Episode 252: Michelle Larivee, Co-Founder and CEO of WTHN

We continue our C-Suite Wisdom theme this episode with Founder & CEO of WTHN, Michelle Larivee! We were fascinated to learn about Michelle’s career journey from the world of International finance to the world of Eastern medicine.

So how does someone who worked in consulting with the World Economic Forum become the founder of a modern wellness company? Michelle tells us that she had tried everything from painkillers to physical therapy to cope with her chronic pain and couldn’t find relief. When a doctor recommended acupuncture, she was shocked at how incredible and immediate the results were. With this first exposure to Chinese medicine, it was if she’d been introduced to a tool kit she had no idea even existed.

But with this new discovery came an issue all too familiar in healthcare: accessibility. People either couldn’t afford acupuncture or it could take months to get an appointment! Michelle saw an opening for a business and made her move…

To learn more about Michelle’s career journey, listen to this episode wherever you get your podcasts!

Dan Hodgdon
I was just like, this is such an important thing and it's inevitable that it's going to happen at some point. And I want to be the one to do it.
Michelle Larivee
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY™ hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Aleni MackareyHi, Jodi, how's your week going?
Jodi KatzI am leaving soon to go to Miami for the dermatological beauty connect. So I am a little bit busy but very excited,
Aleni MackareyVery in that hustle and bustle mode, which is nice, because then I think when you get on the plane, I always feel like when you're on the plane, the rest is behind you. And you just like have what's in front of you to focus on which feels good.
Jodi KatzOr any listener of this podcast, you know that I'm devoted to Rent the Runway. So literally packing for trips is so easy, because I just ordered a bunch of dresses, try them on, make sure they fit the buttons close. But other than that, stick them in the suitcase and get going. So I have a whole bunch of really pretty Miami ish dresses, like lots of floral pattern, definitely summery, long cascading ruffle layers. So like, you know, pretty different unusual, but definitely not winter wear.
Aleni MackareyI'm so excited. That sounds so nice, as it's like a little bit chillier in New York. But I can't wait to see the final choices. I love how adventurous you are with your Rent the Runway picks. So it's always something fun and new and different. And I think it's really fun to be at an event and see those people in the room. You can always spot you and it's fun. So I'm sure you've prepped with the folks on your panel. How did that go? Oh, so great.
Jodi KatzWe had such an incredible conversation. So I'm on the panel with one brand CEO of a med spa chain and two major retailers, CVS and Ulta. And we're going to have a conversation about trends and what's connecting that medical grade physician dispense skincare world with the mask skincare world, what's similar, what's different, and what brands and businesses can do better to educate the consumer because you know, where we are all working against tik tok
Aleni Mackareylooks like it's gonna be an awesome group to talk about the future of education and the evolving retail landscape. And I'm sure you'll see many past and future guests from the podcast in Miami as well, which is always fun.
Jodi KatzYeah, I actually have already communicated with many of the people who've been on the show. Lots of friendly faces will be in the room, which makes attending these events so special and so, so lovely. But let's get on to today's episode. This is actually with a woman that I met at an event not beauty connect but one of the Women's Wear Daily wellness events a couple years ago. Her name is Michelle Larrivee. And she has a fascinating career journey. And now she's leading the way of bringing Eastern medicine within reach to our modern confusing upside down world with her business called within
Aleni Mackareythis wellness space is rooted in so much history. And I always find it really interesting to get a look inside these stories and to hear more about her company within it's trying to bring acupuncture and other ancient medical techniques to more people. We've
Jodi Katzbeen really interacting with a lot of guests that have medical journeys that open them up to starting businesses because they found something that worked for them that was not on our radar. So I love this focus on creating accessibility. I mean for my own personal experience, I would love to try acupuncture. I just never knew where to go. though. I love that Michelle is really digging into this obstacle and really clearing the path for people to reap the benefit.
