Elyse Ash is the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility, a fertility mentorship matching service and social network that helps emotionally support the 1 in 8 people struggling with infertility and miscarriage. Named a 2019 “40 Under 40” honoree by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal and a 2019 “50 on Fire” by MinneInno, Elyse built the community she craved during her own battle with infertility. Elyse lives in Minneapolis and loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce and pretending she’s into yoga.
Mentorships for women in their professional roles have been popular for a while, but personal mentors are less common – why do you think this style of relationship has so much potential outside of the office?
While a lot can be gained from a casual, peer, one-on-one relationship, I believe there’s something special about a slightly more formalized mentorship relationship. With mentorship — regardless of whether it’s professional or personal — there’s a different power structure. There’s one person seeking advice or support and someone else offering the wisdom and perspective of their lived experience. Both parties get something really beautiful out of the exchange. The less experienced person gets a confidante they can trust and lean on, while the more experienced person gets to reflect on their own life and share stories from what they’ve learned. It can be an incredibly rewarding symbiotic relationship that evolves over time with trust and intimacy. There’s nothing like being able to hear, “I know what you’re going through because I went through it too, but here’s how I came out the other side.”
What is the biggest misconception about infertility?
There are a lot of misconceptions about infertility. A big one is that people think struggling to conceive or dealing with a miscarriage is just a minor emotional hiccup rather than a huge, multilayered health and relationship crisis. Infertility is the fourth most traumatic life event a woman can experience. It’s not a bummer; it’s constant, continuous grief and it affects every aspect of a woman’s life including her physical health, mental health, finances, relationship with her partner and relationship with her friends and family. And even worse, 61% of women struggling to get pregnant don’t tell their friends or family, so they are dealing with all these complex questions and emotions alone. Another large misconception is that infertility is mostly an issue with a woman’s body, which is simply not true. Approximately 30% of infertility is due to a female factor and 30% is due to a male factor. In the balance of the cases, infertility results from problems in both partners or the cause of infertility cannot be explained.
Other than mentorship, what are some resources critical for those experiencing infertility that Fruitful Fertility provides?
I think the two best resources you can have if you’re going through infertility are information and community.
1) You don’t know what you don’t know, so it’s important to read credible articles to understand the infertility process and what kinds of questions you should be asking yourself, your partner, and your provider. Fruitful offers a lot of great information about infertility on our blog and in our monthly newsletter. It’s a great mix of empathetic content and personal stories as well as helpful tips and information for going through the process.
2) It’s so important for people experiencing infertility to know they are not alone. Our mentorship program is the main way we offer emotional support, but we also provide a private forum where our members can chat with one another and share their stories. On top of that, we try to create a thriving active community via Instagram and Facebook. We’re looking at building in more one-to-one peer messaging features and hosting some live events in the future as well.
There has been a lot of chatter about femtech, do you think this is a trend that will continue?
Women creating products, services, and technologies that solve problems that they experience first-hand is not a trend. Healthcare companies have been missing the mark for decades when it comes to women’s health, and it’s mostly because male leadership doesn’t understand what it feels like to breastfeed or experience endometriosis or take a pregnancy test. They just don’t…and can’t…get it. It’s about time we gave women the resources, opportunities, space and attention they need to solve the problems they know most intimately. I love how many incredible women-led companies there are out there solving problems especially for women, companies like Mahmee, Peanut, Milk Stork, and Mamava. But it’s certainly not a trend. It’s time.
You have been doing more “creative” press around Fruitful than traditionally seen in healthcare with local news stories and podcast interviews; what is behind that strategy for Fruitful Fertility?
