In Conversation with Michelle Cordeiro Grant of Lively
Describe your business in a few words?
LIVELY is a community and brand rooted in passion, purpose and confidence.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
The decision was fueled by two major factors, the first being that I saw women above me in my corporate job who were having really successful careers and absolutely killing it at work, but not so much at home. I knew that if I were to stay and continue on the path I was on, that would be my future. I’m lucky enough to have recognized that early on and to have known that wasn’t what I wanted for myself because it gave me the push to create my own brand and my own destiny.
The second factor in me wanting to start my own business was what I perceived as a massive gap in the lingerie market. Prior to LIVELY, this $13B category in the U.S. was dominated by one brand and one point of view that I felt like could have been more reflective of the experiences of everyday women. I set out to create LIVELY in order to create competition within an existing marketplace and create a new experience within a category that was inspired by real life and reflective of real, authentic women who craved to feel comfortable and confident in their daily hustles. My mission was and remains to empower those women to feel purposeful, passionate and confident.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I started my career at Federated where I was placed in a 12-week training program to understand the production process from concept all the way to customer (this is where my love for building a brand, start to finish, really began). At the end of the program, I was placed in the lingerie department and I was actually really upset at the time. I dreamt of working in ready-to-wear and being in the heart of fashion, but I very quickly came to love this category – the fact that putting on lingerie is how every woman starts the day is what really excited me about it (a great lesson in being open-minded!).
I went on to spend the tenure of my career here, as well as at other incredible brands including VF Corporation and Limited Brands. At the end of my career at Victoria’s Secret, once I knew my plan was to start my own company, I went on to work at Thrillist Media Group. This was a really important stepping stone I very intentionally took before starting my own company knowing I’d need some hands on experience with working at a fast-growing startup. I’m very grateful for every single step of the way because each one was a building block for me that helped me fall in love with the category and the process of creating a brand enough to want to start my own company, while giving me the learnings to be able to do it successfully.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, actually! I grew up as the daughter of immigrant parents and always believed that in order to be successful, I needed to become a doctor or a lawyer. I even went so far as to spend two weeks in law school, but I knew from my experience at Federated that my passion lied in creating brands from concept to consumer, and what actually got me up in the morning was being able to support, create and develop amazing brands and products. My time at Victoria’s Secret was when I realized I could carve out a new space in the category and I knew I had to do it.
Looking back, it’s really amazing to see how every experience has come together to get me to where I am today.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When I started building the brand in 2015, one of the very first things I did before we even had a product was focus on building a community. We constantly hosted focus groups in Airbnbs to understand what women wanted to see within this category, and we also created a social media account that was a destination for inspirational quotes and images which resulted in floods of DMs and comments from women wanting to know who we were and what we were building. Having this community of women before launch was key to our success, and we’ve continued to foster and maintain that community to this day. We now have 140,000+ ambassadors who we look to to help us develop product and strategize, while also providing them a platform to share their passions and side hustles with one another.
Also, a month before launching we created a refer-a-friend campaign where recipients could send in their friends’ emails and that would earn them points towards their first LIVELY purchase. We sent that initial email to our existing network of about 250 people and before we knew it, in less than 48 hours we had over 133,000 emails and over 300,000 sessions on our website! We of course did not anticipate this reaction and the program was not set up to handle this volume. To buy ourselves time to get our ducks in a row, we started emailing every woman who signed up to not only let them know we were diligently working to get them what we promised, but also to ask them WHY they were excited about the brand. That feedback from these customers ended up being the words we used for marketing and what we launched with, so it ended up being a really beautiful thing.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
We spent a lot of time on our product and thought we had to invest in the most expensive straps for our bras in order for it to be a great bra. It wasn’t until after we shipped out thousands of those bras that we realized the straps were slipping when women put them on. As a founder of a product company, it felt like the ultimate failure, but I decided to be human and open about it with our customers which was the best decision.
