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Episode 98
March 12, 2019

"Capture a Customer, Capture a Household" - Live at Shoptalk 2019

Lively CEO and Founder Michelle Cordeiro Grant sits down with us at Shoptalk 2019 to talk about how they're using community to drive commerce in an authentic way - and in so doing creating entire households of customers by partnering and empowering women who are "Wild at Heart, with Boss Brains".

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Lively CEO and Founder Michelle Cordeiro Grant sits down with us at Shoptalk 2019 to talk about how they're using community to drive commerce in an authentic way - and in so doing creating entire households of customers by partnering and empowering women who are "Wild at Heart, with Boss Brains".

Show Notes:

Main Takeaways:

  • Brian and Phillip are interviewing Michelle Cordeiro Grant, CEO, and Founder of Lively live at #Shoptalk2019!
  • Lively is more than just a lingerie brand, it's a community of women who are passionate and purpose driven.
  • Does everybody need an emerald bralette with a stripe: Maybe?
  • The intimates industry is valued at more than 13B a year, how does Lively differentiate itself?  
  • The Lively community has produced seven companies by merely bringing together entrepreneurial women with similar value systems.

From Concept to Customer: How Lively Came to Be:

  • Michelle Cordeiro Grantt CEO and Founder of Lively, says she basically grew up in retail, starting at Federated Merchandising Group, working with brands like Macy's, before eventually landing at Victoria Secret where she spent most of her tenure.
  • Something that really intrigued Michelle about Victoria Secret was the story behind the brand, and also the fact that while the lingerie-intimates industry is worth 13B per year, Victoria Secret owns 35% of that pie, which is pretty insane.
  • This start-up was not going to be just another lingerie brand in the space, Michelle wanted Lively to be a brand that would represent individuality, passion, and purpose.
  • Which is precisely what Lively is doing, and the brand has created a community and brand experience that encourages women to be powerful and purposeful.

Want vs. Need: Lively is Changing the Conversation Around Buying Bras:

Community Driven Commerce: More Than Just a Brand:

Lively is Bringing Women Together to Innovate and Create:

  • Another way that Lively is fostering community is by actually having in-person events like "Founder Fridays," in which women entrepreneurs can come to Michelle's office and ask her all of the beginning questions that all entrepreneurs want answers to.
  • Seven companies have been started after Lively's inception, just because of the community Lively fostered.
  • Phillip questions what the next five years look like for Lively?
  • "We've been very focused on long-term growth. We are very focused on retention and loyalty. Building out physical retail spaces but also leveraging community experience.
  • Brian is so excited that in the year of clientelling Lively is working on building long term partnerships with their customers.
  • This is especially important in a year that has seen record store closings for other.. less relationship... focused brands, like Victoria's Secret.
  • So what can the Future Commerce audience learn from Michelle, and Lively?
  • Michelle says that Lively has built its brand around the community, and they want to break down the glass wall that sees women-owned business only receiving 2% of VC funding.  
  • "When women are given the opportunity to lead, the things they will create will be logical and practical and amazing."

Brian: [00:01:20] Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:25] And I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:01:26] Today we have an amazing guest, live, here at Shop Talk from the floor. And that is Michelle Cordeiro Grant, from Lively. I think I butchered your middle name. I'm so sorry.

Michelle: [00:01:37] You nailed it.

Brian: [00:01:38] I did? Ok Cool. I was like, "I'm going to say this wrong."

Phillip: [00:01:43] And fellow podcaster, we should say.

Brian: [00:01:44] And fellow podcaster.

Phillip: [00:01:45] Michelle, introduce yourself for people that don't know you.

Michelle: [00:01:49] Hi everyone. I'm Michelle Cordeiro Grant, founder and CEO of Lively, live from Shop Talk. It's buzzing here. So happy to be here. And a rookie podcast host.

Phillip: [00:02:01] {laughter} Tell us a little bit about your background and sort of what Lively is, for those who may not know.

