Mother and entrepreneur Michelle Cordeiro Grant grew up in Pennsylvania in a town where there was one Indian family, and it was hers...
“I often felt like an outsider because of that, and while I later learned to love my individuality, it took a lot of growth before I got to that point. As the daughter of two Indian immigrant parents, I thought I would be a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker when I grew up because these were what I perceived as successful career paths,” she reflects. She did none of these – instead, after studying business and finance in college and stints at companies such as Victoria’s Secret, she went on to found lingerie company Lively, and sold it to intimate apparel brand Wacoal for $85 million.
How did this extraordinary woman do it? We quizzed her on building a business, raising her daughter and how she approached fundraising. Read on and prepare to be inspired.
Go to wearlively.com
Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up? What did you dream of?
I grew up in Pennsylvania in a town where there was one Indian family, and it was mine. I often felt like an outsider because of that, and while I later learned to love my individuality, it took a lot of growth before I got to that point. As the daughter of two Indian immigrant parents, I thought I would be a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker when I grew up because these were what I perceived as successful career paths. I began studying business and finance in college, and as I began my internships in finance, I quickly realized that I wasn’t enjoying the work, and I knew that I needed to work on something more tangible and creative. I even went to law school for two weeks before realizing it wasn’t for me! I knew I loved fashion and that I was fascinated by the entire process of concepting each piece all the way to seeing it on people walking down the streets, but I wasn’t sure that I could make a career out of this passion just yet.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career before Lively?
Prior to LIVELY, I started my career at Federated Merchandising Group, developing private label brands. It was at Federated that I discovered my passion for supporting, creating, and developing impactful brands. I then applied what I learned in the concept-to-consumer process as a Senior Merchandise Manager at VF Corporation to launch global brands, including Nautica Women’s Sportswear. Later, I became VP of Merchandising at Thrillist Media Group overseeing their commerce division, which was really helpful for me in learning how a startup operates and scales.
Having spent four years at Victoria’s Secret, what did you see was missing in the lingerie market?
Working at Victoria’s Secret was so incredible and I learned so much in my time there. However, there came a point where I realized that I was no longer wearing the product, and I didn’t resonate with the messaging, models, and branding. At the time, there weren’t any other brands out there that I felt were addressing the gap in the market for an incredible customer experience, providing approachable branding and products, and bras that conform to women rather than forcing women to conform into the bra.
What inspired you to launch Lively?
In starting LIVELY, I wanted to create something that would inspire my daughter —a brand that represents her as an individual and that acknowledges that she is her most powerful and beautiful asset. Now more than ever, women are finding an incredible amount of confidence and appreciating their individual beauty, and I’m so glad we’re able to support that with LIVELY.
Can you share the mantras behind Lively and what you’re hoping to inspire in women through your beautiful collection of bras and undies (or leisuree!)?
LIVELY is a community and brand that inspires women to live life passionately, purposefully, and confidently, creating products and experiences to do so. We are inspired by women with wild hearts and boss brains! We’ve seen firsthand how explosive it can be to acknowledge and channel the passion and emotion we have as women with business know-how.
Talk us through the process of starting the brand. Did you go all-in from day one? Or work on it while continuing to earn an income elsewhere?
All in from day one! I showed up to the office, but I didn’t have a name for the brand, and didn’t know exactly what it would be. I started making mood boards, cutting the bands off of exercise pants, and piecing them onto fabric to makeshift what would later become some of our core bralette styles. Now we’ve expanded into additional categories including swim, fragrance, accessories, and more.
How did you approach the launch and growth of the brand? Did you always have ambitious goals and targets?
I couldn’t do it without the support of our incredible team and 100K+ Ambassadors across the U.S., who have become an extension of the internal LIVELY team and are always sharing and shouting the LIVELY mission and products with their friends and families. In the very early days, we knew we would take a community-first approach, and since day one, we were hosting events to bring our community together and build that connection over shared interests and passions. We started with 100 Ambassadors, and a “refer a friend” email campaign that was wildly successful. Within 48 hours of launching, we received over 100K emails, and in just over one month, we shipped to all 50 states.
Did you always intend to be direct to consumer? Why was this your focus?
DTC offers unparalleled access to connect with our community and customers so we can ensure we are always providing the value and experiences they are looking for from us. With that said, we knew starting out as a DTC was the most efficient way to get our brand off the ground, but that omnichannel would be a long-term must! Now, in addition to selling LIVELY on our website and in our four stores in NYC, Chicago, Austin and Boston, we also sell LIVELY through our amazing partners at Nordstrom and Madewell.
It makes a lot of sense in the lingerie market to open a brick and mortar store, but that step must have been huge. What prompted you to make the plunge, and what has the experience been like?
Since day one, before we even had a brick & mortar presence, we were hosting events and pop ups for our community to come together and connect over shared interests, passions, and hobbies. LIVELY is more than just amazing product, it’s about the community and experiences the brand fosters. Opening stores around the U.S. allows us to connect with and bring these experiences to our customers on a more regular basis.
What was the impetus to launch an ambassador program? And how has this served Lively?
The core of the LIVELY brand has always been to understand who our customers are and to figure out where their interests lie. We are constantly engaging with our 100,000+ Ambassadors on social media, through surveys, and in-person at our store events, so we can hear what is important to them and figure out how we can incorporate their feedback into our brand and products. Our Ambassador community is in a sense our company! They help us evolve as a brand and constantly stay ahead and relevant to what our community will need today and tomorrow.
Can you share some insights into the process of fundraising? Was this a daunting process?
I was very lucky to have met Yossi Nasser, the third-generation CEO of Gelmart, who became our first investor and our manufacturer. The most daunting part of the process was after our first meeting when he asked me to show him my business plan, because at that point in my life, I had never put together a business plan. But, I locked myself in my room for two days, Googled ‘how to make a business plan,’ and on the third day, I got it to a place where I felt comfortable presenting it to him.
What tips do you have for female founders or aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to scale and are targeting investment?
Listen to your customer. Spend time learning why your customers love you, and ask questions while you’re solving problems for them. That way you can confidently show investors that there is demand for what you’re doing. Spend time doing research and collecting data. Anticipate “hard” questions that might come up and prep answers ahead of time with data to support. Vet your potential investors as much as they will be vetting you, and make sure you are partnering with investors who not only believe in what you’re doing, but also have a proven track record in your industry.
Now (in case you didn’t have enough on your plate!) you also have The Lively Podcast “No Makeup Needed.” What prompted this launch? And what are you setting out to achieve through the podcast?
Many of the women in our community are very entrepreneurial and are looking for advice and that “push” to start their own business or side hustle. Through sharing the stories of the incredible women on our podcast “No Makeup Needed,” we are able to create a safe space for our community to build the confidence and knowledge they need to get out there and start their own projects!
You’ve interviewed some incredible women on the podcast. Who inspires you and where do you find motivation and inspiration?
Thank you! Every one of those women is an inspiration to me and they’ve each taught me something new. Coming up in Season Two, you’ll hear me chat with the incredible makeup and beauty legend, Bobbi Brown. It was actually her who inspired me and gave me the confidence to move forward with LIVELY’s acquisition by Wacoal in just under four years of launching our brand. Bobbi went through pretty much the same business milestone with her own acquisition by Estee Lauder several years ago, and listening to her talk about how she made those decisions on “How I Built This” inspired me to go through with my own business decision.
On to motherhood … Has motherhood changed the way you work? Or changed your ambitions for your career and your company?
Motherhood has definitely made me more efficient, as I always like to try to get home in time to have dinner with my family and put my kids to bed. I make sure to leave the office most evenings in time to have dinner with my family and have time with my kids before they go to bed. I then hop back online for any outstanding to dos from the work day. I think it is so important to start and close each day with your loved ones. At the end of the day, that is what life is all about!
How do you go about juggling motherhood and career? Do you rely upon the concept of “the village” when raising your children?
Absolutely! I’ve been incredibly lucky to have friends and family who are able to help out when I have to travel out of town for work.
What has been your experience of motherhood in the workplace? (For both yourself and your team.)
I launched LIVELY when I was pregnant with my son, and launching a company while pregnant was totally bananas, but looking back, it was the best thing to ever happen to me. It made me mentally stronger, more efficient, and able to really empower my team.
How do you streamline your mornings? Do you have any tricks or tips?
One thing I try to do every morning regardless of busy schedules is to spend time with myself for 20 minutes or 1 hour. It ranges from walking to work, taking a fitness class, or just doing a two mile run. It’s my time to give gratitude and acknowledge why I do it all.
Do you get overwhelmed or stressed out? If so, how do you work through it?
Entrepreneurship is tough, the highs are often really high, but the lows can be very low. Our office is right by Bryant Park, and there have definitely been a few times where I’ve had to excuse myself to go have a good cry in the park before coming back and finishing the day. I have learned to let it out, experience emotion, and then reset mentally and forge ahead. I accept that I am human!
What is a typical weekday outfit for you?
I like to be comfy but also stylish. Our All-Day Bodysuit is my go-to, as it’s super soft, and it can be styled with anything from jeans to a cute midi skirt.
How do you make time for yourself? What does “self care” look like for you?
I give myself that time in the morning.
What’s on your current list of loves?
Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir: This mist is a lifesaver! I use it to refresh my skin as needed throughout the day. Joanna Vargas Miracle Bar: This cleansing bar is all in the title. It’s one of my faves for washing my face daily, since the charcoal base helps cleanse and purify my skin without drying it out. Tata Harper Restorative Eye Creme: Eye cream is a must for me at night, so I use the Tata Harmer Restorative Eye Cream because it feels good going on, the scent is great, and it helps prevent fine lines and dryness. KraveBeauty Matcha-Hemp Hydrating Cleanser: Love this cleanser because it’s refreshing and light, and most importantly, it doesn’t leave my skin raw or dry after washing. I’m currently loving getting manicures at Chillhouse, bringing my beach hair back to the city with Beachwaver products, and Rael’s bundle of face masks that I rotate based on what my skin needs. Aside from beauty/wellness, I recently watched The Upside on my plane over to Japan, and absolutely loved it. When I’m not playing host to LIVELY’s podcast No Makeup Needed, you can find me listening to Second Life; it’s one of my personal favorites. Hilary Kerr spotlights successful women who’ve made major career changes and fearlessly mastered the pivot, which is an indispensable skill regardless of your stage in life. It’s especially useful for moms because you can sometimes feel a little stuck after having kids, and Second Life reminds me to be flexible. Some of my other podcast favorites include How I Built This, Glossy, and Masters of Scale. Podcasts help with building the mental muscle of understanding that it’s normal to have extreme highs and extreme lows on the entrepreneurial journey. It’s sometimes great to hear from people who are a couple steps or even miles ahead on their entrepreneurial path, as it helps me to not only build on their successes but also learn from their failures.