On the day of Bumble’s initial public offering last February, Sarah Jones Simmer felt vulnerable as she arrived at the dating app’s Austin office. After nine months of treatment for stage 3 breast cancer, the company’s big day—and hers—was the first time she saw her coworkers without wearing a wig or head covering. Instead, she showed up with her slowly regrowing hair fully visible.
Here is her inspiring and encouraging story for all those trying to balance that work-life balance and sometimes it often feels off balance but true perserverance and resilience helps out in the toughest of times!
Author: Sarah Jones Simmer
Here is Sarah's story:
Today I am excited that I finally get to share some big news. I’m joining Found as CEO. You can read more about the company’s new chapter, funding, and stellar momentum in a blog by Swathy Prithivi, our co-founder and COO. In parallel, I wanted to dive into the professional and personal journey that led me to this new role.
The past year made me rethink everything. In May 2020, my world was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I was under 40 with no family history, and had 2 small children and a demanding but incredibly rewarding job I loved as the Chief Operating Officer of Bumble. This wasn’t supposed to happen - at least not right now.
Of course I had a lot to immediately figure out - most urgently my treatment plan and how to best care for my family. But I also knew that finding the right way to navigate my treatment and my career was going to be important for me. Bumble’s Founder and CEO (and my boss) Whitney Wolfe Herd was one of the first people I confided in. Her compassion and care made me feel empowered to stay at Bumble in a way that worked for me. We decided that I’d move into a more focused and defined role as Chief Strategy Officer, working on key transformative initiatives across not just Bumble but our newly integrated group of apps following our acquisition by Blackstone in 2019. My first “strategic project” was serving as quarterback for our IPO readiness process.
Continuing to do work that I was passionate about provided a much needed distraction from an aggressive treatment regime that has now included dozens of sessions of chemo, nine surgeries and 37 rounds of radiation in the last 18 months. I worked on drafts of our S-1 from the chemo chair, and first sent it to the Board the morning of my double mastectomy. In addition to our Bumble team, I had unwavering support from executives from Blackstone, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, as well as our legal counsel, in a working group that was majority women - nearly unheard of for an IPO. I felt supported each time I needed to plan meetings around doctors appointments, or showed up to lead a drafting session in a headscarf.
While I was going through the toughest months of my life, the work I was doing was undoubtedly rewarding. Not only was Whitney going to be the youngest woman to take a company public, but the leadership surrounding the IPO consisted of the most powerful women in business. I had never seen anything like it. I was grateful for the opportunity to lean into this critical strategic priority early on in my treatment, and felt equally empowered to later take a few weeks off for medical leave when I was navigating a tougher chapter of my care. I recognize what a privilege that was.
Shortly after Bumble’s IPO in February, I was declared to have “no evidence of disease” - every cancer patient’s dream. This was a career-defining moment bookended by a life-affirming one, so some may be surprised to hear that I left Bumble soon after the big day.
Adjusting my career “timeline”
I knew that “someday” I wanted to lead a company as its CEO. I just needed a little more experience: just one more promotion, one more achievement, or one more company under my belt. At one point during my fight with cancer, my doctor gave me a timeline that made me reconsider whether I had a lifetime to achieve my personal and professional goals. My prognosis looks better now, but my viewpoint has changed permanently.
The best advice I can give to other women - and rising leaders in general - is to go after their “someday” goal now. Many of us are ready and capable long before we think we are. It shouldn’t take a life-threatening disease to go after your dream job or your ten year plan.
I love Bumble and am extremely proud of all we achieved - but I knew I wanted to “build” again - and to take a bet on myself. One thing I also knew for sure was that whatever came next, the company had to have the same ability for world-changing impact as Bumble.
Found had everything I was looking for. The mission, the product, the momentum, the amazing leadership team, and investors like Atomic, GV and Define. I had spent a year thinking about “health” more than I had in my entire life, and as a result could appreciate the unique inflection point Found was addressing in the larger health ecosystem, by tackling one of the biggest health-related issues that exists today: weight care and improving our relationships with our bodies. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of it.
Companies that break down stigmas
There are a lot of similarities between Bumble and Found.
Bumble was at about the same stage in terms of revenue and growth trajectory when I joined, as Found is today. We also faced a lot of the same challenges. Bumble needed to overcome common assumptions (“guys should make the first move in dating”) and stigmas (“dating online is a last resort”). We were clearly successful: Bumble is now a publicly-traded company with an expansive global footprint - and over 40% of married couples met their partner online.
Found has the potential to do the same with the topic of weight care. The legacy weight loss industry historically has thrived on shame - just “eat less and exercise more”, and if you don’t have enough “willpower” maybe you don’t deserve a body you’ll love. Where is the conversation around self-acceptance paired with a desire to live longer and improve quality of life? We now know that weight care is about so many factors - sleep, stress, family and cultural traditions, hormones, biology, addiction. I wanted to be a part of an integrated, lasting solution that looked through this holistic and intersectional lens. My own health journey has brought me a new level of respect for my body’s strength, and joy in what it allows me to do. I want to bring this to others.
One way to challenge stigmas is by delivering products that provide undeniable value and make lives better. Once enough people believe this to be true, attitudes change. At Bumble we did this by creating a safe place for people to form meaningful relationships, and Found is doing this by delivering science-backed, customized weight care programs that help you change your relationship with your body. These types of integrated care models have existed before, but were only accessible to a select few who could access and afford this treatment in a clinical setting, like Columbia University’s Metabolic and Weight Control Center (an institution our Senior Advisor Dr. Judith Korner leads). Under the guidance of leaders like Dr. Korner, Found is now putting this type of integrated care in the palm of your hand.
In parallel, as someone who has spent much of my career around consumer tech, I know a platform shift when I see it. We all remember the transition from web to mobile and the players who navigated it well. We are experiencing the singular, most meaningful platform shift in health care delivery as a result of advancements in telehealth, catalyzed by the pandemic. This has and will unlock lasting changes in the way integrated care is delivered, and I’m confident that our team, with leaders like our COO Swathy, who was an early engine of Uber and Opendoor’s operational growth, and our Chief Product Officer Alex, an expert in driving behavior change as Headspace’s VP of Product, will deliver.
There is much work to be done. I’m excited to nurture and grow something that is already helping thousands of people today, and am thankful for all of the people in my personal and professional network that have supported me along the way. I can’t wait to share what Found accomplishes, as I truly believe it is going to change how people think about and approach weight care - and the relationship we have with our bodies.
About the Author
CEO @ Found. Investor, Advisor, Advocate. Former COO @ Bumble.