theSkimm Co-founders: Progress Comes When Hearing “No” Starts to Lose its Meaning

Amanda Weisberg and Carly Zakin

Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg quit their jobs at the age of 25 to try to start a business together, despite having no business or fundraising experience.

What they had was a perception: that millennials like them were not reading or watching the news because they were too busy, and it was not being delivered in a way that effectively appealed to them. They also had a plan: that they would deliver the news in a newsletter format, written in a voice that sounded like millennials. Plus, they had the two qualities they say are most important in starting a business: confidence and networking skills.

But what they did not have—and were not able to attract, despite trying—were investors interested in supporting them.

“We had literally gotten hundreds of ‘nos,’” Zakin told the 2019 Pennsylvania Conference for Women.

Taking a break in their outreach one day while eating deli sandwiches on a stoop in New York City, they tried to take a fresh look at the situation.

“What we learned after hearing ‘no’ over and over again is if people are not getting what we are communicating to them, at some point it’s on us,” Zakin recalled. “You can say venture is hard, or I hate this about raising money. But we weren’t communicating our vision in a way that investors could respond to.”

So, they went back to the drawing board, boiling their vision down to one sentence: “We make it easier to live a smarter life by integrating into the routines of our target audience—female millennials.” They remade their slide deck to match their message. And, within one month, they had their first check.

Since then, Zakin and Weisberg have grown theSkimm newsletter to attract 7 million readers. They also produce guides, podcasts, videos; and, they recently released the book, How to Skimm Your Life. But what they are most proud of, they said, is theSkimm’s voter registration efforts, which resulted in getting 100,000 people to commit to vote in the 2018 mid-term elections.

With the 2020 election in mind, they are again focused on reminding people of the importance of voting. They are also providing non-partisan information and tools in an effort to help people understand the issues—and, the people who think differently from them.

“What we’re really creating is a movement around choice,” said Zakin—and that includes the choice to be informed.


theSkimm

theSkimm—a newsletter that has attracted 7 million subscribers in 7 years by breaking down the biggest stories and explaining why they matter, in a fun, irresistible tone. And while making it fun, theSkimm also educates. It empowers. And it is a phenomenon.

theSkimm has quickly become a multimedia empire with an app, helpful guides, like “How to Make Your Desk Less Sad,” two podcasts, “Skimm This” and “Skimmed from the Couch” video and now a new book, How to Skimm Your Lifea #1 New York Times bestseller.

And, behind this phenomenon are two phenomenal women, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg: friends and one-time roommates who took a leap of faith, left their jobs as NBC producers and started what is now an empire—from their own shared couch.


Read more keynote recaps from the 2019 Conference