Stuart Landesberg is the co-founder and CEO of Grove Collaborative which has an owned direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform for natural home and personal care products. The company has raised over $200 million at a $1B+ valuation from investors like Norwest Venture Partners, Mayfield Fund, General Atlantic, Marc Bell Ventures, Greenspring Associates, Nextview Ventures, and Bullpen Capital to name a few.
In this episode you will learn:
- What makes a solid board
- The virtuous cycles that happen when A-players hire A-players
- Who the real leaders are in your business
- How to show up for work every day if you don’t want to lose your success
- The embarrassing moment when Stuart realized he wasted too much time on their splash page, and what you should do instead
About Stuart Landesberg:
Stuart Landesberg is the Co-Founder & CEO of Grove Collaborative, the leading digital-first brand & e-commerce platform for natural home and personal care.
Stuart Landesberg has long been passionate about sustainability. He founded Grove, which has been a Certified B Corp since its founding, after learning that offline distribution meant that just a small percentage of families were choosing healthy, sustainable home care products. Grove now serves hundreds of thousands of households in the U.S. every month and has raised over $100 million in total capital.
Stuart Landesberg was previously an investor at TPG Growth, where he was involved in over $400 million in consumer and technology investments.
Stuart Landesberg and his wife Caitlin live in San Francisco with their daughter and dog, and spend as much time outside as possible.
Connect with Stuart Landesberg:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m excited about the guest that we have today because he has the experience not only as an operator, as a founder, but then also before, he was on the investment side. So he has been on both sides of the table. So without further ado, Stuart Landesberg, welcome to the show today.
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Stuart Landesberg: Thank you for the kind introduction. I’m thrilled to be here.
Alejandro: You got your college degree out of Amherst College, and then from there you went into Lehman Brothers probably at the worst time in history to go into finance. How was that experience for you?
Stuart Landesberg: It was a crazy experience, sad, educational, and really formative. I think there was never a day that I worked at Lehman Brothers where the stock was higher than my first day. Every day became closer and closer to the ultimate reality. Working at Lehman at that time, I thought that organizations like Lehman Brothers were somewhat bulletproof. You think of them as a big machine and greater than any one person. So when the tragic bankruptcy happened, it was incredible to watch the gears really grind to a halt as people stopped being able to do their jobs, and seeing the extent to which even giant companies like Lehman are really just the combination of collaborative efforts of a lot of great people. It was a lesson that I never forgot. Nor was seeing – I remember the managing director who sat right in front of me. He had been leading Lehman’s for 30 years and famously never sold a share of stock. He was pretty set. It was really personal. It was a really quick education about the extent to which all business really is truly personal.
Alejandro: Were you there when the actual Chapter 11 and all of that happened?
Stuart Landesberg: I sure was. I remember vividly. I was watching Sunday night football. The New York Giants were playing. I was at my buddy’s house. We might have had an adult beverage or two throughout the game. Then during one of the commercials, it said, “Crisis at Lehman.” I saw a friend of mine walking out of the building with a box. So I called him up and said, “Hey, Joe. You were just on TV during the Giant’s game. Why are you at the office in the middle of the night packing up your stuff?” He said, “You didn’t hear? Lehman’s going to file Chapter 11 tomorrow.” So I went into the office after the Sunday night football game and packed up my stuff, and sure enough, Lehman filed the next day.
Alejandro: Wow. What was the big takeaway for you from this experience?
Stuart Landesberg: The biggest two takeaways were not to take anything for granted. The assumption that just because a company was big, and at least by public perception successful, doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen to it. Again, both the success and failure of a company are truly a human experience. It really is all about the people and true on the upswing and the downswing.
Alejandro: Right, and then after this, you did a little bit of a stint at Vincraft Group, and then after that, you went into TPG Growth, which I’m sure taught you a lot about the way that you see and work with companies, more on the investment side. So how was TPG Growth for you?
Stuart Landesberg: TPG is a wonderful firm. A lot of really terrific and brilliant people there. Private equity is an interesting industry, and my experience at TPG was fantastic because of all the really smart people that I got to rub shoulders with. The work that I was doing was a lot of junior-level stuff: running analyses, bringing in our presentations, working closely with management teams to make sure that we could accurately portray their businesses and understand their businesses as we considered investing. But the byproduct of that is, as an employee you end up meeting a ton of brilliant executives and entrepreneurs in a very short amount of time both inside of TPG, the advisors, and the companies that we end up talking to. Certainly, it was informative to me to see how many different styles had led to great success, and also what the commonalities among the people with whom I most resonated were. I think my own style as an executive, as a startup founder is definitely influenced by the folks who I most looked up to as a young professional at TPG.
