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  • Hey it's Marie Forleo, and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business

  • and life you love.

  • And today, I am so excited to interview two founders, people I have been fans of for a

  • while, so if you've ever wondered about starting a company from your couch, and eventually

  • having it reach millions, you're gonna love this one.

  • Carly Zakin, and Danielle Weisberg are cofounders and co-CEOs of theSkimm, a media company that's

  • transformed the way female millennials get their news.

  • These two former NBC news producers launched theSkimm from their couch in 2012, and now

  • have more than 6 million skimmers.

  • Carly and Danielle have been featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 in Media, Vanity Fair's The Next

  • Establishment, and have received numerous accolades, including the Goldman Sachs Builders

  • and Innovators Summit as one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.

  • Ladies, Danielle, Carly, it is so good that we're finally doing this.

  • Yes, this is so exciting.

  • Thank you for having us, we are so excited.

  • Oh my gosh, I have loved the newsletter for years, and I want to take it back to 2012,

  • and rumor has it, it started on a couch together.

  • Here we are.

  • Kind of like this, with just 4000.

  • For the people that aren't familiar with the origin story, how did you guys come up with

  • theSkimm?

  • How did it start?

  • We started it five and a half years ago from our couch, which was

  • This is much nicer.

  • Yeah, this is much nicer, in our living room.

  • Carly and I knew each other since college, we went to different schools, we met studying

  • abroad, we had a great time, did not talk about work, but it turned out that we had

  • both grown up news geeks, just a real love of storytelling, started interning as soon

  • as we could, started working, got our foot in the door, and between us, worked in every

  • division that NBC news had.

  • Absolutely loved it, it was our dream job, so it's kind of crazy that we decided to quit,

  • but we just saw this disconnect between our friends, who are really smart, and educated,

  • and have great jobs, but their jobs require them to do other things, and to be experts

  • in their industry.

  • We just saw that we were being paid to read all day long, we were being paid to be in

  • the know, and that wasn't really realistic for how people lived their day-to-day life.

  • We wanted to create something, which made it easier to live a smarter life, and we looked

  • at how people were consuming information, and how we could fit into that, and that's

  • kind of where it all started.

  • Was it, "Oh my gosh, I think we can do an email newsletter," or was it a vision for

  • a media company, or somewhere in between?

  • I think we've been really public about, okay we didn't know ... We didn't have a tech background,

  • we didn't have a business background, but I think we don't think we spend enough time

  • talking about actually what we did know, which was we knew this audience.

  • We knew how to talk to our friends, we knew the economic opportunity around this audience,

  • we knew what our mission was, which is that, we articulate it better now, but it's always

  • been the same, which is that theSkimm makes it easier to live a smarter life.

  • We knew email was a marketing tool, we never intended, and nor have we created an email

  • company, emails a marketing tool, so we knew what we were creating.

  • We went through like, "Is it a media company?

  • Is it a lifestyle company?"

  • Our buzzword that we use now, is a membership company, but for us, it's like how do we integrate

  • into the lives of female millennials?

  • We believe that it's through membership, but we knew email was marketing.

  • That's awesome, because I think a lot of folks, when they're first starting out, they're struggling,

  • like I love that you just made the pointwe didn't articulate it as clearly then as we

  • do now.”

  • Oh my gosh, we didn't.

  • No, we did a horrible job.

  • For years.

  • Right, and I think this is one of the things where I got tripped up when I first started,

  • well first of all, I still don't know what the hell to call myself, but I have not let

  • that stop me.

  • I'm like, I'm just going to keep doing the work, and let it all inform what happens next,

  • but the point I want to make here, so many of the folks that watch our show whether they

  • are millennials, whether they're teens, whether they're in their 60s, or 70s, we have so many

  • different ages that watch, but when you're starting something new, most of us put so

  • much pressure on ourselves, that we have to get it right, right out the gate.

  • We have to have that perfect pitch, that perfect log line, whatever it is.

  • I think we've done it 100 times at least.

  • Yes.

  • I think also one of the biggest strengths that we had was our naïveté, like we didn't

  • know what we were getting into, so I think that there's always this pressure to be perfect,

  • and to have all the answers when you're starting out, and I think sometimes the best thing

  • is just – we asked everyone we knew questions about what they did.

  • We didn't know what the right answer was, so it almost was freeing to kind of explore

  • all of these different ideas, and I think that's actually gotten harder as the business

  • has grown.

