Be the change: I was very frustrated with how few women I saw successfully leading companies and I let that frustration funnel me into the role I’m in now. Stop complaining on Facebook and Instagram and put in the work to drive toward the future you want to see. If you want to see something different in this world you have an opportunity to change the future. It won’t be easy but it’s been deeply meaningful for me to feel like I’m part of the solution. Imagine what the world would look like if we all put a part of ourselves into pushing humanity forward in the areas that we’re passionate about? The things we would tackle could be amazing. Let’s do this!
As a part of my series about strong female leaders I had the pleasure to interview Ashley Merrill. As the founder of Lunya, Ashley and her team are reinventing sleepwear for the modern woman through innovation, design, and quality; resulting in a carefully edited collection of must-have pieces. Lunya’s core mission is simple — to make women’s lives better through product, experience and example. Ashley is utilizing Lunya, her background in tech and investing, to build her personal mission of helping create opportunity for women and girls. Beyond building Lunya, Ashley is an active supporter and board member for Girls Inc., a supporter of both Upstream and Planned Parenthood, and invests in many female entrepreneurs and funds. She is a Southern California native and resides there with her two young children and her husband.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ashley: I cut an unconventional path and Art History major at UCLA, a culinary degree, venture capital, M&A for an online media company, and finally business school before starting Lunya.
I was wearing my husband’s old fraternity t-shirts to bed. One night I caught my reflection in the mirror and was unpleasantly surprised by what was staring back, lol.
That little come-to-Jesus moment in front of the mirror planted the seed that grew into Lunya, which I’ve been operating since 2012.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ashley: I think most people focus on their wins but one of the most surprising events that happened was during a campaign we ran in support of Handmaid’s Tale — a cult favorite in our office — that went wrong.
We held an event and even made a Sleep Set to show our support of the resistance and we got creamed in the press. Headlines ran like: “Lingerie brand launches limited-edition range should you want to get the ‘sexual slave’ look”. We were caught completely off guard.
These headlines couldn’t have been more off the mark about Lunya’s intent and what we stood for but it didn’t stop headline reading social warrior’s from raging all over our social media. In hindsight it’s funny, but at the time it felt catastrophic.
Now when we go into creative concepting, we do an all-hands exercise to explore the worst that can happen so we don’t get caught with our pants down.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Ashley: Lunya stands out because of the quality product we offer, the cool brand we’ve built and the experiences we foster.
Our product is bar none. We spend an incredible amount of time optimizing each piece, innovating style, product, and fit. We invest tons of resources in quality and durability to make sure we are making something that will make you feel comfortable and confident at home.
We are a brand that is fun to be a part of because of the cool campaigns, creative and products we generate. We never stop raising the bar on artistic expression — mixed media, photography, art installations, etc. We try to experiment without taking ourselves too seriously. Silk dog bed anyone? Asmr for moms?
We are also all about experience. We create event programming that attempts to add value to our customer’s life — founder panels, breast cancer fundraisers, even a Broadway-style production… there is a highlight reel here on our blog.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Ashley: I’m principal at an impact investing firm called NaHCO3. We invest in nonprofit and for-profit entities that specifically seek to solve meaningful community problems, unlock new efficiencies, and contribute to a better world. We’re trying to make a buck while incentivizing positive change. That’s what impact investing is all about.
As an example, one of the companies in our portfolio is AltSchool. It’s an online platform to democratize classroom learning. Students both get a new set of tools for learning, and teachers get a central hub for managing classes, students, building curriculum, and providing feedback. If a company like Altschool is successful, it can affordably distribute access to quality education to underprivileged areas.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Ashley: I imagine there is no difference to my advice to a woman or a man on managing people. A favorite piece of advice I’ve heard is to have a high bar and high devotion. People need to know you care about them. They also need to know that you are invested in their growth. This high degree of care needs to be balanced with clearly identified high goals. I have found this paradigm very useful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Ashley: My husband Marc played a valuable role here. He was an established entrepreneur (translation, had learned many hard lessons the hard way) by the time I started Lunya, so I was able to learn from him passively and through his direct insights. For example, Marc has a confident, risk-taking personality and I’m more risk-averse. Over the years I would echo his expression “build the airplane while flying” in my head when I would feel afraid. I have come a long way in trusting myself from having exposure to him.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. Ashley:
- Trust your gut on people
- Take small risks often
- Stay focused, you have limited resources to keep them focused on the highest value areas
- Build a team of advisors who respect and want to support you
- No one business is exactly like another, don’t be scared to veer from the tried and true path
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Ashley: Be the change. I was very frustrated with how few women I saw successfully leading companies and I let that frustration funnel me into the role I’m in now. Stop bitching on Facebook and Instagram and put in the work to drive toward the future you want to see. If you want to see something different in this world you have an opportunity to change the future. It won’t be easy but it’s been deeply meaningful for me to feel like I’m part of the solution. Imagine what the world would look like if we all put a part of ourselves into pushing humanity forward in the areas that we’re passionate about? The things we would tackle could be amazing. Let’s do this!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ashley: Don’t exclude just because you have been excluded. While I’m deeply motivated around women’s issues I’m fundamentally motivated to see a world with equal opportunity. I am launching Lahgo because I want to be a leader who creates space for women and men to be successful in the bedroom 😉
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Ashley: Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror. I’ve found myself frustrated with the polarization in America right now and have started working on a media company to help people have fun with self-exploration by pushing their boundaries. I love how when you watch a Black Mirror episode you start by saying, “These people are crazy or morally corrupt,” and by the end you are pulled from your high horse and you see just how like them you are. His art is able to build empathy in humans who are passively watching TV… how many people can claim that?