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Ep. 127 - Accidentally Launching a Brand Before Delivering a Baby with Ashley Merrill

As founder of Lunya and Lahgo, Ashley Merrill is reinventing sleepwear for modern women and men, respectively. 

Both brands share a simple mission: to make people feel confidently comfortable -- at home and within themselves. 

Beyond her sleepwear entrepreneurship, Ashley is principal at impact investing firm NaHCO3, where she leverages her background in venture, technology, and the arts to invest in ways that leverage business to create opportunity and move humanity forward. 

Ashley is also CEO and cofounder of The Deep, a media platform that makes philosophy and personal exploration accessible through thought-provoking questions and content. 

Both personally and professionally, she is an active supporter of organizations like Girls Inc., Upstream, and United Medical Corps. She is a Southern California native and resides there with her husband and their two young children.

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:24] The start of Ashley’s Ecom journey
  • [04:46] You should have a business plan or vision
  • [08:03] Chase recommends Small Giants
  • [08:55] The economic viability of a business
  • [11:06] Asking people for help is a great idea
  • [12:00] Building your own education
  • [14:03] The beauty of running a business your way
  • [15:48] Learning the language of your industry
  • [17:46] MBA vs just starting a business blind
  • [18:58] Hiring is the hardest part of a business
  • [19:16] Chase recommends Who: The A Method for Hiring
  • [19:43] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
  • [20:03] Sponsor: Avalara avalara.com/honest 
  • [20:58] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [22:26] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
  • [23:01] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [24:10] Ashley’s awesome launch story
  • [27:31] What happens after virality?
  • [28:09] The inflection point for Lunya
  • [29:11] Which online strategy Lunya used?
  • [31:36] Not all trending strategies are beneficial
  • [32:50] Making a clone of the brand: Lahgo
  • [35:07] Manufacturing kid’s garments
  • [36:23] Why a separate brand was needed
  • [38:55] Is the 2nd enterprise easier?
  • [41:19] Similar stories but different details
  • [41:48] The non-negotiables of a business
  • [42:58] Successful virality is an anomaly
  • [44:11] Where to find Ashley and her brands

Resources:

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  Transcript:

Ashley Merrill  

The difference between a hobby and a job is (the job) needs to make money.

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results. 

I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.

Let's get on with the show.

Hey, everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And today I'm welcoming to the show, Ashley Merrill

Ashley is the CEO and founder of Lunya, a luxury sleepwear brand. She also recently has brought to the market, a men's version of her brand that we're going to talk all about. Ashley, welcome to the show. How are you doing? 

Ashley Merrill  

Good. Thank you so much for having me. 

Chase Clymer  

Thanks for being here and dealing with the creative difficulties of this platform and me not knowing how to pronounce words and...

Ashley Merrill  

(laughs)

Chase Clymer  

...just doing it over. You know what, there's a second chance for everybody out there. And [in] this podcast, we have many. 

We let people know that the first thing you're hearing is usually not the first time we press record. But we're gonna get it done today. Right? 

Ashley Merrill  

Oh yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Alright, so take me back. Take me back, all the way back to... You're in college. You are pregnant and you have this idea to launch this brand. 

Where did this journey start and happen and what was going on?

Ashley Merrill  

Well, it actually started before that. And actually, it started when I had that idea. I had that idea. I felt the gap in the market. I was wearing my husband's old clothes around the house and I caught my reflection as I was crossing the mirror. 

And I had probably walked by this mirror 100 times, probably wearing the same outfit 100 times. And I looked at it and I thought, "Why am I wearing this?" It was like this old... I can't remember. It was like a frat shirt and his boxer briefs with phase to where they rolled up. And I didn't even have kids yet. Couldn't blame that on them. 

And I just thought "It's weird." And so it sent me on a journey to go, "Let me see if I can find something better, where it can be comfortable around the house, but also have something that is maybe  more flattering and makes me feel better at the same time." 

And so it sent me on a journey to find basically a gap in the market. And that's what I found. But even though I kind of thought, "Ooh, that's interesting. There's nothing here." I didn't act then and I actually sat on it. 

And I questioned myself for a long time. And it really wasn't until I entered grad school, which is what you're referring to. And then when I thought, "Maybe I'll get into grad school." I knew I was wanting to head in an entrepreneurial direction, whether or not I was the entrepreneur or not, figuring me out, and finding somebody to partner with. 

