#109. Lively makes lingerie, swim and activewear for those who wear them—not their significant other. We talk with founder Michelle Cordeiro Grant about how her vast retail experience at Federated, VF Corp, Victoria’s Secret and Thrillist Media Group informed her digitally-native brand. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Michelle: [00:00:02] Women were conforming their bodies into bras every single day of their lives, versus the bra conforming to their body shape. Two women in the room could be 32DDs, but the way their tissue sits is completely different.

Richie: [00:00:15] That’s Michelle Grant, the founder of Lively, a lingerie swim and active-wear brand made for and built by women. After experience at Federated, Victoria’s Secret, and Thrillist Media Group, where Michelle got a taste of working for a digitally-native startup, she saw the opportunity to create a brand whose products weren’t made for significant others to buy, but for those who wear them.

Richie: [00:00:33] I’m Richie Siegel, the founder of Loose Threads, which analyzes and advises next-generation consumer companies, and FaceLift by Loose Threads, a retail incubator and accelerator for leading brands and retailers. For our latest analysis and insights check out our free weekly newsletter at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:49] I started the Loose Threads podcast to spark engaging discussions with leaders across the consumer economy. That’s why I was excited to talk with Michelle about how she caught lightning in a bottle with her viral launch, and how the brand has strategically expanded it to wholesale and retail, all while keeping its supply chain in check. Here’s how it all began.

Michelle: [00:01:12] I’m the daughter of two amazing immigrant parents. I grew up in Pennsylvania in the middle of nowhere, in a town called New Smithville that doesn’t even have a traffic light. There was one Indian family, and it was mine. So I always grew up in this environment of never fitting in, but aspiring to fit in, and really seeking approval from parents, boyfriends, friends and so forth. And at the same time, in parallel, I was working for these amazing companies that had really strong brands, and I was enamored by the impact of a brand like Ralph Lauren, for example; it’s not about the IP of the Polo, specifically, it’s about the way humans feel when they put on those logos, and I became fascinated with that. As I found my way to Victoria’s Secret I realized I was working for one of the most powerful brands, factually, in the world. It really doesn’t matter where you go—and if someone sees that name or says it, everyone in their mind sees “Angel Fantasy Push-Up.”

Michelle: [00:02:04] And so, what actually happened is, in 2011 I got married, and I looked at my husband one day and I’m like, “Well this guy likes me no matter what.” Like, he sees the best in me, he sees the worst in me, and why. And then I realized [that] it’s human uniqueness, and human uniqueness is actually our greatest strength, but there wasn’t really a brand in a women’s category that was speaking to that. Women’s brands inherently, in my category specifically, it was about, how do women feel when they put on a product and their significant other is looking at them—it was never a conversation about how do women feel when they put on a product and look at themselves. And so I wanted to start that conversation. I wanted to create a brand where women not just felt great about participating in what they loved, but started to lead. And if they led, could we start creating products that were more logical and therefore more innovative and, in turn, take the economy to a greater place?

Michelle: [00:02:54] I spent three years in the startup space and, when I finally felt like it was my time, I looked at where I was most vulnerable in addition to where I had the biggest gap in terms of need, right? And what I decided was, in my category specifically, it’s a very complicated product to make. You know, one bra can have anywhere from 25 to 40 components, so that’s 25 to 40 suppliers. And if my goal was to create a brand which wasn’t just something that was niche or for high economic household incomes, it had to be something that could be mainstream and could be for a girl in the middle of Pennsylvania—and anywhere in this country, in fact. It had to have accessibility, and a couple of facets of the word, in size-range. So you’re buying a lot of SKUs when you’re launching a company and you have no idea how many you’re going to sell in price and in reach. So I decided there was one thing that I needed, and that was supply chain.

Michelle: [00:03:47] So the first thing that I did was just started networking, and I decided my first investor should be a supplier. And I was lucky enough to meet the current CEO of Gelmart manufacturing, which is a 70-year-old lingerie manufacturing company whose largest customer is Walmart. And so, with that, I was able to bring the idea of entrepreneurship with a very traditional but yet innovative supplier.

Richie: [00:04:11] What did they think when you went to them?

Michelle: [00:04:13] You know what? It was so serendipitous, because he is a third-generation CEO of a family-run company, and he took over in 2011 at about the same time that I made a decision in my life, and he saw the same opportunities. Like, I see Warby Parker and Casper and Harry’s, and I see this category that is dated, dusty, and is yearning for diversity. And so he actually tried to start “a D2C” by just [thinking], “How do I take this supply chain and create a brand?” And [he] couldn’t figure it out for years. So when we met it was just like a marriage made in heaven, professionally.

Richie: [00:04:47] So you meet him, he becomes a first investor. Where to, from there?

Michelle: [00:04:52] I left my startup gig on August 7th or 8th and I started Lively—which was called “Brand X” at the time—on August 10th.

Richie: [00:05:00] Was that in a stealth theme, or that was gonna be the name?

Michelle: [00:05:03] No, the name? I said, “I’m not going to name this company until I can see it.” You know, I have a daughter and, similar to her, I’m like, “I have ideas for what it could be, but until I see her, she doesn’t have a name.”

Richie: [00:05:13] Until she’s five, yeah.

Michelle: [00:05:14] She still has no name! So, I committed myself to, I wasn’t gonna change my schedule. I was going to operate like I had always operated and be really accountable to me and that idea. So I went to work that Monday morning and I sat down in this office with three white walls and a glass door. I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna start a company today!” And immediately I was terrified. So I grabbed a notebook and I made a list of everything that I was fearful of. What were the things that were scaring me? Well, it’s the things that I had no experience in, right? So, fulfillment, digital marketing, etc. And after I made that first list of vulnerability, I then just looked at my network and I’m like, “Who is really smart on these areas, who are my experts?” And I just started hitting them up and saying, “Look, you know, I’m starting a company. I have no idea about this area. Do you have my back?”

Michelle: [00:06:01] You know, I built an advisory board, I did all the things so I had a network where I felt truly confident. And then I decided, “Okay who was gonna build this with me?” And I started using two degrees of separation, because I really wanted to surround myself with people that I was gonna have fun with. I wanted to be creative, I wanted to just enjoy it. And, frankly, statistically, it probably wasn’t gonna work anyway, so might as well have a really good time.

