Interviews

Businesswoman Nicole Lapin on What it Means to Be a Boss Bitch

Nicole Lapin was the youngest anchor ever at CNN, and anchored “Worldwide Exchange” at CNBC, where she was also the youngest anchor ever. She is now the host of business competition reality TV show “Hatched”. She’s the author of Rich Bitch, and most recently, Boss Bitch.

She aims, through her work, to bring financial and business advice to women who normally wouldn’t pick up a finance or business book. I got the chance to speak with Lapin about what it means to build your own personal brand, and how she’s trying to reclaim the word “bitch”.

SIGNATURE: What does it mean to have a boss mentality?

NICOLE LAPIN: I think having a boss mentality is being bold, obsessed, self-aware, and strong. I really like having those words that I believe make up boss, b-o-s-s. And having that self-awareness, which I actually think is the most critical part of that, is to take stock of your strengths and also your weaknesses. It’s to forgive your former self for not knowing what she didn’t know, and it’s to get into the mentality of learning and growing.

It’s about being honest with yourself in that you’re not going to be good at everything, and that’s okay—nobody’s good at everything. If you’re the boss of your family, if you’re the boss within a bigger company, or if you’re the boss of your own business, you need to know what you don’t know so you can get people to help you with those things.

I think that’s one of the biggest components of being a boss. A lot of people are delusional—my former self was delusional. I had the fake it till you make it imposter syndrome, and I think a lot of women suffer from that. But if you just keep it real with yourself—you know, the good, the bad, and the ugly—I think that’s the best way to find your inner boss, because we all have one inside of us. And that’s especially critical when you’re starting your own business.

You know, this idea of being an entrepreneur is really sexy these days. It’s sort of become sensationalized in all sorts of magazines, and throughout the press. Everybody thinks “I can start the next Facebook, or Instagram,” but the truth is it’s easier now than ever before to become an entrepreneur, which is the good news, and the bad news is that it’s easier now than ever before to become an entrepreneur! And not everyone should do it.

Yes, it’s democratized, and yes, you can set up websites, and get business cards that say CEO, but that doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. It really bothers me when business experts will be like, “Just follow your passion and hustle!” No, first, before you do that, make sure you have savings in the bank, make sure you have health insurance for you and your family, and get your logistical ducks in a row. That stuff isn’t that sexy, but those are major components to being your own boss in addition to having the boss mentality.

SIG: Right, a lot of work goes into it beyond just the passion. I really love what you just said about how you need to know what you don’t know. A big part of your book was about developing your personal brand. Can you talk a bit about why it’s important for everyone to develop their personal brand, no matter what their job is?

NL: So your personal brand is the only thing that is portable, and the only thing that you’re going to be able to take with you no matter where you go. And it really confuses me, why women get really weird when talking about your personal brand and branding yourself. It’s the most awesome thing, and should be something you’re really proud of, and develop an elevator pitch for. A lot of women squirm around it, which I think needs to stop, like, yesterday!

I think that discovering your niche keep you motivated at work. Not everyone’s gonna have a good day every day. I don’t have good days every day; I would be lying to you if I said I did, which I never would. I certainly have more good days than bad days, and that’s what the goal should be, but there’s not like rainbows, cupcakes, butterflies, and unicorns when you’re in business, whether you’re working for a bigger company or for yourself.

To get to that place, where the good days outplay the bad days, is to really find the niche that you love. It’s finding the intersection between what you’re excited about and what your skill sets are, and then also what the brand of the company you’re working for is. Because you want them to be compatible.

You don’t want to go and piss your company off by creating some totally different brand that doesn’t go along with theirs. I always tell everybody to write stuff down. You think you know what you wanna do, but it’s sort of amorphous, and that makes you overwhelmed, and it gets confusing. And if you write it down, you can actually see it—it becomes a lot easier.

SIG: Right, then it’s tangible.

NL: Totally! You write your stuff down, you write down what the brand of the company is, you find your shaded part of that venn diagram, and that’s the sweet spot.

SIG: You talked a little bit earlier about people suffering from imposter syndrome, and how that can be a big bar to developing your own boss mentality. What’s your favorite piece of advice that you give to people, at any stage in their careers, who might be suffering from imposter syndrome?

NL: You know, I actually think it’s okay go go through it for a little period of time, because it helps you to appreciate when you’ve come through that. I certainly look back and remember when I tried to put shoulder pads in my coats to look like I had more gravitas, or older, and tease my hair. I developed this weird anchor cadence too.

I look back, and I did the best I could. I don’t hate my former self; we don’t learn this stuff in school. You know, we learn the Pythagorean Theorem—why do we need to know that? I have no idea. But we don’t learn how to make a business plan, how to develop a brand, how to do a budget, or how to do our taxes.

