Stranger 49, Day 49 – Meet Sara, the “Team Player”

Stranger 49, Day 49 - Meet Sara

I used to visit one of my good friends’ office at Atlanta Tech Village. Getting to his office requiring stepping through an intermediate office of another startup. So I would pass through this startup’s office saying the courteous hello, and just kept walking. Don’t know their names or anything. I must’ve seemed like a jerk.

Today, I got to meet one of the startup’s employees. Though funnily, I met her at my usual Starbucks as she was getting her car services nearby. And also coincidentally, my buddy was at the Starbucks, so he helped fashion the intro.

Meet Sara, 27

Who are you?

Her head cocks back as she gasps like she just saw a ghost.

“Who am I? Gosh… okay… I… $h!t! I don’t even know how to answer that.”

“Alright, well, Sara without an ‘h’. I’m 27. Atlanta-native. I joined the startup community in February of this year, and basically, took the biggest risk of my life. Left corporate America where everything was solid, and a good salary and benefits, and I said, ‘screw it! I’m not into it at all’, and join this startup company that had no money to its name, and said, ‘let’s do it!'”

“… and now, eight months later, I have a whole new network of friends, and on my way to Denver in two months to launch the business out there.”

“I have kind of just found myself in the past eight months, honestly. Just went into the startup community working at Tech Village meeting people that inspire me everyday.” She mentions how it’s “normal” to not say hey, and just “observe from afar”.

“I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle to saying hey to everybody. Talking to people. Getting to know people. There’s no reason not to be nice to people. No reason not to say hey to people. I learned that from learning with startups and working at Tech Village, and being involved with what’s a whole new community in a city I’ve lived in all my life. So yeah. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.”

Except, she continues. 🙂

“I’m also a massive advocate of team sports,” she laughs. “Kind of transitions into my lifestyle of working and building teams for our startup. Live, eat, and breathe sports in general. I grew up playing soccer. Massive football fan — RISE UP!… the Falcons. I do all of these soccer leagues on the side because I still love the game. Walk around swollen ankles left and right. So yeah. I take everything I’ve learned from sports. It’s one of those things I grew up knowing I can’t do anything without my teammates. Can’t accomplish anything that I want to do without them, without the help of someone else. That’s kind of how I put in all of the work into my team that I build out for work now. It’s what I live by. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.”

Sara laughs again. “Silly!”

You mentioned you weren’t really inspired from corporate America. What was the uninspiring thing that really… ‘I gotta go!’?

“Things that I wanted to create, things that I thought I could be good at, and things that I wanted to try and potentially fail at, and be better at it again, that opportunity wasn’t really praised a lot. It wasn’t something where the idea of failure being an option. In corporate America, something that’s so developed already. Processes already developed. It wasn’t something that you didn’t feel all of the support behind it. So it made me timid to try things new.”

What made you jump onboard with Sifted?

“Jess and Kimberly — our cofounders. The product… our product — chef-made lunches. It’s a cool concept. We always joke that it’s some ridiculous concept to bring lunches into corporate offices. We didn’t know what we were doing going into Atlanta, to be honest in the beginning. We just thought this was something cool. These are our people. This is what we want to do. But those two women changed the game for me. I can see it when they talked about it. Can see it in their eyes. Hear it in their voice. The way we connected as three people sitting in a coffee shop together. I was like, ‘these are my people. They’re going to let me make mistakes. They’re going to let me fail. And they’re going to teach me how to be great.’ So those two women are what brought me onto the team.”

So what’s something that you have failed at that you’re like, ‘at least I tried,’ and what was the learning from that?

“I’ve been tasked with hiring out one of the hardest positions of our company, and maintaining that position which is our host team.”

“So basically, when we go into an office space, and we sign a client. We have something like a perk that we offer. It’s professional, creative, on-site host to foster the client relationship and give a true experience behind lunch. Not just, ‘here’s lunch. Eat. Go on with your day.’ There’s an experience behind it. That’s what our host provide — the culture of Sifted. We kind of bring that into the office space.”

“We have to hire out part-time hosts. I can only really offer them up to 15 hours a week, and it’s in the dead-center of the day for lunch which is the most difficult time to give up just two hours in your day. And to transport food in your car, and to do heavy-lifting… it’s a very difficult job to hire for, and only minimal hours I can offer them. And so at the rate Atlanta’s growing, at the rate I believe Austin’s going to grow, Denver’s going to grow… in any city we tackle in 2017, I’ve gotta find a way to foster these employees. And you know, I had to hire one, and now we have 12, and I’m looking to get to 25. It’s all about finding the right candidate — quality over quantity. Hands down. It’s all about getting them invested in the culture of the company, and getting them invested in that they’re going to make a difference regardless of how small they may imagine the host part-time role of this fast-growing startup is.”