Michelle: [00:06:25] And so, the first person that I brought on board was my creative director Sara Sullivan. And after meeting with so many designers and people in the industry I was like, “You know what. I want someone that is not from this industry. I just want someone that sees the world in the same way that I do, and has an aesthetic that is just beyond.” So her and I got together, and she was [like], “Well how do you want to do this?” And I’m like, “Let’s just build a brand board. Let’s visually ensure that we’re seeing the same thing. And if we have fun doing that together then let’s talk about moving this forward.” So we just went around New York City and just bought all the things that moved us. You know, it really started out with the things we loved wearing, which was active, sports bras, and swimwear, but then it got to birthday candles from ABC Home and Carpet, to hits of metallic, to things from just brands that we really loved. Or indie little boutiques where we found discovery.

Michelle: [00:07:15] This board is still in my office to this day. It’s like the guiding light of what we want Lively to stand for. But we looked at each other and we’re like, “Okay. We see the same things, we hear the same things, we smell the same things. We now understand what this perspective is. Let’s start designing.” And so when we did that, we were like, “All right, forget lingerie. It’s active and swim that we’re loving, right? It’s Saturday morning, and what’s the first thing we put on? It’s not a bra. It’s a sports bra.” And like, 60% of women wear active and don’t work out. It’s because it’s comfortable. Right? And so we started cutting the waist bands off yoga pants and stapling them to pieces of lace, and just being totally weird but loving every minute.

Michelle: [00:07:55] When we finally kind of came out of it and we showed these products to our manufacturers who are super-savvy in this space, they’re like, “What’s this?” And we’re like, “We’re not sure, but we think it could work. Let’s just try.” The parallel process started then. The manufacturers were like, “You know what? We’re gonna build a factory for you, because this is very different from what we know and what is produced at scale. We need to actually watch this super closely to understand how to get the quality control that you are expecting with the size range that you’re going after.” Like I said, greatest gift ever. Who builds a factory for a company that doesn’t exist?

Michelle: [00:08:29] So that process started happening. The next thing that we started to do was, we said, “Well, our goal is to build a brand and a community, and to do that in this world today the way that it exists… The right way to actually do it is not to build it internally and then share it externally, the right way is actually to build it externally. Like, let the community build the brand, because if they build it they’re not just going to share it, they’re gonna shout it.” So we just started to bring people into the process and had Airbnbs rented out, and just bribed people with wine and cheese and, again, went back to that rule of two degrees of separation. Because we don’t want our friends and family telling us how awesome we were. We wanted people to truly beat us up—which they did, by the way.

Richie: [00:09:12] In what ways?

Michelle: [00:09:13] The way the process would work was, we would bring in 12 to 20 women, and it could be moms, women in fitness, women in business. And when we would show them an image we would say, “Write down the first word that comes to your mind.” And they could be like, “provocative,” or “ugly,” or “don’t relate.” And they could be positive, and say “confident,” and “empowered.” But it was honesty that got us to these trend lines. Or they could look at a product and be like, “What is that trim? Is it from Michaels?” I remember that, and I was like, “Ugh! Bullet to the heart! No, it’s one of the best trims out there!”.

Richie: [00:09:44] Yeah.

Michelle: [00:09:44] Right? But you can’t say that. You just have to listen, soak it up and then look for trend lines.

Richie: [00:09:51] What was disproven in that process, and how long did that process go on for?

Michelle: [00:09:56] So it went on for about three months, because we kept it going as we were building. And what was disproven was women wanted what the category was giving them, because we were just like, “Could this work?” Like, do we just believe this, or is this a real need out there?” Because again, we came at it like, very wacky from a product perspective, and you would think with a category that’s $13 billion in the United States—like, could you really create something that didn’t exist?

Michelle: [00:10:26] So that was the good news. Women were conforming their bodies into bras every single day of their lives, versus the bra conforming to their body shape. So if you think about it, back to that idea of human uniqueness, two women in the room could be 32 DDs, but the way their tissue sits is completely different. So why do we think that their tissue is gonna be comfortable in this like, very padded structured piece of armor that they’re putting on every day? What was really proven is that women are okay being with products that are without wires and conform to their bodies, and are okay trying something different. Like, they’re willing to take the risk if the messaging behind it is clear as to why.

Richie: [00:11:07] We’re in 2015 still?

Michelle: [00:11:10] So this is the end of 2015. Our plan to launch is April of ’16.

Richie: [00:11:15] Okay. Walk us up to that.

Michelle: [00:11:16] Sure. So now, in January of ’16, our prototypes are done. We have physical samples of our products. We have all of the colors that we’re gonna do. We’re finally ready to do photo shoots and create the content. We start to build the content and then, again, focus-group all of that content, focus-group the words, the copy, and we’re like, “Okay. Let’s start to build a community outside of the tri-state New York area.” And in February we posted our first Instagram three rows, because we’re like, “We’re gonna build this feed, right, before April?” And after we posted our third image we started getting direct messages immediately. And that was not the intent, but women started to reach out to us and say, “Look, I’m inspired by wild hearts and boss brains. Like, I really relate to these words and these images. How can I be a part of it?” And then we’re like, “Oh interesting. So our goal is to build this brand that has mass appeal to America… Let’s start talking to America!”

Michelle: [00:12:10] We started to just look at these women that we’re reaching out to us. And I remember the first woman was from Chicago, and her name was Taylor, and she was a flight attendant that would put post-its in the windows of airplanes that said “your day’s about to get better.” And I’m like, oh my god this girl’s awesome. And she is like, hashtag-living-Lively. Like, she is what we’re building here. So we said, “We gotta find more Taylors.” And I said, “Look, I don’t want it to be about how many followers they have. I want it to be about, are they living Lively.” So cover up the number of followers they have and look at their feed. And we started to build a network of women where we’re like, “Alright, if you’re in Denver and you’re living Lively, I don’t care if you’re a chef, a mom, an investment banker—you’re living Lively, we want you to be a part of this.”

Michelle: [00:12:51] And what does that mean, to be a part of this? It means that we’re gonna give you consistent content for our launch day, we’re gonna send you one product, and we’d love for you to put your native spin on how you share that content, eventually, on April 1st. And oh, by the way, in the meantime we’re gonna keep you posted on everything that’s going on, because now you are a part of this community, and when this thing launches we hope you’re so proud to share with everyone [that] you’re part of Lively.

Richie: [00:13:14] Yeah. How many people ended up—?

Michelle: [00:13:15] We ended up about 75.

Richie: [00:13:17] That’s a pretty good start.

Michelle: [00:13:18] Yeah! Yeah, pretty healthy, right? For three people in the company.

Richie: [00:13:20] Yeah.

Michelle: [00:13:20] So then we said, “What are other free channels, what are other ways to ensure that on launch day we’re not partying by ourselves?” Because that is the scariest thing, by the way, as an entrepreneur, is like…is anybody gonna show up? So in March we said, “Well, you know, Harry’s. One of the best launches out there.” In 2011 they did the email refer-a-friend campaign, right? I don’t know if you remember this. You got a hundred thousand emails in four weeks, and it was just a matter of like, “Hey tell your buddy to sign up for this splash page and get a point towards your first razor.”

