Michelle Cordeiro Grant – Founder & CEO of Lively
Kara Goldin 00:00
Hi everyone, its Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin Show. And I’m super excited to have my next guest here. This is Michelle Cordero Grant. And she is the founder and CEO of an amazing, amazing, amazing brand called Lively. And for those of you who are not familiar with it the most comfortable, we call it active wear inspired lingerie. I mean, I think living in a COVID world for the last like, you know, nine months now, I think most of us are full, I’ll be honest, like it’s, you know, we’re trying to be as comfortable as possible. So I think it moves from, from nightwear into zoom, where I think for most of us ladies out there, but I’m so excited to have her here. I’ve been not only admiring and engaging with this brand for a long time, I think that there’s some really interesting components, including the community that Michelle and her company have built with over 135,000 members in this Ambassador network. And it’s just awesome what she’s been able to build. So welcome. Super excited to have you here.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 01:15
Thank you so much for having me. I’m beyond thrilled to be here today. Thank you. Yay, yay.
Kara Goldin 01:21
So you launched Lively in 2016. And what were you doing before?
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 01:28
So prior to that I was working in corporate America for amazing retailers like federated Vf Corp and the tenure of my career with Victoria’s Secret.
Kara Goldin 01:37
Amazing. And we actually know Ohio, or were you? were you in? Were you able to stay in New York,
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 01:42
I was lucky enough to be in New York. But I was on that jet quite often going to Ohio from 7am to 7pm. still living in New York Life.
Kara Goldin 01:51
Crazy. Crazy. And so what made you think, okay, I’ve got to go and start my own company.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 01:57
Yeah, I mean, I never grew up thinking, I would be an entrepreneur, nor did I even know the word. But when I got married, I looked at my husband. And I was like, Okay, I actually want to spend time with him and build a family. And then I looked at my mentors and my leaders that were having phenomenal careers, and I saw them choosing between career and family. And I knew in my heart that I would choose career because I loved my jobs so much that I felt like I needed to really think about what I wanted my life to be like, I also saw this amazing brand that had 40% market share in a $13 billion industry in the United States of America alone. And I didn’t wear the product anymore. But I saw a brand that anywhere you want in the world. Doesn’t matter what language you spoke, people saw Victoria’s Secret, and they felt Angel fantasy push up. And I thought that Well, I’ve always been inspired by brand brand always moved me from a kid, I would get on a bus from Pennsylvania and go to New York City and visit these brands on Fifth Avenue. And I felt like there was room in the world for me to create a brand that told a story around what I believe, which was human individuality and women being really proud of their human uniqueness.
Kara Goldin 03:13
I love it. And so, so you coined the term. I’m not going to pronounce it luxury
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 03:19
Kara Goldin 03:20
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 03:21
Yeah. So, you know, when I left Victoria’s Secret, I went and I worked for a startup for three years, because, you know, I had a non compete, and frankly, I didn’t know anything about starting a company. And I was eyes wide open about the fact that in corporate America, you’re really great at certain components of an organization, but you don’t really see the whole picture. So for three years, I worked for a startup in menswear for a company called Thrillist Media Group in the flash sale environment back in the day when flash sales were the thing. And I saw the rise of a company going from 30 employees to 300 in revenue from single digits to you know, 70 million plus, but I also felt like the thing that needed to stand out was why do you exist? So when I was building lively what I found myself explaining to people why do I exist? I’m building the brand. That’s a quote unquote, lingerie company, and every time I said the word lingerie investors, man, even women, their eyes would shift as soon as you said the word laundry and you knew and their minds they saw corsets and push ups and supermodels, right. It’s good to myself, well, I’m actually going to call attention in a meeting and really get someone’s both of their eyes looking at me clear minded I need to come up with my own words. So five mile run in Central Park, lingerie, athleisure, lingerie, athleisure lingerie,
Kara Goldin 04:45
and you brought it together. That’s awesome. And so you so do you think so how did you decide to leave like a large company and then go to thrillist? I mean, what was were you recruited out of there? Or did you take some time first and then found them or How did that all work?