Or maybe someone's starting something cool. I can jump onto that after grad school. And so that was where my head was at. Went into grad school, my husband and I decided "Actually, this is a great time to start a family." As if there's ever a great time for starting. But that was as good as any. 

And so I got pregnant right away. So the chronological time frame here is that I started in early September in school. Found out I was pregnant in late September. And then I had this moment where I was  "What if I don't start this? If I don't... I never will." I just knew I never would because I just... 

Even though I'd never had kids before, I knew enough to know. I don't think I'm suddenly going to have more time and freedom and possibilities than I do now. And I also thought, "Am I really not starting this because I don't think it's a good idea, or am I not starting it because I'm afraid of failing?" 

And all I could come to is actually I wasn't starting because I was afraid of failing. I was pretty confident in the idea I had been, I had been mulling on this idea, beating this idea up now --at this point-- for a long time. 

So I came to this place where I was like, "What's worse, not doing it and telling my kids I just never did what I wanted to or what I believed in? And then also having to be like "And then I got pregnant and I didn't get to do those things. Or taking a swing at it and maybe failing." 

And it was sort of like, once the equation changed for me because I realized "Oh my gosh, I absolutely cannot tell my kids I didn't take a shot" And so that really was a big... That was a big swing for me and it got me over my fear that I think a lot of us face when we want to start something.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So once you've made that choice, you're like "I'm gonna do this. If I don't do it now, I don't think I'm ever gonna do it." You make that choice. I feel like a lot of people out there listening are at that choice right now and they're on the fence. 

If you didn't get anything out of that, the direct statement, she said just go do it. So please, everyone do that. But so what is "doing it"? What did that look like? Did you stay in school? How did that all look?

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah. Well, I want to caveat that I had a lot of ideas before this idea. So it's not the...  I don't think you should feel like you should just [be like], "I have an idea. And if I don't do it, that means I'm being driven by fear-orientation." 

As I mentioned, I had been beating up this idea within myself for a long time. I'm my own worst critic. That's sort of my personality type. So I was in there going, I'd probably looked at... I probably had 20 ideas before I had this idea. 

And all of them, I was able to conclude that there weren't enough legs for them from a true business point of view. 

And I think that this one was the one I couldn't kill. And that's why when I came down to it, I realized, "Actually, this was fear that was keeping me, not that it wasn't a good business idea." 

So I think that key is knowing when it's a good business idea. And when it's not... It's really that. That's the nuance. That's the hard part in some ways. 

And I think what that comes down to is core business principles. And I often cite the "hedgehog principle." It's one I really like. It's from the Good to Great book. And they talk about having these 3 sections. You always want 3 components of a business. You want to vary... 

You need a lot of passion, because it sucks a lot of the time. I'll go ahead and be the one to break the news. And you need... You're going to need an overwhelming amount of passion to overcome those days when you just don't want to get out of bed in the morning. 

And then you're going to need a sustainable, differentiated reason for being. Why can't other people just copy your idea and do what you're doing? Why is it that you and this idea are going to be able to have a sustainable differentiation? 

And then you need an economic business plan. You need a plan to make money. I think this is one of those things that when the economy's really good, sometimes people leave that piece off.

That's just like "I'll raise money. And then someday, this will all work out." And it's like, make sure you have a plan that shows this working out. 

And then... I say this. And I think that's the difference between a hobby and a job. It needs to make money. And I think that's the thing there. It doesn't have to “make it” from day one, though. 

And I think for Lunya, that was a bit of an evolution. For me, I joke like the first few products that people bought, it was like I was paying you to take my products. 

Because if you looked at my cost basis, my customer acquisition, you'd be like, "Ashley, this is not a business." But I knew with scale, my cost of goods would go down. 

And then I knew with better branding and brand awareness and all these sorts of different apps, in certain marketing levers I could pull that I could probably hit the right customer acquisition cost. 

And so that's really like there has to be a plan or at least a vision for where this business will make sense.

Chase Clymer  

Oh man. You just unpacked so much awesome stuff in there. First and foremost, Good to Great is an amazing book. I can't recommend it enough. And I just the other day was browsing through... It wasn't by him. 

But it was another one I read right around that time. That is now I'm drawing a blank, obviously on it. But it was essentially about...  Ooh, Small Giants. Have you ever read that one? 