Alejandro: Obviously, when you’re looking on the investment side, and you take a look at companies that make sense versus companies that don’t make sense, what were some of those patterns that you were able to recognize?
Stuart Landesberg: Yeah. I think the biggest patterns were CEOs that were truly passionate about their people. I will talk about people a lot. I love our team, and I have come to believe that people are the primary asset of every organization and the most important thing. I think I really understood that the most from watching the leaders with whom I most identified at TPG. CEOs and operators who really understood their consumer and the depth of consumer insight and research that was possible to internalize and turn into really great decision-making was quite impressive and could be really difference-making in an industry. Then the third thing that I took away was a comfort with intellectual honesty is an unusual but highly valuable skill. People who are able to acknowledge uncomfortable truths – we’re just better collaborators and better partners and tend to have the best businesses.
Alejandro: Got it. Why did you decide to leave TPG and go into Toro Investment Partners?
Stuart Landesberg: I left TPG with one of the partners who I respected deeply and actually had been an operator previously, and we started Toro on many of the same themes as TPG: long-term investing, looking for companies that had sustainable, competitive advantage. At TPG, my role was focused on the private markets, and this would allow me to do it in the public markets. That was exciting. I started at Toro at the very beginning with just a couple of us in a room making investment decisions, and it was a really interesting experience and learned a lot of interesting and some different lessons there as well.
Alejandro: Got it. So then at what point do you make the decision of starting your company, Grove Collaborative. How did the idea of Grove come together?
Stuart Landesberg: The idea of Grove was a combination of something I’ve always cared deeply about as an individual and industry trends that I saw at TPG. I suppose those two things had to adjust for a little while to understand how to actually put them together. On the personal side of it, I’ve always cared deeply about sustainability. My parents were probably some of the largest early customers of the brand called Seventh Generation, which back when I was a kid, I thought was the biggest company in the whole world. At TPG, I had the opportunity to cover the grocery space and learned that Seventh Generation is actually a relatively small company in the consumer package good landscape, and that non-foods TPG is a category that has two really interesting characteristics for their division. The first was that consumer presence wasn’t and still isn’t super-well represented on shelf. What’s on shelf at most grocery stores and retail stores is driven by big brands that have extraordinary marketing budgets and hundreds of billions of dollars of trade stand. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the values of the consumers who are shopping in those stores. So the number one consumer preference wasn’t matched by assortment. Number two, penetration through e-commerce is still vanishing. Less than 5% today in most categories in non-food TPG even though you’re in-person customer experience with a bottle of glass cleaner is not worth talking about, that category is still some 90-some-odd-percent offline. I had a lot of conviction that the category could move from offline to online and also from conventional to natural, and at the intersection of those two trends, it was possible to go into business that was both very big and that had a positive impact on the world.
Alejandro: Got it. How did you meet your co-founders here?
Stuart Landesberg: So two co-founders: Jordan Savage who is our Creative Director and fantastic guy, and Chris Clark who is also terrific, who’s our CTO. Chris and I went to high school together, so we’ve known each other since we were about 14 years old, maybe 13, however old you are when you’re a freshman in high school. Jordan actually went to a rival high school. So I knew Jordan just a little bit in high school, and then he moved out to San Francisco, and we reconnected when he got out here. Same with Chris.
Alejandro: Why did you take the CEO role out of the three of you?
Stuart Landesberg: So, the Grove was really my idea, and the initial based it upon the experiences that I had had. Chris and Jordan both are – I cannot say enough good things about them as individuals, as partners, and I cannot stress how important or how valuable it is to have great people as partners on this entrepreneur journey. I think they both embraced it and added immeasurably in their specific dimensions to what we were bringing to market. So the three of our skill sets were quite complementary. I think our personalities also meshed quite well, and there was a good shared vocabulary, and also a real mutual respect for the others’ areas of expertise.
Alejandro: Right. So then what ended up being the business model of Grove, and walk us through how you guys ended up monetizing.