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 05:01
You know, I found myself getting up walking to work every morning. And I was definitely the girl that was skipping to work every morning because I loved what I did. And then all of a sudden, my scripts were getting slower. And all of a sudden, I was dragging my feet. And I really started to reflect inside and realize, like, I was losing the fire for what I loved. And that was like something that I prided myself upon the fact that I had a job that I actually loved. And so I started talking to my, my husband and my friends about this. And, you know, I saw, you know, people crossing 14th Street in Manhattan and and all these startups were happening. And I was like, You know what, I think maybe I should just take a YOLO. And go be a part of that. And statistically, it’s going to fail in five years. And what is my greatest downside, I start back where I was in corporate America and eat some cup of noodles and ramen noodles for a couple of years. But I in my gut, I felt like if I didn’t try, I was always going to regret it. So. So that’s kind of where I was, I’m like, I found my way to New York City. Like, let’s build the American dream.
Kara Goldin 06:04
I love it. One thing, you and I were just talking about my book, and that I just launched a few weeks ago. And one thing that I always talk about, about entrepreneurship that I think people need to be reminded about, what you just talked about is that you had done something really great. And you’re in your life, right? Like building, you know, this amazing division inside of Victoria’s Secret. And then you decided, well, maybe I’ll go do this, maybe I’ll you know, have a cup of noodles like it in case things go wrong. But I always tell people that if you remind yourself that what you’ve actually done, and what you’ve built is like, you know, you could always go back to that. And all it is is just like another chapter, like, what’s the worst that can happen? Right, right, this other chapter where you go and start it and you know, I can just hear it like, well, then I had this idea. And it didn’t work out. And here’s why, like any large company would take you back. Right? Like it’s not I mean, it’s like, maybe it’s not, you know, the same company. But do you know what I’m saying? Like people would appreciate that, because you took risk. You tried innovation, like that is always going to be valued, right. And so I said to people, like when you actually remind yourself about that, which is exactly what it sounds like you did, I’d love to kind of hear you, like reminisce about about that time as well.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 07:31
Yeah, I mean, look, I’m the daughter of two Indian immigrant parents who were so brave and left the country and came to a place that they had no idea what they were going to expect. But they knew there was an opportunity, right? And, and so I watched them build our family in the middle of rural Pennsylvania. And so I always look back on that thought of like, what was it like to leave India and come to the United States of America, in your young 20s and start a whole life, right? I think I could go to New York City and start a career, I think I could leave Victoria’s Secret and like try to build a company. You know, and really, at one point in my life, I felt like I was very much on this like, straight and narrow path, which was doctor, lawyer, investment banker, go to school, get good grades, do one of these three things. And as I was on that path, I felt like, I don’t feel a fire in me, like where’s the fire for all of this. So, you know, long story short, I found myself working in fashion retail with federated merchandising group, really only because I went to a job fair that I wasn’t invited to at a school that I didn’t belong to. But I found opportunity. And so like, moments like that really built upon this kind of trajectory of get off the straight and narrow and like, go through the woods and find the fun paths and see what they bring you. There was a point where I went to law school for two weeks because I thought I was supposed to be a lawyer. I’m the daughter of two Indian immigrant parents. I’m not a doctor. I’m definitely not an investment banker. So there was one in the middle. And after two weeks, I looked at my dad and I said, I want to go back to New York. I want to go back to where I was. I was feeling the fire and the excitement. He’s like, no one’s telling you not to.