Michelle: [00:13:49] That was solid, and they did the world a favor and released that code. So we took that code and we put our unique spin on it. Created some technology behind it; frankly, it was not that savvy or responsible, when I share what happened. But on March 1st we said, “Well we’re gonna launch on April 1st. We have a four week window. They got a hundred thousand? Let’s try and get five thousand a week. Let’s try and get like 20,000 emails before we launch this company.”

Michelle: [00:14:15] On March 1st—there was four of us in the office now—we emailed everyone we knew. Which, oh, by the way, was 250 people, and me like, scraping my Gmail box [for it to be] not just friends and family but like, the guy that helped me with my mortgage, customer service from like, whatever company. Like, YOU are getting an email. We sent it, we went to happy hour, we got about 500 that night. We’re like, “We are on pace.”

Michelle: [00:14:38] Next morning, a thousand. Lunchtime, 5,000. Dinnertime, 10,000, 20,000, 30,000. This thing was going bananas.

Richie: [00:14:45] Why?

Michelle: [00:14:45] Well, so we thought we were hacked. We were like, somebody totally hacked this, this can’t be real. So by that night we had about 95,000 emails and I was just like, shut it down.

Richie: [00:14:56] How many days later is this?

Michelle: [00:14:57] This is one day.

Richie: [00:14:58] One day later. Crazy.

Michelle: [00:14:58] This is Saturday, after Friday. And so, like I said, we didn’t make it responsibly. We couldn’t see like, what was really happening. Was everybody earning like, hundreds of dollars, because we never told them the price point. It just said, “Wild Hearts, boss brains. Like, join Lively.”

Michelle: [00:15:13] So, the next morning, the whole thing just blew up. The servers crashed. We had 133,000 emails, 300,000 sessions globally, 280,000 uniques.

Richie: [00:15:22] And nothing’s for sale.

Michelle: [00:15:26] And nothing’s for sale. And it was real. There were women all over the world—the heat map on Google Analytics was just like, blue. Like holy, what? Who are these people, and why? And what we realized was: link in bio. There was no link in bio with Instagram and Facebook when Harry’s did it, and these girls were taking their unique codes and their unique links and putting them in their bios and just like, churning and sharing to the degree where—we thought we were going to launch April 1st… We launched today.

Michelle: [00:15:59] So, not that we’re gonna sell product. We are gonna turn on every customer service channel and find out why. We need to talk to these people, because these are brand lovers and this is just gold. And so we did. We turned on chat and email, and I remember these girls in Australia that were in a high school. They emailed us and they were like, “Well where’s my Lively email? My friend in school got her Lively email.” We’re like, “We have no idea! Everything is fizzled. Like your dashboards we promised you no longer exist. We are going to figure this out—”

Richie: [00:16:28] Like Fyre Festival, a little bit.

Michelle: [00:16:29] Oh totally, yeah! Like, you will get your code and all of that stuff will happen, just give us time. But in the meantime, tell me why you’re so psyched. That is when we started to build our marketing. Those words and comments and emails ended up becoming the words that we planned to launch with.

Michelle: [00:16:44] We let everyone that came in through our email campaign, our ambassador shop on March 31st launched on April 1st. And, you know what’s funny is, I look back at this day now and, when I was living that day it didn’t occur to me how beautiful and brilliant it was. I just thought that that’s what happened.

Michelle: [00:17:00] But we went on a tear. Traffic was beyond to the point where I was like, this is not a day to celebrate. Like throw on your sneakers, grab your bags. We’re going to Secaucus, New Jersey, because we gotta ship this stuff. And literally, we were just surrounded by boxes and had no idea how to pick, pack and ship, because we just thought it wasn’t gonna be that many orders. We had time to ramp this thing up. But no, we were in that warehouse for ten days straight. Just picking, packing, shipping, picking, packing, shipping.

Richie: [00:17:32] How many those people converted?

Michelle: [00:17:33] I mean, it was probably like, if I think about it, 10%. Decent.

Richie: [00:17:37] That’s a lot for the first ten days.

Michelle: [00:17:40] Yeah. Decent.

Richie: [00:17:40] Yeah. You mentioned the link in bio thing. Why do you think some of those things work and others don’t? ‘Cause there’s software, they’re all these, you know, get-started-easy things.

Michelle: [00:17:49] Sure.

Richie: [00:17:49] And Harry’s, other examples of lightning-in-a-bottle. One: why do you think some work and some don’t? And then two: are those things good? Like, is there a point where they become actually problematic, and maybe a slower build is better?

Michelle: [00:18:02] To answer the first part of your question, why do we think we—because I do call it lightning-in-a-bottle. Like, you just can’t recreate that moment. It’s ’cause we spent the legwork upfront, right? We spent time with women to understand what would move them. Not just what images would move them. Like, down to the copy, down to every part of it, and then kept it super-tight to just that proving content, and just cohesively hit it over and over again. So I think that is like, the first part is that people don’t focus on the before, they think, “Oh I’m gonna start now and create it and then hope they like it.” No. Make sure they like it before you spend the time to push it out.

Michelle: [00:18:39] And then I think the other piece of it is, I don’t know that it’s a bad thing to have a broad group upfront because it teaches you how to really understand who the value is within the broad group. Because as you build a company you are gonna have this funnel of customers. You’re gonna have the brand lovers, the ones that are just like diehards, right? And then you’re gonna have the broader group that are just like, “Oh, you’re cool, you’re fine.” So understanding that in the beginning is, I think, really a valuable tool.

Richie: [00:19:08] Now you launch. You’re fulfilling orders for many days. Does that calm down at some point or, what does the rest of 2016 look like, from April on?

Michelle: [00:19:15] Sure, sure. So month one we were like, “Okay, so this is gonna lull, right?” It’s typically like a roller coaster and then you’ve gotta build your way back up. But I think because we were strategic on the supply chain-side, we technically sold out of our products within two weeks, but we were able to keep taking orders with a 30-day pre-order ship window. Because we had raw materials on the shelf, and now we could just start cutting to order. I mean we were hoping this would happen and, frankly, we built raw materials to last us for the year, not for the first three months. But we ended up just pulling everything up, ramping up our factory and just cutting the order, and asking our customers for a 30-day window of forgiveness.