Michelle: [00:02:07] Sure. Yeah. So I like to say that I grew up in retail. I worked for Federated with brands like Macy's and Bloomingdale's, VF Corporation, Nautica and Kipling and then Victoria's Secret for the tenure of my career. I've always been enamored with the idea of brand and how we can really impact human emotion. The IP is the brand itself and sometimes not even the product. Like a polo shirt from Ralph Lauren, for example. So really taking something from concept to customer has always been my passion. But after five years of Victoria's Secret, I started to realize that that brand had such a cohesive story, an impact... One hundred languages around the world you hear Victoria's Secret, you hear Angel Fantasy push up. For me, it was, "Well, I want to create a brand that when you hear said word, you hear individuality, passion and purpose." And so that's where the concept for Lively came from.

Phillip: [00:03:01] Wow. So I would immaturely describe it as an intimates brand. Is that the sort of de passé way of saying that?

Michelle: [00:03:10] Yeah, I think so. But for me, the way that I describe it is we're a community and a brand experience that inspires women to be passionate, purposeful, and confident. And we do so with products like your first layer, which is bras and undies, swimwear, active, and beauty.

Phillip: [00:03:26] It's almost like I set you up to say that. I love the new idea around what brand is. It used to be around a piece or it used to be around some, you know, a lifestyle, which is this... I interact with community in my lifestyle...

Brian: [00:03:44] Right.

Phillip: [00:03:44] But actually, community is now first.

Michelle: [00:03:46] Yes.

Phillip: [00:03:47] Which is, I think, such a differentiator, and a lot of what we've been talking about on the show recently is that community is what drives long term engagement. Community is what drives all that sort of stuff.

Brian: [00:03:58] And it's the right way to engage, as well.

Phillip: [00:04:00] Right. It's authentic.

Brian: [00:04:01] You're not out to just make a sale, you're out help a group of people and be a part of their lives.

Michelle: [00:04:07] We're humans, right? So we're impacted by emotion and endorphins and connections. And that's what leaves a long lasting impression.

Brian: [00:04:15] That's awesome.

Phillip: [00:04:16] Do you think that there's, we were talking in the preshow... In your space I think there's more of an awareness now than ever that there are...people are looking for options. And so how do you sort of carve out for yourself that you are an option that should be considered? What makes you different? What are your differentiators?

Michelle: [00:04:37] Yeah, I think first and foremost, the space is so vast. Right? The United States alone has 13 billion dollars of revenue in this category in one country, within this beautiful world. So first and foremost, I think there hasn't been enough options. I think there hasn't been enough choices or conversations, quite frankly. And now's the time where consumers are really opening their minds to choices. What is our differentiator? First and foremost, how people feel when they see and discover Lively, from a community perspective. Secondly, though, what we do is we see most women have two rows of bras in their drawers. So it's the bras they wear everyday, super basic and boring wouldn't be caught dead on a first date, or in a moment. And then the second row is for the moment. And it's beautiful and overdone, but so uncomfortable they can't wait to get rid of it. And I always thought, well, why don't those two rows come together? Why can't you have style and fashion, but ultimate comfort? Why are we embarrassed of our seven day a week first layer? It shouldn't be that way. Additionally, women are all made uniquely different from one another, we're humans, we're snowflakes. So no 34 B is alike. Right? But women have always contoured their bodies and shoved them into these wired products where the product should actually conform to you. So 70% of our bras actually have no wires. We created something we call "leisuree." We have fun with the idea of being inspired by athleisure, swimwear, and the functionality of lingerie. Not the old school thing where you're putting on armor and you take it off the second you walk in the door.

Brian: [00:06:13] Nice, it makes sense. Makes sense. In this day and age, it's amazing that this category hasn't been transformed sooner.

Michelle: [00:06:21] Right?

Brian: [00:06:22] So it's really cool that you saw this opportunity, saw the need, and we're just able to step into it and find a place for that. So that's really cool. Now, I do think, and I think the Philip's point, there are more choices coming on board, and you were an early adopter of this new model, and you really got out there and started something new. A new community, a new way of thinking about intimates and so, now that there are more players in the space, how are you kind of adjusting or has that changed how you've engage with your customers at all?

