Cathy Ly, CEO Merchant Sons

Cathy Ly, CEO Merchant Sons

Cathy is the CEO of Merchant Sons, a shop of technical homewares designed to look great and work better 

What is your morning routine?

I wish I could say that I wake up at 4:00 AM to go for a run, but I am not that disciplined. Typically, I sleep through my alarm because my brain doesn’t shut off at night and I’m constantly waking at odd hours. So, my mornings are filled with panic as I frantically try to get ready for the first appointment of the day. Despite the chaos, I do always take 45 minutes to shower, blow dry my hair and put on make-up while listening to podcasts. I feel that my brain is a little sharper if I’ve been exposed to interesting ideas early in the day.

Tell us about your career path

I’ve spent my entire career (until now) as a management consultant, starting in strategy consulting at ZS Associates and the Boston Consulting Group before specializing in brand and customer experience strategy as a Principal at Jackman Reinvents. While at Jackman, I came to this insight that the homewares industry has been ignoring the needs of men, which created a big gap (and opportunity) in the market. I left my job 18 months ago to build a business to address those needs. We launched in April 2017, and I’m now the CEO of Merchant Sons.

What challenges do you or women face in your industry?

The standards are different – women need to clear a much higher hurdle to be legitimate as an entrepreneur. To be taken seriously, you need to be armed to the teeth with achievements (“Look at our funding! Look at our products! Look at our sales!” – and sometimes that’s still not enough). This is going to sound terribly bitter, but I think most white men, because they fit people’s expectations of an “entrepreneur”, can walk through the door and be taken more seriously by default.

It’s also challenging for me because Merchant Sons is in a traditionally “feminine” category – we sell homewares. But we design homewares that are technically enhanced, using different fibres, techniques and treatments to make these products work better in homes. If that message came from a boy in a hoodie, we would be a tech company and valued as such. Because that message comes from me, they think I’m good with a sewing machine and have an Etsy store.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?

Trust your intuition. Don’t take any advice. Seriously. Even at a young age, women tend to have very good intuition; somewhere along the way, we’re taught not to trust it. There are different ways to get to where you want to be. There will be some meandering. Luck will play a big role. Everyone else’s success will seem far more deliberate than it is. So, I would collect stories and ideas to inspire your thinking, but trust that you know what’s best for you.

How do you separate work life from your personal life?

I used to do the whole “my work is my lifestyle” schtick which basically meant working all the time. But a couple of months ago, I decided to not do any Merchant Sons work on Sundays. Unless the warehouse is on fire, I’ll force myself to wait until Monday.

The reason for the change is because I wasn’t getting any new ideas about the business when I was working all the time; I was just pushing through a to-do list. Meanwhile, cleaning the house, brunching with friends, watching YouTube videos and other “mindless” activities, gives my brain space for random ideas to enter. I quickly jot them down in a notebook or on my phone for Monday and move onto the next panda video.

What inspires you?

Very honestly, my mother and Tinder.

My mother because when she was my age, she left her entire family and the only country she had known to board a wooden boat packed with people which would dodge sharks and pirates for 8 days before arriving at an Indonesian refugee camp that would ultimately assign her for settlement in Guelph, Ontario in the middle of winter. I tell this story very well because I’ve been told it every time I complain about something. Ma is quick to remind me that I know nothing about adversity.

And Tinder because every in-home mirror selfie gives me a real glimpse into how men live and new ideas for how Merchant Sons can help.

When you’re off the clock, what are your indulgences?

Is soft serve still an indulgence if you eat it every day?


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