Aleni MackareyI can't wait to learn more about it. Here is episode 252 with Michelle Larivee
Jodi KatzWelcome to where brains meet beauty. We our career journey podcast talking about what it's like to define success and reach for it in the beauty and wellness industries. Today, we continue our C suite wisdom quarter with Michelle Larivee, co founder and CEO of within previous experience in international finance and consulting with the World Economic Forum to her journey into the world of ancient healing, modern wellness, acupuncture and herbal medicine. That's quite a journey. Michelle. I'm excited to dive into the conversation about her career journey from finance to founder on episode 252. Hi, Michelle, welcome to where brains meet beauty,
Michelle LariveeI'm happy to be here.
Jodi KatzSo on this episode, we're gonna go way back in time, Michelle, because this is a career journey show. And I always think about like when I was a little kid these ideas in my head of what did I want to be when I grow up? So if we can go back to the 11 year old self, what was on your mind? What were your dreams and aspirations?
Michelle LariveeYeah, I would say pretty much throughout childhood like all the way up through high school and even into like first semester of college I was like pretty convinced that I wanted to be a doctor, because I always wanted to have the ability to help others and you know, just had some really amazing people around that I'd seen you know, the incredible work that they could do.
Jodi KatzAnd did you have a lot of exposure to people in medicine all these years? Like did you have family members friends? Was this like sort of just kind of part of your world?
Michelle LariveeA little bit I would say it wasn't necessarily like immediate family members. But you know some aunts and cousins and other relatives that worked in the field.
Jodi KatzSo did you go to college to become a doctor?
Michelle LariveeUm, I started pre med for a semester, I don't even know that I made it a full semester. But once I and I loved like all the science classes and things like that in high school, too, so I kind of always thought that was going to be a fit. But then once we got into the lab work realized I didn't necessarily think that it was for me, which is interesting. So pivoted pretty quickly after that.
Jodi KatzOkay, so after all those years of thinking and saying probably out loud to your friends, I'm going to be a doctor and then getting into college and realizing I'm not going to be a doctor, was that a big shift for you? Was it a big moment of like, Oh, my God, a lot of worry, or were you really at ease and just saying goodbye to that dream?
Michelle LariveeWell, I actually kind of had two paths of kind of career aspirations and the doctor path and kind of always been something from like a little kid, a interest that I've followed. But in high school, I started actually studying abroad, and doing some different types of work abroad, and things like that. And so I also had become really excited and passionate about international relations as well. And I actually was at Georgetown School of Foreign Service. And then there was kind of like a pre med track within that. And then, so I was able to like back on that other parallel path that I had been pursuing. And actually, it worked out really nicely that there happened to be a major called Science, Technology and International Affairs that, you know, I was able to continue some of the passion around just healthcare in general, the sciences. And look at that through the lens of international relations.
Jodi KatzWhen you were studying abroad in high school, where did you go?
Michelle LariveeSo I did a summer exchange program, after I think my sophomore year, and then was able to go back and stay with the same family a couple of summers after that as well.
Jodi KatzThat's such an amazing exposure for kids. So Young, what what's like the one thing you remember from that time that you still take with you,
Michelle Lariveethat was kind of the start of my time spent living abroad since then, I, you know, continued in college, as well as did masters and nationalization of worked abroad. And I think it's kind of the same theme. But I just always think that it's valuable for anybody to spend time living abroad, because it really puts things in the you lesson to perspective, when you understand kind of how we're viewed globally. And I think it's just, you know, we do live in such a global world that, you know, you're really living in another country, and it just forces you to think differently, and to be open to other cultures and other customs. New perspectives, I also think that, you know, I get a lot of my inspiration to when I'm traveling, I found. So I just think there's so many benefits to being outside of the class and being exposed to new ways of doing things. And I do think that, you know, it's great to like, go on vacation and a, you know, a work trip here and there. But it really makes a difference when you actually lived somewhere for a consistent period of time.
Jodi KatzSo in the opening, I mentioned that you worked for the World Economic Forum, what does that even mean? What is what is that job?
