Food52 CEO Erika Ayers Badan Left Barstool Sports to Try Something Totally New

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In’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month, we spoke to Erika Ayers Badan, CEO of recipe and cookwear website Food52 and the author of Nobody Cares About Your Career: Why Failure is Good, The Great Ones Play Hurt and Other Hard Truths, out this week. Prior to her current role, Ayers Badan spent nine years as the CEO of Barstool Sports, where she took the sports media company from a Boston-based brand to a national powerhouse and podcasting juggernaut. “I just took a new job and I’m launching a book—it’s kind of stupid to do both in one month,” she says with a laugh. “I’m just trying to keep my head above water now, I would say. But I’m looking forward to Food52. I really believe in female founders and a female customer, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn both and to evolve and to grow this company into something it hasn’t been yet.” Here, Ayers Badan talks about working in an all-male environment, getting a job you thought you had no chance at, and writing a book on her phone.

My first job

I had an internship at Fidelity, where I was a receptionist, and I cut my hair very short. At the time, I was sharing Ann Taylor separates with all my roommates in Boston. I was very bored, spending all day sitting and watching these two glass doors on the 12th floor of 86 Devonshire Street. I started to ask the secretaries what other work I could do. I was very industrious that summer, trying to pick up whatever odd job I could, just not to be bored, sitting, staring at the door.

My worst job

I was a water slide attendant at Weirs Beach in New Hampshire, and [I was] terrible at it. I just never really timed it; I let the people go down the slide and they would always run into each other.

How I landed at Barstool Sports

When Dave Portnoy created Barstool Sports, my girlfriends and I would read the paper on the train because we were bored and we didn’t have any money and it was free. I was really familiar with the brand, and I had left a CMO position at AOL to launch a startup in the music space, which was really about building community and connection between artists and their fans. I had modeled a lot of it on Barstool. One day, I found myself in Los Angeles in a meeting with The Chernin Group, and they said, “We just invested in this company you’ve never heard of. It’s Barstool Sports.” I was like, “Oh, I’ve heard of it,” and then proceeded to hijack the meeting to only talk about Barstool. I left very jealous, because I thought that they would find a white guy with an MBA who worked in sports and had a blue button-down shirt to take the CEO job. I stalked my network to get an introduction to Barstool and see if I could have a chance at having that job. I was the 75th candidate and the only woman, and I ended up getting it.


What it was like working in a male-dominated office

There had only ever been one woman [who worked] there before [me]. One thing I loved about Barstool is, even though when I got there I was the only woman, there was no infrastructure. They didn’t have a P&L, they didn’t have a company email, they didn’t have meetings, they didn’t know what Slack was. They’d never used PowerPoint. What they had was a lot of personality and a lot of character, a lot of passion and a lot of conviction about what they were doing. What was really nice about Barstool is that while it wasn’t the most professional place when I got there, everything was so open and everything was so honest. Working at big companies, whether it was Microsoft or Yahoo! or the ad agencies, there was a lot of sexism and there was a lot of sexual harassment, but it was always insidious. Barstool was so refreshing because they didn’t care if you were a man, a woman, or an animal. It was the most open place and the most accepting place I’ve ever worked, which is not, I think, what people would expect when they think about Barstool Sports.

How I transitioned to Food52

I was talking to someone the other day and they were like, “What’s the biggest difference?” I responded, “The bathrooms are so clean.” The bathrooms are much, much, much cleaner, the office is far more beautiful, and I wear a skirt every day. But Barstool taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about resilience. It taught me a lot about people. It taught me a lot about the internet. It taught me a lot about culture and content. It prepared me well. Food52 is a completely different world. It has a completely different customer. It talks about different things. It does different things. So, I’m really in the learning phase. I think most people expected that I would stay in sports and work in sports betting or do something very similar to Barstool. And I made the move to Food52 as I was writing the end of the book, which [questioned]: do I stay or do I go? It’s fairly uncommon to be at the stage of my career and make such a left turn. That’s what I’m so excited about.

My proudest career moment so far

It was always about the people, and always about the moments where we made something happen that no one thought could happen. The first time we got Barstool on television was an incredible feat, and I couldn’t believe it.

Why I decided to write a book

I wrote this book predominantly on my phone, on the train. My phone is my preferred place to write. I wrote it at a time where we had just sold Barstool. I had this wild, free, creative, never-know-what’s-going-to-happen job for seven years. All of a sudden, I was buried in spreadsheets and had a boss and had to go meet with people who weren’t at Barstool. My creativity was zapped, and it made me want to get all of that emotion out somehow.

Nobody Cares About Your Career by Erika Ayers Badan

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<p data-journey-content=This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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