Michelle: [00:19:51] And so, for the first month, again, we didn’t spend any money on marketing but we were able to keep that momentum going, because now we were having all of the—what these early community members were, now we call “ambassadors,” kept sharing. I think the two things that we did [were], we brought those women together physically, which probably didn’t make sense to most people. Like, you’re a D2C company, why are you having physical events? I’m like, “Well, if they’re gonna be our community, we gotta get behind them.” So it can’t be them just doing favors for us.

Richie: [00:20:19] Right, ’cause that goodwill will run out.

Michelle: [00:20:20] That’s going to run out, right. How do you keep them pumped, how do you keep them engaged? I was like, “Well bring them in. Let’s hear what moves them.” So our first event was at the end of April. We said, “Well, if we’re gonna have a fit guide, what is the Lively way to do that?” It is not a quiz or an app. We’re very much about just being real and having human connections. So the real way to do that is [to] look at a style and maybe get eight different body types wearing that style that already love the style.

Michelle: [00:20:46] And so we had an open casting and just said, “Hey people that like us: come on in!” And we had 40 women show up to our office in the middle of Bryant Park Garment District, [on] the 10th floor. And we’re like, “Wow. Okay.” And I said, “Let’s hear what they say.” So we gave them pieces of paper that said, “Tell us what it means to live Lively.” This is a brand that has literally existed for two weeks. “Tell us what it means to live Lively.”.

Michelle: [00:21:09] The consistency was phenomenal from these women, and we still have the images of this, but what we also did was we listened. We listened to just their banter and their chatter. So like, what were they talking about? They were talking about succulents and SoulCycle. I’m like, all right, we’ve gotta have an event with succulents. Who does that? The Sill. We need to call SoulCycle. We have no money to like, take over a class, but maybe we go to their headquarters and like have rosé there.

Michelle: [00:21:35] And so we just started to try and figure out ways to create human tissue and connectivity, which is a huge investment of human capital, and a lot of people would say to us, “You’re wasting your time. Get back to paid media and focus on the digital.” And I’m like, I mean, yeah, we all know how to do that. That’s just math. But how do you do something different and create this grassroots build?

Richie: [00:21:58] So at the end of that year, have you started to invest more in marketing besides events? Or…

Michelle: [00:22:01] Oh sure. I mean, by middle of May into June we started to dabble on Google and Facebook, did our thing with paid media. But the goal with paid media was two rules: one, we will never message our price, because our price is amazing. You know, all of our bras—we believe in price equality—are $35, regardless of style, shape, size, and color. And so we said, “We’re not going to acquire people because of our price, we’re gonna acquire them for our brand, just like we do on organic.” So our strategy is just taking whatever works on organic and putting paid media behind that, and that’s that.

Richie: [00:22:32] So, mostly content syndication and stuff like that.

Michelle: [00:22:35] Exactly. Exactly. But the beauty of it is, you know, our ambassador program was growing and so we were getting a lot of user-generated content. Now we get almost a thousand pieces of user-generated content a week, but we’re able to use that, and their words, as marketing.

Richie: [00:22:46] Yeah. Has that price restriction—have you ever regretted that, at some points? In terms of, we can’t invest in this good piece or do this because it’s simply the math doesn’t make sense. Like, to be locked in.

Michelle: [00:22:57] No. I mean, again, I think it goes back to my inherent core values of why we started the company, which was to build a brand where I always felt like, forget lingerie. What was missing were brands where humans felt like, “Oh my gosh look how amazing that brand is, but I can’t afford it.” And so, it shouldn’t be so high in the ivory tower that it’s almost inaccessible. It should be accessible in some facet to most. And so for me, that trumps all.

Richie: [00:23:26] So will you not make things, though, if they don’t fit that? Or will you take a lower margin, for example?

Michelle: [00:23:30] Oh totally, yeah. It’s all about margin average. Trust me, our bras do not cost the same price.

Richie: [00:23:36] Right. That’s what I’m asking, basically. So you’re looking at that on like a blended basis, versus saying we actually just can’t make this ’cause we’re not getting our X-percent margin.

Michelle: [00:23:43] Exactly. And you see in the industry, typically what retailers do is they’re saying, “Oh, this is how much my manufacturer is charging me. This is the markup that I need. Now this is the retail price,” which I don’t agree with. I think we should put the customer first and build our way back. So what is the right price for the consumer? And maybe that price is what it is today, and as the world changes it increases or decreases along with the consumer—that’s fine. The price doesn’t need to be stagnant. What needs to be stagnant is that it’s for the consumers idealistics and what they need, and then build that back to the manufacturer.

Richie: [00:24:15] So at the end of 2016, what does your manufacturing partner investor think of the business, at that point?

Michelle: [00:24:22] Yeah, they’re pumped! So, by the end of 2016, two things happened. One: two months after I launched the company I found out I was pregnant with my second child. And, in addition to that, I’m raising now my seed round. By the end of 2016 I’m beyond pregnant and also just closed $4 million in funding from my investor coming back in—a mentor, an amazing strategic out there, a guy named Harvey Sanders who built Nautica, sold it to VF and sits on the board of Under Armour. Also a credible VC, GGV Capital.

Richie: [00:24:52] So what’s the plan in terms of using that money for the next year or so, going into 2017?

Michelle: [00:24:56] Sure. So 2016 strategically was like, is there a business here?

Richie: [00:25:00] Yeah. Just get it going.

Michelle: [00:25:00] People care.

Richie: [00:25:01] Yep.

Michelle: [00:25:01] So the good news was, yes. 2017 was like, well let’s build a steady ship. The strategy in ’17 was like, “Alright, gotta get out of this warehouse in Secaucus and get a very strong fundamental fulfillment system customer service, build that out, and really think about the factories.” So then our partners built a new factory in the Philippines for us, because we blew out our capacity. So essentially just building all the fundamentals for the company. And then the other thing was, we wanted to stay very, very focused on our KPIs, our key performance indicators. Because we don’t have sales or markdowns, and our price point is consistent, our KPIs are very, very clear. And we wanted to understand, okay if we keep this steady what does our retention look like, and how do we get to know, not just how to acquire customers but retain them really, really well.

Richie: [00:25:46] What was the most surprising thing you started to find on that vector?

Michelle: [00:25:48] Oh my god. Three things. One: the lifetime value that we were seeing on our organic customer was the same as our paid. Because we were using organic content to acquire them. I’ve never seen that before. The other thing was that our repeat rate was off the charts because, in our category, typically women buy bras, they say statistically, two times a year. And yes, [for] most women it’s like, maybe one to two times a year. And they were buying four or five times, swapping out their drawers. And then I would say the third thing was how vocal they were about what they wanted and what they were missing. So we created products we were able to innovate around what they were feeling like lacked in the category in addition to the categories they wanted from us. So we ended up launching swimwear.