We emailed everyone and were completely transparent – we told them we messed up by using this strap and we sent them each a new bra. We owned our mistakes. Failures are a guarantee, but I use them as nourishment for my mental muscle that allows me to get up each time and keep taking risks – even if it ends in another failure.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I always say my team is my greatest asset. They are complete badasses and it’s been so amazing to see them pour their hearts and souls into this brand and make it into what it is today. I know that LIVELY is in the best of hands and I’ve realized that I now need the brand more than it needs me. My team has given me the confidence to know that we’re building a brand that will be relevant years and years beyond me.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I don’t have one go to question, but my strategy – especially with those first few hires – is and was less about the traditional accolades an employer might gravitate towards, like who worked at the Fortune 500 company, and more about who shares LIVELY’s vision and values. I have found that to be key in building a badass team that has been integral in the success that LIVELY is seeing today.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Retail has been one of the hardest hit industries from the pandemic and its trajectory has drastically changed because of quarantine. DTC is now 2-3 years ahead of its time and shoppers expect instant gratification, which has forced us to rethink the way we look at physical retail. The name of the game now is an omnichannel approach with a seamless ecommerce operation alongside retail locations that double as both a store AND a warehouse to help fulfill customers’ needs.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
I’m very excited about the future of sustainability for LIVELY. This year, retail has seen a huge shift towards sustainability as consumers become more and more mindful and demand transparency. As we’ve noticed this shift we’ve begun to take small steps towards becoming a more and more sustainable brand. I strongly believe that this is the direction that the future of shopping is headed in and I’m really excited to be on board, to be evolving with our consumers and to be laying the bricks towards an increasingly sustainable company.
What is the biggest lesson you learned in 2020?
I always say that life is a series of moments in time and this year has been a testament to that! There have been so many challenges that have really put this to the test, but every step of the way I’ve kept this in the back of my head to remind me to avoid knee jerk reactions and to always think long term. This perspective has helped keep the brand, brand equity and our team intact and it’s what’s gotten us through to the other side successfully.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I don’t think there is any one thing in particular, but I will say prioritizing networking and building a strong list of mentors was the best thing I could have ever done. My network is a large part of how I got to where I am today and was especially crucial in those early days of LIVELY. Before I ever even had a team, I would fill my calendar with meetings and calls with people I admired and who were experts in certain areas, and those were some really defining moments for me and LIVELY.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Keeping my morning routine has been key for me! I still wake up at 6:30am every day, same as I did pre-Covid, I get in a cup of coffee and a sweat session before the rest of the house wakes up, and the only difference is that I’ve traded in my commute time for time with my husband and kids. It’s been really special to have that extra time with them to do activities, arts and crafts, bake, or even just chat and catch up with each other. It really sets the tone for the day and our household has honestly never been so calm. It’s kept me sane throughout WFH!
I will also say that my non-negotiables every single day have been my green smoothie, breaking a sweat and my walk and talks. No idea where I would be without these things!
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
One thousand percent! My number one tip, which I’ve really been leaning into since the pandemic hit, is to throw out the 9-5 complex. We all have our personal lives and things we need to do to help us stay sane, so I’m big on letting myself and my team do what we need to do to and make our own schedules, whether that’s going to a workout class at 9am and working until 8pm, blocking out an hour in the middle of the day to take care of your kids, or whatever it may be. I encourage them to set a schedule that works for them because these are crazy times and now more than ever we need to lean into what makes us feel good and happy.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Within the first few months of starting LIVELY, I entered a Shopify contest to win a trip to Fiji to be mentored by Marie Forleo, Daymond John, Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins and more, and won! My son Jack was just a couple months old at the time and LIVELY was blowing up – I was so sleep deprived that I entered the contest at 2 in the morning one night, and ignoring all the videos and documents I was supposed to submit with my application, I literally just typed, “wearlively.com – HELP.”
That trip was one of the best and most valuable experiences to this day – some of my best learnings came from not only the amazing mentors I got to meet, but also from the eight other winners that were on the trip with me.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Carving out a few minutes for myself in the mornings before the rest of the house gets up, walk and talks throughout the day, and a sweat session every single day!
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
To me, being an Entrepenista means being leading with purpose and confidence. But it’s also knowing that there will be failures and mistakes along the way, and with that you take each in stride, keep getting up, dusting it off, learning your lessons and moving forward.