Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin celebrate the third anniversary of their e-newsletter, The Skimm, with fans like Michelle Obama, sponsors including Netflix, and plans to expand to a new platform this year.
“The idea was the easy part. It was taking the role—dishing about the news with the right bit of snark— that we had always played for our friends and turning it into a business,” says Danielle Weisberg, 27, who with Carly Zakin, 28, founded The Skimm, the buzzy e-newsletter that marks its third anniversary this month. And quite a business it has become. More than 1.5 million readers—up 50 percent since the start of the year—have signed up for the news summary highlighting the day’s top stories with in-the-know analyses. Fans include Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Oprah Winfrey, and Michelle Obama—who recently “guest skimmed” (their version of an interview). “All Skimmers are created equal, but those are a few names we are extra excited to have,” says Zakin.
When Weisberg and Zakin, both former NBC producers, founded The Skimm in July 2012 out of their West Village apartment (they were roommates), they chose prosaic e-mail as the medium for their message, rather than try to develop an app or Web destination. “Visiting a blog, website, or opening an app is a learned behavior, whereas The Skimm directly inserts itself into someone’s morning routine,” Weisberg explains. They initially targeted urban millennial women, but the audience has grown to include a broader demographic (20 percent of Skimm readers are male), no doubt a reason why, when they closed their Series A funding at the end of last year, they raised more than $6.25 million from investors like RRE, Greycroft Partners, and Homebrew, as well as big names like Irving Azoff, the former chief executive of Ticketmaster, and even Chelsea Handler.
“We still touch every single word,” say the duo, who have moved into a larger office in Soho to accommodate their growing staff of 10. “How we pick the stories goes back to our training at NBC,” explains Weisberg, “It’s about riding the wave—when [news is] breaking, and when we can feel confident to run with it.” While their mornings are filled with meetings, networking, and media appearances, come 4 pm, the team has a formal pitch meeting, then writes, edits, fact-checks, and updates the stories until the newsletter goes out at 6 am EST. “Then we’ll go back to bed… for a little while, at least,” says Zakin.
A Chicago native, Weisberg started in the DC bureau of NBC News after graduating from Tufts in 2008, then moved to New York in 2010 to help produce MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. Zakin began at NBC as an intern while still at Penn and was offered a full-time gig in New York upon graduation. Weisberg and Zakin say that their decision to start the newsletter wasn’t because they were unhappy with their jobs; they just couldn’t see a clear-cut career path in traditional broadcast journalism. “In order to stay with news, we knew we had to innovate,” explains Weisberg.
Weisberg and Zakin remain focused on maintaining their record open rate (the number of subscribers who consistently open the e-mail), which is currently at 45 percent, as well as expanding lucrative partnerships. Netflix is the most recent sponsor to join an impressive list that includes ABC, HBO, Showtime, and the NBA. Later this year, Weisberg and Zakin will bring their voice to a different platform, the details of which they are keeping under wraps at present. “In order to keep something relevant, you have to stay creative,” says Weisberg.