Michelle: [00:06:56] Yeah. You know, we started with community and grassroots and old school impact, and it's a lot of sweat equity and hustle in that, but it's paid off. So we now have over 65,000 ambassadors within the country that share and shout the Lively brand. So what does that mean? It doesn't mean that they're just running around and getting paid to share our brand. They actually don't get paid. It's a give and take. So they obviously share our brand for us in a very organic way, but we give back to them. We spend the time to understand what makes them tick. Are they interested in their first book that's launching? We're going to launch their book for them. Do they care about mental health awareness? We're gonna have a mental health awareness fundraiser. Do they care about DIY caligraphy? Done. We'll have a class. So we spend the time to understand what makes them tick and then that reassociates it back to the Lively ethos. The second thing I'll say is this category is always inherently been a need category. Women only bought bras when they needed them. Didn't make sense to me. I have way more dresses, way more shoes than I'll ever need because I buy them when I want them. Why aren't bras seen as a want category when we wear them every day? And so that's something that we're trying to change and unlock. We're trying to get women to celebrate this category like shoes and dresses, not buy at one time a year. Our customers buy four to five times a year.

Brian: [00:08:15] Well, that's great. What are some strategies to help change that mindset?

Michelle: [00:08:19] Yeah, it's integrating fashion with comfort. So right now, our business is on fire with an emerald striped mesh bralette. Does anyone in the world need an emerald colored striped mesh bralette? No, but women want one because it associates with what they're seeing in fashion and in style, and they now trust us and know it's gonna be comfortable.

Brian: [00:08:39] That makes sense.

Phillip: [00:08:41] So I assume you're selling direct to consumer online?

Michelle: [00:08:44] Definitely.

Phillip: [00:08:45] Where else are you meeting customers?

Michelle: [00:08:49] Yeah. So we actually have a retail store on Lafayette Street in Soho, New York. We've always tinkered with and started to beta with physical retail from the get go. We're actually opening more stores. I'm really passionate about the heart of the country. So we're looking at Chicago and Dallas. But yeah, we're a company that started digitally native, but we definitely see ourselves both, omni.

Phillip: [00:09:11] Do you see a difference between your in-store customer and your online customer? Is she shopping on both? Or how do you encourage her to interact with you elsewhere, outside of your retail location?

Michelle: [00:09:25] Sure. Yeah. When women are buying anything, I think, in a physical atmosphere there's just more competence around the product because they're able to try it on. So the key differentiator that we see is they buy more. So they're buying, walking out with 7-9 bras and completely swapping out their drawers in the retail experience. Where online they're still testing and buying two to three to see if it works, leveraging free shipping and returns. The other piece... We see a lot of mom/daughter shopping together within stores, which is really cool. Right? So now they're experiencing something together, again going back to that that shoe and dress shopping experience.

Phillip: [00:12:00] That's so interesting. So I had an interview with another podcast property that I host, called Merchant to Merchant a couple months ago, and we were at the Robert Grand Store on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach, and there was a brand there called Birdwell Board Shorts. And Birdwell is an historic brand. Been around, I don't know, seven or eight decades. A long time. And it's interesting because they're sort of well-known regionally. I'm from Palm Beach. I've never heard of them, but they talked about this phenomenon of generational commerce or this generational inspiration of my grandfather wore Birdwells, my dad wore Birdewells... And, you know, dad brings a son and introduces him to this brand that, you know, is part of their family's story. I would never have ever thought about that. That's not a story that you would necessarily tell about, I don't know, Macy's. I don't see, I don't think of Macy's as a generational brand.

Michelle: [00:13:00] Right. Right.

Phillip: [00:13:01] And maybe there's a story there that I'm just not aware of. But this is a... Wow, that's fascinating. So how can you encourage that elsewhere? How can you encourage that online?

Michelle: [00:13:09] Yeah, it's funny. You know, people ask us, you know, who is the customer that you acquire? And we say it's actually not a customer, it's a household. Because being digitally native, millennials and Gen Zs will bring Lively into the house. But literally male investors will call me and say, "Michelle, I have three generations in my house, all wearing Lively. How is this happening?" Well, and it's because it's a product that's created where it's age agnostic. It's focused on a mindset. Right? And so everybody wants to feel comfortable and wear something beautiful. But we don't lean into extremes. You know, we're always making sure that is accessible in all facets of the word. I'll give you a great example. Instagram gave us some amazing data on our audience. And they were like, "Michelle, it's fascinating. Their favorite hashtags are like #sunset, #HappyMothersDay." They're very much optimistic and feel good. And that has always been the goal of our brand, to be that positive best friend in your back pocket.

Brian: [00:14:07] That's a unique line in this particular industry. Do you feel like that story is in contrast to some of the other storylines that are out there? How has that impacted your connection with your customer?

Michelle: [00:14:22] Yeah. Yeah. I think a lot of brands have very strong points of view, which I think is amazing. As do we. But we're never polarizing because we want all opinions to be valid and accepted. The beauty of America, it's a democracy, right? And so we want to be accepting of all. And so I think that girls, women, mothers know they can come to Lively, share how they feel, share their ideas and not have fear.

Brian: [00:14:48] And that probably has to do with fit, as well. I noticed on your site that you're focused on fit. Is that a big part of your story?

Michelle: [00:14:55] Absolutely. So when we launched our company, I took my first investment from my manufacturer because we needed a multitude of sizes. We launched with 22 sizes. We're now up to 30. And we're going to expand even further through 44 triple D. It's not something you can do overnight. It's a journey and it has to be done responsibly. So every year, more and more to come.

Brian: [00:15:17] That's great. One other idea I saw that was pretty interesting, is that you have some ancillary products, as well.

Michelle: [00:15:23] Yes.

Brian: [00:15:24] Did you introduce those at the start of the brand? Or did you build on what you were doing and start doing cross-selling and get into some additional categories?

Michelle: [00:15:35] Yeah. You know, our website has always said the same thing for, it'll be three years in April, "Today, bras and undies. Tomorrow, the world." We created Lively so that today we can sell bras. Tomorrow we can sell concert tickets. Who knows what our community is going to want. And so right out the gate, they started wearing our printed bralettes and body suits near the pool and on the beach, and we were like, "Please don't get in the water. That's not what it was made for." They were like, "Please make swimwear." And we were like, "All right, we'll do it." So we launched swimwear in 2017. They wanted... They were working out in our bralettes. Again, not made for that, so we made activewear for them. And then they would say to us, "Well, we want the idea of Lively 24 hours a day. How else can we get that?" And one day I had, you know, a rough moment at the office. I put my head in my hands. And I was like, "A scent." And I asked the community, "Would you guys want a Lively fragrance?" They're like, "Yes!" And so we launched that last last March.

Brian: [00:16:26] It's such a really interesting concept that you're actually going product development based on what your community needs. You're listening to them more than you're even thinking about your brand. I think that's interesting. It's an interesting dynamic in that you had no expertise in fragrance before and yet your community is asking for it. So you made sure that they got it.

Michelle: [00:16:52] We figured it out.

Brian: [00:16:53] That's the way to build a brand today. Think more about your community and your customers than even your own story.

Michelle: [00:16:59] Yeah. And I would encourage entrepreneurs to do it before you even launch. So we would invite women into Airbnbs when we were building the brand, and they picked the images, they picked the words like, "Hey, 12 women that we're having wine and cheese with, do you like the word "panties," "underwear," or "undies?" And they were like, "Panties? No. Like, I would never say that in public in just a general conversation. Underwear is a little masculine. Undies, I'm super comfortable saying that to my daughter, my friend, the woman in the grocery store.".

Phillip: [00:17:26] That's so interesting. I love how close you are to your customer. People kill for that. {laughter} It's such a hard thing to do. And I think one thing that comes through is just how authentic you are. Is that part of the... You said you're a podcaster sort of at the outset. Is that part of it, is that you're just, that's your voice? You want your voice to come through in everything that Lively does? How do you sort of operationalize the authenticity that we get from Michelle? How do we get that into every other part of the organization?

