Not Every Success Story Begins That Way: Take it from theSkimm

TheSkimm Co-founders at the 2020 Watermark Conference for Women

When Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin flew into SFO last month to speak at the Watermark Conference for Women, they said they found it traumatic—because, as Carly put it, “we got really beat up here.”

She was referring to when they were young women who had quit their jobs as NBC news producers to build a media organization that could not only reach busy women but help them live smarter.

But their early efforts to fundraise resulted in a string of rejections. Recalls Carly: “They told us, ‘You don’t have a tech co-founder.’ ‘This is content; people don’t want content.’ And, ‘women are a niche market.’”

They realized that they could get angry about not being understood—or they could take responsibility for what they didn’t know and learn how to do it all better.

“We were not communicating our story well. We didn’t understand how to fundraise; we didn’t understand why everyone makes the analogy that fundraising is like dating. You don’t go out on the first date and say ‘I want to get married. Who wants to marry me?’ You flirt. You go back and forth. You play a little hard to get while also being clear with your intentions.” They directly asked people for money on first meeting and it backfired.

On the personal level, they also had tough moments when starting out. Carly, for example, recalled receiving brutal feedback in a 360 review.

“I remember reading it and bursting into tears. I showed it to our executive coach then took it home and put it in a safe. I never wanted to read that again, and I didn’t want anyone else to.” But she did take it as vital information about what she needed to work on.

And, since then? They learned. And, they have built a wildly successful media conglomerate. theSkimm newsletter attracts 7 million readers. theSkimm also produce two podcasts, in-detpth guides and videos. Last year, Danielle and Carly also published How to Skimm Your Life, a New York Times bestseller.

In some ways though, they are just beginning. “When we started, theSkimm was all about building the confidence so you could think through what was going on in the world and how it affects you. We wanted to give you the information you needed to have an opinion and speak up,” said Danielle.

“Now, as we think through the next stage, it’s about doing something with that confidence,” she added. “And in 2020, one of the biggest ways you can do that is to get registered to vote—and make sure that, as a community of women, we are all thinking through what we want and which candidates match that to best of our abilities.”

In the future, Danielle also said, she thought the 2020 Watermark Conference for Women would change their association with the Bay Area—back to something positive.


More from the 2020 Conference

More from the March 2020 Newsletter