In Her Own Words: Sarah Jones Simmer’s cancer, IPO lead to CEO
While Covid grabbed the headlines and dominated lives all over the world, other diseases, including breast cancer, continued to attack women during the past two years. Sarah Jones Simmer was 37 and in the midst of her biggest business challenge when she was diagnosed.
"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 two 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. We decided that I’d move into a more focused and defined role as Chief Strategy Officer, and 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, 10 surgeries and 37 rounds of radiation over 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.
I had unwavering support from a working group that was majority women — nearly unheard of for an IPO. I felt supported each time I needed to plan meetings around doctor's appointments, or showed up to lead a drafting session in a headscarf. I was grateful for the opportunity to lean in when I could, 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 10-year plan.
Becoming a CEO of Found
I knew I wanted to “build” again — and to take a bet on myself. In September 2021, I joined Found as CEO, with a mission to make evidence-based, sustainable weight care accessible for all. 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: obesity, the factors out of our control that inform our weight, and the stigmas people with obesity face.
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. We now know that weight care is about so many factors — sleep, stress, family and cultural traditions, hormones, biology, addiction. Where is the conversation around self-acceptance being the path to a longer, healthier life?
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. Found is doing this by delivering science-backed, customized weight care programs that help you change your relationship with your body. Found is also part of a meaningful platform shift in healthcare 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.
I’m excited to nurture and grow something that is already helping more than 100,000 people today. I can’t wait to share what Found accomplishes, as I truly believe it is going to change how people think about and approach their weight — through a model of care that adapts to each person and their body’s unique needs, today and every day of their health journey."