We sort of grow comfortable in our own skin, so I think it’s about developing that self-awareness, and saying you are the only you. It’s not bout overcompensating for whatever and trying to be overly professional, or going into meetings with weird SAT words—I hate that, even as a boss, and a hirer myself. That feels really inauthentic. People want to work with and for people who they like.

If you allow yourself to really have your own spirit shine through a bit—like don’t go TMI, don’t go Debbie Downer—but people want to work and root for people they can connect with. Relationships are a big part of business. It’s about finding that comfort in your skin, learning and growing, and being able to be more yourself than somebody else. It’s not trying to act older, or like somebody you’re not, and it’s not trying to =let your freak flag fly. For me, the way I’m talking to you right now is the same way I talk to my girlfriends, and is the same way I write in my book. Nobody helped me write this book.

SIG: You do sound exactly like your book does, I have to say!

NL: Yeah, I hired a writer for my first book, and then I was like, what the fuck am I doing? The only person who could write this is me! I’m not reinventing the business or finance wheel necessarily, but the way I talk about it is my brand. For me, it was finding my own voice and being comfortable, and realizing that, look—I swear a lot (off the air, not on the air) but I still talk in the same way.

I know I know my shit. It doesn’t matter if I have long hair now instead of teased hair, it doesn’t matter if I wear a dress instead of shoulder pads; I’m not all things to all people, but you can’t be. I know exactly who I’m reaching, because if you’re all things to all people you’re nothing to no one.

SIG: Of course you’re going to feel like an impostor if you’re trying to act like something that you’re not. And it makes sense that the way to kind of shake it off is to just embrace who you are, your traits, and your brand.

And getting back to your former self with the teased hair and the shoulder pads—I love that you dedicated Boss Bitch to your former self. If you could go back in time, is there anything you would want to tell your preprofessional self, knowing all you know now?

NL: Yes, so many things! An entire book’s worth of things! When I was starting my career, I knew nothing. I grew up in an immigrant family, broken home, and am a first generation American. I am the last person likely to become a business/finance/money-anything, much less the person to teach other people about those things. Much less being in business for myself.

I never thought any of those things would happen. When I became really comfortable in talking about my story, warts and all, that was when I realized that my former self was the girl who was smiling and nodding, and not joining important money conversations because I was scared or intimidated. If I could do it, anyone can do it. Because I was dealt a really shitty hand, and I played that hand the best I could.

I don’t pretend like it was anything else. I didn’t have connections, I didn’t have fancy anything, I just worked my way up the hard way. And I learned this language myself. It was really hard for me to learn, because I didn’t work at a bank, and I didn’t get an MBA. I don’t pretend that I did; I’m just the girl who went to the school of hard knocks and figured it out the hard way. When I learned this language, I was like “Oh damn, girl! This is not that hard!” Why does the language of business have to be unnecessary jargon bullshit? Can’t it just be straight up? And so that’s what I aimed to do. Boss Bitch and Rich Bitch are exactly the books I needed, because I needed a definition for the definition when I was coming up in my career. I don’t want other people to make the same mistakes.

SIG: Right, and you’ve got that awesome glossary in the back of Boss Bitch that puts these business and financial terms into plain English, which is so great.

NL: A hundred percent, thank you, I appreciate that. Yeah, I’m a nerd. For Rich Bitch I rewrote a finance dictionary and for Boss Bitch I rewrote a business dictionary. This is what I like to do on a Friday night.

SIG: See, that’s your personal brand! Speaking of advice to your former self, one of my favorite parts of Boss Bitch was the letter you included to your 20-year-old self, prior to getting your book deal. You talk about the insane blood sweat and tears that went into finally getting that book deal for Rich Bitch. How has the process of writing and publishing Boss Bitch been different for you compared to the process of publishing Rich Bitch?

NL: Oh my gosh, I’ve learned so much! I’ve picked a lot of people’s brains who were best sellers, and I wanted to learn everything about the book business. I’m a business girl, I’m a numbers girl, so I wanted to be a sponge and soak up a ton of information. I pay it forward to others who ask me for advice now, because I’ve learned a ton.

It wasn’t an easy road for me. Inevitably, in my events that I hold across the country, there are women of course who ask me about business and money and finance, and all that stuff—duh—but usually there’s a person who asks “how do you write a book?” A lot of people have a book in them, and they’ll think “oh, I could write a book.” Well, you know, it’s fucking hard! It took me a decade to figure out, and it was not easy.

In hindsight, I’m glad that all my initial book ideas didn’t work out—I had like four agents, and four proposals, like false starts, I had to get out of a contract—it was a mess! I fought for this! I wanted to give up along the way, because I was like this is not going to happen for me. But I kept at it, and it’s not just about perseverance, its also about honing your message.

