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Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar: My business has taken off in Northern Ireland as people here are so neighbourly

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Sarah Friar CEO of Nextdoor

Sarah Friar CEO of Nextdoor

Business Editor Margaret Canning interviews Sarah Friar

Business Editor Margaret Canning interviews Sarah Friar

Sarah Friar CEO of Nextdoor

One of the most senior women in the tech world of Silicon Valley has told how her business is thriving in Northern Ireland.

Sarah Friar, who grew up in Sion Mills in Co Tyrone, is chief executive of Nextdoor, an online hub enabling neighbours to share information.

Its mission statement says it seeks to create a kinder world by bringing neighbours together.

Ms Friar said the hub has taken off in Northern Ireland, with an even spread across rural and urban areas.

Neighbours log on to discuss matters such as where they can source the best plumbers, decorators or beauticians. They will also discuss any concerns about anything that might be going on in the area.

She maintains a close link with back home, where her parents May and Harry still live in Sion Mills. May was a district nurse, while Harry was personnel manager in the mill which gave the village its name. He is also the leader of Nextdoor in the village.

Sarah has lived in the US for 22 years and is married to David, a hedge fund partner. They have a daughter of 14 and a son, aged 12. She has led Nextdoor for 14 months, and previously worked as chief financial officer at the payments company Square. She studied engineering at Oxford and worked as a business analyst before decamping to the US for an MBA.

She said she is pleased with how Nextdoor has performed here.

"Northern Ireland is completely covered, which makes me so happy," she said.

"I get to sneak peek sometimes into my dad's neighbourhood in Sion Mills, which is pretty rural... Northern Ireland is a very engaged community for Nextdoor. I think people are really community oriented and have typically spent time with their neighbours and know their neighbours."

Law enforcement agencies can also have a presence on Nextdoor and Ms Friar praised the PSNI for its embrace of Nextdoor. She held a meeting with Chief Constable Simon Byrne during her visit home this week.

"They are focused so much now on community policing. We are getting past what I grew up with and moving to the police being frankly an important part of helping build communities," she added.

"The PSNI is our poster child in the UK for being the best at using technology.

"What I see them doing now is humanising themselves, so it's not such and such a PSNI person, but it's this inspector or this sergeant.

"It's them asking questions of neighbours asking questions like, we're doing a bike patrol tonight, is there anywhere you want us to go?"

She said the close relationships between neighbours in Sion Mills had been an inspiration to her work at Nextdoor.

"Sion Mills was like this unique petri dish of Catholics and Protestants literally living side by side," she said.

"We didn't have that sense of two communities living together but divided by walls. The village was founded by Quakers who wanted everyone to live together.

"I went to one of the very few integrated primary schools and they even made a Panorama programme about us because it was so special.

"At home our next-door neighbours are a different religion to us and are still our next door neighbours and our best friends.

"When I go home, the first thing I do is knock on the door next door. I think about them a lot when I think about Nextdoor and the product insights of what can work in real life, I think how do I recreate that amazing relationship that we had growing up with our next door neighbours."

She has vivid memories of the Troubles in nearby Strabane, where she went to the town's grammar school.

"Strabane was the most bombed town of its size in Western Europe and I think it carried that unfortunate banner for about two or three decades," she added.

Ms Friar says the TV sitcom Derry Girls has done a good job of reflecting life back then. Living in a border village a lot of her time was also spent in Donegal.

During her visit, Ms Friar also launched a Local Deals feature on Nextdoor, which allows small businesses to target people living in an area with special deals.

"We think that when local businesses thrive, neighbourhoods thrive," she said.

She also held a Nextdoor event at Belfast tech hub Ormeau Baths, as well as meeting members of her Ladies Who Launch programme, a support network for women entrepreneurs.

Her visits home are always refreshing.

Ms Friar added: "You can't get too caught up in yourself when you come home and you see the likes of the farming community and spend time with your cousins - it's great.

"They have a feeling for what I do but they don't spend a lot time on what I do.

"They're much more into how I am doing, how is my family doing.

"Sometimes you get into professional relationships where it's all about how the business is doing, but I find it like a brain cleanse to be home in Northern Ireland."

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