Stuart Landesberg: When we started the business, none of us had ever built a consumer internet company before. I shouldn’t say that. Chris, actually, had a small sock business that was sold; argyle socks called Oberon Socks. But really, none of us had really built and scaled a consumer e-commerce business. But we spent a ton of time in the first few years getting to know our consumers. There’s something like 1,400 folks who work at Grove today, but for the first four years, we went from 0 to 25 or so people. So the first four years were not, especially from a growth perspective, but really, really valuable from an inside perspective. We always knew that we wanted to take a better-for-you product and make it easy, accessible, and affordable for consumers to switch into natural products from conventional. But in those first few years, we got a good sense for who our customer is, what he or she really values, and where we can be really differentiated in the market over the long-term. Then for this year’s-end, we ended up pivoting the business slightly. We actually changed the name to Grove at that time, and the changes that we made based on the insights of those first four years have been the things that fueled the growth of the company so rapidly over the last two-and-a-half years or so. So the business model has always been about providing better products to consumers and making it really easy for folks to switch from products that our parents used and products that are better for our homes, our families, and the planet. I can go into more detail or leave it there, but it’s been a fun journey for sure.
Alejandro: Just so that our listeners understand, it is basically a subscription-type of experience. Right? Where they get like the products that are about really everything that has to do with the home. They get it delivered, and they pay a subscription fee for that. Is that it?
Stuart Landesberg: Yes. There’s no subscription fee for the consumer experience. The categories that we operate in are natural home and personal care things like dish soap, laundry detergent, bath tissue, oral care, shampoo, and stuff like that. We offer a really curated selection of 1,000 SKUs, some of which are from national brands like Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyer’s Method, some of which are from brands that we owned and developed in-house. When folks sign up, most people are opted into a scheduled delivery service by default, but there are a ton of flexibilities. Grove is an auto-replenishment platform by default, but in fact, half of our shipments are ad hoc, half of them are through auto-ship, and there’s a super customizable experience for consumers to make sure that people are only getting what they want and not other things. And there’s no subscription fee. It’s no problem to skip a month. You only pay for the products that you buy. I think it’s something that’s really designed to be a service to the consumer so that our community can build and maintain healthy habits around the products they bring into their homes.
Alejandro: Really cool. You were talking about the pivot earlier, and I’m always a believer that there’s not a single business plan or pitch deck that is going to hit the market and it’s going to be bulletproof, so in you guys’ case, you started to receive feedback, and that really contributed to making or to understand that it was the right time or the right decision to change course of action. But doing a pivot is also quite scary. So what was the experience for you guys? Obviously, once you put it out there, and you start seeing the reaction, then you’re able to breathe. But what was the experience before that happened?
Stuart Landesberg: The first four years, candidly, were kind of a scary experience. Running in an undercapitalized startup where you only sort of have product/market fit, in my experience, was extraordinarily stressful. We almost ran out of money two dozen times, and when we closed our Series A – it was four years to raise our Series A. When we closed our Series A, I had more money on a personal credit card in the business than we had cash in the bank account. It was scary. But I have a saying that I’ve said many, many times through the last six-and-a-half years on this journey, which is, “The only way out is through.” Even though for those first four years – four years is a long time, especially when Chris, Jordan, and I, and a lot of people on the team had given up good-paying, stable jobs to come do this. The opportunity cost of our time was real, and it wasn’t taking off the way startups are supposed to when you read about them. Sure, that’s a trying thing emotionally.
Stuart Landesberg: So, even though it wasn’t taking off the way that we had all hoped, we were making progress. We never gave up on listening to the consumer, make a little more progress, listen to the consumer, continue to evolve the experience. Over time, we evolved it to a point where we said, “Okay. I think we’ve reached local maximum, but there’s still a lot of opportunity in this category. So if we reposition, we think there’s a higher maximum rate, a different global maximum that we can shoot for.” When we relaunched the company, it was extremely nerve-wracking, but we had built at that point a culture of constant improvement, which I think is still really with the company today that allowed us to see this as just one more natural step in our own evolution as a business. It was scary, but it felt really natural because I didn’t know at the time that this was the one change that was going to allow us to get traction and go. I viewed it as just part of constant chipping away. I’d been at it for four years with mixed results. I didn’t realize year five was going to be the breakout. I was totally ready for another year of grinding, and the challenging emotional environment that grinding it out is.
