the same problems along the way but in isolation. So she wrote the manual. Drawing on her own experiences and the road map established by Grommet’s ventures, Pieri’s book, How We Make Stuff Now: Turn Ideas into Products That Build Successful Businesses, offers step-by-step guidance for everything from market research to packaging.

What do you hope the book will do for would-be entrepreneurs?

I’d like it to give them confidence to start their ventures with a playbook so that the path is not as lonely or ambiguous. Every day in our business something comes along that makes us say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I’ve learned to trust that there’s an endless well of good ideas. And when you put opportunities in the hands of wild-eyed optimists—instead of established companies that are in defense mode—people create better products. They create objects and experiences that are worth the resources they might require and the money we might spend and the time we devote to using them.

You write that being an entrepreneur is more about tenacity than intellect. Was that something you always knew you had?

I knew I had it in certain capacities. I left home for boarding school when I was 14. It was a completely foreign world from working-class Detroit where I grew up, and it was terrifying. In my first job out of business school, my boss affectionately nicknamed me “Pitbull” because I had a very high hit rate in sales. Then in the first four years of this business, I became the toughest person I know—except for my cofounder. I had a mortgage and three sons, and I was the primary earner in my family during the economic crisis.

But building a company also means being tough in a good way. I have always believed that being a leader means giving people more opportunity to access their dreams. Once in a while that takes tough love, but mostly it’s about knowing your people and respecting that they’re giving you their time, their most precious asset. Fifty percent of my job is understanding people’s dreams and helping them get there.

Which is also what this book is about—putting tools in people’s hands.

That’s what gets me out of bed. I only get one life, and I want to use it well. While I fully understand and expected to create a viable business with all the conventional metrics, that’s not enough. It’s pretty rare in life, or in any business, to see a big blank canvas where you can be the person to fill it in and really own a corner of something. We can uniquely own mindshare for innovative products at Grommet. That’s so cool to me.



To order a copy, please visit alumni.hbs.edu/problemsolving. Supplies are limited.

Problem Solving
HBS Alumni Making a Difference in the World

by Russ Banham, Shirley Spence, and Howard Stevenson

In his 40-plus years at HBS, Professor Emeritus Howard Stevenson has seen firsthand the countless ways in which alumni have harnessed leadership skills and business expertise to solve problems within their local communities and the larger world. A culmination of four years of extensive research, this book (excerpted below) chronicles some of the myriad ways alumni are living the mission through social impact. “It is impressive and inspiring to see the passion that people bring to their social impact work, their curiosity about what fellow alumni are doing, and their commitment both individually and as part of the HBS community to making the world a better place,” Stevenson says.

“In these turbulent times—as in times past—HBS alumni are stepping up as individual citizens, community members, and business and civic leaders to support social causes and institutions, using traditional and new approaches for effecting positive change. ...

“What motivates today’s alumni to take action on a particular social issue? For some it is deeply personal, an issue they are passionate about, or a response to a problem that they or their families are facing. Some are closely connected to their home countries and feel a deep sense of responsibility to their fellow citizens.

“Others feel an altruistic desire to help others or have a personal mission to leave the world a better place. Some alumni are generally dissatisfied with current approaches to solving a social dilemma, or they are excited about the potential of an alternative business model or a new technology to address a social need. Still others are simply responding when asked for help.

“Overarching all of that is a sense of responsibility and the desire to make an impact. One HBS alumni survey respondent commented, ‘There are a lot of problems, and we all need to be part of the  solution’ while another asserted, ‘I aim to make a difference for future generations.’ ”


The Bookshelf

In 17 years as president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Phil Buchanan (MBA 2000) has witnessed the truth observed by Andrew Carnegie and Warren Buffett alike that it can be more difficult to give wealth away wisely than to accumulate it in the first place. Buchanan’s new book sheds light on effective giving, and he recommends two other works about the promise and the perils of philanthropy.

Giving Done Right
Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count
by Phil Buchanan

“I’m a big believer in free-market capitalism, but I also believe we need a strong nonprofit sector. This book offers guidance to help donors make progress toward their goals. It also tells some of the stories of the nonprofit leaders who are laboring in virtual anonymity, doing work that requires tremendous leadership and management skills. These are not the people we tend to read about, but they’re in just about every community. Once you understand a little bit about what it’s like to be them, I hope it becomes possible for us to better support them.”


Philanthropy in America
A History
by Olivier Zunz

“This book describes the incredibly important role that philanthropy and the nonprofit sector have played in this country. It doesn’t replace what business and government do—the three sectors each play a distinctive role. But too often we take for granted the ways in which nonprofits have made this country stronger. There is so much emphasis in our culture on reinvention and innovation, which obviously are important. But it’s also important to learn from the past. Looking back at the contributions nonprofits have made is helpful so that we don’t neglect the sector. It’s also inspiring to recognize the level of change that’s possible.”


Cautionary Tale
The Prize
Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?
by Dale Russakoff

“Everyone who wants to make a difference with their philanthropy should read this book. It’s about the efforts in 2010 by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to reform the Newark Public Schools and all of the ways in which that went wrong. Even well-intentioned people trying to do good can forget that people are the best experts on their own lives. Crucial to actually helping people is listening to them and understanding what they think they need. So many education efforts have gotten into trouble by believing that there is a silver bullet that would transform a school system. This isn’t like innovation in a tech company. It’s much more complicated than that.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1986, Section H
follow @julespieri

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