Founded by two besties Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, theSkimm newsletter now unites over 5 million subscribers. The pair managed to create a daily mailout containing in-depth skim of what was going on in the world, attracting millennial readers and investors.

The founders of theSkimm media company, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, met on a rainy day in Rome while they were both studying abroad. Some years later they reconnected at NBC, working as political and breaking news producers. Being colleagues, friends and roommates, they decided to move further and set up their first daily newsletter for a small group of their friends and family in July 2012. Aimed to create essential digest of daily news for millennial women, they built up a startup which at the moment unites over 40 employees and more than 5 million subscribers.

 

The Idea To Implement

Weisberg and Zakin confess that the idea of theSkimm was not a part of professional ambitions. «It probably would be a much simpler story if there was», – Weisberg says. They both were news geeks, who loved storytelling and were dreaming to work at NBC News. On one hand, their friends often asked young producers to skim what was going on worldwide every day and deliver the keynotes. On the other, they «were working in an industry trying to strategize ways to get female millennials’ attention». The mixture of these two approaches made them figure out which way of content delivery will work for female and male millennial audience. «We knew we could start something that gave [millennials] information every day in a way they trust, and in a way that fit into their routines», – Weisberg comments.

 

From BBF To Business Partners

Sharing one coach in a room, Weisberg and Zakin understand each other to the extent that they share each other’s «enthusiasm and belief», as Zakin says to Fast Company. Weisberg recalls their first six months after theSkimm launch: they worked the clock round and slept in shifts, as their media product went out at 6 a.m. By the way, the chosen time was not random. Early morning seems to be the best time for twenty- and thirtysomethings readers to check their e-mails – it is when they aren’t out of bed but already hold a smartphone in their hands.

They also sincerely admit that there were so many things in starting a business that they didn’t know. But the thing they knew for sure was their audience. And that was probably the main thing. Both of them also acknowledge that they didn’t jump into the project – it took years to develop. «In business, as in marriage, the two made a contract and a promise to each other, Weisberg says. And if you ask them what accomplishment makes them proudest, Zakin says it’s a tie between building theSkimm’s culture of transparency, authenticity, and “no bullshit”, and their special partnership».

 

No Drama At The Office

When Weisberg and Zakin were able to hire people, they faced the problem with recruitment. They struggled to find people who could communicate efficiently and clearly at the same time. Only this type of communication helps to get rid of office drama, Zakin believes. «The Skimm girl is that friend everyone has who’s sarcastic but always knows what’s going on», – Weisberg explains. The way of message delivery claims the ability to speak on serious sociopolitical things clearly and understandable for millennials. That is why Weisberg and Zakin created a specific mechanism of hiring: «We like to bring candidates back for repeat visits. We have them sit with as many [employees] as possible, and try to mix it up across teams. It often slows down the hiring process, but we want to make sure we get it right».

Recently they hired a head of HR with staff increase. Also they implemented so-called Skimm’cademy, which newcomers should go with a swing. There they are introduced to the mission and values of the company, as well as learn what duties every member of the team has. The pair commented it in a Medium post: «It’s not enough to say ‘sales’ or ‘engineer’, but actually what they do and how it affects you».

Weisberg and Zakin encourage their team to be heard and set up a weekly meeting on Friday, where their employees share their highs and lows. Sometimes they also organize Skimm’aoke [team karaoke] with champagne, when they feel the team spend too much time at work that a natural balance between work and leisure is broken.

Investment

After more than 100 rejections which said that e-mails as a source of delivering content was dead, Weisberg and Zakin were given «$1.1 million in an investment round led by Homebrew, an early-stage venture capital firm founded by two former Google executives». The co-founders refuse any financial information in details, but it is clear that they are doing quite well.

Since April, 2016 theSkimm is going further: it has managed to turn readers into paying customers. The company introduced an iPhone app, which costs $2.99 per month. It informs the users about important sociopolitical events in real-time mode. «The Skimm isn’t just building a user base. They’ve been keeping them engaged for years and years», – says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst who was one of the Skimm’s first angel investors. After the app launch, the pair was asked «How’s the app doing?». And they immediately answered: «We’re beating you».

Future Plan For Expansion

«We took the biggest risk of our lives and started the company from our couch», – Weisberg recollects the time when they had trouble raising money for by that time future project. In the first 15 months they kept running very fast to attract attention of their targeted audience. «But Weisberg says that what started as a daily newsletter aimed at capturing millennials’ attention first thing in the morning wasn’t the only thing they were hoping to create». They confess that the intention is far beyond a daily newsletter: it steps over the bounds of a large company, aimed at making millennial women and men smarter. Weisberg and Zakin are planning to add video this year and are working on some other improvements, which they keep as a secret yet.

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