Alejandro: Yeah. No kidding. I think that normally, people give themselves three years, so the fact that you were at it for four years is remarkable. It says a lot about you guys. So make us insiders of that breakout moment. How was that like for you guys?
Stuart Landesberg: Yeah. It’s crazy to think that, in retrospect, I spent four years on this without seeing it breakout. And it wasn’t like there was a breakout moment. After we made our repositioning, a bunch of our strategies just started working better because the business was better positioned. As those strategies started to work, we were able to attract better talent, and as we brought on more and more strong talent, there’s a really wonderful virtuous cycle where strong talent breeds strong performance which breeds more strong talent. I think that’s a little bit of what’s behind the “A-players hire A-players” saying. We got into this really positive cycle where all the sudden for the first time we had true subject matter experts in marketing, in product development, in a lot of areas, and that helped us scale more quickly than we ever had been able to in the past. So we started guiding to the flywheel, and it felt really good. But it wasn’t like there was a moment where “Okay. We’ve made this switch,” and things took off. You sort of look back at the end of the month and go, “Man! We beat the plan. That was cool.” Then do it again, and over time we’d look at the aggregation of those results, and it’s been a very solid run. But I don’t think there’s ever a moment, and I still don’t feel like there’s a moment of like liftoff. I still try to go to work every day with the same feeling of “It’s my job to continue listening to our consumer, continue to set our teams up for success, and continue to just make a little bit of progress every day.
Alejandro: Was there a time for you when you were actually heading into the office knowing that there was going to be a tomorrow, and that you guys were going to survive? Maybe like there was a time where you said, “I think we’re into something.”
Stuart Landesberg: Yeah. I know that intellectually now that the business is stable and there’s a tomorrow. I still have the feeling, though, which I think a lot of entrepreneurs do that this could all go away. Right? The business is forming well. The team is extraordinary, and I love my job as much today as I did on the first day, which is a lot. I was talking to a friend of mine who sold his business recently for a substantial sum, and I was like, “Oh, man. Did that feel great?” He was like, “The day after we signed the deal was the first day that I believed the company would be around for the long-term.”
Stuart Landesberg: I definitely think that a lot of the best founders and the best leaders never take success for granted, and constantly feel the pressure, in a good way, to continue transforming the organization. I definitely feel that.
Alejandro: How do you define success, Stuart?
Stuart Landesberg: I define success for the company and success for myself slightly different. I think the category that we are in as a company is one that has been defined by really brilliant market leaders of 150 years who mastered the art of generating profit in a brick-and-mortar environment. I believe that the category is going to go from 3% online to 40% or 50% online in the next two decades. That transition has the opportunity to materially change, not just the channel but the products people buy and the footprint of the channel on the planet in a way that is materially possible. I define success for the company – our company vision statement is that consumer products will be a positive force for human and environmental health, not just less bad, but actually more good for human and environmental health. So that’s the yardstick against which I measure company success. For me, personally, it’s really about, can I create the atmosphere and bring the people together, set them up for success such that we have a chance at pursuing those things? I love the potential that our category already has for a positive change. And I feel so privileged to come into work every day with such smart people and work on the hard problems that have a chance of changing the category for the better.
Alejandro: Got it. And in your guys’ case, you’ve raised a bit of money. So how much money have you guys raised so far?
Stuart Landesberg: I’ll just say it’s in the hundreds of millions.
Alejandro: In the hundreds of millions. I mean, I see at least a publicly-reported 165 million. You mentioned earlier that it took you four years or so to do your Series A, so would it be possible for you to walk us through the fundraising journey?
Stuart Landesberg: Sure. I can start with the very first financing, which was me putting my own money in, and a couple of people who I worked with putting in small amounts of money. Yeah. The first round was like $280,000, and I was so proud of it. Still, I’m proud of it, I suppose. For those first four years, we just strung together small angel rounds, 280, then 450, 700. Then like 400. There were a lot of small angel rounds. The seed round was like 2 million bucks. It was close a lot of times. There were multiple times I wasn’t sure we were going to get the money we needed to keep going.
Alejandro: Just out of curiosity, what was that time where you were like touching the cliff?