Michelle LariveeUm, so it's funny, I've worked for the World Bank, I've worked for the World Economic Forum. But you know, the World Economic Forum specifically is an international organization, nonprofits really kind of a think tank that is intended to bring together specifically business and political leaders to tackle some of the world's biggest head, ds problems, you know, spanning from climate change to poverty, to education, and things like that. And it really is like an actual forum. So every year, we have heard of Davos is the name of like their kind of penultimate summit every year that brings together like truly like the world leaders of the biggest countries, as well as you know, top business leaders. So it's in pretty incredible praise place with really lofty mission. And I was there on a secondment from my consulting job, was actually there for kind of a long period of time and was focusing on a new initiative that we created around how do we bring together investment and capital that has a mandate to return positive ROI to their shareholders and stakeholders, but also to put that money to work in the some of the most challenging environments in the world to have an impact, social impact. So that was that was what I was focusing on. They're not built off my prior career in finance, as well as working for the World Bank and on their private equity arm.
Jodi KatzSo not to go like too deep in this path. But as someone who watched this process unfold, knowing the world has so many complicated problems, they're not they're multi dimensional problems. Can people sit in a room and solve these?
Michelle LariveeI mean, I'm like forever an optimist so you You know, I would say yes, but I think if you're not sitting in a room together, nothing's gonna get done. So I think that's like, absolutely the first step is getting real people with opposing views together in a room where they can have real conversations and try to really find common ground. I just think that's pretty hard to do. If you're not actually in the same place.
Jodi KatzI am an optimist to sometimes it's hard to be one and but I am and change takes time. I'm guess I'm a realist also. Absolutely. So this is sounds like a big jump from World Bank to traditional Chinese medicine. So tell me what that leap look like.
Michelle LariveeSure. So I would say yes and no, like on the actual catalyst for starting within that was, you know, truly inspired by my own personal health experience. I had a ski accident, I was actually in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, how to ski accident, ended up with dislocated vertebrae in my neck and a fracture on my back and essentially, you know, in chronic pain, tried everything from shots and injections, painkillers and muscle relaxers physical therapy. And really nothing was solving the root cause. So eventually, my doctor suggested acupuncture. And at the time, this was, you know, six or seven years ago now, I really didn't know too much about it, but it was willing to try literally anything, and found that just the pain relief was incredible and immediate, I was able to stop taking painkillers muscle relaxers, which, you know, is super important from a long term health perspective. And then kind of as I was going regularly, and you know, getting weekly acupuncture, taking Chinese herbs, you know, following some of the nutritional guidelines and things like that, I realized that I was sleeping better, I was less stressed, I was, you know, this time of year where it seems like everybody is getting sick all the time, I just realized that a stronger immune system and was generally healthier, fewer sick days. So it felt really empowering, because it actually, you know, through the CX and then chronic pain, I was actually introduced to a whole new lifestyle, and even call it a toolkit that I had no idea really existed. And, you know, I'd always been into fitness and you know, working out and trying to get healthy started head prior to that started doing, you know, more yoga and meditation, but this really felt like the next level, because Chinese medicine is really about connecting the mind to the physical body, as well as preventative care, you know, thinking more about longevity. So, you know, again, like felt very empowering. And it felt like I was really in control of my health for the first time ever, which was exciting. And then kind of fast forward a year or so later. And I had fertility challenges and was struggling to get pregnant. But through acupuncture through Chinese herbal medicine was able to successfully get pregnant. And so truly life changing. And you know, I'd say kind of from there, a few things happened. But the results were incredible. But I had found that it was hard to stay consistent, it was expensive, you know, there was just, you know, some some other barriers to being able to continue to get acupuncture regularly. And also, I realized, because I had learned about so many different benefits that I'd say a lot of people don't even know that acupuncture is, you know, relevant for that some of the herbs can help with, I became a big advocate, and tell people, you know, migrants, painful periods, allergies, a cold coming on digestive issues, you know, try acupuncture and take these herbs, you know, do irsie cupping, and I found that there was actually a ton of interest, it just was hard for people to know where to go from there. How do I get started and take, you know, several months again, appointments are gonna cost me $200. So just lots of the same challenges that I had faced personally. And so that was really the inspirational moment for me, I think was when I did see that there was all this interest from friends and colleagues and family members was how do I find a way to make this powerful, effective time tested, you know, been around for 1000s of years medicine more accessible to more people in order to really help them in the same way that I had been helped through the medicine itself.
