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How to get started in fashion and why wholesale won’t always work, with luxury sleepwear’s queen of dreams Ashley Merrill, Founder of Lunya

by Female Startup Club
February 6th 2021
00:55:03
Description

Joining me on the show today is Ashley Merrill. Founder of luxury sleepwear company Lunya. 

Lunya is a company that’s reinventing sleepwear for the modern woman through carefully crafted piec... More

doing here, we're in month two of being part of the hubspot podcast network, and I wanted to take a second to shout out another incredible women lead podcast. Being boss with Emily Thompson if you're a creative business owner or thinking about becoming one. Being boss is an exploration of not only what it means, but what it takes to be a creative business owner, freelancer or side hustler. I loved Emily's episode on taking time off as a business owner, it's definitely a really challenging part of running your own business and I recommend giving it a listen, check out. Being boss wherever you get your podcasts. This is Ashley Merrill for female startup club. Mm hmm. Hey everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the female startup club podcast. I'm your host, Don rasheen. And joining me on the show today is Ashley Merrill, founder of luxury sleepwear company, luna luna is a company that's reinventing sleepwear for the modern woman through carefully crafted pieces that are transitional and beautiful in this episode, we're covering Ashley's path to getting started.

Her advice for the early days of building a business in the fashion industry and why a wholesale model didn't work for her in the beginning. And while I've got you here, if you're a small brand, I would love to hear from you to learn what's been working for you in marketing at the moment, you can find my email in the show notes of this episode and reach out directly, This is Ashley for female startup club. Mhm sure it's safe to say that most of us have been doing more online shopping lately, right? And if you're any commerce brand that means you might be seeing more first time customers. But once they've made that first purchase, how do you keep them coming back? How do you keep them connected to you and your brand? That's what Clay Vo is for. Clay vo is the ultimate marketing platform for e commerce brands. Clay vo gives you the tools to build your contact list, send memorable emails, automate key messages and so much more.

That's Why it's trusted by more than 40,000 brands including female founded businesses like Pearl Mix hint and Campari Beauty. Get in on the action to delight customers row brand affinity and make some serious money. Clay Vo customers made 10 $.2 billion through the platform last year. So whether you're launching a new online business or taking your brand to the next level, clay vo can help you get growing faster and I can confirm the platform is super easy to use and has all the hard stuff done for you like templates, automated sequences and general email related resources to learn how to win at email marketing. Plus it's free to get started. Just visit Clay vo dot com slash F. S. C. To create your free account today. That's K L A V I Y. O dot com slash F. S. C. Female startup club precincts Ashley Hi and welcome to the female startup club podcast.

Thank you for having me. I am so excited about this conversation. I feel like you have so many cool things going on in your life. Like I said just before a board member for girls inc Chairwoman of outdoor voices, successful entrepreneur of multiple startups. We have so much to discuss, but I want to start with you just giving us an overview of who you are and what your business is. Sure, well my name is Ashley Merrill. I live in los Angeles in California and I actually have a women's sleepwear company called luna and then the male counterpart for that which is log So cool. Let's get started by going back to life before Luna three luna. What were you doing that got you interested in the sleepwear category specifically. Yeah. So what I did pre luna doesn't actually connect at all to sleepwear, which is funny, but I think it was just so what I did pre luna was, I worked in an online media company. Uh you know, we've built web portals and had an advertising based business and really where luna came from was a personal experience.

It was me kind of feeling the gap in the market as a consumer going hey, what am I going to wear around the house. I was wearing some, you know, old hand me downs of my husband and sometimes that's what happens right? I think opportunities are almost best found by people that are experiencing the problem. They often are really well suited to solving them. So I didn't know that then of course, I just felt the pain of it and then ultimately didn't start the business for quite some time after I recognized there might be an opportunity for probably all the reasons many people don't start a business, because I wasn't sure that I, you know, why me, why would I be able to do that business? But that is really where it came from and what made you think, yeah, okay, me, I'm going to do it. What was the change? Well, so the change really came from in this kind of a funny story, but I had always felt like kids, even though I feel it's funny things now, but I always felt like, oh, maybe kids are going to be the thing that holds me back from having career success in life. And I think I felt that because for a lot of women around me, that was what I saw, you know, the challenge of balancing kids, family life and professional life.

I mean, I just rarely saw that succeed, I can see professional women, they were, you know, it's really hard to make that happen. And so I just, I had always had that feeling and then what happened was I was in business school was in September 2012, um I was in business school, my husband, I had decided to start a family, I figured that at some point I would start a business and it would be in like an online media um bent because that was my background. I knew that there was a lot of engineers that were attending business school and so I figured maybe I'd pick up an engineer, we'd start something or maybe someone else would have a business that I could like jump into. And so, you know, all this was kind of happening. I wasn't sure though, I was kind of plagued by uncertainty as I think a lot of people are and then what happened was we had decided to start having a family and I got pregnant right away actually. So like literally found out I was pregnant end of september and I had this feeling like, you know, I might be right, I might not know anything about clothes and I might fail at this, but it felt worse to have to tell my kids that I didn't even try then, that I tried and I failed.

