The role of connections in business and entrepreneurship
Connected By: A New Series by Rachel Schwartzmann
Behind every success story is a series of big breaks, mentorship, guidance, and happy accidents.
Weaving solidarity and serendipity
Cultivating an intimate network of women who open their homes for inspiring events and themed discussions
More than ever, women are turning to each other for solidarity. A desire for comfort and support, both physical and mental, has fueled the growth of women-first communities across the nation.
In the ever-booming digital space, Facebook Groups, newsletters, Instagram, and group texts have lowered the barriers to entering these conversations. But digital connections only provide so much—and there’s still no replacement for the energy, connection, and inspiration that sparks when women gather together in person.
Through Los Angeles-based startup Quilt, founders Ashley Sumner and Gianna Wurzl are helping women discover real-life kinship. Quilt has cultivated a network of safe spaces where women open their homes for events that engage attendees in themed chats highlighting thought-provoking concepts and pertinent social issues.
And with a freshly released app to help members discover meetups, Quilt is using technology as a medium for tearing down society’s digital walls, enabling its community to more easily connect on a deeper, personal level.
As one might expect, the meeting between these two founders was also full of serendipitous and unexpected connections, as though they were being pulled together like magnets.
Two years ago, Ashley moved from New York to LA. Around the same time, Gianna was packing her bags in Melbourne to settle down in Los Angeles. Within a week of her arrival, the two community developer powerhouses had several mutual friends attempting to connect them. "I had emails, texts, Facebook messages, saying I needed to meet this girl," says Ashley.
With no agenda in mind, the two agreed to an afternoon date. Three hours later, both walked away from that encounter knowing they had found someone special.
At the time, Gianna was working on her previous company, One Roof, which reimagined workspaces for women, and Ashley was working as a community developer for brands like Wanderlust. It didn’t take long before the two arrived at a mutual inspiration for incorporating technology into a platform built to enable access to communities created by supportive women.
The two schemed to send an email survey to a list of connections and friends. To their surprise, within forty-eight hours, hundreds of women were interested in participating.
"It was a 30% conversion in virtually no time," shares Ashley.
Initially, Quilt was conceived primarily as a coworking space, but Gianna and Ashley quickly observed that its potential extended much further, demonstrating a clear personal need for its users.
“Women all over wanted to have meaningful conversations. The Quilt woman is someone who knows how valuable it is to grow and build off each other, someone looking for the next steps to take, and someone who believes in growth within a community,” explains Sumner. “[She] is looking for ways to support someone else. She's also looking for that other woman who's been there before her that can share her experience. Quilt was much more than a coworking space. It was about conversations and developing a community.”
When asked to describe a Quilt Chat, Gianna painted a stimulating picture. “Imagine your dream forty-five minutes yoga class: simple, enjoyable, and useful. Hosts choose from a library of topics ranging from money and relationships to cryptocurrencies and the cannabis space, all the way to subjects as deep as how to raise capital.”
“For introverts like myself, a community chat at someone's home can be quite intimidating. That's why the first questions at a Quilt Chat are simple, and slowly get deeper. A first question can be as simple as ‘How are you feeling right now?’ Just enough to let you feel conscious of your surroundings and to get you out of your mind,” shares Ashley.
Quilt events then dig deeper into current events, statistics, and other topics conceived of from within the community itself. Quilt Chats are centered around the idea of creating access to information that might otherwise be difficult to find and share in a supportive and inclusive community.
And those communities are picking up. Says Ashley, “At one point, I was hosting 100 women in my home, learning how Quilt had changed their lives. As we speak, ten chats are happening right now, and 2,000 gatherings and they're all running smoothly.”
But securing funding and growing the company while maintaining a multitude of communities hasn’t been without its challenges.
There's no doubt the pressure to succeed, to find venture capital, and to grow and scale without losing quality is a challenge. “I recently read something that said, 'If only Walmart was built in a year,’ jokes Gianna. “The truth is that finding the perfect balance between growing without sacrificing quality is tricky. After all, Quilt is a for-profit business. While our core mission is to help as many women as possible, we must remain profitable for the Quilt team," comments Ashley.
Raising capital started within Ashley and Gianna’s inner circle. Gianna mentions the importance of the relationships they've both built throughout the years. "It's saying yes to every coffee meeting, every phone call, and every introduction that's raising capital under my eyes."
For Ashley, raising capital was also part of her personal growth. With a background in assisting and connecting people, asking for help herself was not her forte. "I had to move past my head trash and get the word out there," she explains. Eventually, an email sent to their inner circle resulted in some of the first investors in Quilt.
But apart from the noise of running a business, the two have committed to supporting each other in their entrepreneurial journey. One of their first priorities was to establish their own professional goals with each other, setting boundaries and a standard for mutual respect. They also participate together in therapy, meditation, and work with personal growth coaches to support the longevity of their relationship. “After so many years as friends and co-founders, our relationship looks kind of like a marriage. It does take a lot of work, we've had our moments, but Quilt has always been our number one priority,” says Gianna.
That dedication has resulted in a thriving network, inspiring not only this generation but apparently also the next. "At our Christmas party, a mother came to me to share how much she loved the community. But it was her 14-year-old daughter who felt the most inspired by our Quilt Chats and how she felt it was something she was missing. Eventually, she took one of our guides and started a girl's club at her school. That was just everything to me," recalls Ashley.
For now, the two are set on nurturing the communities that have already been established in LA, San Francisco, and NYC. But, there's already interest in Chicago, Miami, Denver, Portland, and many other cities. "The growth will come, but thoughtfully and slowly. We want to make sure that we're doing what the community wants. Wherever she is, will go there. But, we'll do so keeping scalable quality in mind," says Ashley, with a strong sense of purpose and determination in her voice.