Company: Block & Tackle, Audacious Fizz, Post-Office, The Brummel
Title: Serial entrepreneur, marketer, technology innovator + coworking visionary
Michele Grant has been a provocateur her entire career. A creative force, meticulous problem-solver and dedicated entrepreneur with a dogged determination to dismantle the status quo, Michele has spent 17 years crafting smart, holistic, disruptive marketing strategies for clients like The Home Depot, AutoTrader, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, Georgia-Pacific, AT&T, Verizon, IHG, UPS, and Suntrust. In short: name an office in Atlanta where business happens, and Michele’s likely been there, on the ground, making things happen.
Her deep expertise, skill set and drive set her apart almost as much as her knack for pursuing solutions that actually work — without bullshitting clients along the way. Former colleagues have described Michele as a powerful leader, a fiercely loyal team member, a superb strategic thinker and a person who always stands firm for what she believes in, especially when it comes to taking risks that deliver real results. And, with her wit, attitude and sarcasm, she’ll probably make you laugh while doing it.
After more than a decade in the agency and consulting worlds, Michele made the leap to entrepreneurial life in 2013, when she cofounded management consulting firm Block & Tackle to help companies become more sophisticated marketers, but smartly so. While most people would hesitate to leave behind a steady paycheck for the demanding hours and unpredictable nature of entrepreneurial life, that’s just who Michele is: scrappy, tough, and wholly committed to a vision. As managing partner at Block & Tackle, Michele makes it her mission to design smart solutions for clients like Delta, Georgia-Pacific, and Prudential, and typically has her hands in a number of exciting, innovative projects meant to disrupt the way business is done. She likes getting behind the scenes, dirty laundry and all, and helping an organization implement the systems and processes necessary to get things done. She likes to apply that same level of creativity toward smart, innovative, clever applications of data, technology and analysis. She’s crafty like that.
With a dual background in both marketing and tech, Michele got her start in the dawn of digital marketing — she sent the first dynamic content, double-byte character email, and was hand-creating multivariate campaigns before there were tools to do so. Over the years, Michele’s one-of-a-kind skillset has evolved to include customer experience design, content strategies, analytics, organizational design, and targeting. Before she made the leap into entrepreneurial life, Michele led a team of solutions managers, consultants and analysts as Moxie’s Vice President of Solutions Management, overseeing delivery across all marketing technology and technology strategy projects. Prior to that, she spent two years developing tactical, tech-driven strategy and solutions for Slalom Consulting as the firm’s Strategic Marketing Solutions Architect, after leading email marketing, ecommerce and digital marketing initiatives at IHG, Silverpop and Newell Rubbermaid.
What makes her tick? Smart answers to tough questions. Identifying complex problems, and tinkering with them until finding a solution, like whether it’s reducing martech infrastructure while increasing capabilities, or making coworking a better experience. What she’s not into: smoke and mirrors, silos, and the kind of “traditional” thinking that restricts what a business is actually capable of doing. (Don’t even try saying the words “that’s just how we’ve always done it” around her.)
Currently, Michele is tackling that coworking question with Room to Work, a brand that includes the Brummel, a high-end coworking haven, and Post-Office, a roving pop-up office space for nomadic workers and creatives.
Tell us about your day to day and what you love most about what you do.
A typical day-to-day for me… doesn’t really exist! In my role as an entrepreneur and a leader, no two days are ever alike or structured the same way. I try to spend my time on what’s important and not just what’s urgent, but of course, there’s a fair amount of just dealing with the latest flare-up. What I love most about it? It’s mine. I love that freedom and control. It’s like Uncle Ben said in Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” I am more than fine with that.
What was the best piece of career advice you were given?
I had this conversation with my manager at Slalom one day about a project we were working on, and I was complaining about nothing moving on this project. In the middle of my whining, he stood up and was like, “What do you want me to do about it?” And in that moment, I realized I was empowered to do everything I needed to move things forward. Nobody could stop me from solving the problem. In fact, not only did I have the privilege and authority; I had the responsibility to do that. It’s funny because when I eventually quit that job, that’s the sentence I heard echoing through my brain. There’s no point in complaining about where you are, because you’re the only one who can do something about it. That’s not necessarily your traditional career advice, but I definitely think of that being a huge catalyst in my life, personally and professionally. I apply it every day.
What prompted your shift from the agency and consulting worlds into the entrepreneurial world?
Rage. I joke that it was a “volcanic moment,” but really, it came down to no longer willing to be quietly dissatisfied. I couldn’t let go of the idea that it can be done better. And if you can’t get something done right, do it yourself, right? You’re the protagonist in your own life.
Anything you wish you’d done differently or known during that shift that would’ve helped with the transition?