Ashley Merrill  

No, I didn't. 

Chase Clymer  

That one is a fantastic read for anyone. Now that's like, "What is Chase talking about?" It's about, there's a certain type of business out there that is okay with being the best at what they do. 

And they just stopped growing for the sake of just being great at what they do. And it talks all about what those businesses had in common. And it draws a lot of parallels between that one and Good to Great. 

So I'd recommend anyone listening to check that one out as well. So you talked a lot about getting... Hitting a certain customer acquisition cost, a lot about having a financial model. 

So was there anything in your background that helped you prepare to tackle the part of that hedgehog plan, tackle "It's got to be an economically viable business..." 

How did you approach that? And for people that didn't go to business school, what should they think about it?

Ashley Merrill  

Well, I mean, one thing to remember is I didn't go to business school when I started Lunya. I was in a 3-year business school, I was doing a fully-employed program, which means it lasts a long time and you go less days a week. A

And so it was really... Of course, I have the benefit of having these sorts of people I can reference as I was starting. But I had actually... I was starting it before a lot of that and so... I think that there's... I love that framework. 

I would literally put it through that Good to Great framework first. And then what I would say because... Because I didn't have any background in fashion, I do nothing about fashion. 

My background is in online media. And I did go. I worked one year at a venture capital company at a school. And then I worked in online media for 3... For 4 years I worked there. 

And that was, it did give me some exposure and online brand building, which absolutely is very useful. 

But in the early days, we weren't online, I had to figure out how to make a product which I had zero experience with. And I also... I was lucky we're able to self-invest in this business. But I didn't want to spend a lot because I was afraid. 

To me, it's one thing to fail, it's another to lose a lot of your money on something. And so I was eeking money into the business as I gained confidence over time, which I think a lot of people tell you, "That's absolutely not the right way to fund it." I don't know if there is a right way to fund anything. I've now been around the block a lot. 

And I've seen lots of different models. But for me, that was my path.  I put a little money and I didn't trust myself. I was like, "I don't know how to make clothing. Am I gonna be able to figure this out? Okay. How much do I have to spend? Okay. A couple $1,000, I'm going to put that in." And that was where I started. 

But what I started doing was just asking tons of people. And really, I'd tell them what I envisioned and then ask them if they knew anybody that I should chat with. And I think this is one of those things that feels weird, because it's so basic. 

And so it was one of those things where I'd go to my friends and I'd be like, "Oh, I'm thinking of starting this business. I feel like there's this gap in the market. Do you know anybody in the industry?" 

And sometimes people would connect me to someone and be like, I just want to be like, "That person doesn't know anything that I need to know in the areas I need to know." But I'll be like, "Great." 

But sometimes that meeting would lead me to another meeting. And sometimes it would be a few stepping stones down from those people. So I always said yes. I took the calls. 

And I would try to connect until I can get to somebody that maybe could help me with where I was at that particular moment in time. And that was the process with which I found consultants who could help guide me. So a lot of my early days, I didn't invest in... 

I didn't raise a ton of money and then hired my dream team. I hired consultants a little bit at a time as I needed them and gained my knowledge base. A lot of this was me building my education. And there's a lot of ways to approach building a business. 

And I think I picked this very sort of grassroots-y approach where I was very hands-on and did a lot of things. I think if you had a different kind of business where maybe it was a speed-to-market business, you could be... I could be different from this in that I could see, you might want to hire experts, raise some money, hire some experts. 

Don't put yourself in the CEO seat and just build the business that it needs to be. But it was a smaller business. It wasn't a competitive space at the time. And this is where I was at. And so I learned it took me forever. I had 10 pieces in the first collection. 

And it took me 2 years to get those 10 pieces done and build a basic website. And my first employee was somebody who also had no experience building businesses or running or working at any of these businesses. 

She was a... She'd run a store at Lululemon and so she and I were... She was awesome but she and I were figuring it all out together. And we were just... We were motivated. And I think that's where they... That's one of those items in the hedgehog principle. 

The passion piece is something you really... You need it. You're gonna draw from it all the time, because it's a constant set of either running into walls is sort of one metaphor I've used. It's like, constantly, like, I don't know how to do that, or someone's telling me no or I'm gonna have to figure out how to get to push through it. 