Kara Goldin 09:13
Yeah, no. And I think that’s so important to hear. I I speak on college campuses a lot. I was doing a talk yesterday with Stanford, and it was amazing, you know, the the sort of questions that I was getting around, like, they’ve got to go figure it out. They’ve got to, you know, how’d you know what to do? And I’m, like, you know, the greatest and most interesting people I know, actually, like, took a right, figured out that that wasn’t where they wanted to go. And then they took a left, right, like the most unhappy people were continued going, right. They weren’t happy they kept going. Right, right, right. And I’m sure it’s the same for you like it’s like you have to know that it’s okay. You know, to turn and like and you can Have a goal, but just know that, you know, you may want to turn and you may want to leave law school and, you know, it doesn’t mean like, you know, there’s something wrong with you. And like, as long as you’re smart, as long as you’re, you’re in touch with kind of your fire and what you ultimately want to want to do, I think it’s, it’s just super, super important. And it’s that message I think is so important even for our Gen Z’s to like hear that it’s like you don’t have to have it all figured out. And most great, people don’t actually have it figured out, they may pretend you know that they do. But most of the time that they do not I have found so. So where to get the name.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 10:42
So the word Lively. You know, it started out where I left my job at Thrillist on a Friday, and I started company x without a name on a Monday came to a space that was going to be the company. And I sat there with a notebook. I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna start a company today. And I had nothing. I just knew I was going to create something big and brilliant and great. I had nothing. So what I did was I just started writing in my notebook, collecting my thoughts, meeting with other people and like, verbally sharing what I wanted to build and what I wanted to say. It wasn’t really about what they were going to say back to me it was me verbalizing what I wanted to build and what I wanted to say, I love it. Yeah. And so over the course of a couple of weeks of doing that, I had built a PowerPoint because I grew up in corporate America, where it was comfortable. And the PowerPoint had images and words and feelings of what became this persona that I was starting to call live and live with this person that incorporated all the elements that were the greatest components of my life. So you know, people that really inspired me, a friend of mine, Amy who walked into a room and you just felt her energy come alive, people that were living fearlessly, etc. And this persona just kind of took on what I wanted to build, which was comfortable in my own skin, living your best life and really responding to what life is giving you that breath of fresh air that gorgeous sunlight, the blooming of flowers in the spring. But I knew if I was going to build something to logic, it cannot be a name. It could not be anything that laundry has ever seen before and needed to be a word that verbalize that feeling. So like every entrepreneur, I would pine, you know, my soul away every night trying to think about what is this word? What is this word and one night I woke up at 3am and punched my husband in the stomach and I was like lively means like what I’m like lively, active, energetic, outgoing. This word is going to evoke the emotion that I want people to feel when they learn about this brand. He’s like, Okay, cool. I’ll talk to you about this. I journey where I was like, Alright, this is the word and everyone was like, Michelle, you’re out of your mind. Have you heard of Blake Lively? It was like, Yes, I know her. She’s awesome. But that is not what I was looking to build. It’s what this word means and and trademarking something like that wouldn’t be easy. But here we are today.
Kara Goldin 13:01
And so you got the trademarks on it.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 13:03
I didn’t get it at first. Yeah. I filed in September, the day before Thanksgiving, I got a phone call. And I was at my mother in law’s house. And I went on the front yard and took the call. And my lawyer said, it can’t be Lively, you need to move on. It’s, you know, for whatever reasons, you’re not going to get this trademark. And I called her back and I said, You know what, this is going to be your greatest story ever told, you’re going to get this trademark with me. We’re going to do this together. We’re going to write these rebuttals. And we’re going to make it happen. And so three rebuttals later, four other lawyers helping me and six months in, you got it.
Kara Goldin 13:38
That’s awesome. I love hearing that. Well, I always say that when I started can’t my initial name I, you know, as a parent, and had been kind of living in this zone of just just parenting for for a few years. And I had this idea for a water and I called it wah wah. And so my husband who’s an intellectual property lawyer, started laughing and he was like, you know, he’s from New York. And he said, So, I grew up in Arizona, and so I didn’t know about that little chain in Pennsylvania called wah wah. And he was like, you’re, you know, this is not gonna work out like don’t do this. And so then I started talking about other names and you know, I said, we’re giving people like hints and there’s hint of flavor and and, and so then I said, hint, and he said, four letter word. You’re never going to get the trademarks. And PS, I told him to file an act as my lawyer and stop like talking to me about business decisions and issues. And so we have worldwide trademarks on hint, as well as drink water, not sugar, all these things that we weren’t supposed to have. So I always share the story around but particularly you from Pennsylvania. Here’s like I said, you would totally appreciate The wha wha
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 15:01
wha wha now every Thanksgiving?
