Community connection is at an all-time high. The amount of goodness that is out there right now is so beautiful. That’s something that we are reconnecting with, and it’s here to stay.
Kindness is king! One of our sayings at Afloat is “Flip Selfie to Selfless,” and we see it happen everywhere. It is so important to show younger people what is important in life! Helping others (and helping yourself!) makes you feel better physically and mentally.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah-Allen Preston, founder of the social app Afloat, which makes it simple to be selfless. She is passionate about ensuring communities stay connected and present for each other — -not only for positive mental and physical health benefits but also for our future generation’s relationship with technology. She is a single mom to three awesomely rambunctious boys and lives in Kansas City.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
My path to technology is not a typical one. In fact, I knew very little about technology outside of using my iPhone when I started Afloat. I was an art history major at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and after I graduated, I started a hand-illustrated stationery company. I segued the stationery company into custom event papery and eventually leaped to high-end event design, planning, and production after getting married. That is where my current journey starts.
When my youngest son was born, he had a congenital heart defect and needed open-heart surgery. During this time of waiting for surgery and while we were inpatient and recovering, I was struck by the amount of support we received from our community. I also saw people at the hospital who didn’t have that same support, and I remember thinking, there’s has to be something we can do about this.
After he recovered, life with three (now healthy) boys got busy, and I filed that away in the back of my mind until a few years later — when I was going through a divorce. I found myself once again feeling overwhelmed and underwater, but this time I didn’t have my community lifting me, because I wasn’t ready to share what I was going through.
I remember thinking, I just wish I could ping out for a little help (dinner for my kids!) with no questions… there should be an app for that! I pretty much hit the ground running with the idea, and the team I have built is as passionate as I am about the mission to connect communities for simple, selfless, social living, made accessible through technology!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
That’s an easy one! We launched the app on March 9th, and shelter-in-place took effect two weeks later. It was equally validating and frustrating to have COVID as our welcome to the world! We saw that Afloat was needed more than ever… but people were scared to get out. As the weeks went on, it turned into the best user involvement and feedback we could have hoped.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! Because of our great connection with our users and getting to learn about their passions and ways to do-good (for some, it’s hosting a neighborhood clothing drive, for some, it’s volunteering childcare to a group of friends, for some it’s consolidating a grocery run, and for some, it’s volunteering to drop off meals for families who are inpatient at a local hospital!), we are re-launching a wholly redesigned app this fall. It will help more people easily “get and give support” within their networks (churches, trusted neighbors, school moms, friends, clubs, and more), connect more nonprofits to people who want to help out, and keep small businesses connected with their clients while showcasing the good they do for the community!
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?
This is so true. I was lucky enough to have three women — two moms who had also had children at Children’s Mercy, and one acquaintance from childhood — who saw this vision the same way I did. At the beginning of any business, your idea is very vulnerable. Any criticism can cause you to give up or say “well, it’s probably not that good anyway, I’ll just leave it alone,” but these three women who saw the world transformed by Afloat the same way that I did were my beacon of light, and that encouraged me to keep going.
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?
Managing family and work schedules from the “same command center” (aka my kitchen island) has been incredibly challenging, especially as a single mom. I am continually trying to keep my boys on a schedule so that I have time to work. With my friends, I am also seeing so much more of the time management and childcare burden fall on mothers rather than fathers. I think it’s typical for women to run their households, go to work, be bosses, and then come home and put the mom hat back on. Without that “go” to work, the lines are very blurry. My biggest challenge is realizing that every day won’t go as planned, but knowing I need to make the best of that day still, even if that only means answering one email and jotting down a few ideas.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I decided to keep my children home this fall and have them do virtual learning. I had to make a few difficult financial choices to make this happen (I don’t want anyone to think I take this for granted!), but ultimately decided that hiring out childcare so that I can go into my office (alone) was important. My kids can be safe at home playing and learning. This was the best decision for my situation. People look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I’m keeping my kids at home so I can work! But ultimately, I realized that if I’m able to control our schedule and am not at the mercy of shutdowns, sniffles, and other unknowns, life will run smoothly. Everyone should make the right choice for their situation.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
I think the work-life balance is super tricky. Not only is it hard to find the time to get things accomplished, but when I do carve out time, it’s hard to get face to face (literally) with people. We also definitely ran into pushback as we started trying to raise money. We realized we would need to grow quickly from our beta version, which I self-funded, and were making calls as the economy was crumbling and lockdowns were slamming into place. It was a rocky few months. We just closed our seed round and are looking forward to the next phase.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m still trying to figure out how to meet with people efficiently. We shifted our marketing efforts online for a few months, and will continue that while I start to get out and meet with people… masked, of course!
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
This spring, when I was homeschooling my oldest while just generally wrangling my younger two, I learned that perfection and even “the plan” just won’t happen. No day will go exactly as you have it mapped out in your head. On “bad” days, find those 20 minutes or that one hour you need to push ahead at work, prioritize like hell, and power through. When you have that four or five hour day full of meetings and deadlines, charge up the kids’ iPads, and don’t have any guilt about it!
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 try to start every morning with a quick gratitude journal to get focused on what really matters. Then, I write down one thing I want to do that makes me happy, and one thing I want to do that makes my kids happy or serves them positively in some way. I also try to get everyone outside for at least an hour… three boys 6 and under locked inside is no joke!
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.
- We are learning to appreciate what matters. There’s no reason to run back into things we were filling our “before” lives with if they weren’t filling our bucket. I am guilty of saying yes to too many boards, committees, and other things that took my energy and attention away from my family and friends. We don’t have to go back to something we now know we can live without.
- Community connection is at an all-time high. The amount of goodness that is out there right now is so beautiful. That’s something that we are reconnecting with, and it’s here to stay.
- We are getting back into nature. I’ve read about how important our connection to nature is, and trying to practice grounding daily. It truly calms the mind and spirit.
- Appreciation for teachers. Enough said.
- Kindness is king! One of our sayings at Afloat is “Flip Selfie to Selfless,” and we see it happen everywhere. It is so important to show younger people what is important in life! Helping others (and helping yourself!) makes you feel better physically and mentally.
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?
Use Afloat! The App is created for connecting friends, family, and communities to ask for and give help. Whenever you are vulnerable and ask for something (Hey neighbors, anyone want to go on a walk?) or give something (Running to the store, anyone need anything?) you are taking action. Action is the opposite of anxiety. The more effort we can take, whether that’s giving a friend a little help by loaning a lawn chair, or doing something in your community like dropping off a birthday card for someone in a nursing home, we are reducing our anxiety. Doing good is proven to reduce stress, improve sleep, and increase happiness!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” (Van Gogh)
I love this quote because, frankly, it makes things seem doable. I can always do a small thing! Hooray! This quote resonated with me during COVID because it reminded me that not only do we need to attend to the little things (and some days that’s all you can do!) and plant them like seeds to eventually grow into a beautiful garden, but it is also metaphorically about the community to me. We all contribute our small part to a greater whole, and that’s what life is all about.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram @afloatlife!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!