Richie: [00:26:33] How did you think of SKU proliferation at this point? You know, you’re a year-ish old. Talk also more about the sizing piece, and just how expansive that was. But this adds up, quickly.

Michelle: [00:26:42] Oh yeah, yeah. So we launched with 13 styles. We launched with seven bras, four undies and a body for good measure.

Richie: [00:26:47] How many sizes of each of those?

Michelle: [00:26:49] Our bras ranged into—the broadest was 22 sizes. It’s no joke.

Richie: [00:26:54] So it’s hundreds of styles, of SKUs, you’re launching with.

Michelle: [00:26:56] Oh yeah. Going back to why I needed supply chain. And trust me, we were very focused on two base fabrics, one lace. It was all a whole mix and match menu. So that way when we saw what the customers wanted we could immediately cut to it without having too many raw materials on the shelf. But the good news is, I have a background in working for large retailers, so I know all about SKU maintenance, and then really focused on what’s beautiful about our categories.

Michelle: [00:27:24] The great rule of 80-20. It is just beyond where 80% of your revenue, if not more, can come from 20% of your styles, if they’re the right styles. So really focusing on what those right styles are and were, and the good news is [that] many of the styles that we launch[ed] with are still in our top five today.

Richie: [00:27:43] Hmm. It’s interesting also just ’cause you saw this single-product canon of brands. Which is like, this is the suitcase, the toothbrush, and you live in the opposite world of that.

Michelle: [00:27:51] I mean, you think about some of these top retailers, they have hundreds of styles. They don’t have just one t-shirt bra, they have like 50 versions of it, right? To me that’s too much. We should be able to say to our audience, “Trust us. You know, we are going to make the ones that you need, and we’re going to give you options, within reason, but you don’t have to go through all of this swipe-swipe, next-page-next-page-next-page.” As humans we want to see all of it before we make a choice, so let’s make all of it not too vast. Let’s let them get through the experience quickly, because the level of ADD is just increasing every single year.

Richie: [00:28:28] Yeah. What were some of the lessons around fit, in selling this stuff online.

Michelle: [00:28:31] It’s a very hard category. Forget just online—just physically, to get the right size bra, we know 80% of women, they say, are wearing the wrong size. Because if you think about it logically, we decide what size bra we are in like high school/early college, right? And then we never look back. I don’t know why. We exercise, you know, we fall in love and eat a little more. We, you know, have a baby, our bodies change, but yet never do we ever question like, “Oh, did my bra size change?” But it should.

Michelle: [00:29:00] So what we did was we were very honest about it. We’re like, “Look your bedroom mirror knows best. So free shipping over 40, stickers in the box, do your thing. Figure it out. We’re here to help you with that process, our fit guide’s there too. But like, as a human we know this is going to be hard, and it might take you more than one shot to figure that out.”

Richie: [00:29:18] M-hmm. Were people buying multiple sizes and stuff?

Michelle: [00:29:20] We thought they were going to more so because we made it so easy. But no. I mean, people do, but that’s not the majority.

Richie: [00:29:27] Interesting. Okay, so we’re in 2017 now. Take us to the end of that year, in terms of, what are the focus priorities for you?

Michelle: [00:29:33] In Q1 of 2017, one, I have my son. And I came home and a couple of days into that experience I’m like, ugh. You know, we’re in the middle of moving warehouses. Hundreds of thousands of units are going across state lines to Connecticut. Our backorder right now, we have like 3,000 customers. Just like, where [are] my products? While we thought we could keep up.

Richie: [00:29:54] Pre-orders still going.

Michelle: [00:29:55] Pre-orders still going because our capacity is just starting to hit the ceiling in the factory. And things started to feel a little shaky, right? As they do. And I’m like, “I don’t know. Can we keep this going?”

Michelle: [00:30:05] And something pretty awesome happened. I got an email from Shopify, our tech platform. Shopify sent this email and I look at it at midnight, and I got my son, newborn, Jack on the bed and my laptop in the other hand. And it’s like, “How to build a bigger business. Would you like to be mentored on how to take your company from a million dollars to a hundred million dollars?” I’m like, “Heck yes!” “Do you want, you know, all these amazing people, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Daymond John, blah-blah-blah, to spend time with you?” I’m like, “Yes!”

Michelle: [00:30:31] And it was this very robust application process, but I was like, we’re Lively.com. Go, shut down, right? It’s like a lotto ticket. And six months later I get a phone call, and they’re like, “You won the bigger business!” It’s this guy Roberto, [who] has this beautiful accent, and I’m just like, [it’s a] telemarketer, hang up. Telemarketer, hang up. And finally he calls me, he’s like, “Don’t hang up.”

Michelle: [00:30:50] And I share this story because the second year of entrepreneurship is really hard, and frankly it gets harder every year. But that second year, now you have a year to comp, right? So it’s no longer like oh, whatever happens, happens.

Richie: [00:31:04] Right. You had a good year.

Michelle: [00:31:04] We had a great year. So how do you comp that? And so I share that story because I was able to go on a trip, not just with amazing mentors but with other entrepreneurs, in my stage, at my size, growing at the same time. And understanding that I was no longer alone was like the greatest gift that I could have. And so, that year was just a very pivotal year. One, we grew by 300% off of a huge year of launching. Two, we launched our second category, swimwear. Three, we expanded our team. But four, we started to see our ambassador program really start to gain some momentum in stride. All that human capital and sweat equity was finally paying off. This group was now up to a thousand women across the country.

Richie: [00:31:48] What wasn’t working that year?

Michelle: [00:31:50] Oh gosh. So many things.

Richie: [00:31:51] Top three.

Michelle: [00:31:53] One, I would say customer service was not as strong as we wanted it to be in Q1, and so we brought in people to make us stronger. ‘Cause it wasn’t that we weren’t answering people properly, we just don’t have the bandwidth to do it. We were spending almost too much time on each person. We weren’t being efficient and being like, oh right, we’re getting these same questions over and over again, we don’t have to treat them as unique cases, because I was so focused. I’m like, “Everyone is special.” Right?

Michelle: [00:32:24] Number two was, our ambassador program was amazing but it was sucking the life out of our team. We were exhausted, and we had to figure out a way how to make it more efficient. Because literally, the thing about a thousand women [is] you’re exchanging direct messages and emails, and I got to get you product and I have to ship you product, and it’s a lot, right? So I would say number two was just sweat equity. We were hitting our peak.

Michelle: [00:32:46] And then number three, our website. We had a ten-second load on our home page.

Richie: [00:32:51] A little slow.

