An inspirational leader needs unfathomable patience, sheer perseverance, unfaltering faith and endless compassion. When a woman holds the scepter of leadership, no boundaries are left uncrossed, no voyages cast adrift, and no doors are left unopened. If you walk a mile in the shoes of a woman at a leadership position, you will learn that the road is arduous and the destination unwelcoming. Yet, we have seen that women have built and shouldered the very foundation of empires, from scratch to exceptional glory.
Sarah Hoit, the CEO and Co-founder of Connected Living, is one such passionate and prolific shepreneur and nothing short of the personification of leadership. She is a social entrepreneur who co-founded Connected Living in 2007 to create a private social network that bridges the ‘digital divide’ for the millions of seniors who have been left out of the conversation that connects their families and communities.
Sarah was previously the Founder and CEO of Explore, Inc., an education company that operated programs which met the academic and social needs of every student through the integration of experiential learning, homework, physical education, and community service. She holds a BA with Honors from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School (HBS), where she was awarded a public service fellowship.
Raised in a family where giving back to others was a part of the fabric, as a social entrepreneur, Sarah has focused her whole career on strategies designed to make a positive impact on the world. While applying to Harvard, she wrote in her application about wanting to use the capital markets for channeling funds to solve problems in both public and private sectors. Even before finishing HBS, Sarah was writing the business plan for AmeriCorps, the domestic Peace Corps; her first large start up! She also served as the Deputy Director in the Corporation for National Service in the Clinton/Gore Administration which has enabled over 1 million youth to serve the country over the last 25 years.
Reforming Human Connectivity
Connected Living has achieved what no other company has by meaningfully connecting an aging population with family and community. It has created a whole new market of products and services designed precisely to focus on connecting and living. The name of the organization emphasizes respecting and enhancing the life and the voices of seniors, and it also works diligently to combat disrespect and ‘ageism.’
Connected Living provides the most innovative and comprehensive suite of technology to all its constituents, and supports customers both remotely and in-person if and when needed. Its strategy privately connects family members to each other and the community and provides access to support, as well as goods and services such as 24/7 global concierge services, transportation and other essentials.
The organization’s innovative in-house mobile and web development team has built a Mobile App for IOS and Android and connected ‘voice capabilities’ with the Amazon Alexa device to serve as an additional and very powerful communication tool. Connected Living has a full suite of technology that can reach every constituent in communities including, digital signs, in-room TV, calendar/newsletters, life-long learning content, as well as all the mobile, concierge, transportation and ‘home connect’ packages for the many seniors aging at home.
The organization also believes that finding partners who share its vision is very important, and that they are stronger together in solving national and global problems. It values the strategic partnerships with Companies like Sodexo, Lyft, Circles, Amazon Alexa Group, Four Winds and others who are on the same journey. Connected Living believes that by finding Partners with a similar vision, the opportunity to diversify and strengthen one’s offering is even stronger.
Having worked for a decade on sharing and bringing to light seniors’ stories, Connected Living is set to release a ‘Time Capsule’ offering that allows the senior to answer essential questions about who they are and what is important to them, and to tell their story. The organization’s primary target audience is the family member who is often the one acquiring the technology or the service and connecting the generations. It has recently rolled out an exciting new ‘Employee Benefit’ offering for companies in every industry, which are offering the Connected Living app and Concierge Services through global partner circles to employees as a way to support staff and honor work/life balance that is a prime challenge for many employees.
An Enlightening Journey
Sarah expresses her feelings of gratitude and feels that she was blessed to have come from a family which has always supported her and inspired her with a long tradition of service to community and the country. She comes from a long line of strong women who have founded universities, been entrepreneurs, served their country and raised families that stayed close to each other.
Sarah’s father has always let her know she could do anything or be anyone she wanted to. “Both professionally and personally, I have faced significant and unexpected loss. I know profoundly that ‘Every Day Matters’ and you can’t wait for later in life to follow your path or passion,” Sarah says.
Sarah expresses her grief in losing her beloved business partner, Chris McWade, to cancer five years ago in the midst of building their company. “We work every day with many people who are fighting Alzheimer’s, dementia and other conditions that I also face in my own family and it sheds a spotlight on being present here and now. The definition of a good day is a day when people’s lives are better for us being here.”
Sarah believes that passion, determination and dedication, risk taking, communication skills, and leadership are the most vital attributes that build an entrepreneur’s position and influence over his/her organization and subordinates.
