We had the good fortune of connecting with Sari De and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sari, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?
Part of an entrepreneurial mindset (for me personally) is to not consider giving up an option. As a trained negotiator, one of the things I know is that you have to believe there’s an outcome that’s beneficial to all parties. Only when you believe that do you start to look for solutions that will give you that outcome. I translate that to my work, where if giving up is not an option and I have to keep moving forward, then the only options are “how do I solve this problem?”
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Our mission is to teach every woman how to get a seat at the table and get paid for being there, and to help companies dismantle systems of oppression so people of color can rise unencumbered. The glass ceiling is a distraction – as long as we’re trying to break it, we’re playing inside a house that wasn’t built for us. Our mission is to break down the walls that hold up the glass ceiling. We run leadership coaching programs, working 1;1 with CMOs and leaders, and help companies build and scale DEI programs that cover everything from improving their pipeline to pay equity and promotions.
I truly love the work. It’s definitely difficult to talk about race every single day. I have hard conversations every single day. But this is my life’s work, and I’m humbled and honored to be trusted with it by our clients. We work with some of the largest tech companies in the world, with VC firms, creative agencies and Wall St. banks.
When I joined the corporate world, I didn’t have anyone to help me understand the unspoken part of it all – the soft skills. I naively thought I just had to work hard and that would be good. I had no idea how to negotiate, influence, manage up…even write a self-evaluation for my performance review. It never occurred to me to hire a coach to help me, which is foolish. I learnt the hard way. I’m a trained negotiator today, and 90% of my job is influence and managing people in high-stakes, high-emotion settings.
The work requires a lot of emotional resilience, but there’s also a lot of joy. The thing I’m most proud of is the multitude of emails and messages I have from folks all over the world telling me how much we impacted them, helped them, made them feel seen and valued. I’m also really proud of the fact that we do no marketing – all of our work is referrals. Every single client has referred us to someone else.
If I have one piece of advice, it’s that fortune favors the brave, you know? I walked away from a huge paycheck and all the benefits because I knew this was the work I urgently needed to be doing. It was a tough call, but I had purpose and a mission.
It required a level of self-conviction to keep going – and sometimes still does.
My biggest lesson was to figure out the balance between working IN the business and ON the business. Growth has been insanely fast for us but it wasn’t very planned – we added people when we booked a client and needed to staff, added technology when we outgrew free software and needed to accept our first credit card payment…now, I’m (trying to be) more strategic and deliberate about our growth.
Everyday, I look at the work we do, the team we’ve built, the culture we have and the impact we demonstrate and pinch myself that this is my life.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I am so lucky that I call Hawaii home. We live a short walk from Kailua beach, which has been awarded the best beach in the US, so obviously, any visitors get to spend a lot of time at the beach. Snorkeling will usually allow you to see a host of fish and maybe even a turtle or two, and stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking are also here for you.
We’d eat shave ice at Kailua General Store, grab malasadas from Leonard’s and try poke at both Ono and Tamura’s so we can properly debate the merits of both.
Lucky Belly in Chinatown has both great food and cocktails, and then we’d take in a local show at one of the many Chinatown venues – comedy, spoken word, or even local music are all on offer and the talent on island is incredible. We’d spend most days at Kailua or Lanikai beach, although a trip to the North Shore is worth it, especially when the surf tournaments are on. For spicy chilli crab, Karai Crab is my choice, but folks do have their favorites. My last can’t miss restaurant is called Wagaya for Okinawan style ramen.
Oahu has some incredible hikes – Pillbox is a classic, and if you’re a good listener, the earth here is always talking to you. This island is truly paradise, and the pace of life here is really soothing for the soul. It’s hard to have a bad day when you can end by sitting on white sand and watch the sun dip into the ocean.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Being an entrepreneur requires taking a lot of risk, most significantly with your finances. My husband is not only my cheerleader, but in the early days when my income was a grand total of $0 he kept us afloat financially, allowing me to build my company and convincing me that I was doing exactly the right thing. 100% of my business is built on word-of-mouth. In the early days, I didn’t have big name clients on my roster and I was a one woman show in my lounge room.
I owe my livelihood to my female friends, who recommended me to their firms, introduced me to their HR managers and got me in the door. Every single referral for the first year came from another woman – an ex-colleague, a friend, someone who had heard me speak, and eventually, clients. Women lifting up other women is real, and I feel so fortunate to have that badass circle around me of women willing to mention my name in a room full of opportunities.
Photographer: Ravi Ghelani