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Marissa Evans Alden: “Man in the Arena”

As far as seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we know that at some point things will normalize but it is difficult to know when. Instead I choose to focus on what is bringing me light right now, and focus on short term victories which include: Eating Oreos with my daughters and making […]

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As far as seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we know that at some point things will normalize but it is difficult to know when. Instead I choose to focus on what is bringing me light right now, and focus on short term victories which include:

Eating Oreos with my daughters and making super Oreos

Rewatching old favorites like The West Wing for a sense of comfort

Watching the Sawyer team adapt and hustle to serve the needs of providers and families


I had the pleasure of interviewing Marissa Evans Alden, a seasoned technology entrepreneur and founder with more than a decade of experience in leadership at high growth startups. She currently serves as CEO and Co-Founder of Sawyer, a marketplace for children’s classes online and in person. Sawyer’s goal is to ensure every child has the opportunity to discover their own love of learning.


Thank you for joining us! Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I ran my first business in college, a company called “Campus Promotions” which was a part of an organization called Student Agencies. It was my first experience with feeling autonomous around running a company and needing to be accountable for the growth of a business like that. I think I fell in love with the autonomy and the ability to see the fruits of my labors so quickly. Entrepreneurship for me has always been about the days where you can just get started and make an impact quickly! I’ve been a part of startups ever since!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

The arc of building Sawyer coincided with a time in my life of many major events, a story not that uncommon for many other female founders. I got married and had my two children all while running Sawyer! I’ve had to constantly balance my growing family with growing a business, and this has helped me become a stronger more empathetic leader, as well as better serve the partners and families using our platform. A huge part of how I have been able to do this is the partners I have in my life. My co-founders, Stephanie and Andrew and of course my husband, Ben have made this all possible for me!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are! Now that online learning is a huge part of Sawyer’s offering we are devising the best way parents can access classes, be it live, pre-recorded or in person and making sure parents are able to choose what is right for their children at every age and ability is extremely important to us. Now more than ever, every family is unique and so making sure Sawyer can serve the needs of everyone, quickly and easily, is key!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My co-founder Stephaine has not only been a partner in business but a friend and someone I look up to personally! She had children before me and has been a key person I look to for advice and guidance around being a working mom. Together we have been able to define what it can be like to be a working parent at Sawyer and set a new standard for a family friendly startup, something we are both extremely proud of.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

As a mom and a CEO, Covid-19 has impacted every aspect of my life. From loss of socialization, seeing family regularly, and general normalcy at home, to helping small businesses reach customers and parents find educational solutions, there is no part of my personal or professional life that was untouched by Covid. Like most people, I try to take things day by day, look for new opportunities or areas of innovation, and know that we are all doing our best.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Sawyer launched virtual classes in a week at the start of the pandemic, and it has been hugely successful and a lifesaver for many families, so there are some silver linings despite the overwhelming challenges.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

I think regardless of gender, as a CEO keeping the team motivated and connected during such an abrupt change has been the biggest challenge. Luckily we had an extremely strong culture prior to the pandemic, and we have adapted to keep it up while we’re all remote.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

We have a bi-weekly core values meeting where team members nominate folks who are upholding our values, and its a great way to connect and remind each other of our shared mission and purpose. We’ve also worked with our providers and held fun classes for employees — most recently pretzel making — to stay connected with all of our partners and the shared experience of learning something new.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

I am lucky to have some support to help care for our daughters during this time! It has been a balancing act for sure. My “circle” has allowed me and my husband to be able to balance together. I also am lucky we have built a strong team at Sawyer and I know folks inside the company are always happy to help out and support each other. I think also being somewhat forgiving of yourself these days, it’s not going to be perfect with two little kids running around, especially not during a pandemic. You do your best every day. That is what matters.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

I was running and listening to podcasts…I love “How I built this” and finding myself listening to “The Daily” I also decided to listen to the book “ The Hour of Fate, Theodore Roosevet, JP Morgan and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism” as it was also a transformative time in our society.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

As far as seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we know that at some point things will normalize but it is difficult to know when. Instead I choose to focus on what is bringing me light right now, and focus on short term victories which include:

  1. Eating Oreos with my daughters and making super Oreos
  2. Getting closer to neighbors in NYC, the city has been amazingly resilient
  3. Listening to Taylor Swift’s new album Folklore
  4. Rewatching old favorites like The West Wing for a sense of comfort
  5. Watching the Sawyer team adapt and hustle to serve the needs of providers and families

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I try to check in in small ways — like sending a text saying thinking of you, or sharing a funny article or video that has nothing to do with the state of the world. Everything is so heavy right now and just to offer support and know other people are there in big and small ways helps us stay grounded.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have always loved Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

For me, being a founder can often feel like you are in the “arena” swinging…Investors, outsiders, might tell you “what to do” or “how to do it” but you are the one really responsible at the end of the day, and remembering that when it is hard, the real point is to be in there trying… It is very motivational for me!

How can our readers follow you online?

For additional information, check out www.hisawyer.com or @hellosawyer on Instagram.


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