Erika Nardini is CEO of Barstool Sports, the digital powerhouse that is changing the way sports and pop culture are consumed in America. In three years, she has transformed a company with 15 employees and seven-figure revenues into one with 200 staff and nearly ten times more revenue. Erika spoke with SRI Partner Keith McAllister.
Technology → Media
When you started your career, what were you looking to do?
I got a job at Fidelity Investments. And my first experience was exactly what I didn’t want to do, which then led me to what I wanted to do.
And what was that moment, do you remember?
I was not passionate about the things everyone else around me was passionate about. I went to a meeting in another Fidelity office…and there were people talking and it was very social, and colors everywhere. I remember seeing all the media buyers, and I thought: “I want to get into media.” I went to see HR, and they said, “You’re an idiot, you’re making the worst career move.” But I loved it and never looked back.
You were present at many of the cool, peak moments of the internet at a lot of great places, such as MSN, Yahoo, Demand Media, and AOL. How did that happen?
I always wanted to learn. I always wanted to be making progress, and I didn’t like the status quo, and so…I’ve looked for opportunities with people.
Let’s talk about the industry that you’re in now.
We, Barstool Sports, are in, content, media, lifestyle, entertainment and sports. I think everything is changing. The distribution of content has changed. The way brands are born and the way they connect with audiences has changed. The need for new business models has become not just necessary or nice to have, it’s become urgent.
What in your background has prepared you to be good at this?
I love brands. I love content. I love personalities. And I’m curious.
What’s going to change next year?
Podcasting will be an even bigger business than it is today. There’s going to be a new generation of (social) platforms. I think you’re going to see a post-Instagram world. I think you’re going to see continued cultural polarization.
Barstool’s obviously famous for its brand voice and extraordinary audience engagement, but what’s most disruptive about Barstool?
We’re a three-year-old company with extremely low capital expenditure that is competing with extremely big, extremely resourceful companies. And we’re winning.
What’s the role of technology?
Technology is eating the middleman. As a company, technology is making us more efficient and more accountable.
As a leader, reflecting on your experience at other companies and the mentors you’ve had, how do you think about (leadership) culture?
You stay connected to your team, and that doesn’t just mean your management team. I think you stay connected to the whole team. You gotta be very self-critical, and you can’t buy your own hype.
How do you set strategy when you’re in multiple lines of business, all of which are evolving? Where do you get advice?
I love to get advice from everybody and anybody. That advice can come from a social media manager here or it can come from a big-name industry expert. I just want to be with smart people who have a point of view and know something that we don’t know.
Finally, what about you, Erika? What’s next for you?
Next for me? I’m learning how to play hockey.