And then it's the another... The another... What is this? The 2 steps forward, 1 step back expression, it felt right, too. It's like... I'd be like.. "Oh, I'm making it. I'm making progress." 

And then I'd be like, "Oh no!" That employee quit or the pattern was ruined, or the manufacturer went out of business. It was a constant series of those kinds of events. And so you just need... It was a lot of just pushing through.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. It doesn't matter what type of business you're building. It's a constant... As much as you try and as many systems and processes you put in place, you're always going to get distracted by some sort of fire. 

And I guarantee there are businesses in your life as an entrepreneur --and not you, actually. I'm now speaking to the listener-- that you think they have it all together, and I guarantee that they're just winging it as well at times. 

And that's the beauty of business is that it does give you... It allows you to just run it how you want and that's how you built yours. You're like, "I'm going to bootstrap this thing. I'm not going to take on outside investment and I think there's nothing wrong with that. I agree with you at that point. 

But there are many ways to grow a business and that's why I was excited to have you on here to talk about "I didn't take money. I fumbled through it. --Not to put words in your mouth (laughs)-- until something happens." 

Ashley Merrill  

Oh, that's true. I always say it's like I fell down and hit every branch on the way. I feel like I'm learning every lesson... 

But I will tell you, I'm really grateful for that now because I know a lot about production and garment manufacturing and product development more than most CEOs I know that are in the fashion business. 

Because I had to go do it, I was driving my car down to the manufacturers, and there was nobody else to speak the language. I had to learn every stitch name, I had to learn all of these things, because I didn't have anybody else. 

And so sometimes these things that feel horrible in the moment are a blessing in disguise. And I think they... Obviously, now I've got production folks that are far more knowledgeable about all these things than I am. 

But it at least allows me that I know enough to speak the language with them and I wouldn't have otherwise. So sometimes things work out.

Chase Clymer  

That's something that I tell a lot of young entrepreneurs, especially when they're trying to shortcut it with marketing. It's go [and] try to find some all-star Freelancer that's just going to change your business overnight. 

And it's like, "Well, if you don't even know how to speak the language, it's gonna be impossible to find someone that's actually giving you real results. So I often say, educate yourself at the beginning and learn to at least speak the language. 

You don't need to be an expert in the craft. But you find that it helps you with hiring and vetting, partners, contractors, agencies, or whatnot.

Ashley Merrill  

I think you nailed it. I think one of the things that is also very hard about the "Take a lot of funding" approach if you don't have a lot of experience. 

And I think it'd be different if I came from fashion, and I knew the industry, and I was like, "Here's the niche I'm going after. [I'm] going to raise a bunch of money. I know how. I know what good looks like." 

I think the challenge was that I didn't know what “good” looks. I wouldn't have been able to hire... I don't even know what a merchant was. There's a lot of rules. I had no idea what these words were that I was encountering for the first time. 

"Technical designer. Is that different from a regular designer? What's the deal here?" And the number of those nuances that exist were many. And so I think that if you're an outsider, you do need to learn a certain amount. 

For me, I thought that was really important, because in order to know what good looks like later, you need to have some experience in that. 

And I hired a lot of the wrong people first. Good people, but maybe not what I needed at that stage of time. And as much... It was agonizing. 

The people piece of this whole thing has absolutely been the hardest part of it. It's the best part of it at times too. But it is the hardest part of it. Because like I said earlier, it's early on, it's like "What does good look like?" 

I hired many people that I had no idea what I was [doing]. Someone tells me “You need a Head of Production. I hired this person, I have no idea what a good head of production looks like. And I made so many mistakes. 

But it also just... I learned so much it was like it was my real MBA. People often ask me, if I had to choose between starting a business and getting an MBA, what would I choose? 

And I would choose getting a starting business every single time because if you compare where I learned the most definitely starting a business. Depending on what your issue is. 

I think the MBA helps with confidence and the vocabulary, so that you feel like you aren't going to get in a room with people and they're gonna start talking about equity structures and you're gonna have no idea what they're talking about or P&L, and they're gonna throw this at you and it's gonna feel confusing. I really liked MBA for that. 

But for true operational expertise, there's nothing like the trial and error process of being in business.

Chase Clymer  

Oh, I couldn't agree more. And you'll see people tweet just basically what you just said.The paraphrase of "If you want to learn how to run a business, go give a startup you're all for a year and you're going to... That's going to be the best MBA program that you bet you're ever going to experience." 