Stuart Landesberg: Oh, my gosh. So many times. A couple that I remember in particular, we raised our seed round in January of 2016, I think. We had signed a term sheet in December, and I had gone on a trip and gotten engaged and had been a little bit out of the business for a few weeks. December is a seasonally bad month for us, but it was a particularly bad season of December that year. I remember coming back from this trip where I had just gotten engaged, and I was so happy. Looking at the numbers for December, I was like, “Oh my gosh, we are going to go out of business.”
Stuart Landesberg: From “Is he going to fund the term sheet?” The day they funded, we had $40,000. I know they funded me $40,000 in the bank. I cut a personal check for like 10 Grand to make sure that we made payroll. It was so close, and this group Serious Change out of New York; they didn’t blink. If anyone listening ever has an opportunity to work with Josh Mehlman or anyone from the Serious Change family – I can’t speak highly enough about the folks at Serious Change, Nestle Ventures, and MHS Group, and Pennington Capital Ventures Group, the four largest participants in our seed round. We got that round done, and then it took us 19 months and a bunch of bridge rounds between there and the time when we had – when I had twice as much money on my personal credit card as we had in the company bank account before we raised our Series A. For our Series A, I think we went out and talked to 156 firms. Seventy-five or so took muse with us. We got one term sheet, and I had to beg for it.
Stuart Landesberg: Paul Martino at Bullpen Capital who I also think the world of and if you folks who are listening have an opportunity to work with Paul or Bullpen – another phenomenal group. I called Paul, and I was like, “Paul, there’s a price at which this deal gets done. Dude, there’s got to be a price.” Paul’s a really great guy. He’s like, “Dude, you don’t want to have this conversation.” Actually, I did. We had a couple of other potentials on the insiders that wouldn’t have let the company go out of business. That was our only viable Series A option. That Series A Round wasn’t at the highest price, and obviously, it wasn’t a super-clear story at that point that we were going to be really successful. But Bullpen’s mantra is to do unusual deals, and they did this one. The first one, MHS, and Nestle in particular, those two firms really stepped up and supported the company then as well. From there, the business really got a lot of traction and had a couple of +40, +45% quarters. Then we raised our Series B from Mayfield in the first quarter of the following year. We worked with [29:03] originally there who are both phenomenal partners; still close partners of ours today. We had a really great 2017. Then raised our Series C from Norwest at the end of that year. Those folks have been, again, really terrific capital partners. So every step of the way, we’ve been fortunate to have truly phenomenal people sitting across the table from us who believed in the company vision, have been with us through when we’re ahead of plan and when we’re behind plan. I feel so fortunate to have such a great group of capital partners who’ve been with the company through a pretty transformative period.
Alejandro: I see that the last round that you guys did was the Series E on December of 2018. It’s been multiple rounds that you’ve gone through. From what you’re saying, Stuart, it seems that once you were able to really secure the Series A it’s like you got the money to really kick things into high gear and things became a little bit easier. But you’ve really been on the tough side of the equation, and now, obviously, it’s a different story, but I’m sure that you’ve learned a lot. What do you think from going through all these multiple financing cycles, what have you learned that in terms of profile – let’s say in pattern recognition, which you used to do that on the investment side – what makes an investor in a privately-owned company great?
Stuart Landesberg: That’s a great question. I’m going to answer that in a second, but I want to speak to two things you said earlier. The first, I’m not sure that the stuff in Crunchbase is totally accurate. That doesn’t necessarily come from the company.
Stuart Landesberg: So I wouldn’t necessarily believe everything you read.
Alejandro: I don’t believe everything I read. No one should.
Stuart Landesberg: The second piece is that it wasn’t the money in the Series A that led to the business transformation. It’s a common refrain, and I’ve certainly said it myself that if only we had all this money, it would be so easy. The business opportunities are created by the business, not by the financing. The financing is a tool, but the business opportunity is not contingent on the financing. Alfred Lin at Sequoia said something quite smart at a conference I was at recently. He said that “Oftentimes the companies in the space that have raised the least money are the long-term winners because they have to focus on their consumer.” There are a lot of examples of this. For me, that was just a blinding insight because it really is true that a lot of times if you don’t have capital or didn’t, you end up spending all of your time focusing on the consumer, which is a really, really valuable place to focus in the formative years of the business. I am always excited to dispel the notion that capital creates success because it’s definitely a really helpful tool on the way, but it is not a driver in and of itself.
