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Sarah-Allen Preston: afloat Celebrates Connections Between Women

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When the mission of your business is to become the happiest place in the digital world, you have set the bar very high. For Sarah-Allen Preston, Kansas City, Missouri, business owner and mother of three, not only is she competing for this lofty goal, she started her company afloat after two very serious events in her life: a divorce and her son’s open-heart surgery.

The experiences left her with a desire to show gratitude and thanks to her entire community. But how would she ever have enough time to complete these many connections? “I realized that there was no platform that existed to help me support those going through hard times like I had and celebrate the happy ones, too,” she said. “So, I created it. And, gifting became afloat’s love language.”
When Sarah’s youngest son was born, he was diagnosed with atrioventricular septal defect, or AVSD, in which there are holes between the chambers of the right and left sides of the heart, and the valves that control the flow of blood between these chambers may not be formed correctly. “We went from having our third child to something we’ve never dealt with. It knocked us off our feet. It was really stressful. When I look back and we were through with surgery–he made it to five months and he was pretty big when he had the surgery–what I remember through all of the hard times, the big silver lining was the connection to people,” recalled Sarah. “It could be a text; it could be an invitation to go on a walk. At times, it was a gift on my doorstep, no matter how big or how small. From homemade salad dressing to a Barefoot Dreams blanket, it was the thought that someone was thinking about me. It could turn my whole day around. That really stood out to me. So how do I bottle that feeling and that connection because that is what life is all about?”

The Business of Gifting
Afloat is a gifting marketplace fashioned to celebrate people and businesses with ease and convenience. With a few clicks, you can demonstrate the care or the love you feel for others by giving gifts from local businesses. afloat is the perfect way to show support for both of those groups. Right now, afloat is focused on two markets, Kansas City and Dallas, Texas, the home of Sarah’s alma mater, Southern Methodist University.

“I started my first company while still in school at SMU, a stationery company. I made illustrated personalized products for the editors at a magazine where I was interning for holiday gifts. Now you can find it on Etsy, but at the time it was quite the novelty,” she shared. “I went home for Christmas break and built a website for a company and launched it. I pivoted that into wholesale stationery when I graduated from college. I sold to stores across the country. That turned into designing for events. This parlayed into my eventual event planning company, which evolved into Sarah-Allen Preston Designs.”

Ten full-time employees, all women, are staffed between the two cities for Afloat. As CEO, Sarah oversees departments of Product, Operations, Growth and Marketing with associates under each of them. To create this business, she noodled on the idea for a year. An accelerator, offering mentorship, capital and connections to investors and business partners, was created in 2021, and the company was launched in February 2022.

“We’ve sourced the best of the best in both cities. We’ve had nothing but positive responses and even more enthusiasm than we can handle right now,” commented Sarah. “Gifting is 20 percent of our daily buying retail behavior in the U.S. People love to gift so we’re becoming a powerful platform and arm for small businesses.”

How It Works
Afloat’s technology allows customers to browse curated gifts from local stores and have them gift-wrapped for same-day local delivery or shipped. Afloat marries the convenience of online shopping with the impact of shopping locally, supporting small businesses and their communities. Sarah refers to it as gifting on demand, whether you’re shopping from your home, the workplace or the doctor’s office. While the concept of remembering others in good times or bad was firmly embedded in her brain, Sarah called upon others for the nuts and bolts of the operations.

“I had no idea what ‘tech’ even meant and what it really was. But I knew the general direction I wanted to head. I was doing many of the jobs. I was talking to the stores and I had the idea in my brain. Along the way, it spun off into many different paths and some worked and some didn’t. But at the end of the day, I kept moving forward and the right thing would appear.

“When we went through an accelerator, it really helped me think of the company as highly scalable and focused on growth. I took my concept, rooted in, ‘Is this a business that will work and that people really want?’ and then, ‘How do I look at it on its path to be a $1 billion company?” Sarah stated. “afloat is all about celebration and connection; we’re not just a piece of tech. I think my not being a technical founder, even though it was a slower process, in the beginning, to find people to join me, ended up being a big benefit because that’s not what our company is built on. It’s built on connection.”

Working Through Business Bias
Females have shared that women face larger obstacles to building a successful company and growing it because of discrimination. Limited funding, an inadequate support system and gender inequality are just a few of the challenges that inhibit women in the business environment. When asked about facing hurdles throughout her pursuit to land afloat, Sarah
strongly agreed.

“Two hundred percent I do, in retrospect. When I set out, I had no idea of the amount of bias that women faced in business because I worked in spaces where only women worked. I was my business,” she noted. “The amount of pushback was extraordinary because women are constantly asked defensibility questions about our business and men are asked possibility questions such as how large this business can grow. It’s made me more convicted to success because I can’t wait to turn around and help other women.”

Overall, the positive experience of constructing this amazing company from the ground up has been an exciting challenge for Sarah. She offers these learnings to others considering running their own company. “It’s constantly learning and being open to absorbing information and knowing how to apply it when it resonates,” she shared. “The people you bring in around you are the most valuable piece of your company. They help you make distinctions as you’re presented with opportunities or business avenues.”

Any hard-working entrepreneur understands that successfully starting a new company is not a gift. But Sarah is focused on gifting to others the happiest place in the digital world with afloat. “We are a gifting marketplace. We’re here to celebrate the people and the businesses that you love with the ease and convenience you crave,” Sarah added. “What we deliver is meaningful, exceptional and convenient to help you celebrate everything in your life while supporting local in the community that you live.”


Support Local Through afloat
To download afloat, visit the Apple App Store and search “afloat.” Shop gifts from local stores such as The Little Flower Shop, Dolce Bakery, Clairvaux, Pendleton Jewelry, Sharyn Blond Linens, Pink Antlers, Hiles Two, Brookside Toy and Science and many more. Gifts will be wrapped, with a handwritten note and delivered the same or next day.