Kara Goldin 15:03
Yeah, it is. It’s a it’s a good thing to have there. So I touched on this in your intro, but you created this huge Ambassador network that like just is beyond and how did you? I mean, how did she think about that? Because does Victoria’s Secret have that? or How did you like? How did you sort of? I mean, that was amazing.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 15:28
Yeah, I mean, the way I thought about it was I grew up admiring incredible brands, right. And I and in my perception, these brands were built in New York City with millions of dollars and focus groups and all these amazing things and then tested and pushed out to the world. Well enter Facebook, Instagram, and the rise of social media. I wasn’t seen a brand that was built by a community. And I felt like, Well, why take the risk of spending millions of dollars to launch a brand that we don’t even know the world loves? Mm hmm. Dad, let’s actually build a community and have them build the brand with me. So it’s not you know, Michelle building this brand. It’s actually a community of women across America, building a brand together. And so not only do you have proof of concept while you’re building it, you also have an audience, no initial thesis, and kind of blew up from there.
Kara Goldin 16:19
And how did you like even start it? Like, what was the first like step for actually building this out?
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 16:25
Yeah, well, one, I needed women with me to help me figure out how so I hit LinkedIn. And I just started creating a list of companies that I felt like had amazing launches. And I said, well, who worked for those companies when those companies launched, and I was cold, calling people after people on LinkedIn. And I would get like a one to 2% response rate, to be honest. But one woman that responded to me was this amazing person, Nicole Williams, and you know, her and I met and she said, Look, let’s create focus groups. And I said, definitely, I was like, but I don’t want them to know me. And I want it to be two degrees of separation, because otherwise you get the people that love you. And they’re going to tell you, it’s the worst idea or the best idea and pure love. So we started building networks of women 12 to 20 women renting out Airbnb on the battery. And bringing moms together, fitness women together business women together and just bribing them with wine cheese, and you get to be a part of building Brand X. Luckily, women at the time in 2016, were pumped to do that. And we had a very regimented rhythm of what that focus group was going to be about, which was Let’s show them images on a coffee table. Give them post it notes, write down a word, what comes to mind when you see it immediately? Let us know and if it sounds like provocative, sexy that are really cool, that’s, that’s lingerie. Cool. We’re making something different. Soon as we would see words that were not in the, you know, atmosphere of lingerie, like confident powered, unique, we would put those images to the side. And then words, panties, underwear, women were not comfortable using those words yet. Those were the words used in our, in our area. Yeah, women like to say the word Ivy’s to their kids to their husbands or their grandmothers. And so went through a lot of exercises like this, and came out with a really cohesive end result.
Kara Goldin 18:19
I love it. That’s super smart. And so what are these ambassadors do beyond that was in the intro period, but beyond that, like, what did they do for you now,
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 18:27
once we launched, we saw that we shipped to every state in America within 45 days with only organic marketing. And we said, these are ambassadors that are making this happen. And so we felt like we needed to create a two way street where we started to support that. So it could not be about the ambassadors just saying like, meet Lively look great, Lively is better. It had to be about meet Morgan, me, Tiffany, me, you know, all of these incredible women. We were meeting digitally. And we would sit and we would have events when our company was two weeks old. And I kind of laughed because I remember when we launched our first event, like yes, everyone’s gonna come. And now looking back, like our company was two weeks old, like how ignorant were we come
Kara Goldin 19:11
today? I love it. But you tried. I mean, that’s the view message. Huge message that it just be like, yeah, if you could look back on it as a massive failure, or you know, or see huge success, and I love it.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 19:26
But some women showed up, which was nice. We had, you know, 40 women in our HQ, which was just like an office in, you know, a random part of Manhattan. But what we did was we listened to what they were talking to each other about, because my thought was alright, if we’re gonna do something different, it has to be about that. So let’s like listen to their conversations and their banter with one another and understand what they care about. At that time in 2016, it was soulcycle and succulents and DIY calligraphy and I would say to the team of three and a half of us This is what we need to have events about, let’s call soulcycle and have an event and offer them a happy hour for their employees. Let’s have a succulent class and, and so we started to give them things to do with one another and build relationships with like minded people that actually became the stickiness of lively, it was never about the brows at the beginning, brows were like the second part was the human connection.