Jodi KatzSo let's go take a step back a second. You're in a foreign country and experienced like, what sounds like a horrific injury. That must have been really scary. Yes.
Michelle LariveeYeah, definitely. You know, particularly like My French was an I guess is, you know, pretty advanced, but definitely not specialized medical vocabulary. So I think that was one of the bigger challenges was just figuring out, like, how to kind of describe what I was going through and like what I needed to do from there. But I mean, amazing, amazing medical system and was able to figure it out. pretty quickly,
Jodi KatzI wonder if there's some sort of like empathetic response to like, your experience that you've kind of infused into within rates, like being kind of like alone and on your own in a medical system that's, I'm familiar with you, my guess you didn't have family with you on this trip. Right? So maybe we're actually alone. Because you're trying, you know, you said in the beginning, you wanted to take care of people, right? You wanted to be a doctor, and here you are on the receiving end of care? How do you think that experience with these scary injuries impacts the way you run this business today?
Michelle LariveeI love that you drew that parallel? Well, but I think that really kind of what you're getting at is kind of true of what's specific to within, which is we're introducing people every single day to a brand new type of medicine way of thinking, tools, solutions, and things like that. And so people are also coming to us when they're at their most vulnerable, trying to get pregnant, stress, anxiety and depression, digestive issues that they've been trying for years, and you know, tried countless different therapies and nothing is worked for them. And so we actually practice something that within that's really a core part of our DNA, which we call the healing hospitality. And that is to create a space that feels safe, where people can be vulnerable, where they trust in the brand. And by the way, the fact that, you know, we obviously are introducing a needle based therapy, you know, it's even more important that we really create that safe space. And so you know, whether or not that was directly linked to my particular ski accident or not, what you're describing is absolutely at the core of what we're trying to do with it.
Jodi KatzSo when you discovered the benefits of acupuncture for dealing with your pain, and other concerns that you wanted to resolve, that's a really far leap from saying, like, I'm going to shift my career and build a business around this. So what transpired to actually take this from like, Well, I mean, you could have also just been an influencer, right? You could just like talk to an audience and said, this work for me, you should try it right? You don't have to start a business to do that. So why like and what was that like true inspiration that you said, like, this needs to be my career now?
Michelle LariveeYeah. Well, actually, I think this is interesting, based on what we talked about before, but I was actually in Thailand on my honeymoon, with my husband, and kind of like, you know, once like wedding planning was over, I'd had the idea, call it like six to nine months before that, and like that space and was in like more of a creative mindset, and was just kind of talking through longer term, different options and things I want to pursue, I knew I didn't want to stay in consulting forever. That was just something that I'd always known. But essentially, as I was kind of, on the beach, to what idea, what that ultimately became within could look like in terms of making acupuncture and Chinese medicine more accessible. You know, one, I just, like realized how personally passionate and excited I was about what this could do for others, because I had been so profoundly impacted. And at that point, like and introduced other people to the medicine and just like, could see the benefit of being able to do that. And then I think, you know, I'm having competitive too on at the time, I was just like, this is such an important thing. And it's like inevitable that it's going to happen at some point. And like, I want to be the one to do it. And I knew I'd be frustrated myself, if I didn't try.
Jodi KatzI love that you just mentioned that. I think I'm the same way. Like if I get this idea in my head, even if it's like, really, really ahead of its time. I know it's meant for me, because I could never bear someone else doing it. And I'm not competitive with the world. I'm competitive with myself. Right? So I love that you just mentioned that fire. Maybe that's just sort of an entrepreneurial mindset, too, right? Like to not like live another day without trying for this right without striving for it.
