Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg started theSkimm, a daily newsletter service targeting how female millennials consume news, with no plan B and $4,000 to their name. But their origin story is one of pure fate as the two met while studying abroad in Rome.
After a summer spent eating pasta and admiring Italian art, the two went their separate ways back to school, Zakin to the University of Pennsylvania and Weisberg to Tufts University, not thinking much about their summer together.
The two reconnected after graduation while working for NBC News in Washington, D.C. Their jobs at NBC eventually led them both to New York City, where they became roommates both trying to make it in the media industry.
"There just wasn't a clear path anymore, so in a lot of ways we felt like the idea to start our own company was a safer decision," she added.
As they both gave thought about what they wanted their future careers to look like, they created Project TBD, a beginners idea of what is now theSkimm.
They quit their jobs and combined their funds to pursue what they call a "sink or swim" idea, which was first sent out to 400 people creating small buzz around the company -- especially on Slate, which published two different articles about why you should and shouldn’t Skimm.
"It was the first time we'd ever been on the other side, and that was hard, and I don't think either one of us anticipated that, that was going to be hard," Weisberg said. "That was the first moment where I was like, 'Oh wow we started a company.'"
While the two founders navigated the ropes of speaking to the press and seeking out investors to fund their new business, they were turning down advertisers -- because they didn't know how they would use them.
"I don't think it registered what we were doing," Zakin describes of the moment. "What we did find out we were doing was actually creating more market scarcity. We were making ourselves hard to get and people wanted to meet with us, so it was a very good thing that we did that."
Advertisers might not have been a top priority at the time, but investors were. As soon as the two began developing a business plan, they made a running list of potential investors to reach out to.
They started with some of their favorite companies, like Daily Candy and Oprah, and built their list out with who had invested in those companies.
"One of the best moments where I truly just remember being so proud of us was two, three years in and we looked at that list and we had met everyone including Oprah, and I was like, 'Wow we really crossed it all off,'" Zakin said.
One initiative Zakin and Weisberg invested their time and effort into was their coverage of the 2016 and 2018 elections, giving readers an insight into the candidates and bills that were going to be voted on in each state, as well as on a national level.
In 2016, theSkimm got over 100,000 people registered to vote, and in 2018 for the midterms, they got over 200,000 people to actually show up and vote.
"I think that what we saw in 2016 and it carried over into the midterms this year is that, we have an incredible ability to activate this audience and truly reach a politically diverse audience, and there are really not a lot of places that can say that," Zakin said.
As theSkimm continues to grow, reaching over 7 million subscribers, so have the dreams of the co-CEOs for the company, forcing them to constantly communicate their thoughts and ideas and teaching them to fully trust in one another for the benefit of the business.
"At the end of the day running a business is so hard and tiring, the thing that should not be the stressful part is your co-founder. If that's what's giving you the drama and the headaches and the sleepless nights something's off," Zakin said.
Hear more from theSkimm’s Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin on episode #126 of “No Limits with Rebecca Jarvis” and check out Weisberg and Zakin's "Skimm'd from the Couch" podcast to hear their interview with Rebecca Jarvis.