Kara Goldin 20:23
And that can that’s, that’s awesome. That’s amazing. And so like, when did you really know that that was taking off.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 20:30
There was one moment where we knew we were onto something it was a month before we actually launched. It was March. I remember the day very well. It was a Friday in early March of literally a month before we were launching and we took the images and the words and the taglines that we got from the focus groups and put up a splash page. We took the code from Harry’s, you know, the razor company that that their referral campaign, open sourced? And we said, All right, well, let’s build an email list with these. This content that the focus groups told us was what the world wants. Let’s see what happens. So we emailed 250 people, that’s all we could get between the three and a half employees we had at the time. And our goal was 5000 emails a week when when Harry’s got 100,004 weeks. So if we can get like 20,000 in four weeks, that’s going to be pretty awesome. So we sent it Friday evening, we had 500 emails, Saturday morning, we had 1000 Saturday afternoon, we have 50,000. Saturday night, we had 90,000. And we were like amazing. This is this is hat. So we call the developers were like something’s broken. They’re like, No, no, Michelle, this is real. Saturday morning, we
Kara Goldin 21:38
and that’s it started with like three people internally, emailing their friends.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 21:44
I mean, emailing our friends and like Bloomingdale’s calm mortgage guy from blah, blah, blah, like anyone we could find in our job
Kara Goldin 21:51
and offering them like some incentive to sign up or
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 21:56
Yeah, well, what was interesting was, we never shared the price of our product, but we said we will give you credits, and points towards your first purchase. So if you got like five people to give us your email, you’ll get three points towards your face. No one knows if the brows were $50 or $200. It was more that they were in on this concept. And so when we saw it all settle, we had 133,000 emails and 300,000 sessions globally. And we were getting we turned on all of our customer service channels where like phone texts, emails, like I need to know why like, What is going on? Because the Why is the marketing. And we would have these girls in Australia saying my friend got a lively email, where’s my email? And honestly would say the servers are crashed? We have no idea. But why do you care?
Kara Goldin 22:42
I love this. Oh, my god that’s so scrappy and so great. I Wow. That’s, that’s amazing. Did you ever have plans to sort of do retail stores? Or what was kind of your? No, you really wanted to focus on this being a direct to consumer brand.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 23:01
We didn’t want to rush into omni channel. We’re definitely omni channel much faster than we want it to be.
Kara Goldin 23:08
So how do you view omni channel for lively today? Like what do you so your email, obviously, and then also just direct to consumer just overall?
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 23:20
Well, we have for brick and mortar stores. So we’re in Austin, Chicago, Boston and Soho, we have a partnership with Nordstrom. And we also do a digital partnership with Madewell. But where we were very kind of disciplined about in the early days actually say no to a lot of people in wholesale because we really wanted to understand who we were as a brand. And you know, the one thing I learned at Victoria’s Secret is if you’re building a brand, you have to be disciplined on being concise and consistent, consistent, concise, consistent, and I didn’t feel like that would happen going wholesale for the product that we sell. After we had all these events with the ambassadors, we would have pop ups, all these different places. And we realized at the end of the pop up, people would ask to buy the product. Like Well, I guess we should have pop ups that lasts longer than two hours. And so we would have pop ups the last two weeks. And those two week pop ups were ROI positive. And they split into six month retail locations that are now permanent.
