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Michelle Cordeiro Grant is the Founder and CEO of Lively, a lingerie brand so successful that she sold it for $105million after just three years1. Here, she tells us how she achieved success, and what she learnt along the way.

Key takeaways:

  • In the first phase of your business, you need employees who buy into your mission and can take on a lot of different roles.
  • As you start to gain traction, look for a workforce that combines a passion for your vision with experience.
  • As your business becomes established, transition your workforce from one that wears many hats to one that is specialized.

When you’re building a business, at some point, you have to transform from a founder who wears a host of hats, to a leader of many. But knowing how and when do to so is a bit like stepping into the unknown. In order to understand the process, we spoke with Michelle Cordeiro Grant, Founder and CEO of the lingerie brand Lively.

“People think that I left Victoria’s Secret and started Lively,” says Cordeiro Grant. “But that’s not true. I actually went to a start-up for three years. I had been coddled by corporate America, which means that I didn’t see everything that went on across the business. So, I opted to work for a menswear content company called Thrillist to witness what it was like to build an organisation from the ground up.”

Cordeiro Grant explains that when she founded Lively, she was totally in the dark about what she was doing. “I think that my ignorance and a utopian mindset are what made me successful early on. I quit my job at Thrillist on a Friday and on Monday I went to work for a company that had one employee – and that was me. I didn’t change my schedule or dynamic. In my head I was simply going to work for a different brand.

“That first week, I thought, ‘Where on earth do I start?!’ So, I got a notebook, sat down and started to make a list of everything I didn’t know how to do. And for me this was fulfillment, digital marketing, how to create a website… I could go on! What I did know how to do was network – that’s why I’m so passionate about events. I had all of these people around me who lifted me up and helped me see that I just had to take everything one step at a time.”

A mere three years after Lively had been founded, and just as they had opened their first brick and mortar store, Cordeiro Grant received an extremely surprising offer. “A banker walked into the office and essentially said, ‘Hey, someone wants to buy you.’ We weren’t for sale, and were just getting started, but I was curious and wanted to know who it was.”

The offer was in fact from the company that owns Lively today. But in this first instance, Cordeiro Grant approached the proposal with caution and pragmatism. “I was open and honest,” she says. “I told them that I wasn’t ready to sell, but that I wanted to get to know them, so suggested a meeting where we wouldn’t talk numbers at all. Instead we got to know each other – we learnt about each other’s values and ethics and why we exist today.

Cordeiro Grant then did what she describes as soul-searching. “I asked myself why I had created this business and where I wanted it to go; what was the objective for my family, for me as a founder and for my team. And I realised that I had a real opportunity for Lively to live well past me.

Cordeiro Grant explains that when growing Lively internally, she took a three-tiered approach. “The first was ‘jack-of-all-trades’. In this phase, you forget experience and just want people who believe in your mission. These people are as passionate about what you are building as you are. They are doers. They love to solve problems and they can handle huge variety in the roles. My Director of Marketing, for example, looked after PR, social media, email, packaging, events and our Ambassador programme.

“Phase two comes when your brand and business have caught wind,” she continues. “Now it’s time to stablise the house by building the foundations, and to do this you need a hybrid of experience and that utopian vision again. Here, the people in your team go from wearing ten hats to wearing three.

“My theory here was about two degrees of separation. I decided that if I could find people connected to my family and friends then we’d be quite aligned in our thinking – from our views of the world to how we approach creativity. So, I decided to hire people close to my personal life.”

Phase three, according to Cordeiro Grant comes when you are a corporation. “Here is where you bring in experts and have to start building your C-suite pyramid. I loved the early days, but truthfully, I didn’t fill that middle to top section fast enough. My ultimate piece of advice when you’re here would be to look for people who can do what you can’t. It’s a scary step to take – but seek out people who are smarter than you. It’s a way of thinking and working that I wish I had embraced sooner.”

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