People 11 May 2017
You think of sports fans and the image of frat boys, drinking beer, pounding fists and painting their faces in team colors is likely what's popped into your head in the past. But now, the rise of the female sports fan is fierce and just getting stronger.
A major force is Tracy Sandler, founder and CEO of Fangirl Sports Network, a site bringing together women who share their knowledge and passion for all things sports. Tracy explains how she made a thriving business out of her passion and why it's so important that women aren't intimidated of breaking into fields that have traditionally been male dominated!
Where did your love of sports begin?
I grew up with two brothers and a father who loved sports, so I've been watching and enjoying sports since I was a little girl. My first big memory was being at the opening 1988 World Series game when Kirk Gibson came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning and pinch-hit a game-winning home run. He had been injured and I don't think anyone even expected him to get on base.
"It was truly one of the most amazing sports moments I have ever experienced. I get chills just thinking about it!"
What were you doing prior to founding Fangirl Sports Network?
Before launching Fangirl Sports Network, I worked at a political and philanthropic donor-advising firm. I have a background in politics as well, having been a Cabinet member in the Adrian Fenty administration when he was the Mayor of Washington, DC.
How did the idea for Fangirl Sports Network come about?
Well, I wrote for the sports section of The Michigan Daily while in college and worked at FOX Sports during and after my college years. After that, I started a blog for fun called The Trials and Tribulations of My Love/Hate Relationship with the San Francisco 49ers. I was writing about the team regularly and discovered how much I loved getting back into my sports roots. From Trials and Tribulations, I rebranded as “49ers Fangirl" and started creating weekly videos and a podcast, in addition to blog posts covering games and in-depth features on the players.
When did Fangirl Sports Network really start to become a reality?
During the 2015 NFL season, which was the first for “49ers Fangirl," I thought it would be awesome if there was a Fangirl for every team in every professional sport. This would be a woman who was not only knowledgeable, passionate, and funny, but also someone who loved the more “girly" side of sports – recipes, looking and feeling good at the game, workouts that could be done during halftime, etc. And from there, Fangirl Sports Network was born.
I decided to expand with an additional NFL team during the 2016 season, and brought on the “Rams Fangirl" to cover the Los Angeles Rams. Last month we expanded into the NBA with the launched of the “Los Angeles Clippers Fangirl" and “Golden State Warriors Fangirl."
Talk about starting a business for females in a male dominated industry—what has your experience been like?
The thing about being a woman in this industry is that you can't make mistakes when it comes to your knowledge. It's absolutely crucial for me to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible for every video, podcast, blog post, television appearance, etc. When it comes to any disrespectful comments from men in person or on social media, I do my best to let it roll off my back and ignore them. So, my best compliments are when people ask me when they're going to have a Fangirl for their team, because they love the content and what we are doing
Explain your vision for Fangirl Sports Network—where do you want to see it a year from now?
A year from now, I'd like to have several NFL Fangirls, NBA Fangirls and at least a couple MLB Fangirls. But in the next three to five years, I would like to have a Fangirl for every team in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
Talk about your staff—what kind of leader are you?
I'm lucky to work with an amazing group of people who are motivated, organized, and efficient! My team is so diligent and work tirelessly to make sure everything is done on time and done the right way. Since I am not only the founder but a Fangirl myself, I tend to lead by example. My team watches me put in countless hours, not to mention my heart and soul, into Fangirl Sports Network, and they follow in suit. When building my company, I look for people who are self-motivated and excited about what we're doing at FGSN. It's not always easy for someone to commit when you need to be available nights and weekends due to game schedules, but I have a great group of people who understand the situation and love it!
Who's your mentor?
My dad is absolutely my mentor. He is probably the hardest working person I know and when he commits, he's all in. He is loyal, smart, patient, and an amazing leader. He is also the most supportive person on the planet and I know he is always in my corner.
What is your best advice for other entrepreneurs out there?
It's important to remember that we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, and that's okay! Surround yourself with people who know the things you don't and learn from them. It's difficult not to feel protective of a new business, but it's important to listen to the people who have been there and who may know better. Constructive criticism only makes your business stronger. However, don't let negative thoughts or comments shake your confidence. Listen, evaluate, and then decide what is right for you and your business.
What do you want other women in business to learn from you?
Don't allow negativity to get you down. People make comments to and about women that men don't have to deal with. It can be frustrating, hurtful, and even degrading, but remember, that's on those people. Keep your head up, keep working hard, and do your thing.
What's been the best and even life changing experiences since starting the business?
I've been a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan since I was a little girl. To now be in a place where I have the respect and credibility to be in the press box during games, attending practices, interviewing players in the locker room, and having access to the field is a dream come true. Sometimes I literally pinch myself because I can't believe this is my life. The best sporting event I've attended was this past Super Bowl game in Houston. It was the best Super Bowl game that has ever—and will ever—be played, and to be in that stadium experiencing a part of history was absolutely incredible.
What is it really like to have a passion become your career?
My love of sports has always been my outlet. I've been incredibly lucky to attend some phenomenal sporting events over the years. But that is now also my job and frankly, that makes it even cooler! My office is the stadium, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Having this passion makes my every day exciting and interesting. Don't get me wrong, this business requires A LOT of work, but every time I walk into that Levi's Stadium press box, I can't help but think I'm the luckiest girl in the world.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.