They started theSkimm newsletter in 2012 and first came to the Pennsylvania Conference for Women that year to hand out fliers.
Now the founders of theSkimm boast seven million subscribers, a best-selling book, and a popular podcast. Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin spoke Wednesday to a packed crowd at this year’s edition of the conference, as cofounders and co-CEOs of theSkimm, a membership company dedicated to millennial women.
The two former news producers launched theSkimm from their couch in 2012 and have built a brand that continues to be a trusted source to their subscribers. Their flagship product, the Daily Skimm, is the fastest growing newsletter on the market, and the company’s product suite has grown to engage with members at home, work, and on the go, including theSkimm app and Skimm Studios. How to Skimm Your Life, their first book, was released in June 2019 and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list.
The two women held a question-and-answer session at Wednesday’s Pennsylvania Conference for Women, which featured about 100 speakers and seminars on topics such as women’s health, personal finance, and professional development. Here’s a condensed version of their Q&A:
What’s driving engagement right now, the elections or the MeToo movement?
“We always see an uptick in traffic around elections. But to put that in context, we’re nonpartisan. Our job isn’t to tell you who to vote for, but just to get out and vote,” said Weisberg.
[TheSkimm also won investor funding in 2018 and expanded its “No Excuses” political-engagement campaign, which it launched leading up to the U.S. presidential election.]
“We’ve had a very successful podcast, as well. Last week we had Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor [New York Times reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story] in our offices to speak during a live podcast, and 200 women showed up for the event,” Zakin said.
A 2008 Penn graduate, Zakin said the duo “had a huge vision from day one. We were working at NBC as producers and we just had to quit to start and keep the company going.”
When did you both realize this was going to be big?
On Tuesday, July 17, 2012, the day we founded theSkimm, seriously, an hour later," Zakin said. "Suddenly, there were news stories about us, and we were still working on a broken computer in our … apartment. Within four days, we were on the Today show. But make no mistake, this is not impostor syndrome. We deserve to be in the room. You all do.”
What mistakes did you make?
“We couldn’t use Excel or Google analytics, but we figured it out. Or we asked for help. We also tried to make friends, or politely stalk people,” said Weisberg. [She mentioned Susan Lyne, former CEO of Gilt Group, now founder of BBG Ventures, whom they tracked to a conference and waited for outside the women’s restroom.]
“We waited and then pounced on her, and got invited to her breakfast where women founders meet,” said Zakin. “We had to ask a lot of silly questions, like how do we hire a bookkeeper? But we’re used to not knowing anything as journalists, we’re comfortable saying ‘fill us in,’” said Weisberg.
Men in your business world? Fill us in.
“A male mentor and I recently met at his home for a business meeting, and he offered me a cigar. My parents would kill me! So I instead asked for a glass of rosé,” said Zakin. “Would I have refused him seven years ago? I’m not sure. But that kind of mini-situation is real for all of us.”
“Now we’re on our way to an investor conference in Vegas,” said Weisberg, where, she added, it’s common for them to be the only women in the room.
What’s better: growing revenue or growing audience?
“We decided to start the newsletter organically, like, one weekend we didn’t have anything to read, so we started asking for and publishing book recommendations,” Zakin said. “Now publishers send us cases of books” to review.
“We were told to either prove our concept by growing audience or growing revenue, and we grew our audience first,” Weisberg said. “Now we can monetize that.”
Time management hacks. Give us yours.
Zakin: “I block off what I call ‘sacred time’ in my calendar. And it’s absolutely no one’s business what I’m doing during that sacred time, whether it’s yoga or picking up kids. Everyone knows that time can’t be touched.”
Weisberg: “I use an app called Boomerang for email, and I live by shared calendars.”