Alejandro: Yeah, and by the way, I agree with you on that, and I love Alfred too. I have the pleasure of knowing him personally, so a really great guy and probably one of the best investors out there today.
Stuart Landesberg: Absolutely. What makes a great partner, at least in my mind, I suppose there are three accesses that I think about. The first is transparency, and it’s got to go both ways. Transparency that I can be honest about, what’s happening in our business, what are my goals, the company and company’s long-term vision? The investor can be transparent about his or her goals too. That allows us to understand where there’s really good alignment and where there’s less good alignment. And it’s totally okay for there not to be perfect alignment. That’s normal. Right? But as long as there are really strong transparency and really strong trust, that creates the dynamics for a strong, long-term working relationship so that we can both do things to make sure that our partners are successful. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is a willingness – not just a willingness, a perspective that is long-term and positive. Every company has bad months and bad quarters and our partners, and I think most really great partners are able to focus on the long-term instead of prosecuting short-term growths because as a company, especially a small fast-growing company, the resources are so limited. We end up spending resources in part where our stakeholders, including our stockholders, want us to focus. So, continued focus on the long-term is so valuable to allow us as a company to also focus on the long-term. And to know that we have the support to stay – keep all of our long-term issues intact even if there’s one for if media costs are too high or one of our margins are different or whatever it is, that we’re able to continue to focus on the long-term even if the short-term fluctuations happen. So that’s number two. Number three is a willingness to think like an RM. I’ve experienced investors who have a little bit of an entitlement, and they think the company does the work, and the investor sees some of the returns. Our investors, to a person, are available to us to hop on the phone, help me close candidates. If there’s a person who wants to get to know our company better, there isn’t a board member of a major investor that I can’t get on the phone, see them today to talk to that person. These people are extraordinarily busy, but if I call up Jack at Norwest who’s fantastic or his partner is also involved – if I call and ask them to talk to a candidate, they’ll make it happen the same day. It’s just like because they feel alright with me. It’s awesome to know that I have that partnership. I am really grateful to have such phenomenal investors.
Alejandro: That’s great, and I think that having such phenomenal investors has also allowed, perhaps to have a phenomenal structure at a board level. So talking about boards and especially for the people that are listening, from your experience, what makes a good solid board. What does a solid board look like?
Stuart Landesberg: Every board is a little bit different, just like every company’s different. So the first thing I would say is having a board culture that is consistent with your company culture and your operating culture is going to make a ton more fun and authentic. And that counts, especially for many of the folks on our board. They sit on a lot of boards. They’re really busy, and I think our board meetings are fun because we genuinely love what we’re doing and we’re not ashamed to make our board meetings something we super look forward to. I think of our board meetings as a time to talk about my favorite topic in the world with a bunch of super-smart people that I really like. Really, it’s great. Sometimes, they’re hard conversations, but that’s valuable too. So I think that aside from having a culture that’s authentic to the company and to the people in the room, the other factors are transparency, preparation, and what I would call a sense of shared mission around seeing the company’s vision get realized. Some of my best mentors and my favorite conversations have been ones about bringing more of the company’s vision into the room, not just our financials. That stuff is really exciting, and so I, as you can probably tell, think extraordinarily high of our management team, so I try to incorporate our management team into board meetings as much as possible. Our board is excited and embraces that approach. So I think it’s a really good transparent and ongoing dialog, and I think of our board as our partners, not as anything else. Those are a few suggestions, and I think as always being clear upfront about board expectations is really important.
Alejandro: One of the things that I’ve seen here, Stuart, and let me know if you agree or not is that there are two types of boards. One where you are literally reporting to the board, and it’s more toxic, and then the other one is like the board is working for you and helping you to really succeed and tackling the strategic issues. How do you see it?
Stuart Landesberg: Yeah. I don’t see it as either I work for the board or the board works for me. I think of it as we all are working together, and we have various roles to play. I think good governance is important, and I think it’s important that the board hold me and the management team accountable to the goals that we set for the company. I think that is one of the jobs the board plays, and it is extremely important. I want them to hold me and the company accountable. We wouldn’t be our best if they didn’t, on the one hand. On the other hand, we also wouldn’t be as successful if our board members weren’t happy to hop on the phone at a moment’s notice about any issue. I think that it is neither an either/or, and board relationships are complicated. I consider many of the people brought on board as friends, mentors, I learn a lot from them, and I super-enjoy working with them. And also, they have real governance responsibilities of the company. So those relationships are complex but again, I think it comes down to transparency and trust and authenticity. If all those things are present, it’s not an either/or, or the board works for you, or you work for the board. It can be a really rich and rewarding and super enjoyable experience. At least that’s been my really fortunate history.