And so in this fascinating way my kids actually became the motivation for me. They became the thing that finally pushed me over the edge because my fear of having to tell them, I never tried definitely started to outweigh my fear of failing. Gosh, isn't that amazing. I love that so special. How great Yeah, I never would have thought that, never would have thought it. So you have this kind of epiphany, you're thinking you're going to get started, what are the actual steps to getting started? How do you go about starting asleep where label you know, in those early moments of making the decision? Yeah. So in my experience and I think this is because how my decision making process works. So I'm gonna like take this in a weird direction for a second when I go to buy a table for my house. Like I know I needed like a console table, I'm on Pinterest for a while researching all of the options. And oftentimes I might come back to the initial when I like, but I need to like really be sure there's not something else there that's better for me. So my process of starting union and I realized now as I'm like, I'm an older person and looking back on this really was no different.

Like the hardest part of getting started for me was for me to convince myself that this idea was an awesome idea. Once I could get confident about the thesis that I had, you know, I could move forward, I could move forward in terms of like doing things, making connections, but I could also convince other people of the value of this idea. And so a lot of the early time was me going, trying to think the idea like I tried to sink the ship 100 different ways, you know, like how is it going to make money, Why does the world need this? Like how am I going to convince people, you know, just like a million reasons why I didn't think this idea at work and I just could not after, you know, I would like almost try to sink my own ship and then I would have to like prove myself, so it's like almost like as if I'm two different people having a conversation internal debate and so the process of me saying yes, it was the end to that, it was the, you know, I've spent years and so, so I'm not saying I decided this and then I was like, but I had spent years with that battle in my head and because, and by the way there have been many other ideas I had had and I could sink those ships and this was the chip, I couldn't think, you know, and so once I sort of said, ok, I'm going to stop trying to kill the idea and I'm going to just do it, what it did was I started going to other people and saying I have this idea and here's how I see it playing out and what I found to be amazing and this is honestly it might be a female thing and it might be one of the coolest things about being a woman as an entrepreneur today, but it's like people really wanted to help me, you know, or so that was my experience and especially women, I think there is sort of a shared journey that we are all having right now where we're all kind of like we want to see women accomplishments and men too, by the way, it was, I think that men sort of feel that same way about this journey, like we need to see some women win and so, you know, it was really cool because when I started putting this like, fragile idea out there that I was like, I am starting to believe this is real, you know, and I started like telling people, I know they started connecting you.

So it's still an example to get specific was there was this clothing store that I used to go to and I remember going in there and just, I would always chat with the woman who owned the boutique and she was just a little bit older than what she had been running the storm home for a while. And so I said, I told her my fragile idea, I have this idea to go and sleep where nobody's in sleep, where I want to do it differently than a lot of people are doing it and that I want to make something that's like actually got a functional point would be new, not, you know, and it's really high quality and it's got this transitional element where you can wear it in out of bed and so I kind of like gave her my pitch, not intentionally, but I was just excited, so, and she goes, oh I know someone you should chat with, and she's like one of the brands that I work with, I think the girl that runs production, she does some consulting, and so she connected me, it was almost like if you look at it as like the whole experience was a bunch of breadcrumbs and that happened, and so I called that girl and that girl is like, oh I know this designer, maybe you can call her, and so like, this was happening much broader than this one experience, I'm giving an example, right, I go tell other people and they go you should talk to this person and maybe 70% of the leads were bunk, you know, but the 30% were enough to keep me moving forward, and I think like I sort of joke about entrepreneurs, I think they were just like, we're able to just get sort of beat up every day and keep going back, like it sounds kind of crazy, but it really is sort of a determination to exercise, like it's not easy and I had to keep going, like, yeah, you know, you say yes to everything, I make those connections, I go to the next one, I keep pushing forward and ultimately over time, even today, what's happening is you're sort of building momentum and then people are joining you as you start building teams and things, they're joining this giant ball of momentum and then they're helping me push the ball forward and then eventually there's a lot of people pushing the ball forward and you're really like, you're just one of the many and that's kind of like how I would describe it, but in the early stage you're taking this heavy stationary object and you're just inches day by day, so that was really what it looks like.

Very unglamorous. I love that. What a great analogy, totally. In the beginning it's like a hairball and in the end it's more like a snowball, it's growing, So was this happening because you launched in 2012, so is this like 2011, it was September, you've started connecting with people, you've found this designer, you've then found a manufacturer, what's the kind of like development process there, did it all come together quite quickly or was it quite long? So I launched in 2014, I started working at Lumia, like incorporated the business in 2012 and started there, got it, it took me two years to get something on a website that I can sell. So that happened like I had two kids in that timeframe to so it also just was slower because I had personal stuff, going on. but it was, and I would say is very slow and also everything was two steps forward, one step back, you know, like you get the designer and it turns out like the designers maybe not the right designer. You know, like you go, so there was like a constant state of that and you go to the manufacturer who was going to make it like nobody wants to work with you and you have a small company like this is the other fascinating thing I think is really manufacturing across the board, whether you're making like a CPG a beauty product or you know, whatever you're making, it's a game of quantity.

You know, nobody makes money at small quantities because it's going to take all the time to set up and build the lines and there's no efficiency in the process. So it was like I was, nobody was jumping at the bit to take my business. So, you know, really looked like, you know, I would find a manufacturer, they'd say no, I'd get a name from them. Can you find me? Go somewhere else? So I'd be just driving all around downtown just trying to find somebody who had the quality who would say yes. And then even then what I remember happening, which was crazy as I got this guy downtown to say yes, but he wouldn't commit to time frame and I was the lowest priority. So anytime you get another order, it would just be like my stuff would fall behind that order because again, I was just too small in quantities Vietnam priority and they just really weren't keeping my stuff organized. I was baking cookies, like showing up with cookies at the manufacturer being like, I was begging them and it was begging them, you know, just to complete my stuff. But it's really like I had to get started. Like I've talked to people even about the economics of my business.