Michelle: [00:32:51] And we were like, “Why?” And the reason was, is because we offer our customers bundles. So if you buy one bra it’s 35, but if you buy two it’s 60 and if you buy three it’s 80. But as we were getting more traffic our site was just getting weighed down. And so we switched to Shopify Plus. We had to do all of these things to make our site faster. So we relaunched our site that fall in October and we were like, “Yeah we’re gonna be so fast, two to three seconds.” Launched it, it was two to three seconds. So, Google recrawled our site. I didn’t know that that happened. That sucks. That takes about three weeks, for Google to re-understand—

Richie: [00:33:29] Because you had a whole new architecture.

Michelle: [00:33:31] A whole, yeah. So I was like, what does that mean? Ignorant, totally ignorant in this case. And [for] three weeks our site was basically recrawling all of our organic and SEO that we had built over the last year and a half.

Richie: [00:33:43] So that all dipped, basically.

Michelle: [00:33:45] Yeah it’s scary. I was like, where did everybody go? And the good news is it comes back, but it takes time.

Richie: [00:33:51] Going into 2018 now, where’s the business, what are your top priorities for that year?

Michelle: [00:33:57] So 2018 was like, well let’s crank on the things that we know are important. So we had three key objectives in 2018. One, really focus on this ambassador program and create efficiency around it. Two, well, my son’s almost a year-old, we’re going on tour. It’s time to get out there and physically be with women in other cities more consistently. And then number three was really just maintaining that focus on retention, because again, we grew by 300%, we planned to grow by triple digits again. We cannot lose sight of our best customers, and how do we maintain that amazing retention rate? So we launched our tour in January in Dallas.

Richie: [00:34:36] Called “a tour.”

Michelle: [00:34:36] Literally, The Lively Tour. We built technology and efficiencies around our ambassador program and did one simple thing, which was allow people to reach out to us instead of us reaching out to them, which sounds so logical now but—

Richie: [00:34:49] Right. There’s a form, right?

Michelle: [00:34:51] Yeah. We created a nav point and a form. So we went from a thousand ambassadors to a thousand submissions a week. And then lastly, like I said, that retention piece, we just started to build structure and data around how to get smarter in that area.

Richie: [00:35:04] Talk a bit about the evolving distribution strategy. It sounded like it started on the rack. I know there’s been a little bit of wholesale, kind of Nordstrom’s and a little bit of RetailNOW. Talk about that evolution, in terms of where did you think you would be in the beginning, and then did those thoughts start to evolve as the business got bigger?

Michelle: [00:35:20] We, in the beginning were like, no distribution. We gotta get to know our brand, we gotta build it cohesively, we need to have that discipline of crystallizing what it needs to be. And so, while we had amazing inbound from beautiful retailers we just politely declined and just said, “No we can’t do it.” One, it’s a different business model, right? You need a different set of skills and team and so forth to honestly do it right. But two, we didn’t want our brand to get diluted until our messaging was right.

Richie: [00:35:49] Did you think you had the margin at that point to support it, or it would’ve been hard?

Michelle: [00:35:53] Oh no, no, no. Margin’s not a problem when your first investor’s a manufacturer.

Richie: [00:35:56] In terms of, they would have just helped, basically, make sense for wholesale.

Michelle: [00:36:01] Yeah. I think people are confused by how the wholesale P&L can work, because obviously they do take a piece of your margin, but also that’s a piece of your margin you’re no longer spending on CAC, right?

Richie: [00:36:12] Yeah. And fulfillment.

Michelle: [00:36:14] And fulfillment, and shipping, and packaging. And so, being really clear about what that trade off is; for me it wasn’t about the math, it was more about control, because I wanted to control my own destiny. And you cannot control your own destiny, in theory if it’s going through a middleman. And I came from department stores so I really felt what it was like to see something from concept not make it to the customer. And I did not want that in the beginning.

Michelle: [00:36:37] There was one retailer, though, that was very persistent, and it was Nordstrom. And they would come back every quarter, and keep up with emails and phone calls and meetings. Like, they would come and meet with our little brand and just spend time getting to know us. And so, after two years, finally, we were like, “Alright, let’s do this.”

Richie: [00:36:55] Just wore you down.

Michelle: [00:36:56] Yeah. They [were] like, “What’s it gonna take?” And we shared all of our goals and objectives, and I was like, “I want to be by the escalator, I want my brand represented in all different facets, I want to co-design the space, I want our ambassadors to be a part of it.” And the answers were all “yes.”

Richie: [00:37:11] So what did that start to look like, and what did that roll-out look like?

Michelle: [00:37:13] So in 2018 in September we launched in just 11 doors. They were so wonderful, and they were like, “Here’s 20 doors,” and we curated it down. We were like, “We want to be able to physically go to all of them.”

Richie: [00:37:25] What did that process look like, of curating and picking locations?

Michelle: [00:37:28] So we looked at our top 20 markets and their top 20, and started to marry them together and see where we could see the best overlap.

Richie: [00:37:34] Why overlap, versus looking at new markets?

Michelle: [00:37:36] Well because it’s like, okay, take what’s working and amplify, right? When you’re a year, two years in, there is plenty of saturation to be had or market. And we wanted it to be successful for both of us. So we didn’t want to go into a market that wasn’t a top market for us, ’cause we wanted Nordstrom to succeed as well. And I think the biggest thing that we wanted was, we wanted our ambassadors and our customers to come to Nordstrom ’cause that was their benefit. And what our benefit was, [was] to open ourselves up to the Nordstrom customer, which is different.

Michelle: [00:38:04] We actually ended up saturating more of the West Coast. We went with a lot more Cali doors, which strategically was great for us because we—at the same time, we’re seeing these pop-ups on the tour work really well, and we all of a sudden started to see like, physical retail is in our future, and it’s actually in our future a little sooner than we expected, because the ROIs on our pop-ups were so strong.

Richie: [00:38:25] What do the pop-ups look like, just in terms of, how long were they there, what could you find there, etc.?

Michelle: [00:38:30] So scrappy. I mean, ten days in rev-share spaces that were open. Like in Dallas, we were in the West Village, old Kendra Scott space, beautiful. Moved in there, had a series of ten events over the course of ten days and, really, we thought it was going to be a marketing initiative. And so, we definitely had product there, because women like instant gratification but it wasn’t the whole assortment.

Michelle: [00:38:52] But what we saw was 175% lift on that city online, on transactions. Forget traffic; like, on transactions. And, in the state of Texas, 80%. And we actually made money in the store and what we sold to pay for our hotels and meals. Forget the build-out; every dollar was paid for. And so, we actually were fascinated by this. I’m like, “This is not what I expected.” I expected this to be a marketing cost not a revenue stream.