Ashley Merrill  

True.

Chase Clymer  

And then with hiring, it's the hardest thing possible in the world. And like we just had... We just went through this recently with hiring some people. And it's always... It's usually your fault as the founder or the person in charge of hiring.

Ashley Merrill  

(laughs)

Chase Clymer  

You didn't set proper expectations. It's your fault that it didn't work out. So we actually changed up how we were doing it recently. So I'm just gonna shout out that book. 

So there's this book called Who: The A Method for Hiring. And my business partner has been just crushing it with this. And we used it to hire our newest team member and it was a fantastic thing. 

I'm just all about cheating my way to having a process through reading a book. Someone's already done this before. I'm not reinventing the wheel. 

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah, that's really great. 

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Chase Clymer  

Let's jump back into building the brand. And I don't want to call it an iteration at all. But I'm excited about how you grew the business with launching the second brand. So let's talk about that first. 

You said it took you almost two years to get the 10 products onto a website. What was the launch strategy? How did marketing look? What was the first day like? How are those first couple of months of "Okay, well we have a website, you can buy stuff."

Ashley Merrill  

I have kind of a funny story with this. I actually... So this employee that I had --it was just she and I--  and neither of us had done this before. 

We had a site that was up in beta because we're really trying to make sure that we could hone in a customer experience before we did some kind of a big launch.

So I had a website that you could only get in if you have the password. And we were sending it to friends and family because we wanted to prove out the fulfillment process. 

And when you're small --or at least when I was small-- there was no 3PL or fulfillment center that was helping me. We were fulfilling out of the house. And so this was all how this was just working us out that process of all the details for shipping. 

So, I went to... And this was back when Facebook was the primary [marketing channel]. Now I'm on Instagram or whatever we're all now. But I haven't used Facebook in a while. But I used to use Facebook. 

You put updates on it and share all these things on it and all our friends are on it. And so I put a posting up when I was in the hospital delivering my daughter, my second child, saying "Just thinking Jasmine was my first employee." 

Being like "Jasmine, you're so amazing. Thank you so much. I would not be able to do this without you." So basically, I'd been starting this business while in Business School.

I'd had two babies during the time of this pre-launch and I was vowed to deliver my second. I was just feeling appreciative of what she had, how she was able to support me. So I posted and I tagged in the Lunya website. I mentioned it and hyperlinked it or something like this. 

And then people started... I'm literally... By the way, I'm in the hospital delivering the baby. So this is like... But I was in the early stages of contraction. So I was chilling. I was just hanging out on the computer. 

And so I put it up there and people started re-sharing it because they thought I was telling everybody... I didn't word it super clearly. They thought I was saying that I was launching the business. 

And so my friends were all like, "Yeah! Finally!" Because they all knew I'd been working on it. And so they were like resharing it. "Congrats"! And then I was like," Oh my gosh. I didn't mean... I'm not telling you it's launched." 

In my head, I was like, "Shoot. "And I have the beta blocker. No one can get in. And so now they're all sharing the link, but no one can actually access the website. So I texted Jasmine.

I was like, "I think I messed it up. I put it up. I just meant... I didn't mean to launch it. But I think that we're getting momentum. It's viral. We have to go with it, you know, so we took the beta password protection off the site. 

And that was how the company launched. So that was not the most well-executed marketing plan. And I sort of say that to go, Things can start... I made a lot of wrong turns to get to some right ones. 

And so this was a perfect example of that. And so what happens? Nothing happens, basically. Maybe your mom will buy your outfit. Maybe maybe your sister-in-law. It was like very little was happening. And that's because we didn't have a marketing strategy. I was so cautious. I was so... 

And I look back on this now and have a  different perspective. And I was so afraid of failing, that I didn't exactly set myself up for success.  

I didn't invest a lot in marketing or do any of those things. And so I have a slower start than I think maybe I could have or you might be able to have. But it was slow. And then what really was a game changer for us... 

And I was sort of on the earlier days of DTC. So by the time... Or not just direct-to-consumer but online direct-to-consumer. And we figured out online marketing. And that was really the breakthrough. 

And then the moment I knew and I started getting confidence in the company, was when I realized that I could make... I could acquire a customer at a profitable rate, which sounds very unsexy, but it meant I could scale the business. 