Early on, my favorite would be when people would like to complain on instagram that my costs were so high. You know, looney was expensive and I'd be like, okay, I basically just so, you know, like I paid you to buy that product, I lost my, you know, my butt so bad on all those things I made because, you know, the cost of manufacturer was through the roof. I was buying very small amounts of yardage, you know, and so you're making all this big investment in terms of time and money and all this. And it really is because you have this vision of where it's going, but early on, it doesn't feel anything like it'll feel as you have success, you know, like where I am now and what I spend my time on the relationship I have with manufacturers. It just doesn't look anything like that. But that's the getting started process for you. Gosh, that's crazy. What do you think? And this is more for advice for anyone who is perhaps wanting to build a fashion label and or you know, whatever the category is, but is also facing those same challenges where, you know, they're small and they've got to find someone to commit to you. What was it that you think? Got that manufacturer to say yes to you.

Well I have built a business plan and I showed it to anyone that I wanted to work with because a lot of it and this is where I say first you have to convince yourself and then you need to have that kind of conviction. So you can convince other people. I was having to pitch manufacturers with my business plan in order to get them to believe that there was even a reason to take time on this. So you know that business plan. That was pretty key early days, totally. Yeah. That's great advice getting everything together. Yeah. Even when I on boarded employees, I pitched in my business plan. Like why work for me. I couldn't pay them what other people could pay them. I was going to ask more of them than other who, why would you work for me? And it's like, oh you work because you believe you're part of building something and you kind of got a sense of where we were headed and you're like, you know, mm totally. I always love to ask about the money side of things. How much did it cost to get started and what kind of capital do you need to start a brand in the fashion industry. Yeah. So I think there's different ways to start businesses early on. I think my rule for myself had been like, I was gonna put $20,000 into to get to some kind of a proof of concept.

Um, and it was me and I had a girl named Jasmine who was part time with me for a while and then we had to pay for cost of goods and we have to get a website up. And so that was like roughly what we had spent, I think, you know, that was also a few years ago. So I imagine you might need a little more than that today. I also think it's different whether you're making a direct to consumer brand or if you're willing to go wholesale first. I think um originally my brain didn't work so well wholesale first. And I think now because DTC feels all sexy, everybody wants to go DTC first, but I will tell you it's much more cost prohibitive, it's more expensive to get started on a GTC business, then it is, if you're willing to do full sail first wholesale is basically a way where you don't have to build. Like if I were to get specific in order to build something that's going to go online, you have to be a really strong marketing organization, not just building a product because you're going to have to acquire users and you're gonna have to have capital to spend on user acquisition through facebook or, you know, whatever, however you're planning to do it and you have to have models, professional photography in house people to manage your social media account to manage your website.

You know, we're going to need a lot of these things. Whereas if you start wholesale, you know, you might be able to do it without a lot of those functions. And that means you could probably be you and maybe one other person working out of your basement, so to speak for a while while you get going and get some capital and you could let that fund the rest of business. I think it depends on what kind of business you have, what your eventual plan is for that business. I think for luna, what happened was, um, I wanted to address sleeper in a really different way. And when at the time, remember this was a while ago, 2000 and 14 dtc was more rare than everybody was like, why aren't you starting in wholesale? And I would have started wholesale. Actually wasn't one of those people that was like a wholesale, So lay, em, I didn't start in wholesale because I just didn't know how I was going to explain why my product was expensive and why it was better than anyone else, but just stick it next to the penguin pajamas in Nordstrom. Like how are they going to understand that I'm spending $22 a yard and you know, this flat seams when you turn inside and outside and all the work I was putting into it, I just wasn't gonna be able to convey that.

And so I was like, why would anyone buy this if I put this in north because they won't understand. And so I just felt like I was backed into a corner with GTC, like I really had to in order to be able to explain to people where the value proposition was. And so that's kind of what happened with me. And I think if you're super capital, you know, if you're constrained, I think that can be also can be a great way to get going, but you know, I'm in a very lucky position, I've been able to fund this business, but it's no joke how much capital it takes over time, you know, definitely it takes millions of dollars over time and you know, at this point now, lots of millions, you know, like tens of millions of dollars and I say that because I think you can approach this and I have friends that have put far less capital into their business and I'm like re investing all the money lenders making back into the business, My friends that have put far less and they just have to be more comfortable with the slower growth curve, you know? And so I think the cell comes down to like what you're, that's why I say it's like, you do need to build that plan and clearly identify what you want to do, you know?

And if you're saying, hey, I'm looking to build, I'm passionate about fashion and I want to have this like cool, creative whatever I want. It's like wholesale could be super smart for you, you know? And so I think that that could make sense or if you're actually looking at it, like for me, I was like, I want to be the lululemon of sleepwear and so for me, I was like, oh I need like category differentiation, you know, I have to invest in this differently. And I also felt like I was trying to build a category that no one was buying for. It's hard to remember that now because we're living in a covid world where everyone's buying sleeper in sweats all the time. But if you were to like zoom back to 2014 people were looking at me like I was an alien when I was talking about the fact that I thought sleepwear and time at home was going to need a special outfit. But what I was seeing that was coming, I of course never would have thought Covid was coming. But what I saw that was coming was entertainment had moved at home. Like I hadn't gone to a movie theater in a very long time. I was like good live streaming at home and the cost of TVs going down and everybody I know using netflix and getting off cable, like people are going to spend more time at home and then with Postmates and all the delivery services that are bringing them to your door, I realized our date nights we were opting to stay home on them and so what I realized it's like the ship home was happening and I think I thought maybe work from home would be a thing, but at that time I didn't really, you know, obviously I never could have, like I said, never would have seen where we are now, but my husband's in gaming and like I definitely saw how people were building online communities there and that that made a lot of sense in a lot of ways.