Before founding Fruitful, I worked for more than 14 years as a copywriter and creative director at advertising agencies, creating multi-channel campaigns for brands of all shapes and sizes. I think that professional experience really showed me the value in creative storytelling and how important it is to find ways to differentiate yourself in a crowded market. This is why we’re committed to not just creating an awesome, helpful, necessary service but also building a brand that is real, empathetic, and relatable to our audience. So many infertility brands feature big photos of pregnant bellies with scripted fonts and that’s just not what we’re about. As for the press component, we try hard to show up where our target market can find us. For Fruitful, we have two-pronged audience: 1) people who are currently struggling with infertility and 2) people (usually parents but not always) who once struggled with infertility but are now on the other side of that experience. Our strategy revolves around offering information, inspiration, and entertainment for both of these audiences. If we don’t think a press opportunity will help us be found by more mentees or mentors, then we don’t participate. These audiences are really at the heart of every decision we make.
As a D.C. native, what led you to make the move to Minnesota?
I was actually born in Eagan, Minnesota but my family relocated to a D.C. suburb when I was two. Then after getting my undergraduate degree, I decided to go back to school for advertising and chose to study in Minneapolis, where I could live with my aunt and uncle rent-free. I ended up falling in love with Minneapolis (as did my then-boyfriend, now-husband) so we built our community and professional relationships here. But while we love Minneapolis, we’ll always love D.C. sports franchises above all else. Sorry, Vikings…
Why is Medical Alley the best place for a company like Fruitful Fertility?
Medical Alley allows fledgling startups in the healthcare space to network with some of the largest healthcare companies in the world. A contact that would have taken me months of stalking on LinkedIn to connect with is now just an event away. That’s a pretty rare, yet valuable resource for smaller companies like ours.
What led you to take the leap to move to Fruitful Fertility full-time?
I’d been working on Fruitful for three full years in addition to working full-time as a copywriter and creative lead at GoKart Labs, a digital marketing agency and consultancy. I loved working at GoKart and splitting my time between two jobs I loved felt manageable for a while, but then I experienced another life shift…I became a mom. I then realized that I needed more focus and less fragmentation which led to the decision to make the leap to pursue Fruitful full-time. It’s been a great lesson in vulnerability. Quitting your full-time, paying job to pursue an idea is a big financial gamble; I know it might not pay off, but I also know that this is an incredible learning experience for me both professionally and personally. As a copywriter and creative director, I never would have learned what a P&L statement is or what a balance sheet is. Running Fruitful is making me a stronger, smarter, more gritty person and is also allowing me to be a good example for my daughter. I want to show her what it looks like to work hard, pursue your curiosity, create something meaningful, take a risk, and invest in yourself.
What does the next year look like for your company? How about the next five years?
Over the last three years, we’ve learned that people are finding value in our service. We’ve tested and tested…surveyed and surveyed…so our goal next year is to find some strategic investment partners, begin growing our team, and proving that we can scale the company. As for five years, we’ll most likely be building more products, features, and services that align with our mission to make infertility suck less. I don’t concretely know what they are yet, but I know that we’ll be testing, iterating, and building based on real feedback from our community.
What is a bad habit you’ve cut from your routine and a good habit you’ve added?
A bad habit I’ve been trying to cut is worrying so much about what others are doing and focusing more on what I’m doing. As a naturally competitive person, I often get intimidated by the success of others which can be distracting. I’ve been trying harder to stay focused on my own work and wear my horse blinders. While this doesn’t mean ignoring trends or competition, it most certainly means not obsessing and stewing. Sometimes this means spending less time on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook; other times it means less nervous-Googling late at night. I am trying to approach the world and business from a place of abundance…and remind myself that just because another fertility-related startup got X amount in funding doesn’t mean what I’m doing can’t be successful as well. As long as I stay focused, work hard, listen to our community, build meaningful relationships, and keep one eye on the market, I know I can find success.
A good habit I’ve added is bullet journaling every day. I started doing it in January of 2019 and the prioritizing has been so helpful for my productivity and mental health. Every morning I write down what I am grateful for, my top three priorities for the day and a few other bonus tasks if I am on a roll. At the end of the day, I write down my biggest win, one thing I learned, and a few other things I am grateful for. It’s been a fantastic exercise in forcing myself to stay positive, acknowledge my learnings, and also find things to be grateful for even if I’m having a down day.