Michelle LariveeLike I just knew I would have been so disappointed in myself if I didn't at least try. And obviously that unlocked a whole a whole new lifestyle and things like that. But and I guess I also, you know, I'd say like a couple of things like I had decided, like, I so much time at work, like I want to be doing something every single day that I really truly love and that like brings me energy. And so you know that regardless of what I decided to do was the next step. And I've actually been really fortunate to have had a number of career experiences up until that point where I was already feeling that way. So it was like, you know, having seen friends that didn't necessarily have that same level of enjoyment every day when they went to work and just the impact. That's kind of what that did. I knew that I wanted to find something. So yeah, I would do that. And then also, you know, kind of throughout my career, and that's good. So I was saying, I guess maybe it wasn't as huge of a leap, although, you know, it still was a big leap was just, I would say, I'm a true millennial in the sense of, I also want a job where I have the ability to have a positive impact in the world, too. And so this, to me felt like this really amazing combination of being able to help others through the work that I'm doing, and also just find something that I could be super excited and passionate about every day.
Jodi KatzDid you get certified to be an acupuncturist to as part of running this company to
Michelle LariveeIf you see me with a needle, please run? But no, I didn't actually, it's interesting, like having started, it's something that I would love to do sometime, but be coming an acupuncturist is like a very long, rigorous path. So you know, we're talking about having a doctorate degree, master's degree at a minimum years and years of schooling, tons of clinical training. So it's, it's essentially medical school for Eastern medicine, and so just hasn't worked out hasn't worked out yet. But definitely something I would love to do at some point.
Jodi KatzSo let's talk about how you define success. Right? So maybe early in your career, well, actually tell me like when you first went out in the world as a consultant, how did you define success in one's career?
Michelle LariveeTotally, I mean, I think it's kind of comes down to what I had mentioned, or, like, my personal goals are finding something that, you know, obviously, like, affords me the ability to like live a lifestyle that you know, is, is comfortable. But more than that, it's I think, for me about truly meeting those two goals of having an impact in the world, and also feeling fulfilled on a daily basis.
Jodi KatzWhen I started my career, I just assumed that success meant money, like, not that I made any money, my first job, I got paid $24,000 a year, and that was like, no big deal back then, to get that job. And as I've evolved as an entrepreneur, I realized, like, what I'm really longing for is like the wealth of time, right? Like, you know, and decision making over my time, focusing my time where I want it to be. And that's like, the greatest gift that I've given myself. Is it? Someone who owns her own business?
Michelle LariveeYeah, no, that's amazing.
Jodi KatzOkay, so we're gonna close out the interview part of our show, and we're gonna move on to our next steps of this podcast. So this wraps up our interview. Thank you so much, Michelle, for your honest answers. We have time for a couple of fan questions. I really like this one. Because as you're listing out all the benefits, I'm thinking, when would I do this? So the question is, how do I fit it into my life? Like, I just like going to the gym, I do it three days a week is like going for massage. I do it once a month, I explain how this how this becomes part of our every day.
Michelle LariveeYeah, no, that's a great question. And I can like, answer and then like, not answer, because the reality is, is that it really depends on your specific condition and your specific health goals. So when you come to within, we've kind of think about one of the tenants that we think about is just accessibility of like, how can we help people make time and their busy lives and routines for this, but you know, I'd say, generally, you want to start off with leave for the first three or four weeks so that your body starts to adapt, and you start to see some of the changes happening. And then I'd say kind of like you then assess depending on your condition, and then go into more of a maintenance phase, which could look like continuing weekly or bi weekly, kind of the minimum for preventative care is once a month. When I first started maybe I can also answer from my own personal experience. When I first started and had like very acute pain in my neck and shoulders, I was going two or three times a week to like work through all of that. But that lasted for a couple months, maybe even like less and then is transition to once a week. And you know now it's just like, if I don't go for a week, I feel so different, like more tired and have trouble sleeping just more elevated cortisol levels. So it's always like a good reminder, if I do for some reason, skip a week and I'll be like, Why am I like feeling off and then like, oh, couldn't get acupuncture. But yeah, I'd say generally a maintenance phase is like every other week or minimum once a month.
Jodi KatzOkay, so if I'm thinking about my life, it's not the same frequency as going to the gym or you know, having physical fitness, but it's more like my getting a facial once a month or getting like a sports massage once a month. And that's and that's enough to help me with whatever. Like let's say I'm just doing this for just like Well, just general wellness, right?
Michelle LariveeYeah, look, I, like I said, that's like the bare minimum once a month, like ideal state is once a week and then I think what I often see as reality as every other week with like life budget schedule.
Jodi KatzOkay, so ideal is like therapy once a week therapy. Yeah, yeah, I'm gonna use, because there's the things that we do every day, there's the things that we do. Every week, there's the things we do every month. And what I found in my own wellness journey is when I'm, like, adding something new in, even if it's as simple as like, a new settlement, like, I like, my brain locks off, and I like get very overwhelmed. And I'm like, How do I work my life around this? Or how do I add this to my life, and I actually, like, I leave like the doctor's office, or wherever I am. And I'm like, I'm gonna put time on my calendar to like, reread my notes in the doctor's notes, because it's just like adding a new thing, when I'm already very busy, even if it's very important for my health is overwhelming. So I'm trying to always like, unravel, like, look at the larger puzzle and then find a place for it. And it takes a little bit of brain work for me.
Michelle LariveeYeah, I think that's true for most people.
Jodi KatzYou know, we didn't talk about cupping at all, but copying happens that within my son is a high school wrestler and he loves when he gets it as we say when he gets cupped. Is that the right language?
Michelle LariveeYeah, are you gonna say when it gets tough when he gets cupping therapy actually have are like at home cupping kit that I literally keep on my desk every day and use throughout the night. So it's like releasing muscle tension while I'm working. But yeah, cupping is like a key pillar of traditional Chinese medicine, it has been for many years. Essentially, you can think of it like a reverse massage. So if you think a massage is positive pressure, pressing down, cupping is actually pulling the muscles for the same benefits just in the opposite direction, because it's pulling up. And then it also has additional benefits that might not be as familiar. But for example, chest congestion, it can really break up mucus and help with circulation and decreasing inflammation there and generally helps with like detox so great after a hangover and things like that, to help increase circulation throughout the body.
Jodi KatzSo you're cupping yourself at home.
Michelle Larrivee Yeah, this is what are at home. It's like literally the easiest thing ever. You just go like this. And then you have like this.
Jodi KatzAnd then you leave that on for a certain amount of time. Like 20 minutes.
Michelle LariveeYeah, but the couple starts to lose their session kind of thing. But kind of as long as it's feeling good. Yeah, it's really easy to do at home.
Jodi KatzOkay, but now I'm really curious about the chest congestion saw, how do you where do you cut for that on your actual chess?
Michelle Larrivee Yeah, so actually, our our cupping kit has like a detailed placement for the different benefits. And so we'll show you like, where you put the cups for your test play.
Jodi KatzOkay, okay, I've learned so much. I hope our listeners have to, I'm sure they have, I'm really inspired Michelle, like this is, you know, you're really pulling the whole industry up the mountain, right. So you're trying to build your business, but also build momentum in the category at the same time. So I know that's quite hard. It's a lofty goal, but certainly of high value, how wonderful that over time, people are gonna turn to your services before, you know medicines and other you know, things that are scary for their bodies and their long term health. So keep going, please. And I'm really proud to know you and to be able to watch your growth.
Michelle LariveeThat is really kind I really appreciate it. And thank you for helping kind of share the word about some of the holistic practices that we really believe in it within.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you to Michelle, for joining us, you are our 200 and 52nd episode. So we're very happy to be on the other side of 250. That's exciting. And for our listeners. Thank you for joining us. If you liked this episode, please rate and review. As always, make sure you're following us on your favorite podcast platform and Instagram to stay up to date on upcoming episodes and all the fun we have along the way. Thank you.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY™ with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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