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How Emily Merrell Is Taking the Pain Out of Networking with Six Degrees Society

How Emily Merrell Is Taking the Pain Out of Networking with Six Degrees Society

portrait of Tricia Ismail
Tricia Ismail
Senior Editor

ThirdLove is a #ByWomenForWomen company, and we make it a point to celebrate strong women who are doing amazing things. Our weekly blog series, #WomenMade, is a chance to get to know some of these standout females who are creating products, services, and tech we love.


Outgoing to the point of being in constant danger of voluntary abduction, Emily Merrell always thrived on bringing people together. As she started her career, she was eager to make connections with like-minded people to help invigorate her creative development. But she saw a real barrier: a sea of networking events and spaces that focused on sizing others up only to bring them down. She decided to create a space that did things differently and so, Six Degrees Society was born. A social networking club that connects people through one-of-a-kind events such as wine tastings, jewelry making, and oyster shucking, to name a few, Emily has taken traditional networking to a whole new level. Each event kicks-off with one-on-one networking where Emily goes through the entire attendee list to curate specific matches based on personal interests, occupations, and industries to make finding a connection that much easier. Looking for a new job, another bff, a mentor or someone to grab coffee with on a Wednesday? Emily Merrell wants to help. 

When did you start your company?
2014 unofficially and 2016 officially!

Why did you start your company?
I started my company because people were getting too comfortable connecting online and too uncomfortable meeting people in person. I hadn’t found a space where people could come together from various backgrounds, levels of experience and be themselves. I wanted to change that and create a space where the transactional part of networking was removed, where people weren’t judged by who they worked for, what they did or what school they went to, but by who they are.

Tell us about yourself.
At a young age I was told I was a good “conversationalist” and as a naturally curious kid I loved asking for people’s stories. As I got older, this only intensified. I have a freakishly good memory of people and enjoy nothing more than bringing people together to help solve a problem from finding a roommate to switching jobs. I’m also a Gemini and have a naturally outgoing demeanor. I’m pretty sure my parents thought I’d be kidnapped as a child, I didn’t believe in the idea of strangers.

What was one challenge you overcame during the early days of your company?
People love to remind you of all the other female networking organizations and ask if they are your competition. Initially, it was hard to be reminded of all the competition and not to compare my growth with others who started at the same time. Yet, when I saw the other organizations as complementary rather than competition, I was able to focus on my business rather than other businesses and what they were doing.

Was there anyone who helped pave the way for your business or your path as an entrepreneur?
Definitely, my mom. She was an entrepreneur growing up and I thought people who took corporate jobs were boring. I remember being at a corporate job and always feeling like I was undercover, learning skills that would apply to my entrepreneur life later on. 

What are some of the ways entrepreneurs today can help raise and inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
Take the time to mentor the next generation. Don’t have them stumble or make the same mistakes you did.

Yet, when I saw the other organizations as complementary rather than competition, I was able to focus on my business rather than other businesses and what they were doing.

Why is it important for entrepreneurs to put time into helping the next generation of women founders?
Entrepreneurship shouldn’t be held on a pedestal, it should be something that is passed down from generation to generation. I’m a huge advocate for side hustling and encourage people to ask all the questions as they figure out what they want to do. I don’t think secrets should be close to our chest, but rather shared with others. 

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Bright, silly and optimistic.

What’s something most people might not assume about you at first glance?
That I’m more of an introvert than people assume. I love to be alone and spend time reading a book completely off the grid.

What quality do you love most about yourself?
I love how quickly I can form a friendship and make people feel at ease.

When do you feel most beautiful and/or confident?
Right after a workout class, sweaty and red-faced, grateful for my body carrying me forward.

When and where are you happiest?
When I’m at home on the couch with my fiancé in comfy clothes snuggling with our dog.

If you could give your younger self advice, what would you tell her?
Learn to delegate early on and establish boundaries, saying “no” doesn’t make you a failure. While figuring out what you want to do seems stressful, enjoy the ride of growing up and learning more about yourself. 

What’s the top song on your playlist right now?
Billie Eilish Bad Guy. I can’t get enough of that song. Did you know she’s 18??

What is your motto?
There is always tomorrow, not everything needs to be figured out today.

What are the advantages or benefits of being a founder that many people may not realize or know about?
I feel like I wear a cape as a founder. I’m much more confident doing and asking for things I wouldn’t do as a mere mortal.

Why is it important to understand both the challenges and benefits of being a founder?
As a founder, it’s easy to become your company. I was my company for so long and started to forget who I was and what my hobbies were beyond my business. Having a business taught me about thick skin, letting feedback roll off my back and to also be so open and vulnerable along with how to take feedback and implement it. As a founder it can also feel like your friends are sick of hearing about your business, it’s a fine balance between figuring out what your priorities are.

Do you think founders should take time to reflect on the pros, even if they’re constantly putting out fires?
100%! I think it’s super important to stop and soak up the successes and the pros of a business otherwise you won’t have any motivation to continue putting out fires.

What did success mean to you when you first started your company? How has your definition of success changed since then?
Success at the beginning was all monetary. It was how many tickets were sold, how many Instagram stories posted. Now, I’m thrilled when someone in a random occurrence in my life tells me that they’ve attended a Six Degrees Society event and how it’s touched so many people’s lives.

Thinking about your time as an entrepreneur, what do you believe is one of the most challenging hurdles women entrepreneurs have to overcome?
Women entrepreneurs struggle with being taken seriously. If you’re not raising capital your business can be dismissed as a cute hobby. Investors are still predominantly men and the clout of a business is still seen by the monetary amount raised, money earned and exit strategy rather than the focus and impact your business has made.

Can you share what happened when you finally felt like you were on the other side of the struggle?
I am confident and proud of what I created and surround myself with others that are confident with what they’ve created and supportive of my business. It’s SO easy to compare your business to someone else’s, but at the end of the day you need to be comfortable with the choices you’re making to propel your business forward.

Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I would have applied to work at a tech company and tried my hand at sales. I was always terrified to be rejected in selling a product, but I was just scared to try. Now that I’m rejected all the time with outreach, events, etc. I think I would have been better than I thought.

What does your morning routine look like?
I get up at 6:30am, work out or run, journal for 10 minutes, shower and tackle the top 3 things I need to do for the day.

Learn to delegate early on and establish boundaries, saying “no” doesn’t make you a failure. While figuring out what you want to do seems stressful, enjoy the ride of growing up and learning more about yourself.

What motivates you to keep going in the toughest of times?
I get to do my dream job and bring people together. I know that if worst comes to worst I can go back to a corporate job and keep doing this on the side. Yet being able to help people full-time keeps me motivated when things are hard.

What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?
I love working out first thing in the morning. I’m the queen of The Assembly’s 7am workout classes or a nice 3 mile run through the Mission. I refuse to look at my email until after my workout class and 10 minutes of journaling. I occasionally meditate, but I was realistic that I had to pick between journaling or meditation.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Over communicate and manage your manager. It’ll be a lot easier to explain things when you have documentation of everything.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
Hearing the stories of how people utilized their connections. I’ve heard people finding jobs, best friends, roommates, mentors, coaches, significant others and more through our events. And finding out what they did beyond the 15-minute connections is always so rewarding.

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