Hot Startup Feature: theSkimm

3 years ago
Carly Zakin (left) and Danielle Weisberg, co-founded theSkimm. Photo credit: Sophie Elgort

Carly Zakin (left) and Danielle Weisberg, co-founded The Skimm. Photo credit: Sophie Elgort

The news industry is becoming more and more saturated. It takes a great idea to stand out. theSkimm stands out (Forbes, Business Insider and Whitney Port can’t all be wrong). theSkimm is an email newsletter sent to your inbox each morning. It contains need-to-know news for the day that has already been digested, analyzed and contextualized — it’s perfect for the professional who doesn’t have time to read every section of the newspaper but wants to stay informed.

Co-founders Carly and Danielle are both former NBC News producers who worked their way up as interns to full time staff. Between the two of them, they have experience in breaking news, political reporting, financial news, and documentaries. They’ve covered elections, financial crises and polygamist cults. They are professional storytellers, and their business model is simple: We read, you Skimm.

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Q&A with Carly and Danielle

How did the idea for theSkimm come about– was it a flash of brilliance, a development of an idea, a combination of needs you noticed not being met, etc?

We wouldn’t quite call it a flash of brilliance. theSkimm was born out of a passion for news and what we saw as a void in the marketplace. We had been friends for a long time as well as colleagues in the news industry, and had subsequently been the go-to resources for our friends and family who, like we all do, would say ‘I haven’t had time to look at the paper all day. Tell me what happened.’ We were both looking into how to take the next step in our careers and at the same time realized our friends, who were highly educated and successful, were not getting news in a way they related to or looked forward to getting.

What evolved the concept from idea to tangible business opportunity? Was that moment empowering/terrifying/natural?

It was really a scene out of a movie, as odd as it sounds. One night we were texting back and forth and it hit us: Wow, we really have a business here. Now, obviously, you don’t just quit your job on a hunch. It took us a long time to go from idea-land to launch, but we started doing our homework. We knew our friends would use theSkimm but we needed to dig deeper about why they would and what else was out there. The stats — that women are leading in paychecks and degrees and influencing spending immensely– were overwhelming and the business opportunity was hard to ignore.

Starting a business is a learning experience, and no matter how successful the finished project looks to the outside, I’m sure you’ve had some interesting experiences. What has been the greatest challenge?

Ignoring the naysayers. From day one, we were told we couldn’t launch because we didn’t have a business background or a technical co-founder. Or that no one wanted content. Or that people only like pictures. Neither of us have ever believed in something as much as theSkimm and we had to learn how to tune certain people out and take advice strategically.

Who do you look to as an inspiration? As a business idol?

Andrea Mitchell, Sara Blakely, Andy Cohen.

If you were approached by an aspiring professional who wanted to accomplish something similar to what you have, what would be the first piece of professional advice you’d give them? What about personal advice?

Do your homework. Talk to everybody and anybody who is willing to take the time to give you advice. Smart people have smart ideas and the smartest are willing to help others. Make sure to carve out some time for yourself so you can find some sembleance of a work/life balance. Prepare that the amount of time may just be 10 minutes.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever been given?

The only way you will fail is by not trying.

What have you set out to accomplish, and do you see meeting those goals as a journey or as a destination?

We set out to create a product that people wanted to wake up to and that would give them as much useful information as possible so they could go into any situation and start up the conversation. We have been overwhelmed by the thank you notes and personal stories from people who have never enjoyed reading the news or felt comfortable discussing things like tax cuts before reading theSkimm. We wanted to create something that people felt connected to and have since fostered a daily knowledge addiction. And our community is having fun waking up with us. For us this is a journey and an experience.

Start ups have an entirely different culture than established brands– could you define what makes a start up more exciting or special for you?

Everyday is different. There are incredible highs and lows. We have literally gone from being on the “Today” show (see clip below) to watching our server crash. To high fiving over an investor call to then spilling water (and ruining) one of our computers. There is nothing like this adrenaline nor anything as rewarding as creating something from scratch and seeing people find value in it.

Vacations and days off in your own/startup business– necessary or impossible?

Both. As roommates, we have to work even harder to set limits to separate work and life. We have forced ourselves to take afternoons off or not respond to emails for a set period of time. The breaks are needed though to come back refreshed and with better ideas. We miss you, Christmas break.

theSkimm is definitely targeted to the female professional– how do you relate to this demographic?

We are this demographic. So are our friends. We write in a voice that speaks to this demo and give them information in a way they can connect with. Many of our subscribers say reading theSkimm is like having their snarky best friend sitting on the couch next to them. They like that.

What has been the most exciting moment of working at The Skimm so far? What is the thing/milestone you’re most looking forward to?

Going on the “Today” show was a lifelong dream–especially for two former NBC’ers. But finding how far theSkimm has spread is what’s most special. Just the other day one of us was in a restaurant Skimm’ing and a waiter came by and saw the Skimm laptop cover and thanked us for helping him learn English and understand the news better.

RYOT Note: theSkimm is well on its way to being a great disrupter in the news industry, which we can appreciate, of course. People are starting to expect more from the news they read, and both theSkimm and RYOT give readers this “something more” in different ways. We encourage you to sign up for theSkimm email newsletters (and to make RYOT your browser homepage) to keep abreast of what is going on in the world (AND what you can do about it)! Click here or on the gray box at the top right of this page to register for theSkimm newsletters or to view today’s Skimm.

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