Sarah blazes new trails for herself and UP®
Director of Content, Brand Experience
I’m happy we’ve created a product that motivates and coaches our community to live healthier lives. Jawbone genuinely cares about that outcome for people.
“People get bogged down by trying to ‘figure it all out’, but if you’re open and aware, and make choices you feel good about at that moment in time, you never know where you’ll end up,” says Sarah Barr, Director of Content, Brand Experience at Jawbone.
Even from a young age, Sarah’s adventurous spirit led her to take chances. “That feeling of just going where you want, on your own terms, is freedom for me,” explains Sarah with a big smile. “I grew up in southwest Virginia. When I was 10 years old, a group of Soviet children came to town to perform the musical Peace Child with a group of local children. They sang about war; they sang about peace. And about how if we knew each other—as people—maybe we could actually get along.”
Inspired by this performance, Sarah decided she wanted to travel with the group. “I auditioned to be in Peace Child when I was 13. When I filled out the application I thought to myself, ‘Where would my parents never take me?’ Without hesitation, I checked the box next to USSR,” she laughs. “There are not many people who choose to go to Russia. Who would choose to live in a place where nothing really works the way you expect it to? But for me, the sheer challenge of navigating this mysterious place brought everyday adventure. It was exhausting, but it was exhilarating. I quickly learned this kind of chaos was my happy place.”
Her childhood experiences in Russia led her to a stellar language program at Middlebury College in Vermont, which ultimately led her back to Russia in adulthood. Prior to finding Jawbone in 2013, Sarah worked in client services for design agencies in Moscow, New York and San Francisco. “Working for design agencies, I had a lot of different clients,” says Sarah. “I worked on everything, from airlines to booze to tech. I had a hard time figuring out where I’d actually go in-house because I liked the variety. I’d take on a new client every few months, jump into a different set of problems, come up with solutions and move on to the next client,” she explains. “But when I heard about what Jawbone was trying to build to help people—it was really appealing to me. I felt like it was something I could work on full-time, and it was the first time I had felt that way.”
“Coming to Jawbone really did shift everything for me in terms of health. I found myself immersed in research and content in order to deliver our community health tips. But through this process—I ended up learning so much about myself.” Looking back, Sarah says even when she was growing up in Virginia, she struggled to maintain a healthy weight. “My weight has always gone up and down,” she explains. “I remember the appointment where my pediatrician told my mother, ‘We need to monitor Sarah and make sure she’s at a healthy weight.’ I did reach a point in my teens when I was at a comfortable weight, but I gained again while studying abroad in Russia during college. When I returned to the US I got back on track, but when I had children, I gained around 50 pounds with each pregnancy. While I lost the weight each time, two additional pregnancies which both resulted in miscarriage left me with weight I couldn’t seem to shake,” she says tearing up. “But when I came to Jawbone, my relationship with my weight changed. It used to be all about diet for me—trying this diet or that diet—but seeing all of the activities people were doing to stay healthy was inspiring.”
One of the people who inspired Sarah to think about activity differently was Janie, a Jawbone intern in Sarah’s orientation class her first day. “Janie was my first Jawbone friend in the UP App,” she says with a huge smile. “She was the kind of woman who would get up in the morning and run five miles. I was like, ‘Who is this person?’ It seemed kind of crazy at first, but I was in awe of her. One day she said to me, ‘Why don’t you try it? I’ll set up a training program for you.’” In a shared Google doc, Janie detailed what activities Sarah should do each day. “I’d leave notes in the doc and she would adjust based on my feedback to her,” Sarah explains. “When I built up to around 10 miles, Janie recommended I find a group of people I could regularly run with.” This advice is how Sarah started trail running with RUN365, a training partner of the San Francisco Marathon. She recalls her first meeting, on a Sunday in Marin near her home. “When I showed up, I didn’t know what to expect. I originally planned to run a half marathon road race, but the RUN365 group I joined only ran on the trails. I gave it a try.” Joining the group opened a whole new world to Sarah, who now runs exclusively on trails. “I’ve always loved hiking and have always found nature to be very healing, but to combine running with exploration of your backyard is just awesome. I love being out there.”
Today at Jawbone, Sarah leads a complex engine of content creators, also known as the editorial team: “We have a team dedicated to writing content and designing experiences to help our UP community live better. It’s pretty awesome to be a part of that. Our writers create all of the Smart Coach content, work on content across all of our products, plus all brand marketing messaging as well.” She continues, “Smart Coach insights were in their first iteration within the UP App when I joined the company. At that time we didn’t have any full-time writers. In order to provide an experience to get people to eat better and sleep better, our app needed to be rich with motivating content. I felt like we needed a coach for every user like I had in Janie when I first started running. I advocated to bring on a team of writers and content strategists full-time to develop this groundbreaking feature. We wanted to create an experience that resonated with our community; so we put ourselves in their shoes and asked ourselves, ‘If I was this person, what would I want Smart Coach to talk to me about?’ Of course, Smart Coach has evolved a lot over the years. And with more data, we’ve been able to make the experience rich and personalized. The feedback we get from the community also influences whether we keep or retire insights. Sometimes we even redo them completely.”
In addition to making meaningful tweaks to the UP® App, Sarah has been making small changes to her life to make room for her favorite hobby. “Having two little kids is so fun, but scheduling personal time can be challenging. I know if I’m going to run in the morning at 5:30, I have to go to bed by 10pm the night before to make it happen the next day. Of course, I end up prioritizing running over other things, but it’s worth it. The running makes me stronger and more patient, while the sleep makes me happier and healthier—and much more effective at work.” Though Sarah seems to have her schedule down to a science, she’s quick to admit it wouldn’t be possible without the support of her family and friends. “My husband is definitely one of my biggest supporters,” she admits. “I couldn’t do it without him taking care of our children and getting them out the door in the morning, and he watches them Sunday mornings when I’m trail running. And there’s my mother and father; my father is a former marathon runner and this is something we’ve really bonded over. And my mom—well—she’s pretty much my best friend.”
When asked if she has any advice for the UP® community, Sarah advises anyone just getting started with UP® to stay open to the possibilities. “You might have gotten UP for one reason, but after trying everything in the app you might learn something entirely new about yourself. I didn’t think I was born to run—but now that I've tried it, and and built up my endurance over time, I believe anyone can do it.
“This really goes for anything in life. I met children from the Soviet Union and then wanted to go to the USSR myself. Next, I wanted to learn Russian and ended up at Middlebury. After that, I looked for work in Moscow where I found branding, a career that would bring me then back to New York and ultimately to the Bay Area, surrounded by amazing nature, where I run the trails every Sunday. It’s all a journey, and it’s kind of fun to see how all these choices build upon each other,” says Sarah. “Today, I have the opportunity to experience the world again through the eyes of my two small children. And it reminds me of my own innocent idealistic self—before I knew better—checking that box to go to the USSR.”