She elucidates these attributes as possessing passion for what one is trying to accomplish and desire to create real change; exhibiting determination and dedication while treading the road which is never straight and being able to take a hit or experiencing failure and getting right back up, or changing course when market shows the way; a willingness to take risks and not following conventional wisdom; possessing essential communication skills at all levels; and demonstrating efficient leadership by always ‘showing up’ and leading from the front.
The Blueprints of Excellence
“Innovate! Stay ahead! Provide great customer service,” is Sarah’s mantra to a successful entrepreneurial career.
Sarah asserts that Connected Living worries less about what others are doing, since it is forging new territories, and it listens more to what the customers, families, and seniors want. The organization tries to envision a future that is better, more connected, more respectful and engaging. It also focuses on innovation and customer service ahead of marketing so that it truly has the highest quality product in the marketplace. “We think this is the way to stay ahead of competition,” states Sarah.
Connected Living is in a moment of groundbreaking innovation with the ‘voice revolution.’ The program involves integrating Amazon Echo devices with Connected Living’s content management systems so that senior living residents can gain information with just their voices. They will receive inspirations of the day, share music with family, or ask questions such as “what’s for dinner?,” and “what time is yoga?” and much more.
The hub of the smart senior residence is the Amazon Echo Show. With a large screen and powerful speakers, the Show is an assistive device for the vision impaired or hard of hearing. Other voice-controlled smart devices will be installed to provide a completely unique experience. A senior can control the lights, heating and cooling, ambient music and can even view who is at the front door, all with just a voice command. “Every day we increase seniors’ ability to control their lives and connect to the people they love,” Sarah explains.
Advocating for Women Entrepreneurs
While advising fellow Shepreneurs, Sarah states, “We need to keep leading from the front and realize there are still many barriers to break down for women in all fields.”
Sarah understands that today in the US the numbers are still very low for women CEOs; only 4% in the Fortune 500. While women are 50% of the workforce, only 10% are entrepreneurs. “I think we women have a powerful ability to change our culture and to build organizations that thrive. Together with our male colleagues we can lead organizations that are family friendly and that promote women and men equally with equal pay opportunities,” explains Sarah.
“It is difficult to ignore the numbers or odds for women, and yet I never looked at it that way and I am very hopeful that my daughter and her generation will be in a different place from the landscape we had coming into the business world 30 years ago,” she adds, hoping for a gender-bias free future.
Raising capital and identifying those resources were a critical challenge/decision initially for Sarah. She had significant student loans when she started her first company, so she had to move very quickly in order to keep paying the bills. “It was a very big risk to go from a steady income to a blank piece of paper on which you write your business plan,” Sarah recollects.
“Classic roadblocks are people telling you that you can’t start a new business and that 60% of new businesses fail, and all the friends and colleagues who correctly weigh the risks you face and counsel you to let go of your dream,” adds Sarah with a pinch of non-offensive sarcasm.
Envisioning a Connected World
Sarah enjoys being with a team that is hardworking, passionate and creating positive change every day. For the near future, she hopes she is fortunate enough to continue to lead this team and help form strategic partnerships that will allow Connected Living to have a national and global impact on the aging crisis and provide families a meaningful place to have ‘peace of mind,’ connect, share stories and access goods and services they need.
Sarah also values enormously the opportunity to be active in the community; she serves on a number of non-profit boards including Dementia Friendly America Board fighting the dreadful epidemic that affects innumerable families all over the world, including her own.
“Always, I value time with my family, parents and amazing children, Wesley and Samantha. No matter what I do in life, nothing is more important than being their mother,” says Sarah affectionately.
Bequeathing the Keys to Success
Sarah’s advice to the aspiring lot of entrepreneurs is, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot accomplish your dreams. So many will try to dissuade you, warning you of the risks, the expense, and the slim odds of success, stay strong and believe in yourself.”
Sarah cites a favorite quote of her by Steve Jobs, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Sarah takes pride in having so many dear friends from the different chapters of her life, and she cherishes her strong women friends who have walked a similar path, fought similar battles and successfully balanced motherhood and work. “We gain strength and courage from each other.”
As an English Literature major, Sarah cannot help herself in often finding that the quote which most encapsulates her path is from Robert Frost’s, The Road Not Taken, and it says,
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”