Alejandro: Got it, and valid points. What I meant with the reporting is where trust is not present. Right?
Stuart Landesberg: Yeah.
Alejandro: And then it becomes toxic. But I’m aligned with your point.
Stuart Landesberg: I don’t know if anybody is listening from a tactical perspective. The board should never be surprised by me. It’s really important that there are no surprises. Reporting to the board and the board holding us accountable means communication well beyond just the actual board meetings.
Alejandro: Yeah. Yeah because at the end of the day, you’ve got to prepare your board members as best as you can, and share all the issues that you’re dealing with, not making anything look good or any of that stuff because just being transparent and like you were saying, authentic with whatever the company’s facing, you’re ultimately preparing your board members better to help you.
Stuart Landesberg: Exactly. I think this goes back to one of the early things I learned from computers is that if the truth exists, it’s always better to name it even if it’s not right. Yeah, just having a comfort with intellectual honesty, I think is especially important in a board context.
Alejandro: So shifting gears here, Stuart, how big is growth today so that people that are listening get an idea of how large the operation is?
Stuart Landesberg: The company is, as I said, right around 1,300, 1,400 people work at the company. We have seven locations across the U.S., and we ship to hundreds of thousands of customers a month. That will give you a rough sense for how big we are.
Alejandro: That’s a fair amount of employees, so I’m sure that for you, it has been an unbelievable journey as well as learning as a leader. How do you define leadership?
Stuart Landesberg: You’re kind to say that. It’s been a crazy journey. I feel like we are 1% of the way. I feel like we are still in the super-early stages. I guess leadership is defined differently for everyone in every context, and I don’t think there’s one definition of a leader. I think that the leaders at Grove who are most successful and the leaders in our context are not just the senior people at the company, but they range from – we had an associate at one of our fulfillment centers. He went above and beyond in creating a really awesome video that shows what the lifecycle of a particular shipment from getting picked to going out the door. That was awesome. The above-and-beyond effort that he did inspired our COO who talked about it to all hands, and it was like really awesome, and that’s real leadership from someone who’s been with the company for just a couple of months and who works on the floor in our St. Peters Fulfillment Center. I think it is people who do their jobs in a way that sets those around them up for success, and that is really true to the mission of the organization and true to the passion that we feel for our customers. I think that kind of behavior that is mutually beneficial with our colleagues, our partners, and our customers is the kind of example of that, that creates real leadership. In any organization that reaches scale, there’s leadership all over the place. I am far from the primary source of leadership at this time.
Alejandro: Got it. There’s one question that I always ask the guests that participate on the show, and that is knowing what you know now, and you’ve seen a lot, and I know that this is impossible, but if you could go back to the past and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be and why before launching a business?
Stuart Landesberg: I think about this frequently because I know so much now that I wish I had known in the very beginning. The number one thing that I wish that I had spent more time on in the early days was – we spent a lot of time on evolving the product, but we also spent a lot of time on positioning the progress that we had made. This is so embarrassing, but I’ll just say it. The amount of time that we spent coming up with our splash page when we first bought the domain – it was three of us sitting in an accelerator. I’ll always be embarrassed about that as I recall. But I don’t think I understood at the time that there were really important milestones, and the story of what happens in-between those is much less important. The thing that I needed to do was focus on getting product/market fit as fast as possible, not creating the trappings of an organization that was well-run or whatever. In those early days, I wish I had just – I’m really grateful we did focus as much on the consumer as we did, but we also wasted a lot of time in cycles on things that weren’t ultimately value-creating in the long run but were only there to sort of swage short-term founders of a small business insecurities. I wish that I could have that time back and put it back into the customer. The rate of transformation is determined by how much customer insight you can get. At least it was for us, and so I would remind myself that we could not put too much energy into that customer interaction.
Alejandro: Got it. So, Stuart, let me ask you this. For the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Stuart Landesberg: Sure. You can find me on Twitter. It’s stu_land or my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alejandro: Amazing. Well, Stuart, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Stuart Landesberg: My pleasure. Thanks, so much for having me.
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