Badass Q and A With: Erica Sandberg


Each week, we are profiling a badass woman to share her experiences and wisdom with our readers. This week, we’re honored to showcase Erica Sandberg, a woman who serves as a living example of what happens when passion, time management, and skill all come together. consumer finance expert, author, reporter, advice columnist, TV personality, and show host, Erica proudly wears many hats both in her personal and professional life. She also finds time to travel the world, play hockey, dance ballet, and is an auxiliary law enforcement response team member as well as a community activist for her beloved San Francisco. 

What is your idea of success?

The first time strangers said, “I follow your work,” and “Hey, you’re that money lady, right?!” I started to feel successful. But it’s also when I’ve exceeded my own expectations, like when I reread a story I wrote or watch a broadcast I’m in and think, wow, that turned out really well. It’s a combination of external affirmation and personal pride. 

What is your morning routine? How do you set yourself up for the day?

I need a kick in the intellectual head. Controversy gets me going. When I’m still in bed, I queue up a polarizing podcast, like Freakonomics, or something from NPR or National Review. In that half conscious state I’ll let the words seep into my brain and conduct an internal dialogue, trying to sort it all out.

How do you stay organized throughout the day? 

It’s more about getting in the zone. I dive into what I need to do and suddenly hours have passed and I’ve written that story or finished a project. 

What has been your greatest achievement thus far? 

Quitting the company I spent ten years with to launch my own business. I plotted it all out like a mafia boss: take two years worth of classes to get a financial planning certificate, push my way in front of a lot of cameras and journalists, write a book proposal, find an agent, and get published. I left the day Expecting Money hit the shelves, and essentially said, “see ya, suckas — I’ll do my own thing now!” Looking back it took major hutzpah. 

What has been your biggest failure (and how did you overcome it)?

My first media tour was a total disaster. I was hired to be a spokesperson for a bunch of different products on ten morning shows across the country. The fist two appearances were fine, then I flubbed the third on live TV. I was fired the moment I walked off set. It was humiliating, but I watched the tape and understood what when wrong — I just wasn’t prepared for the interview to go off topic. Now I know how to reroute. 

What do you feel is the biggest mistake people make when starting a business? 

Arrogance. Thinking you’re too awesome to struggle and be small for a while. 

How do you define a great leader? 

Aside from being exceptionally intelligent, the best leaders are honest and gracious. They’re not afraid to stick their necks out for someone they believe in. An amazing editor-in-chief once defended me in a difficult situation. He didn’t pander or blindly apologize, but stayed true and calm. I’ll never forget that. 

What qualities do you believe make someone a great team member?

Positive, creative people are a joy. I can’t stand the constant complainers. Oh, and the very best team members take criticism objectively, not personally. 

What is the trait you most admire in others?

I love people who are ready and willing to go against the grain. 

What is your biggest professional pet peeve? 

When I interview experts, CEOs, etc. who won’t speak without a public relations person present. It’s usually a very boring session with little real substance. 

What is your best negotiating tactic? 

Shut up. My dad was a professional gambler and taught me to reveal as little as possible. When a potential client asks for my rate, I’ll usually say: “Tell me what you’re thinking and we can start there.” It’s not rude; it’s smart.

What’s your best networking secret? 

Go out of your way to link people. To me, that’s networking, just not in the traditional business-card-swap way. For example, when I got wind that Chopped was looking for new chefs to be on the show, I contacted a casual acquaintance who owns a pizzeria. Now he has an interview. He and the casting directors benefit. Be social and helpful; it builds good will and forms lasting connections. 

What advice would you go back and give your younger self? 

Try harder in school. Focus. I had my head in the clouds and couldn’t concentrate.

What is the best way to go for the goal?

Know what you’re good at and then use your unique skills and personality to your advantage. For example, whether on camera or in real life, I’m extremely expressive. Playing it super straight just doesn’t work for me. The moment I realized that, I began to get ahead. 

What are you most proud of in your life? 

That I’ve made a name for myself as one of the top consumer finance experts in the country. I’m using what I know in different ways now, too, like leading workshops for people moving away from homelessness. 

What is the fastest way to turn you off in an interview? How does someone impress you on an interview? 

The dead voice. I’d rather speak with an excited fool than an expert who is exhibiting zero passion. You’re bored? Click. 

Where do you get most of your information? 

I’m a news junkie, so am all over the place: right, left, center. Clean data is hard to find, so I’ll ask my sister — who is a social psychology professor — for current research papers and studies. I listen to the public buzz. What is on peoples’ minds? That’s what I want to know. 

What apps could you not live without? 

The most important one is my white noise (turned to “brown”) app for sleep. It’s strangely effective. 

What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss? 

Where do I start? I’ve had so many rotten bosses. Let’s see; hire qualified people rather than friends or family members. Nepotism is a killer.

What do think are the three most essential lessons you have learned in business thus far? 

  1. 1 | Expect nothing until the ink is dry on the contract. Seriously. More falls though at the last minute than comes together. You must be OK with that. 
  2. 2 | Be helpful. Clients don’t care how a deal benefits you, how much fun you’ll have, or why you love it. Focus on what’s in it for them.
  3. 3 | Stand up for yourself. Listening to suggestions and compromising is fine, but don’t be bullied or slimed into something you’re not comfortable with. 

What is your professional motto? 

Say yes more than no. It seems like most of the people find reasons not to do something and then miss out on amazing opportunities.  

Who is your business crush? 

Bill Mahar. I don’t always agree with him, but boy would I love to be one of his guests. 

How do you define happiness?

A sense of excitement. I love that jittery feeling of doing something new, even if it’s hard.

Multitasking or single tasking? Why?

When I’m reporting and writing, I can only do one thing at a time. Unless I’m cooking. I can manage a bunch of pots and pans. 

What does innovative mean to you?

Create something that is not only unique but that people need and want. I actually stopped covering FinTech (financial technology) conferences for a while because I couldn’t take another presentation about a “better” way to send money or take payments. 

Who is the most badass woman you know and why?

Although I’ve yet to meet her personally, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is my idol. She has persevered in her quest to end female genital mutilation, the subjugation of women, speaks out against religious tyranny all while living in mortal danger. 

What makes you badass? 

I’ll try anything as long as it sounds fun or feels personally or professionally important. I tend to ignore negative consequences (like the fact that hockey really does result in injuries such as a badly broken leg). I’ve traveled the world, usually alone, and since I have no sense of direction I’m constantly lost. That’s OK because I’ll talk to anyone and will eventually get where I need to go. I have a secret weapon: a belief in something bigger, better, more interesting. As a kid my nickname was Empress Erica. I hope to live up to the title, but, in the meantime, one of my favorite editors sent me a crown. 

Categories: Badass Profiles, Career & Finance


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