Kara Goldin 24:17
Very, very cool. And I do believe that more and more. I mean, you mentioned Harry’s before, I mean, there’s lots of examples of that we we sort of went in the reverse direction where we were, you know, in stores first and then we started doing direct to consumer, which we’re now the largest beverage doing direct to consumer 55% of our overall business. So we are Yeah, so and people are really surprised. And we have a significant subscription business. I mean, for us, it’s really about helping the consumer around health. Yeah, and we’ve launched sunscreen and deodorant and some things that are really focused on really guiding not just the consumer but hopefully categories and industries to ultimately we just do better. I mean, that was really my mission from the beginning. So anyway really like unique company on so many fronts for, for a lot of different reasons not sort of complete, like the beverage is a vehicle for us to sort of really understand much more about who this customer is. So I love everything that you’re talking about. So what do you think is the hardest thing that you’ve dealt with in building a company? Since this was your first company that you’re, you’re the founder.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 25:31
You know, I think being a sole founder was harder than I thought it was going to be, you know, I went in thinking, again, that this would be like a 2d three year experience, I would learn a lot and then probably restart and do something, again, having knowledge, right. But I went in eyes wide open on this one very utopian in my thinking, doing everything that I was taught not to do in retail, but said like, let’s try doing a different no sales, no markdowns, one price for all products that we know, we don’t pay the factory, the same price for, you know, very different type of thinking than what I was taught. But I would say sticking to those core values. And what I went into the projects thinking was right for the next phase of what brands should be, which is about, you know, human impact, first human impact and human emotion first, and you know, about spreadsheets and revenue. Second, because that my thesis was, look, if you’re doing right by your consumer and your community, they will pay you back for it in the end, and your p&l will feel it was probably the hardest thing for me. And I would couple that with also, you know, really living the life that I said I was going to live by leaving corporate america and so you know, getting pregnant with my second child, eight weeks after launching a company. It’s hard to balance right and really try and live the life that you say you’re going to live with little little kids.
Kara Goldin 26:55
it’s tough. Yeah.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 26:57
Yeah. And so now leading a company and feeling you know, my pressure now is I work for everyone I hire. I owe it to them to demonstrate the leadership and the lifestyle that I hope and wish for all of them.
Kara Goldin 27:12
I love it. No, I that’s awesome. And then you had a huge announcement in 2019. Right? Yeah. So tell us about it.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 27:22
Yeah, so um, my company was acquired in August 1 of 2019. For years to the day that I took my first dollar of investment. It’s kind of a very serendipitous journey. For me, when I turned 35. On my 35th birthday, I got my first investment. And when I turned 39, I sold my first company, Oh, my God. But it was a journey where I felt like I didn’t compromise on the values. And when a company approached me and said, Hey, we’re interested in acquiring lively, the first answer that I had was like, what we’re not for sale, we’re just getting started this, this baby’s four years old, not even. But once I peel back the layers and realize that this company has the same core values, as lively, and that this company is now beyond me. It’s about the team that I’ve hired and the legacy that I said, I wanted to leave for my daughter and women beyond, I needed to get out of the way. So I met with this company’s company’s public out of Japan went to Japan by myself the name of the company, by the way, walk whole America, okay, incredible. Also a lingerie brand that came to the United States in the 80s, but started in Japan in the 50s, late 40s. And they invited me to Japan to really understand their history. For me, the moment that I realized that this was it was I was going through a museum in Kyoto, and going from where we are today, all the way back to the founder that started the company walk hole. And on the wall, he had drawn a logo that said, beauty and balance. And the logo looked exactly like our watermark for lively I love it the middle of this place with butterflies in my stomach and called My husband and I said to me.
Kara Goldin 29:07
That’s awesome. I went to Kyoto last year. It’s such a beautiful city. It’s gorgeous. So that’s, that’s a basic and you’re still the founder. I mean, you’re always the founder, but you’re still the CEO.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 29:18
I still am the CEO and very fortunate that you know, welcome America knows how much I love lively and the team. And, you know, I really was admiring Bobbi Brown story and how she built her company and then ran it for 20 years after and, you know, I’m still getting started with Lively I love it.
Kara Goldin 29:36
That’s so great. What a great, huge story. So where can people find lively? Will you share the the website and also where can people find you?
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 29:48
Sure we are. ww were lively, calm, and were lively on Instagram. For stores in Austin, Chicago, Boston and Soho, New York. I’m at the underscore Michelle pit.
Kara Goldin 30:03
That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much, Michelle, for coming by and everybody, please give Michelle five stars huge Mark said, subscribe and come back and visit us where we hear other amazing stories on how people are building great companies and doing awesome things and sometimes selling companies to which is always super, super fun. So thank you so much, Michelle.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant 30:28
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