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Every so often a chance meeting of the minds can lead to a game-changing idea that, once launched, can impact a generation. TheSkimm co-founders and co-CEOs Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg first crossed paths on a college study abroad program in Rome. There they discovered they’d both been following similar paths — even interning at the same places — and they’ve been walking together ever since.
After graduating, Carly and Danielle both worked at NBC News and became roommates in New York City. During this time, the pair brainstormed a solution to a pain point for busy female Millennials. It came in the form of a daily newsletter to help keep women informed about the most important issues using a very conversational tone.
TheSkimm was born in 2012 and today reaches an audience of 7 million subscribers. Yup, we said 7 million. In addition, they created theSkimm guides (think: CliffsNotes for the news) on issues such as equal pay and immigration. Their first No Excuses campaign also helped register more than 100,000 female voters for the 2016 general election, which is a big deal because we need as many women as possible participating in politics.
Carly and Danielle sat down with Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient, in the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions to share how they’re engaging their audience and keeping them informed. Here are the highlights of some key lessons learned during the conversation.
The clock is your competitor
Millennials make up 29 percent of the US population, 35 percent of the workforce, and account for 82 percent of annual births, according to Pew Research Center. Juggling careers, relationships, parenthood, and other priorities, combined with growing up in an always-on culture, means they’re pressed for time. “We’re all in an attention game, and our biggest competitor is the clock,” says Carly. “It’s your time and attention … and we want to cater to that.”
Look to add value
Danielle and Carly’s goal is to make staying informed as easy as possible so you can make educated choices. “For us, it’s about being able to be a value-add on someone’s day and morning and throughout their lives,” says Danielle. “We went from writing our first newsletter on our couch to 7 million [subscribers] by creating products that add value.”
Follow your passion but don’t quit your day job — yet
“We love what we do. We’re lifelong news junkies and both are storytellers … but we also weren’t in a place [at the beginning] where we could afford to have a passion project,” says Carly. “The first year and a half was a complete flop in terms of raising money. We spoke mostly to male investors. It was always, ‘Do you think this audience is too small?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t think an audience who is controlling household spending is too small.’”
The female partners still have a spreadsheet of the hundreds of no’s they received when they first tried to get funded. They say what came of the rejections was a group of investors who truly believed in them, understood their vision, and helped push them to really grow.
Know your motivation
Keeping the bigger picture in mind and the team who you are leading can be a source of inspiration. “What motivates me is that every day we get off the elevator, we see 70 employees who are relying on us,” says Carly. “It means being responsible about how we scale and the decisions that we make.”
“Our jobs as CEOs is to make sure that everyone’s equity means something. And to protect that,” says Danielle.
Partnership is an equal effort
Before launching, Danielle and Carly studied other co-founders’ partnerships. Their own partnership is truly a joint effort, and they divide and conquer together. “We knew it always had to be equal and we basically needed to have a prenup between us,” says Carly. “We talked about everything: What happens if we don’t agree? Or one of us needs a break? Of all the things to stress about as business owners, whether or not we trust our business partner should not be one of them.”
If you don’t vote, you can’t complain
TheSkimm is nonpartisan, and their main goal is to keep women informed about key voters’ issues. “Historically, midterms are not as exciting or sexy to vote, so we’re launching a new initiative to change that,” says Carly. “We’re aiming to bring together 3,700 Skimm’bassadors to spend a weekend talking about what the issues are, how you can get involved … we should all be telling people to go out and vote.”
All Millennials do not feel the same
Millennials are diverse. “They do not live in the same place, have the same amount of money, or the same jobs,” says Carly. “There is a misunderstanding that Millennials are going to vote the same way, but what we’re seeing is they’re split out in the middle politically,” says Carly.
One key takeaway from theSkimm founders: Leadership is about action.