March 13, 2019

Grove Collaborative CEO praises Portland talent pool at Startup Maine event

Photo /Renee Cordes
Photo /Renee Cordes
Stuart Landesberg, founder and CEO of Grove Collaborative, spoke at an event Monday at the e-commerce startup's downtown Portland office. The event, attended by more than 125 people, was hosted by StartupMaine.

Stuart Landesberg, founder and CEO of e-commerce startup Grove Collaborative, said the seller of natural home, beauty and personal care products chose Portland as its East Coast location because of the people, referring to talent as well as values.

"I grin like a baby when I walk into this office to feel the energy here," he said of an office that by early April will be up to more than 75 employees, five months after planting a flag in Maine's largest city. The figure includes 13 who started Monday, according to Matthew Bray, who heads the Portland operations (and community happiness, according to his business card). Both said the company had experienced no difficulties recruiting local talent.

Speaking to more than 125 visitors at Monday's open house, Landesberg was the headline speaker at an event hosted at the firm's 123 Middle St. home by Startup Maine ahead of its June 19-21 conference in Portland.

Many were there for the first time, wandering throughout the two-story open-plan space featuring wooden beams, huge windows and winding staircases.

"Isn't this space awesome?" Katie Shorey, president and chair of the Startup Maine nonprofit she helped form, said in her introduction, explaining that Startup Maine exists "both for entrepreneurs and the startup curious."

In her update on the three-day conference in June, she announced the keynote speakers for the June 19 kickoff event at Aura, a joint event with the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce: Hannah Pingree, who heads Maine's new Office of Innovation and the Future, and Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, a San Francisco-based organization that aims to make government work in the digital age.

Before handing over the microphone to Landesberg, Shorey explained that Startup Maine exists "both for entrepreneurs and the start-up curious.".

'Great pool of smart people'

Though based in San Francisco, Landesberg emphasized his Maine ties — saying he gets back about once a month though doesn't always have time to see his parents — and repeated his praise for Maine's largest city and its "great pool of smart people."

He added that "the team here has exceeded every possible expectation."

On a more personal note, he shared some of the challenges in the first four-and-a-half years of the business, when a lot went wrong and the enterprise nearly went bankrupt.

That included starting out with a name that didn't work (ePantry) and with the wrong target customer of "busy urban people" rather than what it ultimately landed on of eco-minded shoppers who live some distance from a store — the model being a 27-year-old working mother of two who is a substitute teacher in small-town Kansas.

Asked by Mainebiz what his secret is for attracting talent when so many other employers in Maine are struggling, Landesberg said: "The secret is that we love it … I think that kind of energy is a real advantage."

He also noted that Maine has been a great place to do business because people feel so strongly about sustainability and environmental issues as well as Maine brands.

Grove Collaborative is one of approximately 1,700 Certified B Corp. companies that meet rigorous standards for businesses that support social, environmental and community well being. It says that every item it sells "has been rigorously tested by industry experts for health, effectiveness and environmental impact."

Landesberg told Monday's gathering that Grove Collaborative may be the world's only seller of laundry detergent in refillable glass bottles, drawing cheers when he used an expletive to lambaste the amount of waste generated by plastic bottles.


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