Because I'm like, "If I can buy a user and then cover my cost of goods and my cost to acquire the user and have anything left over done, I can scale that business. That's a business that can someday pay for itself." That makes sense. 

And so when I reached that point, my confidence level shifted and my willingness to sort of invest more into the business... It was I was feeding the monster as it was growing more than it was like, "Okay, here's my big investment where I'm really confident." And I think that was a big inflection moment.

Chase Clymer  

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Once the math starts to make sense, it is such an amazing experience from a founder's perspective, because that's all your hard work paying off because now it's... You've essentially invented an ATM for yourself (laughs)... 

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah!

Chase Clymer  

...which is really cool. So what was the strategy for getting to that point? You glossed over it a little bit. I want to drill down just a little bit there. 

You said you figured out online marketing? What does that mean? What worked for you? Obviously it might be different now where it's 2021. Facebook ads are super expensive. 

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

Now there's TikTok. There's all sorts of cool stuff going on in the world. 

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

What worked for you? I guess. It's what people are gonna want to know.

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah. And I think that's really... I think what you said is right, which is what worked for me won't work now. I was early on in that online DTC model and Facebook ads were easier to... That was an easier business to make sense of.

Chase Clymer  

It was the Wild West.

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah. I gained... I had good creative. I think creative really matters. And we iterated on creative a lot till we could land on a creative strategy that made sense. 

And I think that was key. And we did a lot of that growth while it was profitable to do that. And then I think... As an example, that would have been a great time... Or I don't know if [it's just] hindsight. 

But we didn't go strong into influencers , which could have been another strategy. And we didn't go into it, because our cost of goods were really high. And at that point, even today, there's not necessarily a one-to-one on influencer gifting. 

You give something to someone, maybe there's a 30% chance they wear it. And then of that, do they have an audience that's buying and then [do] they buy a certain amount to cover the cost of gifting, the cost of goods, the cost to acquire... All these things. 

And so it was not my most efficient return on investment for marketing. And so I didn't go big into it. I think in hindsight, again, if I'd had maybe more confidence from an investment standpoint, that would have been awesome if I had gone big into that at that point. 

Because I would have a big... I would probably have a much bigger social presence. Right now, I think we have a much bigger company than even our social presence. And some of that is because of where we focused early days. 

And some of that I think, is specific to our business. Because, it's harder to get somebody to share themselves in their bedroom wearing their sleepwear than it might be to get someone to wear their cocktail dress when they're going out and they're all dolled up. They're more inclined to share that moment.

And so some of this, I think, is important when you're thinking about it from your business and what your marketing strategy is. You don't look around and go, "Oh, everyone's doing this, I should do this, too." 

I think you should consider if everyone's doing it and seeing success with it. But you have to put it through the lens of your product and your customer and really think about "Does this actually make sense for my product?"

And for me, early day Instagram, people were not sharing themselves in their bedrooms yet. Now, they're doing it in a much bigger way. But that wasn't really the culture at the time. And the cost of my product is really high. 

We spend a ton on fabric and really high quality manufacturing. And with all of that I couldn't just give them away for free and just hope that that would convert. And so I had to choose a model that made sense in sort of a capital constrained, early business kind of way. 

"Where am I most efficient allocation of dollars and highest return?" And so I think everybody's business can be a little different. But I think that was an example of me having to interpret that for business that I had.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. And I think it definitely worked out for you. In the long run, you guys are doing fantastic now. And then I briefly mentioned this a while back, but I kind of want to bring it up now. 

You grew the business in a way that I don't see a lot of other businesses doing, which is really creative. You essentially cloned the business. I don't wanna tell your story for you. But can we talk about where that came from and why the choice was to take it that route?

Ashley Merrill  

For Lahgo, you're saying? 

Chase Clymer  

Yes. 

Ashley Merrill  

Yes. And so what happened was I started with women's. I am a woman. It was the audience, I knew the best I could relate very easily to what products would make sense, and what the gap was in the market. I also feel…

When I picture the long-term potential of this company, I always think about the fact that for my family and a lot of families, I think that women are still the household buyer. 

And so I thought if I can acquire a female customer first, maybe that'll make it if I do launch a men's brand at some point, maybe that customer will actually help me bring in the male customer. 