So I think for me my thesis was this is going to be an increasingly important part of our day and you're not gonna want to wear your old clothes for it, but you know, people thought I was crazy for like quite a while of that conversation, you know, they're just like, oh there's no important sleepwear category, there is no, at the time I wanted market stats on it, could I get market data on what the potential was in the market, there really wasn't even any data on sleep where it was just such a small industry, there wasn't macro data, wow, it's crazy and to think now you've really hit the nail on the head, especially accelerated due to last year and this year and what the future means for us when you say you wanted to build the lululemon of sleepwear. Does that mean in terms of, okay well I need to follow a business model that is going out and raising institutional funding or does that mean in the way that you were going to market the brand and build it through marketing? I mentioned the way they solved problems from a product point of view. So I think lulu is still despite how saturated athletic wear is. There's still one of the very best in the business in terms of quality and innovation and I think solving problems for their core customer you know so they understand how that you know their guest is living and what she's looking for let's say it's just going to yoga class and do they have the product for that?

And so they're taking the time to do that and develop really great products for that. And so I looked at them and went I want that same kind of problem solving mentality to show up and how I'm thinking about sleep and lounge and so that was really what I was comparing to and when look at what a great job they do building community. I mean remember there the O. G. Brand that did this almost there like over 20 years old now but you know they really helped set up that industry and of course now you're. Looking at a marketplace that has a lot of players in it because the appetite is large. But they helped create that appetite got it right. I understand. I want to switch topics and talk specifically about marketing, especially in those early days when you know, as you say, people thought you were crazy and they didn't really get it, but you also couldn't sell through wholesale. So you needed to, you know, drill down on online marketing and that kind of thing. What was your launch strategy and how did you start getting your early customers and your early eyeballs on what you're building? Kind of a funny story. Um, my story, Yeah, ready brace yourself for this one.

So, um, what we did to launch was we put the website up and we put, you know like a password protected screen over it. So you had to sign it. So initially what I did was I reached out to my friends and family, it was like the website's up, here's the password, feel free to check it out or transact it's it's live but it's in like beta mode. So you know, enjoy kind of thing. We had it like that for a while because we were just really weren't sure like this was our first time doing something like this. It was like I said, me and one other person and neither of us had any real experience building and so then what happened was I was pregnant as I mentioned and I was going in to deliver. And then what happened was I was thinking this was on facebook was a little bit more of a thing and I was on facebook thanking my colleague jasmine who I mentioned for just you know thanks so much for like supporting me through like with this business and you know all these kids and you know, just being like kind of a public thank you. And then what happened was I had linked to leukemia in the comment and like I just in the like, hey thanks for having me bologna, and like it had linked to leukemia and all this people started commenting on it and re sharing it because they thought I was launching.

So they were like congrats, Ashley, oh my gosh! And they were sharing it on their facebook feeds and I was like, oh wait no, like it's not launched, you know, don't share it, like well I'll let you know, I was like freaking out, but I was like in labor, I was in the hospital and uh so at a certain point I was just like, I'm never going to get these people to share it again. Like you have to ride the way when it's coming for you. And I just, I bit the bullet put the website live literally from the maternity bed and that was what happened. So it was kind of funny, it definitely was like not the launch plan that I think anyone would recommend. And you know, I was lucky in those days. I wasn't entering in like a highly competitive field. So I do think, you know, in a lot of ways I got away with some of my mistakes because I wasn't, it wasn't like competitors were checking me out and you know, trying to annihilate me. I was just, I was winging it. So that was what happened. It went okay. But you know, when we talk about getting first customers wasn't like anybody really went. Like I probably got a handful of borders, it was small. You think you're going to put this website up with this product that you've agonized over that it's going to solve everyone's problems at home that there's going to be like this inbound rush.

Yeah, there's just not like it's like maybe your parents, maybe a friend, you know, a couple other friend of a friend, but like that's really as far as that went. So now getting to your question about like how do you get from that to something more what I have this sort of theory, if you're gonna be resourced, constrained, you can't do everything. You know, I was in business school and one of the big lessons that I had taken away from it was, you know, focus because people like you get into bedding and kids, everyone was so excited about all the opportunities around and I was like, yeah, or I could do one thing really, really well. I mean in and out works, you know, they make great burgers, they could make more, they could sell them in the grocery store, they do all of that, but their core business is pretty great. And so, you know, I hadn't developed a poor business and I think that's, I looked at marketing kind of the same way or even just growth the same way, which was, you know, I could do influencer, I could do instagram, I could do events, I can do all these things. But in order to sustain all of those growth strategies, I was going to need a big team and increase my burn rate pretty considerably. So what I tried to do was go, what is my highest r oi activity and how can I answer?

