As a young, minority woman with no significant business background, Ashley Small didn’t exactly fit the stereotypical image of most entrepreneurs. Then again, very few are as intensely driven as the founder and CEO of Medley Inc., which melds marketing and PR with digital technology to help build client brands. Since launching the company in 2009 at the age of 24, Ashley has guided a wide spectrum of companies and nonprofits to increased brand awareness. She’s also been recognized by media outlets from Fast Company magazine to ABC as an expert in the digital marketing arena. Through her work with the nonprofit Women Empowering Nations, Ashley has also helped mentor women around the world to forge their own path.
Where are you from originally? If you’re a transplant to Houston, how did you get here?
I’m originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a teenager I was eager to explore new places, so when I was 18, I looked for opportunities in other markets. Houston’s diversity caught my eye and drew me in. I went to Texas Southern University and felt very empowered by the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) experience. My experience there helped shape me and has contributed to many of my career firsts.
Who has inspired you most in your life and why?
My mom for sure. She’s kind, courageous and resilient.
How do you like to get your day started? Any consistent rituals?
I love rituals and routine. After getting dressed, I have the same breakfast every morning (matcha green tea and oatmeal), then I turn on the TV to watch the news and send out emails I saved in my drafts from the night before. This is something I started doing a few years ago. It serves a dual purpose: I don’t get into the habit of corresponding on work emails really late but I also don’t miss key times to send important emails at the top of the morning.
How do you approach leadership?
The best leaders are the ones who’ve been in the trenches before and are willing to get back in when necessary. I don’t delegate tasks that I’m unwilling to roll up my sleeves and do myself. My style of leadership is one that requires me to always be both the student and the teacher. I hope that never changes.
I started my company when I was 24 years old, so I had to work really hard for my voice to be heard in new environments. I understood early on that not everyone would like me, but my clients must respect me in order to trust me. I believe respect is earned by showing a high level of commitment and consistency.
You have a very impressive resume of community service. How do you manage your time?
In recent years, I decided to only serve with organizations if I have a personal story that ties into the cause. Now I only serve with a handful of them. In one of my favorite books, “Minimalism” by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the central idea is to identify four or five things that you value the most and create a life centered around them. I manage my time by being pretty strict about those key areas. If it doesn’t enhance or nurture them, I try not to make it a priority.
Keeping up with technology and social media is 24/7 job. What is your secret to success?
Quality over quantity. There are times when it’s best to lead the conversation and that’s when things get exciting. But similar to the real world, I don’t feel the need to be the loudest voice in the virtual room at all times.
How would you sum up the character of Houston?
Daring and dependable. We’re in a unique space right now where all indicators point to a major shift happening in the tech industry, mobility and an area I’m personally very excited about - green spaces. However, there are some elements that are tried and true that I don’t take for granted, such as southern hospitality and deep south traditions.
How has working in Houston set you up for success?
Medley focuses heavily on multicultural marketing to help organizations reach a variety of consumers. What better city to do that in than Houston? This approach is more than just identifying how to communicate to diverse audiences. It’s about having meaningful connections to gain cultural insight that ultimately creates more equitable environments. Houston has allowed us to be marketers, but also activists in our own right.
Where would we find you in your free time?
Memorial Park for a good hike. Project Row Houses for an arts and culture fix. Restrospect Coffee for matcha and crepes.
Follow Ashley on Instagram at @ashleysmall and Twitter at @ashleyrsmall.
The 2018 HYPE Impact Awards will be held Nov. 8. Click here for information and tickets.