And so like I said, launched with women's and then what started to happen was men started to come into the store and be like, "Well, what about us?" And it was cool, because the demand was there and people were asking for it. And so I thought "Okay. Alright. Men's. No problem. We're gonna do this." 

And that was so cool, because it created a whole new opportunity. And so what I did was I did a test. I'm more from the tech world. I like small tests and learning. This is the minimum viable product. I'm all about it. 

So I launched a capsule collection for men in the holiday and actually launched kid's to I wanted to test both. Kid's were not an appealing audience for us. Our price point... One thing that I think people don't think about... 

What I didn't really think about either until I launched kid's, but the price of a garment is based on a couple things. Really, it's based on the materials. So the cost of raw materials. It's based on the labor and how many stitches and turns and cuts and things that they have to make. 

And then logistics on shipping it over to us and taxes and things like that. So what's funny about a kid's garment, is the fabric might be less, but the actual labor is similar. 

So it's actually like they have to put it on the machine... It's not like adding an extra, what is it, 4 inches of stitching takes the extra time. It's that you have to put it on the sewing machine, you have to line up the needles, you have to do all things. 

So it's almost the same from a cost of labor standpoint on a kid's garment. But I mean, I'm a parent. My willingness to pay is lower, because my kids aren't going to wear it as long as I'm going to. And so I really...

Chase Clymer  

Or it's not going to be safe as long with your kids wearing it.

Ashley Merrill  

Oh, exactly. And they're gonna outgrow it in 10 minutes. And so I realized that there was a challenge there because I had to charge a lot for it because my costs were still really high. 

It was still really high quality fabrics and the labor, which is the most expensive part, was still about the same. 

But then it was eroding any profit, potential profit margin, because there just really wasn't... That wasn't in there. And so kid's were really tricky. But men's.

People loved it. The guys loved it. The women love buying it for the guys so it was working on full customer audiences. 

I got really excited. I feel like there's a lot of potential there. And then I also thought that it was a really great way to be in the right place at the right time, in the sense that everyone's always speaking to women. 

But the male audience, --especially men in this sort of this [category]-- are starting to explore wellness and comfort and that they're being included in this conversation for the first time. It was a great one that we got to participate in. 

And so we launched Lahgo, because we didn't want to create a... We're Lunya. We're a women's brand that sells to men. We're like, "Well actually we're gonna create a completely different experience for men." 

Even on our website, we approach product descriptions differently and then receive information differently than women do. The whole... We have a separate social media handle. We want to be able to really make it a male experience. 

And we wanted to bring in male people in the brand team and male designers. And because I think a lot of our advantage, strategically, has always been that we were designing for ourselves. 

A lot of women that work for Lunya fit into our core target demo. And so we actually could intimately understand what a woman wants. And I don't want it to seem like I'm not wearing underwear to go to sleep. Very literal, very graphic. 

But it's like, yeah. But that's what makes a piece that you're gonna keep reaching for because you're like,"for whatever reason, when I wear those pants versus this one, this one feels better every time." 

And we're like, "Right." because we're really diving into the female body and the female use-case and how she wants to show up. There's a whole deep component about how we create products. And we want to approach men's from the same level. 

We wanted to have that same thoughtfulness about how men's... A silly example, but a man's body, they have a... They tend to want to wear pants lower in the front than in the back. 

But for whatever reason, pants have always been designed like you're gonna wear it straight across. But that's rarely how men wear them, especially their comfy pants.

So it's like this... [Try to] notice it where it's  if you're fit, and you have this sort of deep grooves on that sort of side of you, you want to wear it kind of in the grooves. 

Or if maybe have more of a stomach and where it sort of below your stomach. And so is this interesting thing where we're like, why are we designing pants for how we think men should wear? 

Why don't we design pants for how men actually wear their pants? So there's these little details, which create a really differentiated set.

Chase Clymer  

That's awesome. And it's cool that you were diving in so deep with producing the products for your new market. 

But I guess my question is, how much easier was it to get going with  the second business from what you had already been placed with the first?

Ashley Merrill  

This reminds me of when people ask people who have kids. I'd be like "When they get older, does it get easier?" Because it was really hard in the beginning And they're like, "It just gets different." And that's how I would feel about this. It wasn't easier. 

Across the board. It's still not. It's a smaller brand than Lunya. And I think that it's easier in some respects. I know how to... I've got people on my team that know how to run a website. They know how to make the product, I have all those things. 

