There aren’t many entrepreneurs who would call themselves rule-followers. Yet Michelle Cordeiro Grant, founder and CEO of lingerie brand LIVELY, is both a self-described rule-follower and undeniable rule-changer.
Michelle says that as the daughter of Indian immigrants, she originally seemed destined to end up in one of the career paths her parents expected her to go into: doctor, lawyer or investment banker.
But even as she got good grades, she felt herself drawn away from that route.
“I was seeing opportunities on the side that looked like glimmers of light,” Michelle says. “I started to lean into those things. I started to feel this glimmer of joy that was different from what I had felt when I was doing what I thought was right.”
After graduating from college, Michelle followed those impulses to New York, where she worked in merchandising for department store-owners the Federated Merchandising Group, Victoria’s Secret, and Thrillist. In 2015, she founded LIVELY, a lingerie brand built around a community of women who empower each other to defy expectations.
In this episode of SUCCESS Stories, Michelle tells Chief Storytelling Officer Kindra Hall how a career disaster turned out to be fate, why she’s proud to be a rule-follower in a world of disruptors, and how she found a work-life balance that makes her a better boss and mom.
Being a rule-follower doesn’t mean being boring.
Not every entrepreneur lives by the mantra of “Move fast and break things.” Taking things slow and learning how an industry works can give you the tools you need to do something completely outside the norm in the future.
Michelle spent years working and training in merchandising before stepping out on her own. These experiences gave her an insider perspective on the lingerie industry, and a head start on the burgeoning world of social media marketing, which she combined to found Lively.
Following the things that brought her joy—as well as the rules—led her to embrace entrepreneurship in a way that worked for her.
When things don’t go the way you want, look for opportunities.
To borrow a phrase from the great Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might find that the circumstances you’ve been stuck with can create opportunities you would otherwise have missed out on.
Life doesn’t always respect your plans, and no matter how hard you work to pull them off, some things will go off the rails. It’s OK to be upset for a minute, as long as you then switch gears and start looking at what you can salvage from the situation. Are there silver linings you haven’t spotted yet?
Michelle was initially devastated when she was assigned to the lingerie department after finishing a product training course with the Federated Merchandising Group. “I sat in my room in Hoboken and cried and cried,” she says. “And then I got up and went to work.”
Michelle focused on the fact she was in New York—where she’d longed to be—and she was working with some very impressive people. Having decided to stick out her less-than-desired job, she ended up learning a lot about the lingerie business, and ultimately falling in love with it. And we know where that led.
Embrace these crucial traits.
Having become an entrepreneur by accident, Michelle thinks there are three traits anyone who wants to follow her down this path needs:
- Curiosity: Where other people accept the way things are, entrepreneurs constantly question whether another approach would work better, and how to bring it to life.
- Learning fast: Entrepreneurs don’t have to know everything about starting a business to succeed. But that means you’re going to face a lot of situations that are new to you. Being unflappable and adaptable in the face of a first-time challenge is essential.
- Knowing when to ask for help: Because you don’t know everything, you have to be open to approaching and learning from those who can fill in the gaps in your knowledge. You also need to be able to ask for emotional support that will help you make it over the hurdles.
Find a work-life balance that works for you.
Michelle realized her time at Victoria’s Secret had run its course when she got married. She saw that the other women she worked with chose to put their work over their families, and knew she didn’t want to do that. Now, she’s committed to carving out quality time for her children and husband.
It’s not just about building a happy life for them. Michelle says that she’s learned she has to look after herself, so she’s able to show up for her family and employees. For her, that means getting enough exercise and sleep.
And no, it’s not about that tired phrase “having it all.” Instead, it’s knowing that you can’t have or do it all, and prioritizing what matters the most. People—especially women—feel pressured to live up to certain expectations, Michelle says: but you ultimately set the expectations, so be kind to yourself and lower your own bar.
That’s not to say Michelle never has stressful days; she left a relatively stable job to found a lingerie startup, after all. However, she says that part of looking after herself and the people around her has been learning how to lead in the face of a crisis.
Her strategy involves deep breaths, walks around the block, and accepting things that she can’t change, instead of fighting them. “Accept what you can control and let go of what you can’t,” she says.