Featuring Emily Merrell: Founder & CEO of Six Degrees Society

by | Feb 27, 2019 | shine on series | 0 comments

I personally came to know who Emily Merrell is at one of her hosted events in Chicago last fall. I remember walking into the event, being hosted by EvolveHer and Six Degrees Society, and being greeted by a woman with a warm, friendly hug. I thought to myself, who is this girl and how cool that she’s greeting everyone personally?! I didn’t know it at the time, but as the event began, I quickly found out that that girl was Emily, the founder and CEO of Six Degrees Society. Six Degrees Society is a professional women’s network that hosts a diversified series of monthly programming for millennial young professionals.

I loved everything about the event I attended and personally reached out to Emily afterward because I didn’t get a chance to speak with her at the event. We scheduled a call and got to talking and she mentioned she had some openings for 1:1 coaching. Knowing where I was and still am with Lipstick & Ink, I knew Emily would be the absolute perfect person to coach me as I build L&I into a business. I’ve been working with her over the last few months and have come to know Emily on a more personal level and could sing praises about the kind of person she is. She is incredibly inspiring, encouraging and really knows her stuff when it comes to networking and pitching.

Emily Merrell, Founder & CEO of Six Degrees Society

Prior to Six Degrees Society, Emily spent close to seven years in fashion marketing and events. She graduated with honors from Denison University in 2009 with degrees in Spanish and Communications and immediately began her career in Buenos Aires, where she managed public relations and marketing for the country’s Cultural Concierge. Over the course of her career, Emily has worked for leading fashion brands such as Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Club Monaco and INTERMIX.  

Though captivated by the creative energy of the fashion world, Emily decided to follow her passion and build a women’s organization that sought to fix the pitfalls of everyday networking groups. Six Degrees Society was inspired by the need to create a non-judgmental, safe space where women aren’t defined by their looks, work experience or economic status, but rather by who they are. Emily wanted to offer women the opportunity to connect on personal and professional levels while taking the guesswork out of networking. Armed with her knowledge of the industry, Emily put her passion for connecting others in motion and founded Six Degrees Society.

Emily first introduced her unique concept to close friends in the city, beginning with intimate dinner parties, and officially launched in New York City in the spring of 2014. Six Degrees Society has been quickly gaining clout in major cities across the United States, now with 10 chapters including Washington DC, San Francisco, Atlanta and Boston. In just a few short years, the brand has landed the stamp of approval from top publications including Forbes, Huffington Post, Brit + Co, PureWow and Levo League. Emily ultimately aims to make Six Degrees Society a domestic and internationally recognized organization that transcends the barriers and stigmas around networking.

Check out our interview below to find out just how incredible Emily is, both professionally and personally!

Emily Merrell, Founder & CEO of Six Degrees Society

KN: Emily, love having you as part of this series! Can you share your story and explain a bit more how Six Degrees Society came about?

Emily Merrell: Six Degrees Society was a human experiment gone right. After years of making email intros or forcing my friends to be friends with one another, I was able to convince people time and time again that I make excellent connections. My very first event, I handpicked who was invited and matched each person with 4 other attendees. I realized that too often we were showing up to events on behalf of our job that we didn’t necessarily like, wanted to get out of, or were unsure of what to talk about. I wanted to create a space where you could be yourself regardless of your status.

KN: How did you go about building Six Degrees Society and ensuring what you wanted to do with the organization was successful?

EM: I asked a lot of questions to everyone I met or had done something before. It very much felt like I was following an unraveling sweater thread not quite sure where the next intro would lead me. I said “yes” often — building trust and offering my help or advice where I could. I put a lot of deposits into the bank account of life to ensure that when favors were asked, they weren’t taken by surprise. I highly recommend that everyone nurtures a relationship in a two way mentality. Try to give more than you take.

KN: I love that mentality. Can I ask what you love most about your company?

EM: I love that every day is new. Every day someone can walk into my life, email me and change everything. I also love creating content, product and offerings that inspire and can change someone’s life. There is something so powerful in helping solve problems for people that didn’t even know they needed solving.

Emily Merrell, Founder & CEO of Six Degrees Society talks with another woman.

KN: So true. I loved the Six Degrees event I attended last year, especially because of the “matching process.” Can you speak a little bit about that and how that works at your events? 