Michelle: [00:18:02] Yeah, I think it's just not the authenticity of the voice of me. I think it's the voice of women coming together and the power that happens when you find commonality in similar mindsets with other women that are yearning to think and feel the way that you do. And all of a sudden you're like, "Oh, wait, she started company? I could probably start a company. Oh, wait. She loves art? I love art. Let's do a gallery together." So my ultimate goal is actually to just foster a community where like minded women come together and find commonalities from within and do cool things. So we've seen seven companies launch since we launched just from women getting together within the Lively community and finding that inspiration or network or just like that tick to take that first step.

Brian: [00:18:44] How do you help them? Are you involved in helping them start these businesses and go after some of these connection points that they have?

Michelle: [00:18:55] Yeah. You know, we're not formally involved, but we are always there to help. We do Founder Fridays where girls will come by my office, ask for advice, we'll connect them with "What's the right marketing agency? What's the right way to think about investors? Who should my first hire be?" These are all questions that I had, and that's why we actually created the podcast. So it's not just my story, it's Rebecca Minkoff's, Leandra Madine's, Phoebe Robinson's, women that have taken what I call the YOLO step, and made it happen.

Brian: [00:19:21] I love it.

Phillip: [00:19:24] What's the, what's next? So what do you see as...we usually ask our people, "What is the next five years look like? What are some of the challenges you're going to have to overcome to get to where you're trying to go?"

Michelle: [00:19:35] Yeah, sure. Well hey, we know all the statistics with startups. Five years, 60% failure rate. And so we've been very focused on not just being strong and stable in five years, but 10 years when you have a 90% failure rate. So we're a brand that's built with no markdowns, no sales. We don't even message our price at the top of the funnel. We're very focused on retention and loyalty. So we're going to cruise by five years and five years will incorporate building out retail physical, but also leveraging the gift that we have community and involving technology to support that.

Brian: [00:20:06] Oh, gosh, I love that so much. We talked so much about this. And really what you're doing is, and we've kind of said this on the show, 2019 is the year of clienteling. And that's ultimately what you're doing. You're building a relationship for your customers that are going to last, not just their lifetime, but the lifetime past them.

Michelle: [00:20:22] That's right.

Brian: [00:20:24] So I love this. Such good advice.

Phillip: [00:20:28] That's good. Somebody tweet that.

Brian: [00:20:29] Yeah. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:20:31] That's really true. That's kind of the whole point. I don't think people focus enough on how much the investment that you make now in building trust will pay off in the future. And I think when you begin to diminish that and you start to do some of the other things that Michelle was talking about, that you don't see the effects of it right away. You see the effects of it ten years from now, both on the positive and the negative. And you look at other people in your space, or tangentially big behemoths in your space, that are now having some issues.

Brian: [00:21:10] Massive store closures.

Phillip: [00:21:11] Right. And you look at that and it's seems apparent now, may not have seemed so apparent 10 years ago when they got on this track. What should we be asking you? What's the right way to... What are some things that you've learned that we can bring to our audience that they can learn from you?

Michelle: [00:21:32] Yeah, I think the most important thing for us as entrepreneurs is really understanding why we exist, setting those core values and staying disciplined and focused upon them because the world is so noisy and it's filled with so much opportunity. But as soon as you start to lose sight of why you initially created that organization, it spirals quickly. And so for me, it's staking... People constantly ask, "Why do you exist? What's next?" Well, it's here to create a community. It's here to see women do cool things and change that quotient of 2% of VC funding going towards women and changing that to double digits, because the more women that don't just participate, but they actually lead, the things that they're going to make are just so logical and innovative and cool. It's just going to drive the world to a better place.

Brian: [00:22:21] That's a good way to end it.

Phillip: [00:22:23] Yeah. Thank you so much, Michelle Cordeiro Grant, from Lively... Founder and podcaster, and all around awesome person. Thank you for joining us on Future Commerce.

Michelle: [00:22:32] Thanks, fellas. Had a good time.

Phillip: [00:22:33] Appreciate it.

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