Lunya CEO and Founder Ashley Merrill and Jenna discuss how Ashley relies on the mantra – ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ – as a framework to guide her life.
We unpack the metaphor that entrepreneurship is like bowling and trace Lunya’s evolution from Googling ‘How do you make clothes?’ to pioneering the modern sleepwear category and launching their latest collection, COOL.
We spend the majority of our time together walking through key lessons on building our risk-taking muscle, the importance of showing up for yourself, and our ongoing experience of developing and strengthening our sense of self.
- On being the change: “It’s really easy to look around you and see the barriers and problems in society. I heard the quote – Be the change you wish to see in the world – and it really resonated with me because I thought to myself that as we see these problems we are also given the choice and opportunity to be a part of their solution. I have always wanted equality for women and girls. So, if it concerns me that there is an imbalance of women to men running companies, shouldn’t I be on the hook for making a difference with it?…Now that I have kids, I want to set an example that the problems you see don’t have to hold you back. They can propel you forward and you can be a part of solving them.”
- On speed: “Failure is something you institutionalize. Instead of being afraid of it, you know that as an innovator it is going to be a part of your process. It frees you up to take chances.”
- On bowling and entrepreneurship: “I always use the metaphor that being an entrepreneur is like bowling with bumpers. There isn’t a straight path where you go to business school or you hire someone who has already run a company and they just know what to do. That’s not how it is. You’re bowling the ball and it is hitting bumpers on either side. Over time, you end up in the right place if you keep learning and growing from all of those bumps. Truly embodying that mentality it liberates you.”
- On building your risk-taking muscle: “The entire process of building something where you have unknowable answers is scary…From starting this business to every person I hire, each of those moments feels fearful for me. Overtime you become accustomed to taking risks and pushing yourself. It is a muscle you work…Fear is an emotion I feel. I am not guided by it. I breathe it in, breathe it out, and let it go.”
- On learning to trust your gut: “Some people come with emotional confidence where they just trust their gut. For me, it’s been a process of proving to myself that I have a good internal barometer. Part of that was making mistakes when I didn’t listen to it, seeing the outcomes and realizing that I knew all along. I just didn’t have enough information to articulate it. This comes up most often in hiring. Hiring employees is incredibly nuanced…It’s like marriage, in a way. You’re trying to figure out if you guys are going to be able to overcome challenges together. Do they have a good attitude? Are they someone you want to have in the room with you for years? Are they going to be an additive force in the culture? A resume doesn’t tell you that. You get into the room with somebody and you just kind of feel it. As I have done this longer, I have realized that if things didn’t work out I generally knew it during the first interview and I wasn’t listening to myself. This has been an area where I am now much more comfortable saying: ‘I don’t know why but I got a little bit of this vibe and that concerns me.’ I would have never given voice to that historically. Now, I listen to it and give myself some time before making a decision.”
- On broadening the work-life balance conversation: “My husband is also an entrepreneur and no one ever asks him about work-life balance. I realized that we are having a siloed conversation. At the end of the day, and particularly in our situation where we both have jobs with a lot of responsibility, in order for me to be successful my husband has had to be really active at home. For me, that is what it means to truly have equality. I didn’t need someone to give me a ticket to the top. I needed someone to support me from the back. In so many cases, we take for granted the support role that women play for men when they are successful. At the end of the day, my kids get sick, they need to be with their parent, they have to eat, my nanny needs to go on vacation every once in awhile. If I am supposed to be running a business, I can’t be leaving all the time. What has enabled and empowered me to be here is the support that I get from my husband. We think he has a responsibility among men to make that an okay part of the conversation; To say that he would have loved to go to that dinner but he can’t because he has to put the kids to bed because I have a meeting. Him vocalizing that sometimes he has to say no to career things in order to play his role as a father and husband helps to make that an acceptable part of the expectation and conversation for men…I think that support is really key to seeing more women advance in their careers…Often times, you see a build up of resentment in relationships because of the unspoken roles people have fallen into. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to share what you need, how you are feeling and to pick a spouse that supports the kind of lifestyle you want to live…In any partnership, communication and valuing what each person gives and sacrifices in the relationship is so important.”
- On knowing yourself: “As I have gotten older, knowing myself has become easier…When I was 19, and my mom was in her 40s, I remember asking her: Wouldn’t you just love to be 19 again? My mom looked at me dead in the eyes and said ‘Not even for a second….Every year I have gotten older has been better and better.’ I was shocked at the time. As I’ve gotten older and we have talked about that more, her explanation was that she cares less and less what other people think, which has been incredibly empowering for both of us…When I was younger my sense of self was about what grade I got on an exam or what guy liked me. Now, I have a broader definition of self. I have a clear life mission. I have a sense of time and perspective that I didn’t have then. Certainly, I don’t have it all figured out, but I see that you get some clarity on that. That helps me keep a lot of things in perspective.”
- On showing up for yourself: “I always saw myself as a tank: ‘Whatever needs to be done I will do it. I will step into it.’ I have purposefully been doing that a little bit less lately. I have spent so many years grinding and putting so much heart, soul, and hours of my day into the success of Lunya. Now, I’m experimenting with broadening my definition of success and what it means in other parts of my life. People always think about their life in chapters. I do too. I have been in this grinding chapter for so long because that is what Lunya required from me. Now, I have a little bit of debt on the personal side. So, when I think about showing up for me it’s the willingness to acknowledge that I need time. This weekend, my sister gave me a day off, intended to be for me and my husband, but I turned to him and said: ‘I love you so much but I just want a day by myself.’ I spend so much of my time managing people and worrying about everyones’ needs. I needed was a day where nobody asked anything of me; That was hard to say because I felt bad about it. I second guessed if he would feel like if it was an indication that something was wrong in our relationship. But, it also felt so good to just be honest about what I really needed. The day was literally like medicine for me. I am learning to understand what I need, when, and to not feel bad about fulfilling and sharing those things.”