Career Code: How These Women Make You Open Their Newsletter—Every Day
In honor of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s new book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made ($13), we’re kicking off an interview series featuring 17 questions (to parallel the book’s 17 chapters) about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. We last spoke with interior design maven Kelly Wearstler. This week, another pioneer is divulging her career prowess—meet theSkimm's co-founders, Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin.
In the wake of the first wave of digital leaders puttering out in the e-newsletter game (RIP, DailyCandy) and magazines from Sassy to Domino to Jane shuttering, the 2012 launch of theSkimm, a millennial-targeted e-newsletter about politics, was a revelation. The aughts were a fraught time for publishers trying to tap into the Gen Y mind-set on their turf—the internet. But that’s where Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin thrived. “We think of theSkimm as old meets new,” they told The Huffington Post. “Everyone told us morning news was dead, we disagreed. Everyone said email was dead; we disagreed. Obviously these traditional places have to adapt to get younger readers. For us, the way we differentiate ourselves is that we knew we couldn’t be everything to everyone. We were very clear—we are the demographic.”
The millennial generation was ready and waiting for a news publication to meet them where they were: in bed at 7 a.m., scrolling on their smartphones. So the two 20-something women left their producer jobs at NBC News to revamp the platform every marketer said was dying, brandishing the e-newsletter as their coat of arms. Soon, millennials everywhere were reading up on the five biggest headlines of the week every morning, including terminology breakdowns and background information in case they weren’t completely caught up on the latest update in Benghazi (no judgment). During election season, the newsletter interviewed potential candidates, asking them questions like “What are you watching on Netflix right now?” and “Who should we call for a reference?” along with seeking their stances on gay marriage, student loans, and the refugee crises. But for this aging millennial, my favorite recurring section of the newsletter, “Thing to Know,” keeps me hip to the million new acronyms cropping up and Prince William’s latest whims.
It’s no surprise that in a matter of three short years, after amassing 1.5 million subscribers and launching successful sponsored campaigns with the likes of Chase, Netflix, and Chevy, theSkimm has announced its latest venture: an app called Skimm Ahead. The $3 app merges with your phone’s iCal to keep you informed of what’s to come, while the e-newsletter continues to keep you abreast of what just happened. “Never again will you wonder when Beyoncé tickets go on sale, what time the State of the Union is on, or when your favorite show is coming back on Netflix,” Weisberg an Zakin told MyDomaine.
In honor of theSkimm’s motto, and to avoid making this story TLDR, we’ll let the brilliant, always-ahead founders do the talking.
"TheSkimm makes it easier to be smarter. Our job as co-CEOs and co-founders is to make sure we follow through on that mission and do it well. We started theSkimm from our couch, and now it is a multiplatform-audience company. The Daily Skimm newsletter makes it easier to be smarter about what happened yesterday, so you're prepared for conversations today."
"Managing is the toughest thing for us. We didn't have experience with it before. Our employees have helped us become better managers along the way. Now we're a team of 18 full-time employees, so this is something we needed to get up to speed on quickly."
CARLY ZAKIN: "A shapeless navy sheath dress and my mom's low-heeled brown leather slingback shoes. I looked like someone trying to be 25 years older. Not a good look."
DANIELLE WEISBERG: "Ugh. I'm sure it involved a pleated black Theory skirt and a shirt that would make me cringe today. I have a bag of clothes from my first job after college hiding under my bed. It's a reminder of never going back—in career steps or style!"
"Sara Blakely from Spanx. She's been such an inspiration for us. She took something that was typically perceived as 'un-sexy' and built an empire."
"Politico Playbook, WWD, Fortune's Term Sheet, TV Newser, Vanity Fair."
"Everything we've done so far has brought us to where we are today, from the two of us sending an email from our couch to a team of 18. We're so proud of that. No regrets. But when we think about how we approached situations with our old bosses, we turn a little red. We had no clue how to ask for promotions or raises, and the way we did it showed that we had no clue what we were doing."
"Culture fit is a must. We're very proud of the team we've built, and we want to make sure new hires fit that same culture. Someone who is scrappy, passionate, collaborative, and who is looking to learn something new."
CZ: "Skimm tee. There's something about wearing a shirt with what you've built printed across the chest that makes you feel like you can take on the world. And a pair of colored heels."
DW: "Heels. Very high ones. Usually brightly colored."
"We actually asked her and didn't influence what she said. From Kate: 'They have different styles, but they're the perfect partners. They trust each other completely—it’s like they're one mind. I swear, you can tell one something, and five minutes, later they won't have even communicated and the other already knows.'"
CZ: "Get a foot massage."
"When you recognize a real void in the market that you can fill. We left our jobs as producers at NBC News not because we were unhappy where we were, but because we saw that none of our friends were watching what we were producing for a living. We don't know where we'd be today without the relationships we forged at NBC, and we don't forget that. If you feel like it's the right time to leave, do it on good terms. Memories are long, and circles are small."
CZ: "Greek salad with grilled chicken, no cheese, dressing on the side. Roasted potatoes. Ginger ale in a can."
DW: "Greek salad with grilled chicken, no dressing. Taramosalata with chopped cucumbers. Large sparkling water."
"For entry-level employees, being unwilling to put in the work. We recently had a candidate list 'professional millennial' on her résumé. As for peers, not thinking big enough."
CZ: "Breakfast! Trying to give up my chocolate croissant and embrace eggs and berries. Always hot water with lemon. My nights always end with something sweet. And I may or may not be known for Postmates-ing Häagen-Dazs cookie-dough ice cream with a side of hot fudge."
DW: "Hard-boiled eggs, raspberries, mint tea (or coffee, on a big day). Exercise is a big part of my routine, and it's key to me being productive. It really helps keep my energy up."
CZ: "My mom says, 'Know who you are, and stay classy.'"
DW: "'The worst thing someone can say is no,' my mom says."
"Skimm Ahead, which just launched, makes it easier to be smarter about the future. Skimm Ahead puts everything you need to know about the future directly into your iPhone calendar. Never again will you wonder when Béyonce tickets go on sale, what time the State of the Union is on, or when your favorite show is coming back on Netflix."
Inspired? Who would you like us to feature next?