You know, Of course, I didn't know how to answer that, but I was like, how could I answer that for myself? And so what we did was Try a few different things in lo fi ways. You know, we did events. I literally showed up at my husband's office, we've made like 500 brownies around Valentine's day. He has like a decently like he's got a lot of males that were criminals like perfect. I'm going to go to this office space, try to get the guys to buy stuff for their girls for Valentine's day. I love that. You can see baked goods like has a theme and my startup. But yeah, I made a lot of brownies and we're like, you know, score brownie points by luna, we'd like had this whole cute like little pitch going, oh that's cute. All these things like lots of little, like, you know, we'd go to around the holidays, I had friends that were having like holiday gifting events at their home and we'd like pop into those and you know, by like an IKEA Iraq and like, I mean it was pretty low fi but it all took a lot of energy a lot of time. I'd have to spend a whole day there and maybe me and one other person honestly. And so we tried other things, you know, I tried to influence her, but really my cost of goods as high as I mentioned before, I think if you're in beauty influencers awesome, your cost of goods super low, you send it out to everyone, you know, and more, you know, But my custom goods was high, like I said, I was paying $22 a yard at that time and if you imagine that, you know, a set is like no less than let's say a yard and a half.

So just from a fabric, raw materials cost, I was already in for, you know, 30 let's call it 35 bucks or something, then sewing, then shipping then, you know, all the things that go on top of it when I was selling it, I was like, I can't give this away to people and have maybe what I was noticing at that time. I was an unknown brand, but it was like Maybe a 30% chance they? Re posted posted on their Instagram. And then from there, what are the odds that they happen to have people? You know, it's just like, it was low conversion, it was nice brand awareness. But at a young stage like that where I was trying to be capital efficient brand awareness wasn't really something that was in the cards for me. You know, it was like, it had to be conversion oriented. So what we did was start experimenting with facebook ads and I was early to that process in a way that I don't think people could get away with now. Um, but we look different. We had a different message. We honed our creative a lot, our messaging a lot until we could make it sell online. And that was the moment where I knew I had a real business the second I could scale my ads enough that I could sell enough product.

So my cost of goods would come down and I could acquire that user at a rate that was low enough that I could make a dollar 50 cents or even break even on it. I went, I can scale it now because it's really about, you know, can you take your cost of goods plus your marketing costs and then can you have a little left over which could theoretically at scale cover your operating expenses and then maybe a little left over at some point that you could actually make a profit right? Those are just your big buckets of the equation and so you know at that point I was just going if I can have anything left over because when you're selling two pieces and you get a dollar left over it's like not covering your operating expenses, but like if I could do this and then I can, you know sell 100,000 pieces, I could have enough to cover all aspects. So that was really how it started the second I knew that I could make money through conversion media. I just focused only on that scale, the business through facebook and that's how we started again, I don't know that that would work today because you know now there's a lot of competition around the same audience that you have and so harder to kind of break out in a sea of conversation.

But you know, I think that's all new as new platforms come up that creates new opportunities. Absolutely after that tipping point then and obviously we're covering a lot of time here but in general over the last almost decade, what are the things that have evolved that work for you today in acquiring customers? Is it still facebook and instagram ads or other new things that are performing for you at a huge scale today. I think facebook and instagram are still incredibly meaningful. I would never, you know, but over time what happens is you need to diversify um audience stream. You really can't be all eggs in one basket. They changed the algorithm. You're in trouble. I mean brick and mortar, I think that's the appeal that a lot of people maybe undervalue about brick and mortar, but it creates a new revenue stream. So you know, of course recently we've been forced to close a lot of brick and mortar stores. Our stores are now open but they referred for a while and I sort of look at it like it's almost like playing hangman but it was like someone cut off my arms. I had to close my retail stores but I still lived because I had another stream and everyone's reaction from what I talk to people.

So I have to go get really strong in line and like True. But what if they change an algorithm or what if the cost to acquire gets too much to me? My takeaway was not, I need to be all online. It was, I need to continue to diversify so that no matter what happens, I'm in a good spot. You know, I have a lot of people that rely on me for their jobs and you feel that responsibility as your company gets bigger and I'm just like I almost feel like if I don't do that, I'm being negligent in my business and everybody counts on the revenue for this company. So I think over time, you know, you're looking for new ones, so brick and mortar is definitely a different way to grow the brand and an audience that position um direction partnerships. So people do strategic partnerships, different brands, we just did one of bobby brown, so brands where you think you share a customer and generally similar sized brands, I sort of say that people are getting started, I get a lot of emails from people going, I just started this business tomorrow, can we do a partnership? It's like probably not like, you know, and I don't mean that in a bad way, but when I got started I partnered with small brands too and we worked our way up and as we had similar sized audiences, we worked together and and that's really that's how this works because it's all about like can we create the wind winds between these brands?

And actually I feel lucky I grew up with a lot of brands, like their citizenry was kind of around the same time and there was like, I mean a Vanessa Leone is a friend of mine and I feel like we chat all the time, you know, a lot of these brands that we've been able to do partnerships with over time um and they've all kind of grown up the same time, so I actually think one of the most important things that you can do, you know, assuming you are resource constrained is to build a network for yourself with people that are sort of where you are stage wise, one of those tremendous support, but also you guys can, you know, if your non competitive businesses but you do share audience, you can gain a lot from one another. That's so true. And I think everything that you're saying is so hyper relevant to the landscape today where I'm hearing lots of brands, you know, having so much troubles with their facebook and instagram account, you know, even my husband, he has a performance marketing agency and he's like all of a sudden like more than ever, you know your accounts are being questioned and violated and band and all these things because they're changing the algorithm so quickly and you know the political landscape is changing, so the wording is changing that everyone's having to use and it's it's so crazy now more than ever to make sure that you have, you know, that diverse channel different revenue streams coming in to keep growing and to keep alive and love the Hangman analogy.