EM: We all know how intimidating networking can be. From walking into a room full of strangers and being unsure of who to talk to or what event to talk about. Before the event begins, each guest is prompted to write their own bio in the third person and include the grand overview of who they are personally and professionally. Based on these bios, I pre-match each person with two individuals based on shared commonalities I see in their bios or personally know about the person. It can be something as simple as matching a job searcher to a recruiter to an ex-New Yorker to another ex-New Yorker. The best part of the matches is that you get the bios, pictures, job titles, companies and emails of all of the attendees and are able to reach out to everyone post event if you didn’t have the chance to connect with someone during the event.

KN: Absolutely brilliant, Em. What would you say has been the most rewarding and most challenging part of starting and running Six Degrees Society?

EM: Growing my brand to be beyond “the Emily Merrell show” and letting others lead. The best part of having multiple chapters is experiencing FOMO for other events via Instagram stories. My team has grown into passionate leaders who love SDS as much as I do and add their own creative spin onto the brand. It’s hard to step aside, but it’s also a testament of where we’re going as a brand.

KN: I totally understand that – sometimes it’s hard to let go and trust other people! I’m curious, what does the future of Six Degrees Society look like?

EM: The future of Six Degrees Society is shifting. We’re building out our blog content on the website with articles focused on personal and professional development written by and for our community. Personally, I’m focusing on 1:1 coaching for solopreneurs, like yourself. I strive to help entrepreneurs launch, market and scale their business. I help with everything from their pricing, to writing call scripts, to developing strategic event partnerships and community building.

KN: I’d imagine being the founder and CEO of a growing business has to be a lot of work. What keeps you motivated to keep going?

EM: When I hear that advice I gave or something that was learned at an event changed someone’s life, it keeps me on track to keep going. I thrive on other people’s personal and professional wins. I also LOVE hearing connection stories – there is nothing better than hearing how one event changed the course of someone’s life.

KN: That has to be such an amazing feeling. And what would you credit your success to over the years?

EM: Timing, tenacity and a dash of luck. For whatever reason unbeknownst to me, I have always been like the little engine that could. I never expected overnight success (nor did I get it), but putting in little efforts day after day and being consistent in your offering can make all the difference. I think if you help others, they are more willing to go ahead and help you.

KN: I can 100% relate to that with Lipstick & Ink too. As you’ve built up Six Degrees Society, who has been your inspiration and why?

EM: Self-made millionaires that offer a lot to their followers. For example, I love the infopreneur Jenna Kutcher. She lives her life in yoga pants and shares her pains and wins with her audience. I admire her vulnerability to share her ups and downs with a bigger audience yet at the same time, share her learnings on how she got successful. We don’t need more aspirational, polished people whose lives seem so unachievable. Rather, I want to learn and relate to the person I most admire and see myself becoming.

KN: YES. Couldn’t agree more there – it’s so important to hear others’ journeys! While a CEO is very time-consuming, there has to be time for self-care. When you have free time, what do you like to do?

EM: I’m just recently understanding the beauty of free time. I watch a surprising amount of Netflix and Hulu, usually in binges at a time. I also love reading, working out and journaling. I get sucked into a book and can’t put it down until I’m done. Living in San Francisco, I love walking my dog on hikes in and around the city. I’m also a huge traveler and can’t go a month without hopping on a plane (it’s an expensive problem). I need to be constantly in motion, taking in culture, meeting new people and seeing new places to stay inspired.

Emily Merrell, Founder & CEO of Six Degrees Society smiles on.

KN: I’m the same way! There’s so many women out there that are looking to grow their business. If you had one piece of advice for these women, what would it be?

EM: Tune out the naysayers. Everyone is going to have an opinion about your business and how you should run it. Much like having a child, you’ll have to raise your business in a way that is right for you. My additional piece of advice is that saying no to things will be more normal than you think get comfortable with “no.”

KN: Love that. Do you have any parting thoughts or advice?

EM: Life is a game. Have fun playing it! There will be moments that you win big and lose terribly, ultimately the game will end so enjoy it.

That analogy is fantastic and so true! Thanks so much again, Emily! To learn more about Six Degrees Society or to connect with Emily, check out the ways to do so below:

Welcome to Lipstick & Ink®, your home for everything career and wellness inspired. I’m Kelly, a Chicago-based career coach, writer, speaker, and events host.

Whether we’re working together on your career aspirations, refreshing your professional documents, or keeping your mental health in check, I encourage you to own your power and make your mark.




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