Ashley Merrill is joining Outdoor Voices as chairman and taking an investment stake in the once-buzzy outdoor apparel brand.
Merrill, CEO of Lunya, a D2C sleepwear company, tells D2C FYI how she thinks Outdoor Voices can come back from tough times. That includes the return of Tyler Haney, the brand’s founder, who was forced out earlier this year, the departure of chairman Mickey Drexler, and a reported drop in valuation from $110 million in 2018 to just $40 million last year.
D2C FYI: Tell us why you decided to step in and invest in Outdoor Voices. What do you hope the company can do?
Ashley Merrill: I've been a customer of this company for a long time, and a fan. It’s an incredible team. The company started about the same time I began Lunya, my sleepwear company. And I had always been so impressed with Tyler Haney’s direction. I love to work out, and think OV’s “Get the world moving” mission is great.
D2C FYI: But it’s been sputtering. There’s been lots of bad press, including stories that Haney, the founder, was difficult, clashing with chairman Mickey Drexler before she was forced out.
Merrill: Yes. I had read about the challenges, and as someone who is also a founder, I know things aren’t always what they seem. So I reached out to her, and she was super-excited at the chance to return.
Ty is a very strong creative entrepreneur. She did so much to build the brand and vision. But she was also excited to have the chance to work with somebody strong, operationally.
As we talked, we realized we had an aligned vision and complementary skill sets. So it made sense for me to invest, join the board and help in the areas that I have competency.
D2C FYI: Many D2C brands have struggled because of toxic leadership, including companies like WeWork, Uber and Away. Can you talk about why this seems to be such a problem at D2C brands, and how the personality of founders can impact a business?
Merrill: We’re humans. I generally don't think people are bad people. But we're all imperfect. We all have opportunities for growth. And we all
have natural strengths.
Happiness comes from doing something that you're good at. But what’s required at a start-up can be different as the business grows. Needs
It isn’t always easy to see where people fit best in an organization. I know a lot of entrepreneurs, and their best traits are usually quite different from
people who are good at operations.
D2C FYI: Tell us more about NaHCO3, your investment management platform, and why you are investing in Outdoor Voices.
Merrill: It stands for sodium bicarbonate, which I admit would be a terrible name if it were a consumer-facing company.
But my husband is also an entrepreneur, and we started NaHCO3 with the idea that we’d invest in companies that lift the world up. We believe entrepreneurs are changing the world and solving the planet’s problems.
D2C FYI: And that’s Outdoor Voices?
Merrill: Definitely. If you look at the statistics about people who
are sick or dying, the impact of obesity, depression and anxiety -- all things that exercise helps.
Outdoor Voices wants to democratize movement. It’s not so focused on performance that it will alienate the average Joe. It’s aimed less at someone training for a marathon and more like someone just out for a walk. It’s a mission that’s so important it gives me goosebumps.
D2C FYI: So for you, the investment is about the mission?
Merrill: I invest in companies that are making the
D2C FYI: Where do you think Outdoor Voices will be in six months?
Merrill: I expect us to be a
profitable business. You can't do good in the world if you can't stay in business.
Right now, it’s like they say with an airplane crashing: Put the mask on yourself first. We need to get ourselves into a sustainable position. And then we can turn back toward the great work we can do for the community.