Sarah-Allen Preston Designed an App to Connect Women When We Needed it Most

Photo by Aaron Leimkuehler

The Women in Business series is presented by UMB Women and Wealth

few years ago, Sarah-Allen Preston was in the midst of some dark days. Her five-month-old son was recovering from open heart surgery. “I felt overwhelmed, underwater—a very trying time in my life,” she says. “And I was completely celebrated, supported, and uplifted by my community, my friends and family. It’s what I needed at a very difficult time in my life.”

A year later, in the midst of a divorce, Preston says the same thing happened. “I had to press restart—and it was scary—another big life moment,” she says. “Again, I was blown away by all the support. I realized during that time there wasn’t a digital platform that really brought together these networks and communities for celebration and support.”

And so—in the spirit of paying it forward—Preston created a new platform with an assist from author Laura McKnight. “We called it Afloat—a mobile app that celebrates connections between women and supports the businesses they love,” says the founder and CEO. “We needed a place where we could ask for help if we needed it.” The beta program launched in March of 2020—just as the world was starting to close up shop due to the pandemic.

Positive reaction to the app was swift—so much so that Preston was caught a bit off-guard. “Everyone loved it,” Preston says. “I feel so grateful that it was something that resonated with people—and that was even before we brought businesses in.” She’s referring to Afloat’s relaunch this past December with “an e-commerce platform. We now have about 20 women-owned businesses on the app as well, so people are easily able to gift, support, and celebrate people in their community on Afloat.”

Preston’s suspicions were quickly confirmed by her newfound users. “There was an overarching sense people wanted to be connected—of wanting a place of authenticity and general positivity that was lacking in people’s lives. They got on board with the movement,” she says. “Now that we’ve added the business aspect, it’s been bonkers. People are using it, loving it. Businesses are getting excited. We’re able to watch sales happening—and then look on social media and see the full circle of giving and receiving. To watch it play out in real time has been amazing.”

As a Kansas City native, Preston says she’s all about giving back to a community that has supported her for so long. Over the years, she’s successfully run both a stationery and wholesale paper company before transitioning into full-scale event design and planning. But she says her newest start-up venture has been nothing short of remarkable. She heaps praise on her colleagues. “It is such a team effort. I couldn’t make any of this happen without our team,” she says. “Together we’re focusing on women empowering each other—we’re empowering them on a personal and professional level. We’re all about bringing people together—and we’re excited about partnerships and new ideas.”

Need to send flowers? A cookie bouquet? Both? Preston says to snoop around the Afloat app and see all there is to offer. “As a user, I love having something—a space on my phone—that’s a really positive platform. A place that doesn’t cause anxiety, a place where I can take action—like starting a diaper drive. Or send cookies to a friend who just moved into her new house.”

When we asked Preston about Afloat being a female-centric app, she agreed, “I’m all about it. That’s our goal—our roadmap—a group of empowered women continuing to empower women. We’re going to be the platform that brings them together digitally—and we have some exciting plans to bring that into real life.”

Preston says launching just as the pandemic began was a sign—albeit an ambitious one. “The universe was pushing me in one very clear direction,” she says. “As a start-up and being a single mom, some days it was super-exciting and some days it was super-terrifying. That was 2020 in a nutshell. But there was a need for this, and we had some accelerant poured on our product and purpose.” Her tribe—as she calls it—helped every step of the way. “Everywhere I turned there were cheerleaders. I could not be doing this on my own. It’s a team. We are here for each other and supporting each other—whether that’s intentional mentoring or just saying, ‘Hey, I’ll help—here’s an idea!’

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