I don’t know you can learn this any other way than going through it, but, all the stuff that seems so important at the beginning — your website, your business cards, your names, your marketing? All of that can become all-consuming, but ultimately, that’s not really what’s important. What’s really important is selling your first project and making money. Don’t sweat all that stuff up-front: you can always come back and rebrand. Don’t get so caught up in designing the perfect business card that you sink months into that instead of chasing that first check.
Another thing I wish I learned before is how to explore the partnership dynamic more closely before signing on with someone. My partner Marcus and I are a perfect fit, but initially, there was a third partner who just didn’t vibe well with our vision for the company. In retrospect, I should’ve treated that more like dating: tell me all your dirty secrets before we get hitched.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your current role, and how do you tackle that?
I think my biggest challenge is learning to get out of my own way, and also learning to get out of my own head. I’m self-deprecating in my humor, but sometimes in my quiet moments I’m truly self-deprecating. I get tripped up on things like, “maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I’m not smart enough.” When it comes time to swing for the fences, I’m like, “booyah, I’m the greatest.” But in those quiet moments, I’m asking myself, “am I worthy?”
As far as tackling that? Sometimes I see it reflected in the faces of my team, and that reminds me that yes, I am worthy, and yes, we are succeeding at what we set out to do. Other times, Marcus has to remind me. When I’m selling or solutioning or putting together a deal, when I walk out of a situation like that, I’m so high that I feel like I could never be down again. I have to remind myself of that feeling sometimes.
What’s your favorite thing about your office space?
That I don’t have one! My favorite thing about it is that my workspace is everywhere. I’m free-range, organic, and grassfed. And it’s so inspiring: you never know where you’ll be or who you’ll meet or what interesting conversations you might overhear between strangers. Work, for me, is everywhere and anywhere and in so many different environments, from the most humble to the most exquisite.
Working in the co-working space, what advice would you offer to those considering co-working?
Think long and hard about what you want out of that space. Do you really want an office? Because in some cases, that’s what you’re getting. Or do you want community, collaboration, creativity? Are you looking to be anchored to your space, or empowered by your space? These are questions you should consider, and there are no wrong answers.
What advice would you offer to other female leaders? What do you focus on to be a good leader for your teams?
Quit thinking you don’t know what you do know. I would also add that the only person who’s going to pull you through whatever it is you’re going through is you. You can have support and helpers and mentors, and that support network is important — but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to get out of bed. It’s you who has to look in the mirror. It’s you who has to face yourself and your team, and move forward.
As far as being a good leader? Honestly, a lot of the time I ask myself how I’d want to be treated in this situation. What would I want my boss to do? I go back and I picture that guy who asked me “what do you want me to do about it?” and I ask myself, is it time for that speech? Or is it time for a compassionate speech? What does this person need in that moment, and how can I inspire them?
How do you unplug at the end of the work day?
Aside from libations and Netflix on the couch? Every day, I make a point to read: science fiction or fantasy or fiction; never nonfiction or business books. Something that takes my mind away from reality. Possibly far into Middle Earth or into a galaxy far, far away.
In moments of uncertainty, how do you build yourself back up?
You want to know what my secret is? I stand in front of a mirror in a bra and shorts, and I airbox like Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield before a fight. And I repeat to myself, in my head, from Will Smith’s Gettin Jiggy Wit It, “Ali told me I’m the greatest.” I do the “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah-nah” in the mirror with my fists. It never fails makes me feel better. You cannot be upset shadowboxing yourself in your underpants while singing Jiggy Wit It in your head.
Is there a woman (or women) past or present that you admire or look up to for inspiration and motivation?
I have a lot of respect for singer-songwriter Sia. I love that she writes for other people; her craft is more than her persona, and I like that her private and her public selves are very separated. I also have a lot of respect for conservative women in media, because they’re so few and far between, and they just get lambasted by everyone. It takes a lot of guts to sign up for something like that.
If you were given three more hours per day how would you use them?
I’d get an hour more sleep, I’d attempt an hour of yoga a day, and I’d use the third hour on more work.
What three pieces of advice would you offer to other female entrepreneurs?
Quit thinking about it and go do it. Don’t isolate yourself in a bubble; work to seek out different perspectives and opinions from your own. And finally, cultivate your self-awareness. Be introspective. Be mindful of where you’re at, and where you want to be.
Fun Fact: What Song Best Describes Michele’s Life?
“Right now, it’s probably either “Champion” by Fall Out Boy or “Legendary” by Welshly Arms. In “Champion,” they say, “if I can live through this, I can do anything. I’m a champion, a champion, a champion.” That’s awesome. I could be that; I am that. And in Welshly Arms’ Legendary, he says, “this is scary, but one day we’re gonna be legendary.” I love that. What we’re doing is hard, but we’re going to be legendary.” Grant says.
Where can people find you during Supernova South?
In the thick of things. Come chit-chat and lay some wisdom on me.
Want to learn more about Michele Grant? Follow Michele and her company at the links below.
Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.
Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site FanBolt.com