Trust Your Gut: Remote Work Expert Sara Sutton Fell on Her Entrepreneurial Journey
As part of our Innovators channel, we like to publish interviews with successful entrepreneurs both inside and outside of the recruiting and hiring world. Today, we’re highlighting the career of Sara Sutton Fell.
Sutton Fell is the CEO and founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance, and part-time job listings; founder of Remote.co, a one-stop resource for remote teams and companies; and founder of the 1 Million for Work Flexibility initiative. She is also the creator of The TRaD Works Conference, dedicated to helping companies leverage the benefits of telecommuting, remote work, and distributed teams.
What follows is a transcript of an email Q&A we carried out with Sutton Fell, minimally edited for style and clarity.
Recruiter.com: Can you tell us a little bit about FlexJobs and its partner sites, Remote.co and 1 Million for Work Flexibility? Where did the ideas for these sites arise from? What was it like getting them off the ground?
Sara Sutton Fell: I founded FlexJobs in 2007 while I was pregnant with my first son, after I experienced firsthand how frustrating it was to search for professional jobs that also offered flexible work options. FlexJobs is a job search website that specializes in listing legitimate, professional-level, prescreened telecommuting and flexible jobs.
Since founding the site, I’ve been inspired every day by our job seekers’ stories and experiences. It’s clear how important flexible work options are to people, and I firmly believe that a modern workplace should address the needs of today’s workforce. Utilizing workplace technology to support telecommuting and flexible work will achieve societal, environmental, and economic benefits for both employees and employers.
In support of this belief, I launched the 1 Million for Work Flexibility in 2013 and, most recently, Remote.co in 2015. 1 Million is a growing coalition of individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations that support flexible work options for all. Our goal with 1 Million is to engage everyone in the movement towards more flexible workplaces and policies – to make work flexibility a core part of the 21st century workplace.
At Remote.co, our goal is to be the go-to resource for companies that utilize remote work. Whether a company is completely remote or has remote and in-office workers, Remote.co is the place for expert insight, best practices, and support. Everyone knows the benefits of remote work, but I know from firsthand experience that starting and scaling a distributed company comes with unique challenges. After years of looking for this type of resource to no avail, I decided that it was time to build one myself.
RC: Can you speak a little bit more about your passion for helping people find jobs that make their lives better? Where did this passion come from? How did you decide that this was the passion that would drive your entrepreneurship?
SSF: FlexJobs is not my first experience creating a job search website to help people find jobs that fit their lives. In 1995, I cofounded the entry-level job search website JobDirect, which sold to Korn/Ferry International in 2000.
As college students ourselves, my cofounder and I had the goal to create a better way for college students and recent graduates to find entry-level employment opportunities online, because nothing like that really existed at the time.
In both situations, my own experience informed my passion. I knew the opportunities I was looking for were out there, but they were hard to find. And I knew that other people must be looking for the same thing.
RC: On a related note, how would you describe your mission and vision as an entrepreneur? I’m sure it’s related to that passion for helping people find the right jobs, but I’d love to hear more about it in your own words.
SSF: I didn’t necessarily set out to be an entrepreneur, and in between founding JobDirect and FlexJobs, I held several more traditional roles within other companies. But when that entrepreneurial passion was lit for me, in both instances, it was because I had an idea that I just couldn’t stop thinking about. And the more I thought about that idea, the more it made sense.
RC: How did you know that starting your own business was right for you?
SSF: As mentioned above, I never consciously planned to be an entrepreneur. It was an organic evolution that occurred because of the passion and belief I had for the ideas. I went into it naively, wanting to learn as much as I could from books, articles, and people more experienced than myself. But honestly, even though I’ve been an entrepreneur for the majority of my professional career, I still learn new things every day.
RC: What sort of challenges did you face in founding FlexJobs and its partner sites? How did you overcome those challenges?
SSF: With FlexJobs in particular, one of our biggest challenges at the beginning was our revenue model. When we first started, we had more of a traditional job board revenue model, where our services were free for job seekers, and we charged employers. But we quickly realized that, for a variety of reasons, that model wasn’t achieving the type of quality service we wanted to create, nor was the revenue sustainable. So, we assessed our strengths in the business and the weaknesses, and although it was risky, we flipped the model to focus on the job seekers being our primary clients.
Today, and for almost our whole existence, we’ve been a job search membership site where job seekers pay a small monthly fee to access our listings. In return, they get the most comprehensive and cleanest database of professional-level, high-quality flexible and telecommuting jobs out there. They don’t have to sift through any ads, scams, commission-only jobs, or too-good-to-be-true “business opportunities” on our site.
And because we don’t charge employers to post jobs to our site, we are 100 percent beholden to the job seeker. They are our main focus, which makes using FlexJobs a very different and, we believe, very positive job search experience.
RC: What are your plans for the future? Anything in the works that you can speak about right now, regarding FlexJobs or its partner sites?
SSF: Yes, actually! I am thrilled because Remote.co and FlexJobs are hosting a first-of-its-kind conference, the TRaD Works Conference, in Washington, D.C., this June. TRaD stands for “telecommuting, remote, and distributed,” and the goal of our conference is to facilitate and inspire conversations about remote work between companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes.
At the TRaD Works Conference, attendees will gain a huge amount of knowledge about the many benefits of remote work, as well as the common challenges and the ways to make remote work for your company. We’re hoping to generate a trove of actionable ideas on how people can improve remote work programs, save their companies money, attract top talent, increase candidate pools, and boost productivity and employee engagement.
RC: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other entrepreneurs or potential entrepreneurs?
SSF: The best advice I can offer comes from my own experience founding two successful business: Trust your gut. I believe it’s more valuable than an MBA in most situations!