Sara is the CEO of Flexjobs. Prior to this, she was the co-founder of JobDirect, an entry-level job service for college graduates. After JobDirect, she founded Flexjobs to promote professional, legitimate telecommuting jobs. Flexjobs embodies the telecommuting philosophy, and its own staff is located throughout the country where they work from their homes.
SM: To start, tell us the genesis of your story. Where are you from? What kind of environment did you grow up in?
SS: I had a wonderful childhood. I had more parents than fewer parents. My parents divorced when I was six and both remarried; I had four parents and four siblings. It was a nice, chaotic, busy life! We had our challenges but it was a very dynamic family life.
We grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I am the oldest. My education was interesting. I went to a small public school when I was a child, and then I switched to an all-girls private school for middle school. As much as I did not love the catty environment, it did prompt me to challenge myself academically. I had always loved school but that push was really needed. It drove me to seek out a great high school education and I ended up going to a boarding school in Connecticut. It was completely my own idea. My parents were not excited about it at all.
SM: Where did you go to boarding school?
SS: I went to Taft in Connecticut. It is almost like a liberal arts college education. It was such a free, safe place to explore. They do a fantastic job of exposing kids to a whole bunch of ideas. It broadened my mind a lot more. I studied Chinese for three years and I really loved it.
When I went to college I realized I wanted something different, so I did the exact opposite of what Taft embodied in a lot of ways. I went to Berkeley, which was across the country and completely different. It was exciting, intellectual and international.
SM: What did you study?
SS: I could not make up my mind. I started out focusing on political science and international relations. I did an Estagiar in Brussels at the European Parliament when it was just starting. I had a fantastic interesting opportunity there for a semester. I came back fully expecting to go to the UN and focus on international relations. A semester later a friend and I started talking about what we were going to do after graduation and her father mentioned that there was no need to do a traditional job when you could start something on your own.
SM: What year was this?
SS: This was in 1995. We were both juniors. We started brainstorming, and three weeks later had an idea driven by our experiences finding internships as college students. At the time the Internet was just coming out and I had a really difficult time finding an internship in California when I was back East. We thought that it would be great to do something around entry-level jobs for college students on the Internet. We spent our summer researching and building up contacts in various industries. Everyone told us we had a great window of opportunity and we were passionate about it, so we decided to do it that fall.
We started the company JobDirect, thinking that if we did it for a semester and if it worked we could go back to school and do it from our respective schools. Of course that did not exactly happen. We were naïve getting into it and found it to be a big challenge.