So in all of those areas of normal friction in a new business, I'm good to go. But it's really hard to do resource allocation within the company. 

Does everybody spend their time on Lunya, which is the bigger business or how do you decide that someone should spend time on Lahgo even though, from an ROI perspective, in today's business situation, everyone should actually be working on them. Yeah. 

And you're like, you have to make these forward thinking investments to make something work, which is hard when there's a competition for resources going on within your business. 

So I'd say, It's easier. Certainly, especially for me, personally, because I was having to literally run into all those walls with Lunya by myself the first time and now I've got a whole team of people that are smarter than me in most ways. 

And so now I can tap all of those people for Lahgo. So unquestionably, that piece is much easier, but it's different.

Chase Clymer  

You know what, that was not the answer I was expecting. But I really appreciate the honesty. And it's things that I hadn't thought about. And I hope that now other people out there, thinking about it, they understand the whole picture. 

Just because you've done something before doesn't mean you can do it again, I guess, is maybe what I pulled out of that. And also, some of the similarities are a bit easier, but it still is a different business and there's going to be different fires to put out to bring that back. 

Now, is there anything I forgot to ask you today that you think would be worthwhile to share with the audience? 

Ashley Merrill  

I feel like that was great. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I had a blast, you really dove in deep with the nerdier side of the Ecommerce experience from a founder's perspective, which I love. Often…

Founders are all all shapes and sizes with where their knowledge is and where their perspective is. 

If feels like, you're all about the numbers a bit more than other than... More than some that I've spoken with. So it's always refreshing to hear that perspective.

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah. It's the right left brain balance. And I feel like... Because I know, we're speaking to a lot of people who want to start businesses. 

I think that's the piece that you have to have to be creative, you have to have brand residents, you have to be customer-oriented, those are actually non-negotiables. 

I don't even talk about them, because I'm like, we shouldn't even be talking if you don't have those things. That's the foundational element. 

But I know a lot of people that I think where they lose is... And if you're talking to an entrepreneur, it's like, you got to keep an eye on the business aspect of it. Because you can have a great brand. 

I've been lucky enough to work with a lot of brands and some of them that have all the other components, but they're just upside down on the finances. 

And I think you can't hope that things are going to work out. You've got to build it to succeed.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. That is something that I've been trying to definitely get across a lot lately to people. You can't hope things are gonna change. 

You have to get out there and be a positive force in your own life to make them actually change. So if your product isn't selling, go out there and sell it or figure out how to sell it. That's what needs to happen. You're not going to go viral doing nothing.

Ashley Merrill  

Yeah. That'll never happen. And by the way, like Beyonce wore Lunya to New Year's Eve. You'd think that I should just be done and retire now. Because that's as big a fish as you're ever going to get. It doesn't affect anything. 

So I say that because I think some people think if I can just get a celebrity where it's been a changing thing. I didn't there's no change in my sales from that. I think it's awesome. Believe me. That was a big moment for us. But it's not... I don't think that we hear the anomaly stories where someone has a breakout viral video. 

And I would say that is the anomaly. That is not going to be... You shouldn't plan on that being your business's scenario, I think you should assume... Elsewhere, shoot for it. Sure. That's great. 

But I think assuming a more sort of slower growth or a viral growth... My business has been growing fast. We've doubled every single year except earlier, when it was faster because it was smaller. But we're growing really fast. 

But there was never like that [mindset of], "Oh, this person wore it and it just changed everything." That wasn't like this *snap* lucky break thing that happened, which some people have had. 

And I think certainly I would have loved it, but I think you should if you don't plan on it and then it happens, great. But I feel like planning it feels risky.

Chase Clymer  

I couldn't agree more. Thank you so much, Ashley. I really, really enjoyed this conversation. And hopefully I can have you on in a couple months. 

And we can run down another path and explore it some more. Thank you so much. If people are curious, check out the brands. Where should they go?

Ashley Merrill  

They should go to Lunya. lunya.co. Or Lahgo. lahgo.co. They're both on Instagram. And if you want to follow me, I'm @ashley__merrill on Instagram. Happy to have you follow along the journey.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Thank you so much. 

Ashley Merrill  

Thank you! Have a great one. 

Chase Clymer  

Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. 

We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. Make sure you subscribe, leave a review

And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.