Grovemade makes beautiful, innovative items for the home and workspace. Here’s how they stay committed to delivering quality products while moving at ambitious speed.
Ken Tomita is pressed for time. The co-founder and CEO of Grovemade, an innovative, Portland, Oregon-based woodworking company that makes beautiful, handcrafted items for our tech-centered lives, sends us a screencap of his calendar. He’s scheduled for back-to-back check-ins with design, production and engineering, he’s planning to call more customers (“I talked to fifteen people for 30 minutes each”), there are coaching sessions and project reviews. So when we manage to steal half an hour of his time in July, we get right to the point to unpack how Grovemade motivates its 15-person team to move fast, and how Paste helps them stay focused on what matters.
—Ken Tomita, Grovemade
Grovemade makes products out of maple and walnut that complement and elevate, sometimes quite literally, the shiny, soulless devices that permeate modern life. Their monitor stands, laptop stands, and desk shelves are standouts, just to name a few, and they’re featured in all of the top-tier design sites. Just about everything is made in Portland. And though you may remember them as the company that invented the laser engraved bamboo iPhone cases in 2009, they’ve moved beyond that now. (“That business is totally saturated, so we don’t even do it anymore. But that product genre started with us,” Ken says.) The 2019 version of Grovemade is a product company that’s focused on the workspace and everyday carry. And, as evidence that it was ahead of its time even a decade back, the company sells its wares exclusively online.
Ken points out that running an independent business isn’t always easy, despite the advantage of putting their own interests first, and the interests of their customers, over those of investors and clients. “Not a whole lot of companies operate like us where we do everything,” he says. “We have design, manufacturing, customer service, shipping — even the software that runs our business and website — all under one roof. The custom software that runs our backend? We built it ourselves. We’re all about everything being connected and having a higher-quality experience and higher-quality product. It can get complicated, but it’s fun. I like it this way. We can be really fast. That’s why we like Paste because speed and productivity is a big thing for us. We give our monthly presentations in Paste in five minutes. We just keep it tight.”
Once I used Paste, I realized ‘This saves time.’
It’s what attracted Ken and the wider team to Paste in the first place. “Once I used it, I realized ‘This saves time.’ Our outward facing image is super polished. We’re obsessive over every detail and about how things look. But internally we’re about speed, which is why I like Paste. We can create these decks that look good with visual continuity without everyone having to be a graphic designer.”
On the first Monday of each month, everyone gets together for an update on sales, marketing, production, product issues, finance, and R&D. “Each department does their part,” says Ken. “They each have different logins to Paste and we can collaborate on the same slide and deck, which is awesome.” In Paste, any user can embed live design files, prototypes, and docs right into decks without the hassle of saving static versions. It’s live and dynamic, but never looks cluttered thanks to design that is, as Ken says, “intentionally bare-bones.”
These monthly presentations take five to ten minutes. Afterward, Ken exports a PDF of the Paste deck and emails it to the entire team, so those who weren’t present get the updates and there’s a written record of what was discussed. Once a quarter, they do a more robust version that shows more data. And, once a year, they go all in: a 30-minute presentation that recaps the entire year with multiple people presenting. In our meeting-intensive world, a half-hour long annual recap at any company is practically unheard of and Ken knows this. “I’m really proud of the 30-minute presentation covering an entire year,” he says. “We practice it to make sure people don’t ramble. We take pride in making these presentations really concise and to the point.”
Any small business owner could tell you that being your own boss comes with considerable risk, not to mention a PhD in multitasking (“I’m co-founder and CEO, but our company is small enough that we wear multiple hats. I spend a lot of time in product, so I’m basically the head of product, too,” Ken muses.)
But with a decade under their vegetable-tanned leather belts, Grovemade seems to have achieved some semblance of balance between staying competitive and independent. By using tools like Paste that work the way they do, and by keeping their workflow tightly integrated, the company has found a way to be efficient and sweat the details.
But whether that means we should all start capping our annual reviews at thirty minutes is, well, TBD.