Startup Showcase: Offering support for couples facing infertility
Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews entrepreneurs for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on March 10, 2019.
According to the CDC about 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. An article last year in Fast Company reports that the emotional ordeal of infertility takes a toll on life, work and family.
Entrepreneur Elyse Ash understands all too well the isolation and frustration of infertility. That is the very reason she and her husband started Fruitful, a mentoring and matchmaking platform for those experiencing infertility, connecting them with others who understand, and creating fruitful relationships that will last a lifetime.
Name of Company: Fruitful Fertility
Business Start Date: Began working on it in the fall of 2016 but launched the website in April 2017
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: More than 3,000
Name: Elyse Ash
City of Birth: Minneapolis (moved away to Virginia when young, but returned as an adult)
City you live in: Minneapolis
High school attended: South Lakes High School, Reston, Va.
College attended: University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.
Q. What is your history:
A. I began my career over 10 years ago making creative advertising campaigns for some of the country’s biggest brands. I’m currently the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility, an organization that makes infertility suck less. I also currently work part-time as a creative lead and senior copywriter at GoKart Labs where I help enterprise companies and startups grow and transform their companies.
Today, I spend most of my time growing Fruitful, which has seen incredible traction since its launch in 2017. Fruitful was recently accepted into the second cohort of the accelerator Lunar Startups, named a 2018 semifinalist for the Minnesota Cup and has been receiving great press from The Star Tribune, MPR, WCCO, Inc. and Business Insider.
I’m also a founding board member of MPR’s project Generation Listen, a Moth storytelling award winner, a 2019 “40 Under 40” honoree by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal and a mom.
Q. What is your business?
A. Fruitful is a mentorship matching service for the 1 in 8 couples who experience infertility. Fruitful connects those feeling isolated at the beginning of their fertility journey with individuals who have been through it firsthand and are now “on the other side.” Like an online dating services, mentors and mentees are matched based on shared diagnoses, histories, interests and values.
Our matching algorithm suggests the best possible mentor/mentee relationships based on geography, diagnosis, age, religion etc. We then finalize each match by hand, which while time-consuming, allows us to create meaningful relationships between mentors and mentees. Once matched, the mentor and mentee connect in their own time, and in their own way.
We also offer our members additional free resources including a private forum, a blog and a monthly newsletter called The Fruit Basket.
Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. My husband and I battled infertility for three years and they were the toughest years of our lives. We were not emotionally prepared for the anger, grief, anxiety, heartbreak and financial stress it would put us under. Yet despite all the bills and injections and medical tests, the toughest thing was feeling isolated from our friends who didn’t understand what we were going through and would make unhelpful comments like “Just relax!” Or “Want kids? You can have mine!” I quickly realized that the only people who could truly support us were those who had been through infertility themselves. That was when I had the idea for Fruitful.
Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. Despite the prevalence of infertility, it’s still a lonely, traumatic experience. Part of what makes infertility the fourth most traumatic life event a woman can experience is that it affects nearly every aspect of her life: her body, finances, friendships, relationship and mental health. The stress and isolation are compounded since 61 percent of women struggling with infertility don’t tell their friends or family what they’re going through.
Q. What big hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. While we haven’t “pivoted,” we have been working to implement a revenue strategy now that we’ve really proven the need for the product. At first, we didn’t worry about revenue; just building something that solved the problem and that our users would LOVE. With 3,000+ members we now feel confident that this model is valuable. The struggle is finding a revenue strategy that will work while still maintaining the integrity of platform and working to truly help our mentees going through infertility first.
Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. As a professional copywriter and digital strategist, I have over 10 years of creative advertising and marketing experience and have created everything from huge multi-channel ad campaigns to social media content. I’ve also helped create and brand many startups while working at GoKart Labs, whom I still do some work for. My husband Brad Ash is my co-founder and serves as CTO. He’s a software developer with a background in design and digital marketing. Over the last 18 years he’s worked in financial and small-business newsletter publishing, building editorial content management, order processing, reporting and fulfillment systems.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. Simply launching Fruitful. When I had the idea, I was very convinced it would work but wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the one to do it. I was nervous about being open about our story (especially since IVF hadn’t worked for us yet and we still didn’t know if we’d ever become parents). Vulnerability is hard. It’s hard enough to launch a new company but doubly hard when it’s also something very personal to you.
Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?
A. Internally, the self-doubt, impostor syndrome, and fear of failure. Logistically things got a little tougher when I gave birth to our baby, Abigail, in March 2018 — she was the product of our second round of IVF. But now that she’s almost a year old (and I’m weaning her off breastfeeding) life feels a lot more balanced and manageable.
Q. How are you funding your business?
A. Fruitful is currently 100 percent bootstrapped by myself and my husband, Brad. With very minimal financial expenses needed to run the company, we haven’t needed external funding or investment dollars yet.
Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?
A. Really penetrating the infertility marketplace. We want to be a household name, especially for people who have gone through infertility.
Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?
A. I think it’s a combination of optimism, humility, focus, curiosity and grit all coupled with a great idea and the support from other people.
Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. This sounds corny but it’s all about helping other people when they are at their lowest.
Q. How did 1 Million Cups Saint Paul help you with your business?
A. I loved getting the opportunity to present Fruitful at One Million Cups St. Paul at the James J. Hill Center. It was a great opportunity to share and practice telling the story while fielding questions from some of the city’s smartest, savviest business-minded folks.
Interview by Lily Shaw, Director of External Relations at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a startup organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit business center in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. You can hear from startups like the ones featured in Startup Showcase every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups.