The job should scare you. Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports, on how to decide whether to go for that new position. - Episode 059


I think it's good in interviewing for a new job that the job should scare you and that it should push you into a place that you have not gone. I think if you're looking for the same, but different it's not going to be rewarding, and it's not going to move you forward. I'm Carly's Aken. I'm Danielle Weisberg. Welcome to skin from the couch. This podcast is where we go deep on career advice from women who have lifted from the good stuff like hiring and growing team to the rough stuff like negotiating your salary, and giving or getting hard feedback. We started the skin from a couch. So what better place to talk it all out than where it began on a couch? So please welcome. Erica Nardini to the couch. Eric is an expert at marketing and growing brands over the course of her career. She's been a leader at major companies, like, Microsoft Yahoo and AOL but in two thousand sixteen she decided to take on a new role. She became the CEO at a small, but mighty sports blog, you might have heard of barstool sports. That's a role with the story behind it, and we're gonna let Erica tell it. In the meantime, Erica. Welcome to the couch shaky for having me. Thanks for being here. I'm excited to be here. We are very excited to chat with you. So before we kind of dive into to everything to start a both skim your resume for. Okay. Great love the skim your resume. So I started my career thought I wanted to be a lawyer, I started my career at Fidelity Investments, I worked in the legal department hated it wanted to work in advertising and talk to the HR people at fidelity. And they were like that's the worst decision of her. You're, you're a moron. But I did it. I took a huge pay cut went to work in the advertising department at fidelity, which was mostly run by women. It was very exciting. And the internet was just starting. And so, because I was young and interested in the internet, and no one was really paying attention. I got a huge amount of opportunity to be a part of something very big. It's the internet was growing. I then went and worked at a whole bunch of ad agencies in Boston's I lived in Boston at the time, which led me to working for Microsoft. So I went to work for Microsoft to build, you know, they're global branded entertainment group, in two thousand one I lived abroad, so I lived in London. I worked out of Tokyo at traveled all around the world, basically, connecting brands and technology with audiences. I then was part of a startup launch called Mata Lena which was a new view on the fashion space internet company from there, I went to Yahoo. So back to a big. Company and what I really saw was, you know, that was at the height of the portal era, whereby consumers were navigating the internet from big centralized places like Microsoft or Yahoo from there. I went to demand media to be part of their IP. Oh. And what I really saw at that point in time was that the internet was changing from being centralized and controlled to being searched driven whereby anyone can find anything. They want at any point in time and being part of a company that understood how to make content for that distribution and to monetize it with super interesting from there. I went to a oh, well to be the CMO via well, and then I launched a startup called backstage, which was a direct to consumer platform, which connected music artists and their fans. So my career really has spanned portal era, a search era and a social era, which really led me to barstools sports where I've been the CEO four. The last three years to shame. You haven't done much. Potential. So for those who are familiar with barstools one line. What is it? Oh, barstool. It's one of the funniest most disruptive media lifestyle brands out there. How did you become familiar with our store, I lived in Boston when Dave Portnoy, the founder created it? So I remember being lived with a bunch of women. I we, we would, you know, we worked hard we played very hard and I would get onto the train station in the morning, and there would be, you could choose from getting the metro from basically, like next like a homeless person, or you could get barstool sports, and Dave, and, you know, a handful of people handed out are still at the T stops that I went to. So I knew it from the beginning, I was there in Boston when he created it, it was also barstool is always the way guys that I knew talked. So it was the type of humor. They were interested in it was about Boston sports. It was about life in Boston. When I was building backstage, it was during the Deflategate. So the controversy with Tom Brady and the NFL. And I'm on a lot of what I built at backstage for big music artists on barstool because you would read something on barstool. And if you're a patriots fan or a Celtics fan or you know, Chicago Bears fan didn't matter fewer fan. You would read something. And then there would be a commerce experience right at the bottom of it. So in this case, like, I remember a Saturday morning, I was reading a blog of Dave's and at the bottom was it was wasn't ad for free. Brady t shirts, and I bought five, and I didn't feel like anyone was selling to me or as being manipulated. I really just wanted the free Brady t shirts go, I thought they were cool and I felt something from reading the blog. And so I've always loved barstool. I think that Dave is brilliant, and incredibly disruptive, and very true to himself, and his voice, and who he is. And he's held that. That steady for fifteen years, which is incredible. It's just unheard of so in the chance came, you know, when I knew they were looking for someone I I wanted this job very badly. Because the chance to work with a brand that knew who it, who it was with a huge amount of upside and potential needing the type of things I knew how to do was it was awesome. When you talk about the barstools sounded like people that you knew in your life, it reminded you of, you know, being out in Boston parcel, is known for leaning into in representing a Friday, image. And there's the fun part of that. And then there's also the negative connotations with that. How did you think through that when you when this actually became a reality of, like I might go run? That's shur. Yeah, people had a lot of reactions Steve or, like, what are you doing which I've talked a lot about people thought, I was, you know, do having career suicide, which by virtue of my linked, and I might be, but also just to jump in for people that aren't as familiar with partial, when we talk about the other side of that. Barstool and it's found her deport. I l Pez has racked up a lot of controversy particularly over the way it per trays women. So that's what we're going to yet. So I would take a couple of things about our, which is one is Dave and everyone at arsenal. And I got to barstool there's probably fifteen bloggers were always very unafraid, and they were not a big company, they were an underground disruptive alt- publication, really. So they didn't censor themselves. They've never thought about being PC. They, you know, they made jokes sometimes the jokes landed sometimes the jokes really didn't land. They never really backed down from what they said. So, you know, over the course of time, they've had, you know, they've made comments or written blogs, or you know, had quips on on various shows that I think, in two thousand nineteen or twenty seventeen or twenty sixteen at least in my tenure they wouldn't make again. Not because of me, but I, I think the world has changed really dramatically from two thousand nine to two thousand sixteen. I don't think we're Friday. I can understand why people think we look Freddie, you know, by and large the majority of our company is a, why a young white guy, which in and of itself has a connotation of being Friday. But if you look at the women, we have brought to barstool you look at the brands that were launching inside of barstool, you look at the type of talent that we're nurturing, it's really anything, but Friday, it is, it is still unapologetically true, though, to that knowing its audience, which by and large, our guys and increasingly we're attracting female audiences and different types of audiences and covering different types of topics. You know, the military politics business entertainment, sex and relationships, etc. At our core, though, we want to be funny and. Compelling and authentic. And I think that's what guides us to, to ultimately where we think we can go and it's alternately why we've been very successful. I think there's a lot of people who don't like barstool. There's a lot of people who think barstools not for them. There's a lot of people who are easily offended by barstool. I don't think we're as controversial as people say, we are, but it's very convenient to say that barstool is controversial mostly, because we're very disruptive and were somewhat threatening. And in our growth and the amount of time, we're taking them out of tension. We have for the audience, we want, you are a very successful business woman. There are unfortunately, not that many people at your level of success. And I think that is changing and will change. But it's why you are considered a trailblazer and someone that we look up to. Did you have a moment? You know, when we talk about the rise of the metoo movement, and we talk about times up. Did you have a moment where you're like, wow? I didn't maybe I didn't realize that some of this behavior really is wrong. Or maybe I didn't realize how this. Could come off. Or maybe I didn't realize that, you know, part of what we're putting out in the world could be part of the problem. Did you ever have a personal moment sort of thinking that through as a woman as a businesswoman? That's I mean you guys are equally successful and I, I love what he's built with the skim. I read it every day. I think it's awesome. Thank you. No, I bar still is the least, sexist least misogynistic place. I have ever worked like I have worked at a lot of places where most things happen behind closed doors. And I think for women who are trying to trailblazers for themselves, regardless of what that means like getting your first job or getting the job or a big job like insidiousness and closed doors and things that are unspoken. I think are the most dangerous places for anyone who's trying to break into a club that is closed. So no, I really stand by the culture and the integrity of our culture as a company, I think the metoo movement and time's up and just women's empowerment is really important. We are not a brand that is promoting any agenda. Whether it's female empowerment, male empowerment, this outer the other thing, we're a comedy brand dressed up as a sports site. So. You know, I don't think we are part of the problem. And I really stand by I think the people I work with are some of the finest people. I have worked with in my career. What I can control is the type of company that we have, and the type of culture we have in the way that we manage problems. And we the way we resolve we resolve them or in the way we treat our employees and find new employees. And so I'm really proud of that. And I think, you know, if you look at barstool were probably the one of the only companies in media that has a female CEO, a female CRO, a female CFO a female head of production like we have hired incredible women, not because they're women, but because they're incredibly talented hungry. Bad ass people who are gonna take our company to the next level. So when I look at the places that criticize us which are predominantly traditional media companies, and then I look at their roster, and I'm like, where the women when you decided to take the role, did you think it was going to be? Controversial. I think I underestimated the controversy it's interesting because you beat out over seventy male candidates to get the job, and normally that would be something, you know, without putting the brand into it, it would be like this amazing moment, but you would think would be celebrated, and you got a lot of flak. We read that you lost board seats of it. And I'm sure friendships Boven personal and professional. How did that affect you? I've loved my barstool experience I it has come at a cost certainly it was unexpected. It was. You know, it was the best deviation from a path that I had ever been on. I was CMO for big company. The president of a very interesting startup. But this is I feel so certain that this is my place. And I'm, I'm so glad I made it here. So it's been you know, any Nixon bruises and are worth it. So father stay is coming up, but we are in kind of an awkward position this year because we're going to be on the middle of the hottest Kim your life book tour, which are dads are excited about, but also means that we won't be around on Father's Day. So we need to make sure we get good gifts in advance. So I think that we're both going to do the same gift this year surprised ads hope you're listening. We're getting free bridge. I'm going to bring pictures of just my face really up close. I don't know what you're gonna do. I don't know if that's the best gift, but okay, but thing is an easy and affordable way to custom free in your favorite things from prints and posters to the photos on your phone, or just a close selfie. If you're me, just go to frame bridge dot com and upload your photo, you can order custom gift for any debt in your life. In minutes. Just go to frame bridge dot com and use promo code skim to save an additional fifteen percent off your first order again, that's just frame bridge dot com promo code. Kim. Cheers and talk about you as a leader in a few different ways. One is I I'm fascinated by the idea of someone becoming a CO. Eddie founder lead company, an a company that is such a strong founder vision, and also a founder, the pres-, who has a very controversial image. How did you approach that to get buy in from the team and level set that you are the CEO, and while Dave might be the founder like you were put in charge? Yeah. It's hard. I mean found you like shocking to the to the ultimate female founders? But the thing I loved about, Dave Portnoy, and Dan cats and Keith Mark vich and Kevin Clancy and John fight Oberg all of the original guys was that they knew what they knew. And they were very proud of it. They're fiercely protective of it, but they were also very honest and open about what they did not know. And I think if if. If barstool didn't have that type of environment, I would not have succeeded nor would anyone have have succeeded. So I think it's hard to it's intimidating to come into a company that is built and is so intrinsically tied to in your case to people or in our case, you know, one person, and very big personalities what I loved about Dave was that we saw the world, the same way, we saw the potential of commerce. We saw the idea of a very disruptive sports media brand or media brand. And I worked exceptionally hard, you know that first year I worked incessantly mostly to earn their trust. And I wanted to be in it together. So when we won we won together, and when we tripped and failed it was together, and I also wanted to protect them, because I think there will never be another barstool sports. The worst thing I could do would be to change. That that's. The key to working with a founder, especially create a founder and it, it couldn't have happened if he wasn't so involved or if wasn't so, vulgar, any of our core talent with an involved in it couldn't happen if I hadn't brought my side of it to what is it like to come in as a leadership in a leadership position where you are making business and product decisions every day for a target demo that you are not that target. I I'm obsessed with our product, and while I do not fit the prototype of our audience in any way, shape or form. I spend hours with our teams are audiences are fans. I feel that I've been able to really understand the motivation. Now, I'm not making the creative call. I don't want to be making a creative call. I absolutely should not be making a creative call because ultimately, I'm not the personality and I'm not the audience, but I think someone you know, one is I think you have to be really good listener, and you have to be. Thoughtful in the recommendations, you create you also have to not have a lot of control. So we tend to make a lot of things all the time. Some land some don't land, and that experimentation is, is also part of how we've been able to do it. So I feel like my job is to create the environment that lets creative people talk to their fans and to enhance the products on which they do it by looking at the data of what happened. What didn't happen? What worked what didn't work? So that's how I would look at it one sentence. What had how would you describe the company culture? It's very alive. It's just a very alive company like you come in to your office, which is gorgeous, like, I'm so impressed by it, and it's clean, and it's pretty, and it's quiet, and we have a romper room of, you know, we just moved offices a week and a half ago, we had one hundred fifty people in twelve thousand square feet, which just to it. It's like cramming a high school into one room. We had two studios and redo fifteen hours of radio podcasts live content every day. And we're on top of one another. So it's loud. It's noisy. It's chaotic, it's extremely creative. But it is just very alive. We tried that are HR person told us we had to move when we were taking conference calls from the bath. Yes. Totally. So, yeah. Let's take be quick break to talk about our book how to skim your life. It is all about some of the most important parts of being an adult think wine pairings, your finances, your career, big purchases, like cars houses, apartments, and more. It is the kind of book you're going to want to have on your coffee table so you can keep coming back to it. What are you waiting for? Now is the time. Get to it. The skin dot com slash book. That's skim dot com slash book. Go order how to skim your life today. Yeah. I want to talk a little bit about you as a manager. And when we talk about company culture and scaling it when you came on our show is about twelve people. Yeah, I was it was somewhat unknown. There were twelve people slated to come to New York. So when Dave took investment from the chairman group, he, he, he wanted to move barstool to New York, and go for the moon and the funny thing about barstool at the time, there was a big network of people who quote unquote, worked for barstool. And I couldn't when I got there, there wasn't a PNL there wasn't an Email system. They didn't use slack. They, it's still kind of struggle with flack. But so it was hard to tell who who works for barstool, and what exactly do you do very funny? I stay problem crazy. I day problem like we didn't have an office we had people who they blocked every thirty minutes. And but didn't really talk to one another. They didn't have any system to talk. To one another. You know Dave until fairly recent history back then paid them in personal checks, like it was it, it was an underground, alt- brand. So how do you keep some of that, obviously balanced pudding processes in plays like making sure they can talk to each other? Yeah. While also scaling and not having the founder right, personal checks, totally so he being checks or. Yeah, DNA is super important one have a lot of respect for them. You know, I always came into it with a ton of respect that they they'd gotten this thing to be so big with, with hardly anything with only their brains and their computers. And I sought to build process around that. But that was a process built for barstool. I knew fairly quickly coming into barstool that a traditional process was not going to work that an HR person saying no calls in the bathroom just was never ever. Ever going to fly. I also felt I could make their jobs easier. I could make them more famous. I could I could make things less have less friction we could create communication. We could be durable and repeatable in the things that we did every day I could create security, you know, really very honestly look at what we had, and then to build things that were made for, for it and to not be married to any particular decision. If over time it didn't work, and that's really the only way, you know, we've grown from let's call it on, you know, under twenty people in two thousand sixteen to one hundred and sixty people in two thousand nineteen we have gone from three podcasts to thirty podcasts. Like we have just we have just grown, so exponentially, that not being rigid on, on anything has been really important. Because if we were rigid we would still be doing things the way we did. Them in twenty twenty sixteen or twenty seventeen or twenty eighteen not just doesn't make any sense. You became a manager at age twenty three. What were you like as a manager then and how are you as a manager now, probably pretty similar? I love to work like I love to work. I love working with teams. I loved playing sports. You know I love locker room which is maybe why I love are still sports, like I I love a locker room, I think being with another group of people and going after winning something is the best to always wanted to work as part of a team. And I, I have I love team. I'm very blunt. I'm extremely impatient. I was extremely impatient. When I was twenty three I'm very hungry to learn. And I, I just don't believe that because someone something is told to you that this is how it should be. That that's really how it should be. Like I I just don't like that. I loved my team. And I was hard on them. What is winning look like for you. Now. It's a really good question. I don't I think winning is being fulfilled at, at what we're creating like I don't know exactly where this thing goes. I think anyone who tells you that they know where your company goes just lying. And nobody knows and on with, like oh, so they have the playbook approach. Yeah. Automatically like or whatever. So I don't know where barstool goes. I think we can be bigger and stronger, and funnier and enter new, you know, enter new markets, enter new audiences bring new people, create new products but I think winning is, for me and for barstool and for anyone who works at this company is I really being honorable to what we have created and taking it to a place that it has not been before. So as part of being a manager you have to hire. People and put together a team you famously did an interview where you talked about your interview practice our short and time in the end. Yes. We loved reading, I'm sure. But you talked about you Tex candidates on the weekends as part of kind of putting them through a process. I wanna know I wanna hear about your thinking behind that. I will tell you like we put any candidate any person that we hired this scam. We give them a homework assignment. We have I'm sure it's very similar reasons why, which is you wanna see how people respond to chat. You really want to work here. Yeah. At the same time, like I can tell you people just like in our personal lives, when they're interviewing for, for jobs and a potential employer is giving them a homework assignment or would text them on the weekend. Red Sox red flag for them. Yes. So what would you say to a friend of yours that is applying for a job that they're excited about? And the CEO of that company is texting them at odd hours on the weekends. What did I would you to put full context for that, quote? So what I was describing was when I was at AOL and see mobile. Well, and there are thousands of people in the, the marketing organization. Nobody texted anyone on the weekends. It was a corporate job. Right. And you could clock in at eight thirty or nine o'clock in the morning and he clock out at five and that was cool. When I got to barstool, or when I worked at backstage backstage music, so music is at nights, and on weekends and you, you know, I needed people who could roll. On nights and weekends. Those are typically young people, which I I love working with young people. I think that, that it's just exhilarating at barstool there was a couple of things about barstool, one is shit. Goes down at any given time on any given day so being attuned to what is happening. Not obsessed, not in a way that sacrifices your your life. But being attuned to. This is a twenty four seven company that lives on the internet and things blow up all the time something major happens in sports game of thrones. You know, game of thrones Sunday night. We're all over game of thrones. It's a Sunday night, like I'd like to be in bed watching game of thrones. But I'm watching Twitter, you know. So, so so you know what I would say to answer your question which is one. I think it's good in interviewing for a new job that the job should scare you and that it should push you into a place that you have not gone. I think if you're looking for the same, but different it's not going to be rewarding, and it's not going to move. You forward. So I any person who asked career advice for myself like those are big things that I think about in terms of, you know, it wasn't texting people on the weekends. It was just responsiveness to text as a means of communication, our company really converses overtaxed, we taste, c- skimmers tax chain. Yeah. All of our executive and it's it communicates. It's amazing. It's so fast. It's clear like cuts out all the blah bla-bla-bla like nobody cares. Like what needs to happen who's making the decision. What's happening next? So we don't have an Email culture. We don't have a conference call culture. We have texts culture and barstool always had texts culture because they all lived in different cities. And you texted one another. So, you know, for me is hey, can you succeed in this environment? Now, if you're a finance person, I'm not texting you you're not texting me, we're the text, isn't how you're you're running your business on a spreadsheet and Email, and in, like very secure files. If you're a creative person you are, if you're in production, you are, so I think it's important to show if you're interviewing for a job that you want to be at that company, and whether it's doing the homework assignment or thinking about what you would do with barstool sports or responding to your manager over text. That's important. I also think if that makes you feel like it's, it's an imposition that job is never going to work for you. And that's okay. We want to get to our favorite. Oh, art show selecting route, I love the lightning round. Ray Brandt was gonna. On the lake planetary. Yup. Okay. What did you think you were going to be when you grow up, I wanted to work for Benetton? Okay. Wait. Why? Because when I was in my teens Benetton you guys are too young for another word. Benetton used to make the huge magazine catalog, and they had beautiful photography black women and white women in the hair was amazing. And the colors were were it just the colors were amazing. I had my room plastered in Benetton adds an Absolut vodka ads. I was gonna say I had. I wanted to work really for Absolut vodka or Benetton college major sociology first job. I was like a busboy or like a bus girl in a restaurant, which was terrible job. But where stub that one, worst professional mistake you've made hiring people because other people think I should. First phone call when he get good news. It's a text of I would text my family. My girlfriend's first phone caller or tax when you get bad news. I tend to sit on bad news for a long time. So same people, but I tend to sit with, when's the last time you negotiated for yourself horribly and not probably when I came to barstool what about the hardest thing. Yeah. Same, what is the go-to interview question when you are looking to hire somebody? Why do you want to work here? How do people know in your stressed? I think I can get cranky and your teams like. I short I can be short. I if I have if I'm really chewing on something or focused on something I can be short what drives you? I'm just really curious like I love people and the idea of building something and figuring out problems like I was with my girlfriend's yesterday. This is not a short answer, which is funny. I was in my girlfriend's yesterday, and I was describing, I don't know. We were talking about things, and I was like, honestly, if someone comes to me with the problem, it could be like a personal problem. It could be a work problem doesn't I like all I wanna do is fix it, and sometimes that's annoying because people don't necessarily want their problems fixed. So I just like to fix things and build things, and then they break. And then the fixed new things a few minutes ago. You said that when you take a job or anyone takes job, he should be a little bit scared by so it still scares. You. I mean ever the future like. Awareness, barstool go, that scares me. Not scares me, but I, I don't know the answer, and it could go places where I need to teach myself to go. What's your shameless? Plug. Oh, I have a lot of shame. I mean, go to barstools sports and don't think we suck. Good place to end arrogant. Thank you. Thanks for hanging out with us. Join us next week for another episode of skin from the couch. And if you can't wait until then subscribe to our daily Email newsletter that gives you all the important news and information you need to start your day sign about the skim dot com. That's the S K I M M dot com to 'em spur a little something extra.

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