That's so cool. It's such a funny one. But I was thinking about that, I'm like, you know, during all of this code stuff, I just went well if they're going to chop an arm, I'm glad they took that one, you know, but that was not isolated to marketing or even audience as another way to think of it as, you know, my supply chain, it was a big issue of supply chain. My initial warehouse every day, it was looking like they were going to close down, they didn't have the right to keep going. And so we were like, I guess I'm gonna load all. I mean this year I have a big company at this point, I was like on the phone with my dad being like, I need you to bring the truck. I think I'm gonna be putting all these boxes. I mean, we had a lot of inventory at this point moving, you know, and I was like, I don't know if they shut us down, I might have to start fulfilling from my garage because like I need to keep boxes going out. You know, I, I got to keep going and I mean, I learned a lesson on my warehousing, right? You know, I have to be with a partner that has, you know, certification and maybe has more robotics inside of it so that like people get sick, it can go anyway because I think maybe amazon's conditioned a lot of us to like expect a lot, but your customers are like not willing to wait.

You know, like it doesn't matter what's going on in the world, they're like, I ordered this two days ago and it's not here, you know, so I think that's when you want to serve your customers and you want to deliver even high expectations even at that time. So you know, for me it was like warehousing and then when you thought about more supply chain is at once to factories, you know, china and peru, they were dealing with Covid in a big way too. So I was like, I need to make sure that I didn't have all my eggs in one basket. You know, that's a real risky thing to do. So again, I think diversification and I mentioned it in marketing, I mentioned the partnerships facebook reach, brick and mortar, retail. Certainly other ways. I even think within your own marketing funnel, making sure that your revenues coming from different activities. So making sure retention as part of the conversation or you do have flows like email flows for people if they bought this hat, but the hat looks great with the sweatshirt after they bought the hat maybe like three weeks later. Did you show him a picture of the hat? Sound sweatshirt so that they can see that it looks great together. You're trying to make sure that you don't have to go buy a new customer every time you can look at your customer and be like, I'm building a pullout for, for you, you know, like this is awesome.

And so really going like my maximizing the sort of value out of my customers and making sure that I can show the full breadth of what is possible from luna and so you know, retention or we think about e. Com, you know, making sure we're looking at that website and thinking about, are we, are we maximizing RSE oh potential with articles and with the wording that we're using um, are we checking our conversion rates are, is our word incorrectly? So when people buy things isn't what they expected, Does the imagery matched the product? I mean the amount of things you can obsess over it as the companies get bigger. What happens is none of the actual functions change. You just get like way deeper into each one of them and you're just, you're like dialing all the knobs in the background, dialing all the knobs. I love that. Gosh, crazy. Where is the business today? And what does the future look like for you? I mean it's been a crazy year. You know, March was probably one of the worst months of my, you know, professional career. I had to do layoffs. I had to do all the things that you've heard a lot of people had to do.

So obviously it wasn't alone with that, but it was really tough. I mean our revenue went dropped into a third overnight. So I mean we were just batten down the hatches, we had no idea what was gonna happen, but we were there and then april the demand started picking up. And I mean it was like a crazy, you know, really started picking up to the point where I was running out of product because my manufacturers have been hit by Covid too. So I was really late on a lot of shipments. So anyway, it was wild. So since april really picked up and we had a strong summer and then it's, I think we're, you know, we're in the right place at the right time. So we've had a good, I mean I should be like knocking on wood as I'm talking to you, but I'm incredibly grateful. We've been, we've had a great year and not just that I think we've had a great year and we're also the right product at the right time in the right place. And so I'm certainly benefiting from things that uh you know, like I said, I had this thesis, it would go one way the world didn't quite the path to get, there wasn't exactly what I thought it was gonna be. But I feel very lucky that you know, I know a lot of people that are of course not in this position and um I feel lucky that I of course, you know that I can be here and still be doing quite well.

Absolutely and I know you have some other extracurricular activities that you've got going on. You're a busy lady. It seems you are chairwoman of outdoor Voices and you're also part of girls inc and I think I read that you built a school with them a few years ago, some crazy stuff. Can you tell me about those other things that you're doing that, you know, have real impact and meaningful to you? Sure, we'll start with the deep um which is another company that I started, I want to say it's maybe a year and a half ago that I started that and I have a co founder with that this woman named kate and um that is a business that I started because I was worried about where I felt like the world was headed. I thought we were heading in a place where um you know, incredibly polarized environment, it's funny again now, here we are. Like obviously it's polarized now because we all just came out of that election, but this was like a year and a half and I was seeing in the workplace, I was seeing that I felt like I couldn't talk about things. So even in an effort and I say this as you know, as someone be in California and I was I'm in a very progressive environment here, and but I was saying that like, right, but if you had a different point of view than that, that was not looking, you know, and that I was seeing the same thing happening on people right now is like this is scary, this is a world where we're like we're almost scarlet lettering people who don't agree with us in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech And I was watching the kind of dialogues people were having online just canceling that everyone was doing when someone didn't agree with them.

And it's scary to me because I read about, you know, the french and Russian revolutions, I don't know, like it felt familiar to be honest. You know, I looked at that and I was like, this is not something that is unique in the U. S. You have. You know, I was like, this is almost like we're becoming a boiling pot where we're just trying to figure out who to blame, you know, for why things are bad. And it was concerning to me because I was seeing in politics where I was seeing that, you know, okay, well, we can't even get anywhere because we're not okay with dialogue. Like, I mean, it's still the example on the political side of it was, you know, that if you looked at the immigration bill that had come from that Obama had proposed, it was almost identical to the immigration bill that Bush had proposed. But neither was willing to get like neither side, the Democratic Party wasn't willing to give the other party the political win, even though they actually kind of both had clearly come to the same conclusion. And so what I felt like is we're creating this society were more focused on, you know, like kind of like alienating one guy or girl or whatever, but like alienating somebody or saying that they're wrong or being morally superior than we are about dialogue and progress and and having intellectual conversations and what happened was I started this company the deep within um intention of helping people through that and having it be fun again.

