A Grove in Your Pocket

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Ken Tomita '96's company builds unique cases for iPhones and iPads

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

The coolest little phone and iPad cases around, no exception, are made by Grove, the small company started by Ken Tomita ’96 and a friend less than two years ago. These bamboo cases, made by hand in Portland, feature laser-etched designs on beautifully finished pieces, glowing with natural oils. The designs range from trees, to sea creatures, to Yellow Submarines, to abstractions. People are nuts about them.
 
For four years before Grove became a reality, Ken successfully designed and built custom furniture. When he moved to a new workshop his future partner, designer Joe Mansfield, lived across the street. They struck up a friendship and spent time tossing a football around on the street and talking about design, their passions, and their ideas. Out of those catches and tosses, the Grove bamboo case was born.
 
“We actually didn’t put much thought into it or formulate a business plan. Sometimes instinct is the best way to go,” says Ken. “Both Joe and I were already successful entrepreneurs, so the risks of starting a business did not scare us. Our previous experiences were key to our success at Grove.” They take great pride that all aspects of their business are done in house: manufacture, shipping, website, marketing, and more. Today their shop employs 23 people, and they are hiring more. Ken’s brother Yuji Tomita ’05 has been with Grove since the beginning as web and software designer. One of their mottos: “We do whatever it takes to make the most bad-ass product possible.”
 
After nine months of development, Grove’s very first product failed. “Instead of pouting about it we saw it as a learning experience and rocked it on the next one,” says Ken. “The key to success is not talent but rather hard work and a positive attitude. We have a culture here at Grove where instead of focusing on the inevitable problems that arise and pointing fingers at one another, we focus on the solutions and work together as a team to get better.” Ken plans to diversify and add more non-Apple items to Grove’s line, many of which will be lifestyle-oriented. “Our team and principles are strong, and we are capable of anything,” he says.
 
“The value we add to the world in terms of jobs and our lifestyles is something I didn’t consider when we first started,” says Ken. “What I am most proud of is the company we have created, rather than our products.”