I’m so glad, in hindsight, that those other books did not come to fruition, because those would’ve been the wrong books for me. You never get a second chance at your first book. And if you fuck that one up, you don’t get a second book. The timing and the ideas for all those previous proposals that I had weren’t right. I was still suffering from imposter syndrome. I was trying to be something I wasn’t. Until I really found my own voice, and that was the book I wrote. That’s Rich Bitch.

I took a big risk writing a book called Rich Bitch, obviously. I didn’t think it would do well. I thought people would be offended by it. I knew I needed to keep it super authentic to my audience, and I knew who “she,” my ideal reader, is. She’s my former self, she’s a girl who calls her friends bitches as a term of endearment and camaraderie, like if you search #mybitches on Instagram, it’s all best friends.

The title is really about taking back the word and owning it as a badge of honor, along with a lot of kickass powerful women who have endorsed by book. I could’ve called my book “Five Steps to Financial Freedom” or something really lame and boring, and it wouldn’t have done well at all.

My goal was to reach a girl who would’ve never picked up a money book otherwise, and it was to compete in the mainstream front of store, not to be the best business book. I wanted it to be the best book, period. It was just a combination of it being the right timing, and me actually being ready for it.

SIG: Going back to what you were saying about how you needed to name your book Rich Bitch even though that’s obviously a risky title, and you didn’t know how it would be received, and then naming your followup Boss Bitch, why was it important to you to appropriate what is often used as a derogatory term, and flip it on its head to turn it into something positive?

NL: Well, I mean, I’ve been called a bitch in a derogatory sense throughout my career, and what people meant by calling me this was that I was aggressive, ambitious, loud, made my voice known, and made my opinions known.

SIG: And those are not bad things!

NL: Right, and those are awesome things! So if that’s a bitch, then I’m a bitch! Great! Awesome! If they called me a flower—awesome! If they called me, like, a piece of shit—awesome! I don’t care what it is—it’s just a word. If the connotation is all those things: ambitious, and successful, well hell yeah! I’m gonna own that.

I’m not gonna lie and tell you that everybody is super peachy about the title. There are women of a certain group that are offended by it, and that’s okay. I respect their opinions. And there are women who think it’s their bible. Those are the women that I wanna reach. I don’t want to reach everybody. I’m not going to.

Books that try to be, again, all things to all people, are nothing to no one. You have to go deep instead of wide, especially with media. I recently had a woman from a talk show say she and a few of her colleagues were offended by the title, and I said, look, I respect your opinion, and that’s what being a true feminist is all about. It’s about making your own choice. You can choose to hate this, or you can choose to love it. I’m not gonna tell you what to do.

SIG: I like that you have that dialogue with both naysayers and supporters via the title. You’re opening up a conversation about it. Can we reclaim the word “bitch”? Maybe yes, maybe no. But you’re getting people talking about it, and you’re not shooting them down when they disagree with you.

NL: I’m really glad. One of my goals, as I said in the book, for my first book, was to open up a dialogue that lived beyond the book. I think the debate is great, you know I went on Morning Joe and Mika Brzezinski said to me, “I don’t like the name of your book, but I like the content.” And I said, “Listen, Mika, I get you. But the ends for me justify the means.” If I’m gonna reach a young woman who never would’ve picked up a money book and was super scared of this topic, then I win. End of story.

SIG: So who exactly is your ideal reader of Boss Bitch?

NL: It’s a woman who is within the ages of 18-35. She is either graduating or she’s in business for herself, and she wants to make a jump. My book is like choose your own adventure, because we all go through a lot of different phases in our careers. Maybe we’re working for somebody else, maybe then we start another business, maybe then we go work as the CEO of our family, and then maybe we become an entrepreneur and make an Essie shop, and then maybe we go back to working for somebody else. There are so many different permutations, especially for women. I said in the book, a career well had is more like a rope-swing than a ladder.

SIG: Right, to get a holistic role model instead of having one person you bow down to entirely. Alright, last burning question: do you think you’ll ever write another book?

NL: Yeah, dude! Fuck yes! There’s gonna be like a whole Bitch series! A hundred percent. I think I’m gonna churn out something until the day I die. There’s not a lack of topics that need to be debunked, especially vis-a-vis money, and I think my forte is figuring out how to make money topics related to everything.

Money, if you get to the heart of it, can be applied to anything. There’s the business of the phone I’m talking to you on now, there’s the business of books, there’s the business of personal finance, there’s the business of talking to your significant other about money, there’s the business of Hollywood, there’s the business of sports. Shit goes on and on and on. So, yeah, I’m gonna cover all of it!