By Peter Rudegeair
In Personal Board of Directors, top business leaders talk about
the people they turn to for advice, and how those people have
shaped their perspective and helped them succeed. Previous
installments from the series are here .
When Sarah Friar landed in Silicon Valley, she thought it would
be a temporary stay. Two decades later she runs a San Francisco
social media network used by one in four U.S. households.
It started in the late 1990s when Ms. Friar was a young
consultant with McKinsey & Co. in London, and many of her
colleagues wanted to attend Stanford University's business school
in California. She followed suit, thinking she would return home to
the U.K. in two years. But dot-com mania struck, and after getting
her M.B.A. she took a job analyzing technology stocks for Goldman
Sachs Group Inc.
"I am probably, frankly, better lucky than good," said Ms.
After more than a decade at Goldman and stints as a finance
executive at Salesforce.com Inc. and Square Inc., Ms. Friar in 2018
became boss of Nextdoor Inc. -- a neighborhood-focused social
network where locals come to swap recommendations for babysitters
and handymen and post rooms for rent and items for sale.
Nextdoor came into its own during the pandemic, Ms. Friar said,
with the number of daily active users increasing by 50% in 2020.
Neighbors turned to Nextdoor in search of help with navigating
school closures, securing vaccine appointments and dealing with the
stresses of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. Nextdoor says it is
now in use by one in four U.S. households.
"Local never mattered more," Ms. Friar said.
Outside of work, the Northern Ireland native coaches other
female executives on their professional development, including
advice on how they should cultivate their own personal boards of
"Go find someone that almost scares the life out of you. Go ask
[them] to be a mentor or board member for you personally," said Ms.
Friar, who serves on the boards of Walmart Inc. and Slack
Technologies Inc. "Those mentors have often been somewhat career
and life-changing for me."
Here are four of her most trusted advisers:
former manager at Herdman's Mill
Ms. Friar grew up in the village of Sion Mills in Northern
Ireland during The Troubles, the three-decade conflict between
Catholics and Protestants that killed and injured thousands. She
credits her father, Harry, the personnel manager at the local mill,
with helping foster kinship among residents in the midst of that
For years, Mr. Friar volunteered with the village's school board
and other civic organizations there, service that earned him an
honor from Queen Elizabeth II. Ms. Friar said she looks to her
father's example as she tries to build closer neighborhood ties at
"Even though our country was technically at war and we were on
different sides, ultimately if we were going to build a really
strong community that did right by the kids in the community, by
the seniors in the community, then we all had to think as one
rather than think of the two separate populations," Ms. Friar said.
"My dad was a huge part of that and continues to be."
general partner at Bond Capital
When Ms. Friar joined Goldman's research division, there was
perhaps no bigger name in her field than Mary Meeker. A technology
analyst at Morgan Stanley in the 1990s, Ms. Meeker had been dubbed
"Queen of the Net" for prescient calls on stocks such as AOL and
Dell Computer. Ms. Friar viewed her as a role model.
"This phrase 'You can't be what you can't see' is a really
important one to me," Ms. Friar said. "It's especially important
for younger women entering the world of any sort of business that
they need to be able to look up and see female CEOs, female
engineering leaders, female founders, female bankers,
In 2019, Ms. Meeker, now a venture capitalist, invested in
Nextdoor and joined its board of directors.
former chief financial officer, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Ms. Friar helped persuade former Goldman executive David Viniar
to join Square's board in 2013, bringing Wall Street expertise to a
company that was rooted in Silicon Valley. When Square expanded
into the lending business around 2014, Ms. Friar used Mr. Viniar as
a sounding board.
She also relied on Mr. Viniar's steady nerves and advice to get
through Square's rocky 2015 initial public offering, which valued
the company beneath the range its bankers sought and less than the
level where it previously raised money from investors.
"David kept telling me over and over again...'You will never
remember the price the stock went out at,' Ms. Friar said. 'Your
only job is to execute and ultimately, the market will value you
for your execution.'"
From the time of Square's IPO until just before Ms. Friar
announced her departure in 2018, the value of Square's stock
John Hope Bryant
founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Operation Hope
The lending operation that Ms. Friar helped build at Square,
called Square Capital, was designed to deliver loans to small
businesses that were ignored by banks. As Square Capital was
expanding, she was introduced to John Hope Bryant, an entrepreneur
who ran a nonprofit that aimed to raise the credit scores of people
from underprivileged groups and narrow the racial wealth gap. The
two became friends and stayed in touch when Ms. Friar left Square
for Nextdoor (she attended Mr. Bryant's Zoom birthday party earlier
Last year, when protests flared nationwide after the killing of
George Floyd, Ms. Friar sought Mr. Bryant's advice about how
Nextdoor could be more useful to underrepresented and minority
communities. Mr. Bryant helped her realize the importance of having
moderators on Nextdoor that are as diverse as the neighborhoods
they serve and of staying the course in addressing racial problems
even when solutions may be far off.
"John has been really good at always pulling me back from
feeling impotent," Ms. Friar said.
Write to Peter Rudegeair at Peter.Rudegeair@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 27, 2021 00:15 ET (05:15 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.