In 2006, Sara Sutton Fell found herself 8 months pregnant and laid off. When interview after interview failed to land her a job, she pursued her own avenue: to build FlexJobs, a quality service to help people who want or need work flexibility. And she’s fulfilled her vision in making FlexJobs a completely virtual company, comprised of a cohesive team that hasn’t ever even met in person. Her advice: don’t doubt yourself. LIsten to your instincts!
Fairygodboss of the Week: Sara Sutton Fell
Founder & CEO, FlexJobs
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
SSF: I started my entrepreneurial adventures in 1995, when at age 21, I put my education at UC Berkeley on hold to co-found an entry-level job service, JobDirect. We grew the company to over 100 employees in four short years. We were fortunate–and scrappy–enough to sell JobDirect in 2000. After holding several other executive roles at other companies, in 2006 I found myself laid off and 8 months pregnant with my first child. Going on interviews in my third trimester went about as you might expect–not well. No matter how qualified I was, all that mattered was that I was pregnant. I understood, but it was the first time I really felt my career limitations as a woman.
I started looking for flexible job options, and quickly realized that there was a huge opportunity to create a quality service to help people who want or need work flexibility to find legitimate, professional jobs. That’s where the idea for FlexJobs came from. I founded FlexJobs in 2007, and over the last almost-10 years, we’ve grown into the leading job search service for flexible and remote positions that are legitimate and professional-level. I’ve also founded two partner sites: 1 Million for Work Flexibility (the first national initiative to create a collective voice in support of work flexibility) in 2013, and Remote.co (the only comprehensive resource for companies, organizations, and individuals who see remote work as an opportunity, offering info and resources for the entire lifecycle of remote teams and companies) in 2015.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
SSF: Honestly, it’s growing FlexJobs into the company it is today. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked with one company, and it’s also the best professional experience I’ve ever had. Our team is passionate about work flexibility because we all use it and completely understand, from first-hand experiences, the many different reasons our users are looking for it.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
SSF: FlexJobs is a membership site where job seekers pay a monthly or yearly fee to access our pre-screened job listing and application information, skills tests, member savings information, and a host of other benefits. When we first started out, we had a more traditional job search site revenue model where we charged employers to post their jobs. We quickly realized that if we wanted to provide the type of truly quality site we wanted to for job seekers, we would need to find a different approach that focused on them as the primary clients. We decided to flip our model to a subscription service for job seekers so that we didn’t have to rely on employers for revenue and so that we could focus our core efforts on what our job seekers want – an easier, safer, and high-quality way to find professional and flexible job listings.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
SSF: I live in Boulder, Colorado with my two boys, so when I’m not working, I love to get outside for some activity, either with them or for a little solo time. We mountain bike and hike, and I also love hot yoga.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
SSF: Will Ferrell. Humor is so important!!
FGB: What is your favorite movie
SSF: Princess Bride
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
SSF: Too many to pick just one! Nothing about business though. I would probably choose more reflective books and go back to my college Environmental Writing class and pick authors like Edward Abbey and Thoreau. Maybe toss some Tom Robbins in there too.
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
SSF: Travel, especially to beaches, spas, and beautiful outdoor settings. I would take my kids and family members on epic experiential trips.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
SSF: Listen to your instincts. I think sometimes women can doubt themselves, and one thing I’ve learned to do is really trust my gut and my feelings in any given situation, instead of ignoring or stifling those thoughts and feelings. For example, the idea for FlexJobs was one where, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me and the more excited I became about it. Even though there were many reasons that it wasn’t the right time to start a company (the number one being I was about to have my first baby!), my instinct was so strong that I had to try. If you have ideas that you just can’t get out of your head, and that continue to resonate the more you think about them, see where they lead. Whether it’s about taking a certain job, making a big career change, or even starting your own venture, pay attention to your instincts.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
SSF: For so many reasons! I’ve had the privilege of creating our company’s culture from the ground up, and I love it. I work with an incredibly talented group of people who are passionate about what we do, and who value work flexibility as much as I do. Plus, I get to work from home every day. What’s not to love? :-)
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.