I mean people like, you know, if you look at like old world salons and like, you know, in France back and people would debate politics, that would be not even just politics. The debate, all sorts of interesting topics and it was what, you know, educated thoughtful people did. And so I was like, oh maybe I could be part of this where we change the way we look at change or you know, where we don't go, this person used to think this and now they think this, you know, they're horrible. It's like actually we should be saying that's incredible. Like this person was open enough and curious enough that through question and examination they changed their view like isn't that what we want? You know? And and so really I thought the deep was a really fun way and people like I love it. It's on instagram if you go to the deep dot life, people love it because you can go check it out. We asked these crazy questions for people every day questions. You never thought of it. It will probably freak you out. We usually don't go for the questions that you think, you know, you can go for. I mean still examples, you can take a hot button topic like abortion, something that people would be like, I have actually an opinion about it, I'm against it on board or whatever, but actually like around that topic, the reason that people might feel what they feel actually, there's so many interesting topics like when does life begin is a fascinating, you know, we can go into that and be like, is it about when you breathe the air and then we're going well if you're on a life support machine and it's breathing air for you, are you technically dead?

You know, so we'll go down these like fascinating like rabbit holes with people but, and what it does while being fun because it helps you examine what you really think versus having like a knee jerk response to something that maybe you thought you thought and like gives you the opportunity that honestly see gray area and so I had a dinner party with it, a super fun, we have a card game, You can buy it. And I remember we got through like a handful of questions. I don't even stay up past like 9:10. It feels so refreshing to talk to people beyond the surface level. And so that's really where that came from and I'm obviously very passionate about it. So that, that's the origins of that one and then outdoor voices. Um, I got involved with this year, I've been a longtime fan of the brand and they were in a place where they were, you know, looking for support, both like financial and operational and given my background at luna, it was sort of a great opportunity for me to come over and help a little bit. It's been an incredible journey. Um Honestly, I, I feel like it's my second NBA like the opportunity to get to do two of these at the same time.

So I've been like intermittently kind of holding down the fort there. But let's me see, so many, like learn about myself, learned about the business play with different ways to approach things because there's different teams and so been a really great learning opportunity and I'm just really proud of that team and also the incredible progress they've made just under so cool, wow, you are just all things happening for you, come on, what's going on? Yeah. And then girls actually, I'm not working with at this point right now. Um I've been kind of less with less work with them this year. I did some work with Sola though um which is lost and this organization, they did this really great fun that we helped them create, which is for during covid a lot of people lost their jobs, but also a lot of those jobs are not coming back and so we have this really Cool Fund that we got started with them to help and this was through Narco three but to help retraining, so basically put together a scholarship fund actually open ended up joining that and a bunch of great people end up joining it and that ended up being a great opportunity for people to go completely re educate themselves while they were laid off from work and get, I think a lot of them getting nursing degrees because we knew that would be a growing field, so if you lost your job and probably not going to get it back, it gives you a chance, it's sort of a new start.

So that's been a really fun project, wow, that's awesome, That sounds so amazing. I love that. Very cool. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own business. So I almost feel like I should come up with a new answer to this question because I say the same thing every time here, but I do like there's, if you google the hedgehog principle, I like it as a nice framework. Um I like it because it basically says you need to have passion, like incredible drive because as I said, the entire experience will be sort of like getting punched in the face and two steps forward one step back. So you need to wake up every day with like I will not quit, nobody will determine. You're gonna need like an unbelievable amount of determination. So passion is an essential one. Usually that one I always see though it's rare that someone shows up and they're not passionate about it, otherwise they wouldn't have even gone to the trouble of like showing me a business plan. Um, you need a business model, you need a plan to make money and I think this is one of those things and I don't know if there's a woman thing or not, but sometimes I feel like people, um, it feel weird about that, you know, building a business, it's not a hobby, explain to me how it's going to make money and there needs to be a real argument for it with justifiable evidence and you know like how are you, what's your thesis?

How many do you think you're going to sell of whatever you're trying to sell and why and what, you know what you're like, you need to build that plan and you need to have a story behind it. So I definitely think that's the other one and then differentiation, why can't someone else just do it? Why are you or why is your idea of something that only you can do. And so I love that for new business folks that need sort of a framework and I think that can be a really nice place to start. Love that. Thank you so much. I finish every episode with six quick questions and I'm conscious of the time, so I'm going to fire them off and keep steamrolling through question number one is, what's your, why? Why do you do what you do? I don't think my wife has changed that much interestingly uh from when I first started, I think I, I think that weirdly a lot of it is around kids, you know, I want my kids to see me as a contributor um as an independent person and as someone that you know, maybe when they get older they can call and you know, they feel like I have valuable experience insights.

