Like any founders worth their salt, the women who started TheSkimm faced their fair share of skepticism in trying to raise capital and grow their brand. In a special keynote session to wrap up the last day of Connections 2016, they shared some of these moments with the same dash of sass and wit that helped make TheSkimm the go-to news destination in the inboxes of 3.5 million subscribers — primarily female millennials.
“Potential investors would say, ‘Isn’t email dead?’...but they would email that to us,” laughed co-founder Carly Zakin.
“Why are you focused on a niche market?” other potential investors would wonder.
“I don’t think women are a niche market,” the co-founders would retort.
All jokes aside, the success of TheSkimm is no laughing matter, with a 40% open rate on their daily emails — an unprecedented rate at the scale of their subscriber base. The company is clearly nailing email, but surprisingly enough, they never set out to create an email newsletter company.
Instead, Zakin and her co-founder Danielle Weisberg started with thinking about why some of their extremely smart friends didn’t seem to have a go-to destination where they could get their news in a consistent way.
Both coming from a television news background, the women wondered what it was that drew so many viewers to the morning and evening news broadcasts. The answer that they decided upon? People liked that it came from a voice, like a friend sitting you down and telling you about what’s going on in the world. So they created the character of the “Skimm girl”: she’s your smart, trusted friend who tells it like it is. She’s funny, irreverent, and lets you know you need to get through the day and be able to have a conversation with anyone.
With the narrator and idea in place, next was thinking about distribution. The co-founders looked at their busy friends with packed calendars from sun-up to sun-down and realized that they shouldn’t have to go out of the way of their daily existing habits to get the news. When looking at how people were consuming information and where they lived on a daily, hourly, even minutely basis, the answer was clearly email. Thus began TheSkimm daily newsletter.
As the company looked to expand its business model, the team turned to the same basic question that they started with — where does their target audience live on a day-to-day basis? The answer? Calendars. That’s the foundation behind SkimmAhead, the business’s first paid feature (less than a Starbucks drink/month) that gives you information via calendar invites for what’s coming up in the future. Like when Adele tickets go on sale, when your favorite show is back on Netflix, or what time the State of the Union is on.
As the company continues to expand and “makes it easier to be smarter” for a growing customer base, how does the business ensure a consistent voice across all platforms? The team started by creating a brand book for the Skimm girl – including details that don’t make their way into the newsletter, but help inform the tone and voice, like what’s in her Netflix queue, where she gets her nails done, and much more. No matter what you do on TheSkimm team, even if you’re not writing, you’ve gotta know the brand book — and the Skimm girl — inside and out.
Additionally, to avoid diluting the brand, the company works with brand partnerships very selectively. Although the co-founders acknowledge that sponsorships could be a nice revenue stream, it was never going to be the primary financial driver, leaving them the flexibility to say no to opportunities that don’t mesh with the current brand.
TheSkimm continues to look at the routines that we all have during the day, and put the news into those routines. As cofounder Weisberg said, “We are very much in the attention economy game. To say we get 5 minutes of everyone’s day when they’re laying in bed in the morning is something we’re very proud of.”