Emily Merrell, also lovingly referred to as "20 questions," has always had a love of figuring out people's stories. Upon graduating from Denison University, she moved to Buenos Aires to master her Spanish and to work in various industries (ask her about Malbec). Following her return to New York City, she landed in the fashion world, specializing in Events & Marketing at companies including Ralph Lauren, Club Monaco, Tory Burch and INTERMIX. In 2014 Emily dreamt up Six Degrees Society - and in 2016, she made her dream a full-time business.
In her free time, you can find Emily exploring new restaurants, drinking bold bottles of wine, taking early morning workout classes, planning her next trip, or playing the name game. Follow her adventures on Instagram- @emerrell09.
How did you get to where you are today?
My journey is riddled with serendipity and a need in the marketplace. I’m a gemini, and I get a complete adrenaline rush from connecting people. As a child, I was told I was a “natural conversationalist” -- which was a nice way of saying that I wouldn’t shut up. I loved figuring people out and understanding their stories and what made them tick. It was through a culmination of these natural skills (if you call them skills) that I realized that not everyone loves meeting new people, and that meeting strangers can be weird and even awkward.
I also realized that I was surrounded by pockets of amazing women who didn’t know each other, and didn’t have time for another "coffee date." So I decided to force all of these amazing women in a room together and to remove the awkwardness by handpicking who they met and sending out bios of in advance for pre-studying of the room.
Through my social experiment I was able to turn these events into a monthly thing which ultimately led to me quitting my job to expand domestically. We’re currently in 10 cities and growing.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
My toughest obstacle was quitting my job. I love stability and used to empathize with my friends who had given up their 9-5pm to chase after a dream - while silently loving my health insurance, 401k and 2 week direct deposit schedule.
Yet when the time came for me to leave the comfort of corporate life behind, I was shocked by my personal gut realization, and the calmness that came over me. I had a little pep talk with myself and realized that if I didn’t jump now I’d forever wonder if I could have done it. I didn’t want to live my life in “what if's” - if worst came to worst, I could always go back.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
There is a constant fire that burns in my belly and kicks me out of bed each morning. To stay motivated, you need to be passionate about the business you’re working on, or the fun of entrepreneurship will fizzle very quickly.
I also think it’s super important to maintain normalcy in your life. My friends and family are the most the important things in the world to me, so for my business to thrive, I need to be thriving with my personal relationships, as well. This motivates me even more.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
To continue doing what feels authentic. As a small business owner, you’re constantly inundated with feedback, ways to change your business, and questions about scaling and growth. Being reminded that this is a personal journey helps make the chatter become more of background noise and keeps me focused on the most important tasks at hand.
What advice do you have for another person who is looking to start a new venture?
Start your venture while you have a full-time job. It’s so important to test the waters and make sure you have a viable product or service before you go all in. Six Degrees Society started completely as a hobby before it made its way to an actual business. I’m so grateful I got to figure out what it was all about before the pressure to succeed as a business.
How do we get more women leaders?
I think women can get in each other's ways through competition and a sense of hierarchy. The way we get more women leaders is by being more collaborative and less competitive with one another. We swap jealousy for congratulations and we pull each other up instead of pushing down.