I mean there's, there's a strong motivation for me around like how am I showing up for my kids? I love that Question. Number two is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that made your business pop? I don't know if this is, I mean the number one thing that like probably drove revenues conversion ads and I have like some great silk video adds it to it, but I'd say the one that put our brand on the map was we did this incredible campaign about the whole, we did black and white text and we did billboards and benches and sides of buildings and everything and then it was all about not being super. And it would be like, I don't buy sleepwear because how, you know these holiday pajamas make me feel festive all year long or I don't buy sleepwear because these sweats were the best thing I got out of my last relationship or like I don't buy sleepwear because how else would you know, I ran a five K 10 years ago. So we like kind of looked in people's closets, so to speak. And we're like, what is she really wearing? And does she think about that and why should bring it?

And it was so fun because people related to that because they were all kind of get their own outfitting their like, oh God, like it was so good. So that was definitely one of my favorites. Oh my gosh! That sounds so fun. It makes me laugh because my pajama shirt at the moment is like this t shirt that's like, I think it's like four XL I got it in the Bahamas four years ago and like it's been through the wash with black things. So it's like changed color. Like it's not the cool fun bright tie dye that it started out to be. It's, you know, it needs to go. So funny question number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What kind of podcasts do you listen to books that you recommend? Are you subscribed to any newsletters that are fab? So I, I really enjoyed lean locks for industry press and it's probably one of the few that I mean I subscribed to a number of them, but it's the one I really give the time to certainly in my field and um, I'm very, I'm, I'm lucky because like when I think about how do I get smarter with, I have an incredible team that challenges me and helps make me smarter and I have a bunch of advisers to do the same thing for me.

I have a husband who is an entrepreneur who does the same thing for me too. So I think in some ways I have a network around me that is really helpful in that way. Yeah, I love lane looks, it's a really good one question. Number four is how do you win the day and that's around your AM and PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and successful and productive? Yeah, well, so it should come as no surprise that I do change my clothes between, you know, I do believe in the nighttime ritual. I think you, you know there's a reason why you go to school and they have you where there's like a reason why uniforms school uniforms exist. I think that idea is it puts you in a different head space and it's like you suit up to go into the office. It's the metaphor there is, it's obvious, right? It's like couldn't you know, what do they say just for the job you want or something? But it's like to me, you know creating a distinction between the daytime and the evening time, it helped shift my mood because it's very hard I find for me to go from this hardcore work mode into like mom who wants to have a good time and joke around with her family.

Like that transition really hard. So you know, definitely um that's been a really big, you know, for me almost creating that ritual around it has been really great. Um and you know, whatever glass of wine CVD, whatever you need to do. But I'm sort of of the, I think you really do have to shift mindsets. I read a lot and I sort of have this new rule for myself and I read things I enjoy, I used to read business books and I got to the place where I was like, I work all day and then at night I like take care of my kids and then I go back to reading business books like I can't do this. Like I feel like I'm on a hamster wheel and so I shifted that book for historical fiction, which is my favorite and I'm just, it's so helpful. So that's another one. Also like I'm very into nighttime routine around like lotions and I have this like really great uh like light thing that I've put on my face. So I have like a whole bunch of things that I do for like sort of beauty but like restorative skin relaxed kind of thing sounds heavenly, totally get you on the book front.

I feel like historical fiction is so my jam, I read a really good book recently um, City of Girls by Liz Gilbert. It's such a good one. Okay I'll check the Set in like the 40s, it's just, it's fun. It's easy, it's, it's so great. You might like it. I'm going to take a note of that. I put all the ones I read on my instagram because and I usually like I follow some other friends to do the same sort of kind of sharing books on there. But it is um, It's so fun to be like transporting, you know, one 100% totally question number five is if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? And that's kind of to show like where is your most important dollar spent? I was gonna say I probably close the door but thousands, not very much thousands of your, your trouble but to your point where is my highest value spend? I would spend it on, I mean I'd spend it on conversion marketing but on facebook because it's you know, spend a dollar there and I'm going to get at least two back official. And last question question # six is how do you deal with failure?

Um, one step in front of the other. I mean I can't even tell you the number of times I either failed or you know a lot of it's just having my husband about this. But like a lot of it is I have this like it keeps feeling in my stomach that I carry a lot, just like worry about things about employees, about just like when the ball going to draw because after you've done this for a while, like enough things have happened, they start to just kind of like carry it with you um but I think the reason I've had successes, I just keep putting one ft in front of the other, I just think it's in, I sort of mentioned that early on, it's like be prepared to be relentless. Um it will try you, it will push you. I have been pushed to places, I never thought I'd go, I mean there was a while there, I didn't mean like would not sleep for like I swear it was weeks on end and I mean to the point where I got scared, I like had to stop driving, I was like, I can't figure out how to sleep at night and I can't operate the car, like I wouldn't, it was like really in a bad place, so it's like, I just keep going and that's, I think the thing is just like, even if it's a small step, it's just like every day, just keep going totally.

That's so true, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show today and sharing so many learnings from this incredible business that you've been building and who you are as an entrepreneur, I really enjoyed it. Well, thank you so much for having me then. Thanks for your great questions. It was super fun. Hey, it's just me here. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode of the female startup club podcast. If you want to hear more, head to my instagram at Dune rasheen to see my filmed interviews with incredible female founders like Erica from fluffy Beauty Greta from drop bottle and Sammy leo from breeze bum and if you like what we're doing here, visit our website and sign up to female startup club dot com to get all of the good stuff delivered straight to your inbox and lastly subscribe to the female startup club podcast. Mhm Yeah.

How to get started in fashion and why wholesale won’t always work, with luxury sleepwear’s queen of dreams Ashley Merrill, Founder of Lunya
How to get started in fashion and why wholesale won’t always work, with luxury sleepwear’s queen of dreams Ashley Merrill, Founder of Lunya
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