Insight: Sarah Friar

NDRC's Helen Fullen spoke to Sarah Friar, CEO of Nextdoor and supporter of The Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition 2019.

Sarah is a passionate advocate of Irish entrepreneurs and is CEO of Nextdoor in San Francisco, the world’s largest private social network for neighbourhoods. Sarah previously served as Chief Financial Officer of Square and has held executive leadership roles at Salesforce, Goldman Sachs, and McKinsey. She earned her MEng in Metallurgy, Economics, and Management from the University of Oxford and her MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where she graduated as an Arjay Miller scholar. She hails from Sion Mills in County Tyrone.

You can read Sarah’s thoughts in our first post of our 2019 Mentor Insight Series. We’ve borrowed the format from Tim Ferriss’s book ‘Tribe of Mentors’. You can read about the book here and buy it directly here.

Why are you supporting The Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition?

I am a huge believer that when businesses thrive, communities thrive and vice versa. I love to support the “home team” and am excited to see entrepreneurs begin to forge their own path in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Most recently The Art of Gathering; which explores the different ways people meet and come together and why it matters. It's been a particularly interesting read for me this year as I've seen over and over again how Nextdoor is bringing people together to create a deeper relationships and a stronger sense of community in their neighbourhoods. Last year I recommended Factfulness to everyone who crossed my path. A great reminder of why we need to get to the data!

Fiction books I have loved – One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Lord of the Rings.

One more thing on books – I joined a book club with each of my kids – mums and daughters and mum and sons. It has been such a joy debating fairly hefty topics via great books, and seeing my kids develop their own perspectives and points of view.

What purchase of €100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.

Two things come to mind but both in the same spirit. I’m always looking for thoughtful ways to say thank you that doesn’t involve alcohol! My two new things are both from Irish vendors.

The first is a beautiful leather notebook from Carve On which they will personalise. I bought this for someone who helped me recruit some great candidates and inscribed it with “Chief Connector”.

And this throw (I cheated and it’s more than $100 but you can buy a scarf for under $100) from McNutts. I grew up going to the caravan in Donegal for holidays, such an Irish upbringing, and every time I see something from McNutts I can almost smell and hear the ocean.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

“Walk on air against your better judgement.” Seamus Heaney (also nearly a neighbour).

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

On a billboard I would have to put – “Nextdoor empowers neighbours everywhere to build stronger, local communities.”

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Building out Ladies Who Launch. It has repaid me 100s of time over with new friendships, inspiration, and learning. Also my support of the Ormeau Baths in Belfast.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I love getting up before the dawn and getting outside. The quiet right before the sun comes up, followed by the noise of the day coming alive always makes me feel happy and more alive myself.

In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

Working out every day – more like last 10 years. Fixed my back and lowered my stress levels!

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Take lots of risks – travel lots. If you don’t get an adrenaline rush every day something is wrong!

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Work on your weaknesses. Much better to work on your strengths and then hire around you for people who complement you.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

I’m truly terrible at this. Irish guilt! James (my amazing Executive Assistant) is my best life-saver as I’ve realized if I never see it then I can’t feel guilty! I do find if I make something a rule e.g. I don’t go for dinners further south than San Francisco (seems odd but lots happens in the Valley) then I’m better at sticking to it.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I work out or go for a walk. When I hit a trail I find I can decompress and my creative gene kicks back into gear.