Sara Sutton Fell was like many in today’s dismal job market – searching for a job that would allow her to telecommute or have some kind of job flexibility, all the while feeling bombarded with scams and faulty leads. To create a solution for both herself and others, Sara launched FlexJobs in 2007 with the aim to fill that void and act as a legitimate site for telecommuting and flexible job opportunities. Today, FlexJobs has grown to be an innovative and leading online job service, providing job hunters hand-screened, legitimate, and professional job listings – every single one of which offers some kind of job flexibility, such as telecommuting, part-time or flexible schedules, or freelance contracts. Sara, a mother of two children and an entrepreneur, talks with us about finding your niche, maintaining balance, and the challenges of female entrepreneurship.
Q: FlexJobs launched in early 2007, just before the economic downturn. Tell us a little about what FlexJobs does, how you came to start the business,and whether or not you anticipated the market change at this time.
Sara Sutton Fell: My FlexJobs story really starts about 9 months before that, when I was 7 months pregnant with my first son, and had just been laid off from a job for the first time in my professional career. I began exploring job opportunities but quickly realized that being in my third trimester of pregnancy wasn’t a great time to be negotiating for a new job, and instead started doing a bit of consulting. After my son was born, I continued consulting, while also job searching a bit more in earnest… I was ideally looking for a job that would allow me to have more flexibility, either telecommuting or a part-time/flexible schedule, so I could be more available for my family.
I quickly became aware of how difficult it was to find the legitimate jobs amidst all of the scams in the telecommuting/work from home niche, let alone one that was in line with my professional career. Ultimately, it was my own frustration that led me to seize upon the window of opportunity to create the solution I was looking for, and FlexJobs was born!
I definitely did not anticipate the economic downturn, and while we’ve been well positioned for it, I believe we are filling a need that would have been present even without the recession. People from many different walks of life are looking for jobs that allow them better job flexibility and/or work-life balance, such as stay-at-home moms and dads, retirees, recent graduates, people who have physical or health challenges, and many others.
Q: FlexJobs’ success, like many new businesses, lies in its ability to fill a niche in the market. What advice can you give to entrepreneurs searching for their next new business idea?
Sara Sutton Fell: Make sure you really believe in it! For me, I’m not an entrepreneur because I love to start companies; I’m an entrepreneur of passion. Both of the companies I’ve been involved with founding were based on ideas that resonated personally with me on many levels. My first company (JobDirect) was based on a “good idea” that a friend and I came up with stemming from our own experiences (in that case, as college students finding jobs and internships), and how we believed there was a lot of room to improve the process. This time around, with FlexJobs.com, I wasn’t looking to start a company at all, but again my personal experience in looking for flexible jobs revealed a need in the marketplace that I just couldn’t walk away from.
Q: Many women are intimidated by business ownership. What challenges have you faced as a female entrepreneur and how have you overcome them?
Sara Sutton Fell: Business ownership is not easy, but it definitely can be rewarding. When I was younger – and I was young when I started my first company, just 21 — the hardest part was being taken seriously. What I learned was to educate myself as best I could by reading books, magazines, articles, etc., and by seeking out people who were smarter than me and those whom I respected, and learning from them. That process gave me more confidence in my knowledge, and ultimately helped me believe that I could really do it. Once I really embraced that, it was much easier for others to as well.
In my current company, I would say my biggest challenge was starting a company while also starting a family. Talk about work-life juggle!! The fact that I do love what FlexJobs is doing makes it easier, but ultimately I just really have to focus on prioritizing and being as productive as possible when I’m working … and then also allow myself to be equally present for my family when I’m with them!
Q: At Career Woman Inc. we value the importance of mentorship in career development. Describe your most important mentor and how they helped you achieve success.
Sara Sutton Fell: This may be an untraditional answer, but one of my most important mentors was my first business partner, Rachel Bell Robards. Being co-founders together, I think we actually ended up mentoring each other in countless important business topics during our journey. We supported and challenged each other constantly, and we were encouraged to find solutions that would make our business successful in a way that made us both proud.