Keep your eyes on your own paper. Like many of my peers, I find myself too often concerned with what others or our competition are doing. I believe sometimes it helps to put on our horse blinders and not worry so much about other people; we should stay focused on what we are doing. If you build yourself a smart, motivated team who is curious but also stays focused on what’s in their control, you’re going to do great.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elyse Ash.
Elyse Ash is the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility, an app-based mentorship program for the one in eight couples affected by infertility and miscarriage. Elyse created Fruitful with her husband, Brad, after the couple experienced infertility themselves and were shocked by the loneliness and isolation of the experience. Today, Elyse oversees Fruitful’s growing network of more than 5,000 users while broadening the public conversation around infertility with her podcast, “Been There, Injected That.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I always call myself an “accidental entrepreneur” because I never really wanted to start my own company. I’d been happily working as a copywriter at ad agencies in Minneapolis for 10 years and loved my job. But when my husband, Brad, and I decided to start trying to have a baby, my life flipped on its head. I went from feeling like a very confident, capable woman to feeling distraught and out of control every day. It was an incredibly challenging time in our lives and I felt alone, despite the fact that one in eight couples struggle to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy. My family and friends struggled to empathize and would often offer platitudes (“Oh just relax!”) or ignore it completely. That’s what gave me the idea to create Fruitful Fertility, an app-based emotional support platform for those dealing with infertility, miscarriage and IVF. Brad is a software engineer and computer programmer so we used our shared skillsets to create Fruitful in 2017. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see how many people we’ve been able to help support over the years, and as of today we have more than 5,000 members.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Fruitful Fertility is changing what meaningful support looks like. Therapy is wonderful and a very necessary tool for people experiencing hardships, but peer support is often missing from the puzzle. My company is doubling down on the value of strong peer support and hand-matching people suffering from infertility with others who have been down a similar path. Because all of this is done through an app, our users can remain as anonymous as they’d like, feeling free to share what’s on their mind without worrying that they’re damaging a relationship in their social circle. We’ve basically pulled out the best parts of social media and thrown out the rest — using technology to our advantage to help build a strong online community.
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?
In the early days of Fruitful Fertility, we were working on some data migration and through the process we made an error which triggered an email to every single one of our users, telling them their passwords had been changed. Although we were totally embarrassed at first, we were quick to tell everyone that their accounts were safe and that it was an admin error. The lesson learned here was that I need to work much more slowly when it comes to areas outside of my expertise, such as data and technology.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Being the boss was more challenging at first than I had imagined. After working with a supervisor throughout my entire career, I quickly had to learn what a new level of responsibility and emotional investment looked like. At first it was incredibly empowering, but then I found myself exhausted with the constant second-guessing of my own decisions. Luckily, I found support and guidance from other female entrepreneurs who were a couple steps ahead. Specifically, I’ve been blessed to have built incredible friendships with Melissa Danielson of Joshin, Aneela Kumar Idnani of HabitAware, Melissa Kjolsing, Amanda Heyman and Danielle Steer. They’ve helped make me a smarter, braver, more well-rounded founder, leader and human.
I would encourage any fellow company founders or leaders to identify and stay connected with mentors, fellow entrepreneurs and investors they really trust — it’ll only make their business journey that much easier and more enjoyable.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I agree that disruption can either be positive or negative, but most often it’s a mish-mash of both. I think social media is a great example of how there can be a multitude of positives and negatives that come with disruption. It can be incredibly rewarding to stay in touch with old friends and fun to easily make new friends on Facebook and Instagram, but we sacrifice our privacy and sometimes our own mental health for those connections.
To me, disruption should be used to create more equitable experiences and offer more people opportunity, support and connection versus just trying to change something simply for notoriety or a fast profit. Sometimes I read Dr. Seuss’ book “The Lorax” to my daughter and cry; nobody needed Thneeds to disrupt the environment for short-term gain. And we don’t need to be selfish and short-sighted in that way either.
I believe we should all be working to leave the world better than when we got here. Is it more equitable? Is it cleaner? Is there more justice? It’s our job to clean things up and level the playing field for future generations.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Keep your eyes on your own paper. Like many of my peers, I find myself too often concerned with what others or our competition are doing. I believe sometimes it helps to put on our horse blinders and not worry so much about other people; we should stay focused on what we are doing. If you build yourself a smart, motivated team who is curious but also stays focused on what’s in their control, you’re going to do great.
- Don’t be afraid to iterate. Ideas change with time, knowledge and lots of user feedback. Don’t fall in love with one particular system or idea; be open to new ideas and fresh takes. It’s not about your ego or the purity of an idea; it’s about creating a product or service that people love and want to engage with. All of this requires being open to new thoughts and opinions (even if it’s in stark contrast with your own assumptions).
- Anyone can have a good idea; it’s what you do with that idea that matters. Good ideas are a dime a dozen, but how are you going to make your idea real? How are you going to find the information and resources you need to actually build and make something valuable? More time and energy should go into the execution of the idea, because it’s just as important as the idea itself.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Sisterhood is incredibly important to me, and I want to continue creating communities and content that inspire women creatives and visionaries. I’m not exactly sure what form this passion of mine will take, but I intend to follow my own advice and make this more than a dream very soon!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women disruptors have to face a number of double standards that men don’t have to deal with, which is emotionally and physically exhausting. I think immediately of the Vice Presidential debate this year and how Kamala Harris had to keep toggling between appearing credible, smart and strong while also not coming off as too bossy, demeaning, angry, bitter or “shrill.” The emotional energy it takes to measure and consider every single word that comes out of your mouth isn’t required from men. Male disruptors are often free to wonder aloud, make mistakes and lose their tempers with little push back.
Women also have added judgments of “being a good mom” or being a mom at all. Then there’s the constant discussion about their physical appearances. There are dozens of articles, books and research papers that articulate these differences, but the emotional and physical work that women are required to do, invisibly or with a smile, isn’t just unfair — it’s insane, and it’s unsustainable.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Brene Brown’s books (and now podcast) have forever changed my thinking about shame and leading with vulnerability. Her research and her voice demonstrate how changing our mindset from scarcity and shame to abundance and vulnerability is not only personally inspiring but professionally motivating. I try to lead whole-heartedly and with integrity every single day, doing my best to show up as I actually am, flaws and all, instead of projecting an air of perfection. My mom used to always say that “perfect is boring” and it’s more important to be yourself. Brene’s findings echo this sentiment, and I’m incredibly grateful for her work. I also love and follow the work of Glennon Doyle, Sonya Renee Taylor, Esther Perel and Malcolm Gladwell.
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. 🙂
I wish I could inspire a movement of active listening to understand and support. I believe that empathy and connection are all that matter. When you can connect authentically with people and listen to understand versus listen to solve or judge, it can change the world. Every single living creature just wants to be heard, seen and validated. We need others to say “I see you. What you are experiencing is real. The world is unfair. I am here for you. You are not alone.” Regardless of whether you agree with someone else’s choices, we all deserve dignity, respect and a place to speak our truth.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The most important quote to me which reflects how I choose to live can be directly tied back to a famous speech Theodore Roosevelt spoke in 1910. It’s long but impactful. Roosevelt said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I don’t have any tattoos, but if I were to get one it’d be a visual representation of this quote. We need to worry less what the chorus thinks and worry more about our own work. Being authentic to who we are. Knowing we are doing our best. Being ourselves and showing up day after day.
How can our readers follow you online?
Fruitful Fertility on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fruitful_fertility
The Fruitful Fertility blog: https://www.fruitfulfertility.org/blog/
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elysewrites/
My Medium account: https://medium.com/@elyseash