Sara Winter – Founder of

[quote style=”boxed”]I process everything outwardly. I reach out, discuss and do lots of ‘jazz hands’ without realizing it in search of valuable feedback from the people I trust and respect. I leap first, always, and sometimes fall straight on my ass. But most of the time, I end up in the company of incredible people and we use a collaborative model to get things done.[/quote]

Sara Winter has a 12 year-old nephew on the autism spectrum and has been his aide for a decade. Two years ago, she set out to build, an online social space created for kids on the autism spectrum that encourages mindfulness, self-reflection and original thinking. She writes about her experiences for The Huffington Post Canada, Autism Speaks Canada and Friendship Circle International. Her work has been published in magazines such as The Autism File Global and Autism Asperger’s Digest.

What are you working on right now?, a curated social space online for kids with autism to build ideas about themselves that they can share with their parents and their peers.

Where did the idea for Squag come from?

It came from being with my autistic nephew every day and seeing how most environments aren’t conducive to the way he communicates. It occurred to me that he (and other kids) was being underestimated as a result. I figured we needed to do something about that.

What does your typical day look like?

I wear a lot of different hats, but I’m lucky because they’re all connected and I can pull from each experience to inform the others. I chunk my time like crazy and have to constantly remind myself to focus on what I’m doing and to be in the moment. When I’m working with my nephew, I try to be fully engaged with him and where he’s at.  I’ve got 2 windows a day that are Mommy Time, which used to stress me out but now I find huge respite in putting the Blackberry down. The rest of the time, I’m deeply embedded in what needs to be done for Squag. I get most of my writing done at night, but a lot of seeds of ideas come from moments during the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I process everything outwardly. I reach out, discuss and do lots of ‘jazz hands’ without realizing it in search of valuable feedback from the people I trust and respect. I leap first, always, and sometimes fall straight on my ass. But most of the time, I end up in the company of incredible people and we use a collaborative model to get things done.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

It used to be that business people were business people and creative people were creative people and never the twain shall meet. But there seems to be a real place for creativity in business now, and thus, for creative people. People feeling comfortable enough to use both sides of their brains really excites me and I’ve met some unbelievable examples of this as I’ve built Squag. I’m working with sickly brilliant engineers that I would literally describe as artists and I’ve got high-powered businesspeople sending me emails with happy faces in them. I love to see people showing me who they really are.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I waited tables between jobs back when I was a professional dancer. I absolutely sucked at it. It’s amazing that some people feel that it’s okay to treat others as if they’re invisible.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Is it okay if I say nothing? I make mistakes, but I like to bank it as ‘learning I needed to do.’ If I had to say one thing, maybe it would be to not ride the emotional roller coaster all the way up and down at each hurdle. But I think that’s just sort of who I am and I doubt I would have been able to change that anyway.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I am extremely transparent and open (maybe even to a fault). It’s not everyone’s thing, but I think it saves a lot of time.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A tech platform powerful enough to revolutionize the educational system.  Khan Academy is pretty close, but I’d like to see something really penetrate the quagmire that is the public school system and change the game completely.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Judgement. We all feel the need to make sense of people, so we label them in order to do that. The more people have visibility and access to something that gives them a voice, and the safer they are to do that, the harder it will be to judge them. I think this would solve a lot of problems.

Tell us a secret.

I have been known to cry in business meetings.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

I’m actually not really a tech person (I realize the irony in that) so I can’t think of 3, but how about 2?

I love Twitter because you have the ability to be totally anonymous yet completely intimate with someone at the same time. It’s been an incredible support for parents in the special needs community and has been a game changer for us to be able to push the needs of our kids to the forefront.

I love Vimeo because it gives me access to incredible filmmaking that opens me up and inspires me in the 3 or 4 minutes I have to indulge in something just for me.

All of the online tools I use, Hootsuite, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora and WordPress overwhelm me and make me feel like I’m working. The designs don’t speak to me and I feel instantly incompetent. I hear Pinterest is awesome, and from what I have seen, it is exactly the kind of thing I can wrap my head around.  I’m so busy responding to the notifications from the other 5 that  I haven’t had time to try it yet.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

When I first started Squag, I read ZAG by Marty Neumeier over and over. It is an oldie but a goodie. I especially love the section in which he gets you to write an obituary for your business. Plus, the design is beautiful.

What’s on your playlist?

That is a totally personal question! I draw the line! (Mostly because you would laugh at me.)

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  • @Carlysvoice because she reminds us all how powerful this upcoming generation is.
  • @TED because the videos are short enough that you can watch them but long enough that they will literally change the way you think.
  • @KONY2012 is the kind of action that is really exciting to me, mostly because it’s a very simple message in a highly accessible package. I’m sure it’s everything but simple on their end, but they’ve done it in a way that makes it impossible for us to stand by without doing anything.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Yesterday. My 3 year old is hilarious.

Who is your hero?

Easy, my nephew. He’s hands down the strongest person I know.


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