25 July 2017
The Customer Discovery Journey

Know Thy Customer

See that header? We ignored that for 7 years. We were up to our elbows in designing and building ‘cool stuff’—it’s why we started the company, and we had been focused on designing things we liked. Like any bootstrapped startup, the to-do lists were long and the time was short. So for 7 years we neglected to think about our customers. But about a year and a half ago, our mindset changed. We started thinking about all of our fans and all of our customers, and we realized that Grovemade couldn’t even turn on the lights without your support!


There’s no time like the present to learn, and we decided to jump in and figure out exactly who are customers and fans are. We wanted to start without any biases, so we turned to numbers and data, the king and queen of unbiased research. Jim and I spent weeks sifting through the data … and it only left us thirsty for more. There were all sorts of interesting tidbits in there, about where our customers live, and what types of products they bought with other products, and what they liked on Facebook. But it didn’t feel substantial or real. We didn’t want to get to know the numbers, we wanted to get to know the people.
“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for.”
- David Kelley, founder of IDEO
So, we put down our spreadsheets and turned to the 8 years of combined experience on our CE team.


DIXIE GRIFFIN: They’re entrepreneurial, and hard-working. Our customers tend to emphasize the beauty, and the design, when they talk about our products.
EDMUND SANDOVAL: Our customers like meaningful things. They like that we’re local, small and independent.
NICK LaPLANTE: There’s something to the uniqueness—our customers seem conscious of their own uniqueness, and like that same uniqueness in our products.

From Surveys to Video Calls

We were only getting started! We were learning some of our customer’s ‘why’—why they supported Grovemade, why they liked (or didn’t like!) our products. Now it was time to go straight to the source. We unleashed a range of surveys on our customers—and they responded with Gusto and Pizzazz! We loved getting to read through all of the responses, and learned so much in the process. We even designed a totally new product because of the responses to one of the surveys (The Minimalist Belt).
We ended each survey with a question: “Would you be willing to talk more?” Jim and I set up video calls with anyone that wanted to talk, and we sat, and listened, and got to meet some amazing people. The different careers and backgrounds were all exciting—everyone’s story was remarkable in its own way.

The Inspiration Runs Deep

Throughout the whole process, there’s one thing that kept hitting home—our fans and customers do inspiring things. Artists, creative directors, tech startup CEOs and night shift ER doctors, graphic designers and musicians, the list goes on and on. And regardless of the career, we were impressed at the thoughtfulness and sensitivity to design and objects. We saw a lot of our sensibilities reflected in our customers, which was incredibly rewarding and exciting!

"The more we thought about it, the more we realized that our customers really are the ‘why’ at Grovemade."

We had started with data, and gotten all the way to 45+ minute video calls. We were starting to get a better idea of who our customers were, and how their needs overlapped with our products. More and more, our mindset was shifting towards inclusivity: Grovemade would always be focused on designing things our way, but we want to be aware of your needs and motivations, too.

Road Trip!

We talk about spaces, and environments, and how the objects you surround yourself with flow inspiration into you and your work and passions. But the whole time we had been getting to know our customers, we had been doing it virtually—from afar, while safely nestled in our office in Portland, OR. We needed to get out and actually spend time in the spaces that our customers live in and create from!

We picked three of customers, Kirk, Megan and Greg. I mapped out a trip starting in Portland, OR, and looping through the PNW to Montana and back.

If I had been inspired before, taking the trip took my inspiration to another level. When I set out, I really had no idea what the trip would look like. All I knew was that I was going to meet three of our customers. Luckily, I had brought along my camera gear, because the spaces and homes that I was welcomed into were amazing, both in their beauty and in the intentionality that went into inhabiting them. What had started as a few face-to-face meetings quickly turned into a full on photo shoots. At the first stop in Kalispell, MT, I ended up spending six hours taking pictures and talking with Kirk and his family. It was immersive and totally inspiring.

We’ve put together three lookbooks to detail and memorialize the trip, and the spaces and people I met. Looking through it serves as a reminder that a space can be an amazing thing, and by filling it with people, and things, that really matter, you can build meaning right into the fabric of your own life.