“Every single thing they do everyday is making a difference. They have a huge role in the development of the company. And so, it’s a lot of knowing that they have to understand… they have to know and have confidence in me that I’ve got their back every single time, and I’m going to help them grow in whatever they want to grow in. And that they fit the mold, and they feel they can find themselves in this team.”

“It’s much more than just being able to give them a high monetary value on the team. It’s much more than giving them as many hours as possible. It’s more like how they can personally relate to the company. I’ve hired some not-good fits for the team. I have lost people on the team. I’ve failed at that plenty of times trying to figure it out. Over time, I finally think I’ve got a grip on it. Now, we’re just hiring out really bad ass hosts. They’re really cool.”

What’s one of those characteristics that you have to have?

“So when I’m interviewing someone for the host position, I’m always, forever going to ask what’s their dream job. A lot of these hosts that we’re hiring are either straight out of college, or they’re young professionals willing to make a change, a career change. And they’re willing to give up everything they have, and just start somewhere. These people have huge dreams. College students come to us with the world at their fingertips. Young professionals who are looking for a full-blown career shift, and willing to go from salary to part-time… feels like they have the world at their fingertips. So there’s something driving them behind the scenes.”

“I always ask them what’s their biggest passion? What do they want to do most? How do they think that they can get something out of it through us. At that point, they tell me their full-blown life stories. You can hear it in their voice, even on a phone interview, and than saying, ‘this is everything that I absolutely love in life.’ If you can hear that passion in their voice just talking about whatever they want to do whether it’s food-related, startup-related, whatever-related, that’s the one key right there. If I can hear it in their voice on a call, I’ll bring them in to shadow, and see if they fit the team.”

We talk a little about a few books I read that would be great for her including: Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Success, and Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment.

What is your Dream? And what’s the biggest obstacle in that way?

“So my biggest Dream… something that’s been piling in my head. I don’t talk about it too much. I want to find a way to start a philanthropy aspect within Sifted. Long term, I’ve always wanted to do something campaign fundraising-wise. I never knew what it was. It was a very broad concept in my head. I remember when I was 18 freshman year, my teacher asked me what do I want to do in life.”

“”The only thing that I could ever come up with was to help people. They’re like, ‘oh, you want to be a doctor.’ I was not really digging the medical, you know? That’s always been the concept. So when I came on at Sifted, we were asking clients, we’re asking businesses to take back lunch, essentially. We’re asking them pause during the day, and enjoy time with coworkers and eat lunch with coworkers.”

“So I have this big, huge, long-term dream of being able to give back lunch. To children, to kids… where some way, shape, or fashion that every client we serve in the day — we’re on big-scale mode — we can account for how many meals we’re serving someone else who can’t afford to have a meal at home. Or a meal at school at lunch. At Sifted, a portion of our profits are going to based on how many clients we’re serving, how many lunches we’re feeding in a day… account for some meal that a kid eating in a third-world country, or just somewhere else in general.”

“That’s my biggest one. My biggest obstacle, about that, is honing that in and figuring it out. That’s super long-term. I have a lot more learning to do. I have a lot more development professionally to do that. But that’s kind of this big, huge dream, so now I just need to find the pathway to get up there.”

“Short-term, launching Denver!” she laughs. “Getting out to Denver!”

“That’s a big one for me. I’m an Atlanta-native. I’m leaving. The idea of leaving family. My brother’s out there so I’ll have some family network, but leaving the city limits that I grew up in — what I know very well like the back of my hand — tackling something new with a company that’s a startup, and new to that network, that’s, right now, the biggest challenge I have.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? What’s the first thing you would do? (Thanks to Meg, Stranger 48)

“Oh… that’s a great question.” She thinks. “If I think anywhere in the world right now…”

“… I would probably… I’d head out… my sister and I — I’m on vacation mode right now, thinking of vacation here — I want to go out to Thailand, to be honest. Be on the beach, and I really want to do an elephant conservation. Learn all about that. My sister’s really into that. She follows them, donates to them. So she’s always wanted to go. I want to travel with her, and support her with it. We’ve always talked about that being the big dream is to go out there and explore the wildlife conservations and stuff. Yeah, that’s kind of, sort of in my head always. Sounds silly, but yeah, definitely!”

What is a question you’d like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“There was something you could’ve changed yesterday, what would it have been?”

After the handshake.

Sara brought the energy today! She was super friendly, and laughed quite a bit. While she was sharing the story behind her joining the startup, I could feel how much she enjoyed working there.  I sense that her enthusiasm and general passion for the business (and indeed having a hand in its growth) was very similar to how she felt meeting the cofounders that convinced her to join.

Now, I’m eager to meet the cofounders so I can get a direct sense of their passion. Though my friend no longer has an office at the Village, I’ll make the trip to meet more from Sara’s team just because.

Great to finally meet Sara, and I’m excited for her very-near future. Plus, she’s kinda impressive (and/ or crazy) to be playing on an ankle that is the size of a softball.

Meet Sara. No longer a Stranger.

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