Michelle: [00:39:20] So we emulated it in Nashville and saw pretty much the same statistics; 165% lift in Nashville, like 75% in Tennessee. So now I’m in my brain, right? By Q2 I’m like, we’re gonna start doing physical retail. Like, Tour’s kind of over, let’s just start doing this at a broader capacity. So when the Nordstrom opportunity was there I’m like, I don’t want to open stores in California, it’s too spread out. Let’s digest and saturate Cali, and we go after the middle.

Richie: [00:39:49] And so, talk more about kind of where the physical retail piece went from there.

Michelle: [00:39:53] After our tour ended after two cities we opened a six-month store in New York, in Soho, and it was just amazing. Also: the hardest thing I have done in a long time, after having my two children.

Richie: [00:40:05] Talk more about that.

Michelle: [00:40:07] Man, physical retail is so hard you just forget. When you’re making money in your sweatpants online, like—what it’s like to negotiate leases, deal with contractors, deal with all the B.S. that it takes just to get the lights on. Like the lights, itself. Those are expensive. How do you get trash in and out of this place? There’s just so much red tape.

Michelle: [00:40:29] And then you get to the staff. Like, holy crap. I did not know how to hire for the store.

Richie: [00:40:35] It’s a very different piece than corporate.

Michelle: [00:40:37] It’s a very different piece and I got it wrong so many times, frankly, that I finally was just like, you know what? I gotta hire someone that knows how to do this and has done it well. And I was so lucky that I hired our director of retail Sam from Warby Parker; like, the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and our team, and our company. But yeah, it is really hard.

Richie: [00:40:58] What does success mean for you in retail given you have multiple aspects of the business?

Michelle: [00:41:02] So there’s three key goals that we have in our store. Number one is we want it to be the Lively clubhouse. We want to see our ambassadors and our customers just coming and chilling and hanging out, and so forth. And we see it; like, moms will stop by and breastfeed their children, girls will stop by and have lunch or take [a] call. And that is what we want, we want to see the stickiness of our brand.

Michelle: [00:41:21] Number two is discovery. People just being like, “Oh my god, I’ve seen you online, but I’ve never bought, because I’m scared to buy bras online.” That’s happening and that’s awesome. And number three, it’s a lab. It’s showing us what we’re missing. It’s showing us where are the pain points, is there a fit thing that we can make better. What are we missing in our assortment.

Michelle: [00:41:39] And lastly—I said three but it’s four—the P&L on stores is awesome. If you have a brand and a product that people want and has strong conversion rate, ’cause that is one of the metrics we look at for everyone that walks in the door, what percent is converting. That P&L’s pretty beautiful, right? ‘Cause your return rates are drastically small, there are like, infinitely smaller than what you see online because you’re taking out that process. So it’s just a matter of being able to do it right.

Michelle: [00:42:05] I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is just making sure it’s flexible. So while it’s annoying to move and dah-dah-dah-dah. Like, signing a lease that’s older than your company to me doesn’t make sense. I’m not gonna sign a five or ten year lease—like, our company is three years old. So keeping that flexibility to really beta yourself into it versus, “I’m gonna open a hundred stores now.”

Richie: [00:42:26] And then into the first beginning of this year, what have been the key priorities?

Michelle: [00:42:29] So ’19’s awesome. Now we have three years of data. You kind of know yourself, right? So for ’19, for us, is to continue to diversify on the marketing side, and I think you probably hear that from any entrepreneur these days.

Richie: [00:42:43] Say more about what that looks like, from a channel perspective.

Michelle: [00:42:45] Yeah. I think what’s interesting is if you really step back and take it 50,000 thousand feet, right? The world is built on seven-year cycles. If you’re in finance or economics like, you just you see it that way. And so I started to kind of challenge myself to start thinking that way. Like, what was going on seven years ago? Well, I was acquiring customers for a $1.25 on Facebook in beta. And so I think a lot of people are caught off guard by the increasing prices of direct performance channels, of direct-to-consumer companies because seven years ago it’s like, “Oh it’s kind of free. Like, build a website…”

Richie: [00:43:20] Paying for likes. Like, yeah.

Michelle: [00:43:20] Yeah! “You’re just gonna get people if you just go online!” And I think the world is starting to see what that maturity looks like. And so the costs of digital media have gone up exponentially, not just in seven years but in the last like, 24 months. And so I think just really stepping back and understanding; well, okay, of course that was going to happen and—

Richie: [00:43:44] It’s a market-based system.

Michelle: [00:43:45] Yeah, it’s just a market-based system. What is the balance and what is the funnel of marketing going to look like, and what should it look like? And so for me it’s a balance, of course, of physical and digital, but how do you drive those ecosystems around each other? I don’t think Facebook and Google are going away. I think they’re just going to be a smaller piece of the puzzle. And so you have to create your own puzzle in theory, right? What is the best way to have your own channels of email and text and, for us, our ambassador program, and how do you really build engagement and ROI and those different things? And for me that’s been a lot of fun. We’re just tinkering and testing.

Richie: [00:44:19] Yeah. It’s a puzzle.

Michelle: [00:44:21] Yeah. And out of the 10 things you try, two things stick and scale.

Richie: [00:44:24] Yup. In terms of effectiveness, what has been the more surprising effective channel that you were maybe skeptical of, or just didn’t even have an opinion on?

Michelle: [00:44:31] For me, by far, it was email. If you remember, I came from Flash, so I was like, we are not over-emailing our customer. And we are not going to have that experience where you come to a website and if you don’t give your email you are gated. So I was like the complete opposite of that. Where I was just like, “Ah, we’re gonna do email, but we’re not gonna go too crazy on it.”

Michelle: [00:44:55] Now that we’ve really fine-tuned and focused on email, it’s got a lot of opportunity. And it’s not just email, it’s text. So I was also like, anti-text. I was like, “I don’t want people on my phone, that’s so intrusive.” But as I think about it and look at it and watch the way that consumers are responding to it in the right way, if it’s not like so “discounty” and like you’re slinging products, but like, really talking to them, it makes a lot of sense. And actually what I find fascinating is the demographic is not what people would think text is, like oh, it’s the younger generations. It’s actually not. It’s the older millennials and up because they don’t get a bazillion texts, like they actually want to clear through.

Richie: [00:45:33] Yeah. So what is an example of what that communication looks like, or has been successful?

Michelle: [00:45:37] For us [it’s] like letting people get early access to a specific product. Letting them know a quick how-to. Like, “Oh, did you know your bra could do this?” Or just sharing with them moments of convenience, like, “We have free ship and free returns. Did you know?” We found, though, that the biggest thing for us is like, it has to have a visual with us. Like, we were born on Instagram. We’re a visual brand. And so, while you have to pay a premium for that aspect in text, we do, because that is what our brand is about right.

