Just over a year ago, 21st Century Fox led an $8 million B funding round for theSkimm, a multi-platform audience company that curates news and events for millennials. 21CF’s newly launched group Women@Fox hosted a conversation on Tuesday, June 6, to catch up with co-founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin. Women@Fox is committed to developing female leadership at all levels and fostering a culture where all women thrive.
The conversation was moderated by Randy Freer, President and COO of Fox Networks Group, and took place at the historic Zanuck Theatre on the Fox lot in Los Angeles. The event was also live streamed to all colleagues across 21CF’s businesses. During the 45-minute talk, Danielle and Carly shared the challenges of starting theSkimm, how they build their growing team and how they approach diversity at the company.
Making it happen
“We had no clue this was going to work,” Danielle said when discussing whether she and Carly thought theSkimm would be successful. She added that with no backup plan and few hard business skills, their families thought they were crazy.
Carly said starting the company was harder than they imagined, but that there was a “beautiful naivete” to starting your first company. For instance, while they considered themselves good at networking before starting theSkimm, they soon realized that after starting the company, no one was going to promote the company for them.
“Waiting for things to happen was something we were used to in our old career,” Carly said. As co-founders of a new company, they learned to wait less and be more active.
Randy asked Danielle and Carly about who was important to the company when they were struggling with scaling theSkimm. Danielle said she was glad they began in New York, where they could connect with many women in business.
She also pointed to their investors, which gave them support early on even though theSkimm “could not have been less of what the market was looking for.” While many venture capitalists decided against funding the company, Danielle still saw a reason to be grateful: “It was actually great raising at a time when you are not the hot thing because the people you end up with really have your back, no matter what’s going on.”
Building a great team
theSkimm has grown to a 45-person company, and Danielle and Carly know what they look for in their colleagues. “We want people on our team who can move mountains with a phone and a laptop,” Danielle explained.
She added that they try to give direct mentorship to each of their employees, making sure to ask them what they want to get from their time at theSkimm, checking in on those goals and being honest with them. “I think our team is good at taking and giving feedback, and that’s something that I never got in an honest way [before],” Danielle said.
Integrating into a reader’s routine
theSkimm aims to give its more than 5 million subscribers everything they need to know in under five minutes. With Skimm Ahead, the company’s first subscription product, the company is also hoping to make its readers smarter about things that are coming up.
Danielle and Carly said they started with emails because the medium was the easiest way to get in front of their target primary audience of women ages 22-34 (who pick up their phone an average of 126 times a day) in a way that was integrated into their existing habits and routines.
“We work backwards from, ‘How do we make it easier to have a smarter life?’” Carly said, adding that the goal is to have theSkimm available on every platform. In that same vein, the company has spent the last year creating video and audio concepts and is now figuring out distribution for those types of content.
The true product
When someone thinks of theSkimm, they may think of it as an email-first company, but Danielle thinks otherwise: “We started as an email, but I think our main product is empowerment. And I think that is really what resonates in all of the different things that we’ve created as a company.”
Carly added that they see theSkimm as a membership company that pursues intimacy at scale. “What that means to us is having a scaled organization where it’s based around a community that feels empowered when they touch our brand.”
Making progress in diversity
In her introductory remarks, Women@Fox’s Elizabeth Ferdon inspired the audience to foster a culture of inclusion so that we can fully realize the benefits of diversity. When asked about how theSkimm approaches diversity in its workforce, Danielle said that 60 percent of the company today is women. “That being said, we are always pushing to have more women in engineering positions,” she said.
Danielle mentioned that theSkimm is starting to measure diversity in nontraditional ways, including the part of the country a colleague is from and the school they attended, for instance.
“I think now as we grow, we’re really pushing to measure diversity in a lot of different ways,” she said.