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Sarah-Allen Preston, afloat app founder, photo courtesy of Jason Kindig

Meet Sarah-Allen Preston, Founder of Afloat Gifting App

This mom of three is changing the gifting game.

Sarah-Allen Preston knows dark times. Her youngest son underwent open heart surgery as an infant, then a year later, she found herself in the midst of a divorce.

But the mom of three also knows the power of connection. She credits the support of family and friends during her life’s storms has her silver lining—and ultimately the inspiration behind her mobile app, afloat.

Preston, who splits her time between Kansas City and Dallas, launched the on-demand gifting app in Dallas in February 2022. The app is a curated marketplace featuring gifts from over 30 stores in the Dallas community. From books and dolls from JoJo Mommy to cookies and cakeballs from J.Raes, the gifts are wrapped and delivered same- or next-day, along with a handwritten note.

Preston says the app is all about celebrating “silver confetti moments along with silver linings.” She plans to expand offerings in Dallas and move into other cities in Texas. We talked to Preston about this season of giving, gifting, and what it’s like to be a single mom running a startup business.

About Afloat Founder Sarah-Allen Preston 

Current position: Founder & CEO of afloat app
Age: 37
Hails from: Kansas City
Lives in: Dallas & Kansas City
Alma mater: Southern Methodist University
Children: Sons Press, 9, Duke, 6, and Boss, 5
Fun fact: A former high-end event planner, Preston has planned weddings all across the country
Where to connect: @theafloatapp & @sarahallenpreston on Instagram

Sarah-Allen Preston, afloat app founder, with her three sons. Photo courtesy of Sabrina Leone
Photo courtesy of Sabrina Leone

Interview with Sarah-Allen Preston 

DFWChild: You’re the founder of a mobile app but have no background in tech. So how did the idea for afloat come about?
Sarah-Allen Preston: Boss, my now 5-year-old, had open heart surgery at 5 months old. It was a really trying and traumatic time for my family. And when I got through it, I looked back from the other side and was like, “OK, that sucked,” for lack of a better term, but what is the silver lining I can take away from this?

And it was how connected I felt, how cared for I felt, because of all the things people did. I didn’t matter how big or small it was—homemade salad dressing or a Barefoot Dreams robe—the things that people would drop off helped me know that someone was there for me. It could completely change the trajectory of my day.

When I wanted to say thank you for this silver lining, I was like, “why is it so hard to be thoughtful? Where is this happy space on your phone that you can really support and celebrate the people in your life easily?”

“It just seems easier when you’re in the carpool line, scrolling on your phone, to order something from the metasearch, big box whatever. I knew there had to be a better way.”

DFWChild: And it was important to you to incorporate local brick-and-mortar businesses?
SAP: Bringing in local stores was the cherry on top. I think people really relate with the idea of being able to go to a local store that they want to support, but in today’s reality, we’re so busy, you can’t always get there to do that. It just seems easier when you’re in the carpool line, scrolling on your phone, to order something from the metasearch, big box whatever. I knew there had to be a better way.

DFWChild: The afloat team is made up entirely of women, almost all of whom are moms. How does this shape the culture?
SAP: When I became a mom is when I first had that drive in my gut of, “OK, I’m going to balance and I’m going to thrive.” And some days are better than others, obviously. On our team, we juggle hard. We’re not all crushing every department of our life every day, but I will say working amongst women who have children has been a big level-up in what I am able to do with myself and my time.

We all feel that and support each other. On the days that are good we’re crushing it. Then some days somebody needs a little more time or something comes up with their kid, and we’re all really understanding about that, too. It’s a really cool culture to be part of. 

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DFWChild: We’re all in gifting mode this season. What’s some advice when it comes to gift-giving?
SAP: This is something that gives people real anxiety, right? You want to do a good job at gifting. One thing I say is just send the gift. So many people, myself included, get tied up in “should I, shouldn’t I?” To me the answer is always yes. I’ve been on the receiving end, and I remember the people that I never thought would send a gift to me did in my darker moments. And it truly meant so much.

“I’m trying to raise these boys that appreciate women, respect them, and they get to see firsthand what a strong woman can look like.”

DFWChild: You’re a mom of three boys. What does it mean to you to be a “boy mom” and what kind of boys are you trying to raise?
SAP: Being a boy mom—just keeping them alive! (laughs) I really want to raise boys that are appreciative, respectful and collaborative with the women in their life. Mine are so in tune with me, and so sensitive and emotionally intelligent, but we were not always on that track.

I was in an abusive marriage and they were really my catalyst to leave. It was something I had known in my gut for so long wasn’t right, but one day something happened that made me think, what am I doing? This is not just about me anymore.

Not only do I not want them to think this is what life is like, and marriage is like, and what their childhood is going to be, but I also don’t want to raise men that are going to be like this. I don’t want to raise men that are going to grow up thinking this is how women should be treated or receive treatment. So I left, and we have really fostered an amazing relationship.

DFWChild: What’s the biggest challenge being a mom of three?
SAP: The scheduling! How in the heck are you supposed to get three children to three different activities at the same time? I have amazing help and support across the board, and I still can’t figure it out. Every day it’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.

Sarah-Allen Preston, afloat app founder, with her three sons. Photo courtesy of Sabrina Leone
Photo courtesy of Sabrina Leone

DFWChild: What have you learned about yourself through motherhood?
SAP: I’m not as strict as I thought I would be. I went in with all the highest hopes of “they eat this” and “we follow these timelines and guidelines.” All of the good intentions. But when you’re really in the game, you’re making a lot of game-time decisions.

DFWChild: What do you hope your kids take away from seeing you be an entrepreneur?
SAP: They get to see me go to work. They get to see me with blood, sweat and tears. I’m really open with them about things like the process of being a founder, or being a single mom. All of these things that are not challenges, but challenging. I love that they are seeing me dig in. I’m trying to raise these boys that appreciate women, respect them, and they get to see firsthand what a strong woman can look like.

Sarah-Allen Preston’s Gift Guide

Our Mom Next Door shares the key to a great gift and the life lessons she’s teaching her sons.

Best Gift Ever
When Boss was having his surgery, a friend dropped off a tote bag before we headed to the hospital. It was full of toys for my older boys because they couldn’t come with us, and snacks and other things for me. She monogrammed the outside of the bag with “Heart You.” The things were so helpful and useful, and I felt so loved. It made my life easier, but it was also just knowing someone was there for me.

Motto to Live By
I’m really passionate about keeping going. I say in my head 25 times a week, “just keep going.” It gets me out whatever mental block I’m in—whether that’s work, or parenthood, or personal life.

Make it Meaningful
The key to choosing a great gift is to make it meaningful and personal, even if that’s just in the note that you send. Write that extra line in that makes them feel cared for. That’s so simple and it really goes such a long way. Personal touches can make things meaningful even if the item isn’t.

Treat Yourself
I’m pretty good at me-time. I try to find time to unplug every day, whether that’s a bath or laying on the floor while the kids do puzzles around me—or play on their iPad, let’s be real!

Life Lessons
I think it’s so cool that my kids have watched me take something I talked about and turn it into something real. They’ve gotten a lot of exposure to running a business and they ask questions, they’re engaged and proud. They’ve watched me have bad days and get up the next day and say “what’s next?” I think those lessons are really invaluable.

This interview was originally published in December 2022.

Top photo courtesy of Jason Kindig