Richie: [00:46:06] Right. So it doesn’t just look like a random pharmaceutical, pharmacy text.

Michelle: [00:46:08] Yeah like, “Hit STOP,” and everyone just hits “STOP.” No, it’s like, pause on a beautiful image that moves you.

Richie: [00:46:15] So things have grown at very nice degrees. When you think about how big you want this to get, how do you think about stepping on the pedal but also moderating that, in a pace that you can continue to be successful, can continue to uphold the values and the customer experience while still balancing the growth goals?

Michelle: [00:46:32] You know, one thing that we often message to our team and even investors is, while hyper-growth is awesome, we are on the path for responsible growth. And so, while we could probably spend more money and acquire customers faster, we want to maintain this balance of never disappointing our current [customers], or the new. I am more patient in the idea of again, looking long term. Statistically, I think it’s like 60%, maybe 50-60% of companies will never make it past year five. And 90% of companies will never make it past year ten. Why? Because they’re pulling all of their levers immediately, right? And so if you give it all up early, how do you comp? And also, you’ve lost focus now on what really matters ’cause you’ve just done everything. You don’t even know what’s impacting what. And so you think about it. We held out really long on distribution and we don’t really go into that far. We actually don’t even put it in our plan. We call it “gravy,” because we don’t want to be reliant on it. What if they change terms? What if they close down? Like, that is too much to—

Richie: [00:47:37] —Predicate the business on.

Michelle: [00:47:38] Yeah. It goes against controlling our own destiny. International—we haven’t done that yet. We know Canada is an easy, probably, 15-20% but we want to make sure we’re ready and we do it really well. Same thing about product expansion. Like, we don’t think Lively is only a bra company. Our home page has said the same thing for three years. “Today bras and undies, tomorrow the world.” Because whatever our community tells us they need, within reason; meaning, high margin, not at the women of fashion, ADD and easy to ship, we’ll make it.

Richie: [00:48:07] What has been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned, building the business?

Michelle: [00:48:11] Most expensive would probably have been our ambassador program. Not in terms of dollars, in terms of just human capital and time and resources. Our first year, people were constantly like, “Get off this ‘community’ thing. Like, move on.” And even now when people ask me, “How did you do that?” I’m like, we spent two years just grinding it out.

Michelle: [00:48:32] The cheapest outside of that email, like, lightning-in-a-bottle. When we launched, I would have to say is now our user-generated content, because we put the time and the sweat equity into our ambassador program. We don’t spend thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases on photo shoots. We get hundreds of pieces of content a week from our community and, you know, with permission and doing the right thing by them we’re able to market ourselves in a very authentic way.

Richie: [00:49:01] Where is the name from, and then how much was the domain?

Michelle: [00:49:04] The name came at 3:00 a.m. with a jab to my husband in the trash like, “Lively!” But it started with, I was building this persona in my brain of who this brand was, and I was taking nods from amazing women in my world, whether it was my mom or my friend Amy who is so courageous in her style and her aura. And she’s literally that person that walks into the room and everyone is just pumped, right? Like, that feeling of energy. And so I started to call this woman “Liv.” But I was like, it can’t be a woman’s name, it needs to be a feeling and a word. And so Lively just came to me.

Michelle: [00:49:38] Lively is not an easy word to trademark. And so, the URL was like $799 on GoDaddy because our URL is actually WearLively.com, because Google actually owns Lively.com. It was a 3D avatar in 2007, and a project that failed, but Google, by nature, will never let go of a URL. So if there’s anyone out there that knows how I can get that back, you let me know.

Richie: [00:50:03] But the trademarks were a pain?

Michelle: [00:50:06] Oh my god. So, trademarking. I filed for our trademark in September or October of ’15, and on Thanksgiving Day I get a call from my lawyer and she was like, “Michelle, it’s not gonna happen.” She’s like, “You’re not gonna get it. There’s too much room for likelihood of confusion, with all its bazillion different ways.” And I was like, “Jessica it’s gonna happen. If you believe, it will come. Like, go watch Field of Dreams, call me, and we’ll figure this out together.” So we spent—and I didn’t tell my team this, by the way, ’cause I’m like, “It’s Lively. It’s fine.” Meanwhile I’m freaking out.

Michelle: [00:50:36] But we spent three months putting together a rebuttal, and had three different lawyers.

Richie: [00:50:40] To an office action.

Michelle: [00:50:41] Exactly. And I found the woman’s name in the trademark office that was working on our case in D.C. and like, would make a relationship with her even though it didn’t matter. I just wanted to understand. Even when there was a snowstorm, like, “Are you okay? How are things going?” So we actually didn’t get approved until March 1st.

Richie: [00:51:00] Of this year?

Michelle: [00:51:01] No. Of the year we launched. So like, everything was happening, it was in motion. And I had a backup plan. Like how would I switch out the tags, and all the logos and all that stuff. But right after that email campaign went live we got our trademark approved.

Richie: [00:51:14] And then in terms of just, the next one to two years, what are one or two things you’re most excited about that are on the horizon?

Michelle: [00:51:22] I think what we’re most excited about right now is just how we can really engage with our ambassador communities. We launched an organic podcast about a month ago for them, and the response has been so great, ’cause it’s—

Richie: [00:51:35] What does “for them” mean?

Michelle: [00:51:35] So the podcast is called No Makeup Needed, and the idea is, women would ask us when we were on tour, for example, like, “Michelle, how did you do this? Like, how is this happening?” And I’m all, “Forget me. How about Rebecca Minkoff, Leandra Medine, Phoebe Robinson?” Like, the list is long. They’re all in the place that you probably are right now where you have this dream that you want to make a goal and you want to make it happen. So it’s just like that YOLO step, right?

Michelle: [00:52:01] So I was like, you know what? Let’s tell these stories. ‘Cause I would get all these emails asking for help, and asking for advice and so forth. I was like, let’s create a place where they can just go and feel connected in the same tone that they’re looking for. And so now our podcast lives where it is stories from amazing women that have done incredible things, while having children and having a balanced life, in theory. But also with girls from our ambassador program that are in that early stage of taking their first yellow steps, so people can see the blending of where that can come. That and, you know, we built human capital now for more meet-ups and more physical interactions because these girls are all over the country, and they’ve been having meet-ups on their own, and we’re like, “Well, we can help take those to the next level.”

Richie: [00:52:44] Awesome. Thanks so much for talking.

Michelle: [00:52:50] Sweet.

Richie: [00:52:50] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave a review on iTunes, we always appreciate it, and thanks to George Drake, Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests and we hope you tune in next week.