  • Yes.

  • So I think the best thing when we were starting out, was that we had no clue what we were

  • going to do.

  • Yeah, we didn't overthink anything.

  • Yeah.

  • People are always like, "How did you come up with the name?

  • Like the two words?"

  • We're like, "We wrote it out, it looked better that way, that was it," that was the big meeting.

  • Yeah, I love it.

  • If we were going to re-create theSkimm today, we would sit down, we would have probably

  • like 14 brainstorms, we would probably bring in a consultant, we would go to our board.

  • Overproduce it.

  • We would overproduce it, we would overdo it, and it wouldn't be as good.

  • Yeah, no, I can relate to that so much, whenever I find myself, or even our team, when we start

  • going down this track, we're like, "Wait a minute, why is this taking so long?

  • Why is this becoming so complicated, when whole reason this even exists, is because

  • I didn't give a ... I was just likego, let's just do this?"

  • Another question that I have for you guys, $4,000, how did you spend that?

  • What was the spend on in the beginning?

  • That's a good question, the very first thing we spent on it, was food for our refrigerator.

  • We have this picture we took, we were roommates in downtown Manhattan, and we took ... It's

  • so funny to look at it now, and think about it, I don't know what we were preparing for,

  • like a nuclear disaster, I don't know.

  • That was like our focus.

  • Yeah, the night before we launched our business, we stayed up late making pasta salad.

  • No way.

  • Yeah, and cutting vegetables, because we were like, "We won't have the money to order out,

  • or go out, so like the pasta salad was very plentiful, and it will last a week."

  • Then we ordered all this food, and it was so funny, our refrigerator has never been

  • as full since that day.

  • We took a picture, and I don't think I've ever had as full a refrigerator since, and

  • so we definitely spent money there, but we went into a tremendous amount of credit card

  • debt to do this, and that was something that we decided to do together.

  • It's not something that like you can tell someone else, "Go ahead and do it, that's

  • the way."

  • We're by no means experts around that, but I think for us, like we agreed to do that.

  • First of all, the things we had to pay for, were to actually pay to send an email, you

  • have to use an email service provider, it's shockingly expensive, so we were paying for

  • that.

  • We were paying for transportation, like to go to meetings.

  • I remember we had a really kind advisor who paid for our first trip to go to the West

  • Coast, because we couldn't afford it, and as soon as we ever got money, it was the first

  • check we wrote was to pay her back.

  • We have to pay for our initial legal fees, and set up, that $4,000 didn't go very far,

  • and so we immediately were using credit card debt.

  • Yeah.

  • It was also, we were paying for rent for the apartment, and that was really the only expense.

  • Kinda forgot about that.

  •  

  • Yeah, we also had to live.

  • That was the big one, yeah, but I think there was no ... We didn't have a safety net, and

  • we didn't have anything ... we didn't want to take anything out of the company, but we

  • also were optimizing for growth, so that was a really hard position to be in, and knowing

  • that you have the right strategy for the type of business that we were building: don't just

  • bring in revenue off the bat, because you need to grow the brand first, and you need

  • to grow the audience first.

  • I think that was 100% the right strategy.

  •  At the same time it was so hard, because we didn't have time to get other jobs, because

  • we were writing at night, and we were trying to get the business off the ground during

  • the day.

  • And then we were trying to stay true to the brand, and not just take the first sponsorship

  • offers that would come, and because of that, we just didn't have another option, except

  • for racking up credit card bills that I didn't really look at for a very long time.

  • Well, that was five and a half years ago.

  • Yeah.

  • Yeah, so it turned out really well.

  • I want to move on to basically what we were talking about before.

  • I've heard this, I have a program called B-School, it's online business school for modern entrepreneurs.

  • Not necessarily folks that want to go the venture-capital route, but folks that just

  • have an idea that they want to get it up, and out into the world.

  • For years, this is going to be my ninth year running this, I've been drilling into people's

  • heads, and they hate me for it, email, email, email, email.

  • I've heard, "Emails dead, it's all about social, what about ..." I'm like trust me, don't say

  • no, email is amazing.

  • When you guys have heard email is dead … I mean obviously ...

  • I wish we knew you then.

  • I know.

  • I would have been your champion.

  • I know, I mean, it's so funny, when we think about this now, for so long our initial meetings

  • for years, honestly even last week we had a meeting like this, where peoplethe

  • things that people have said to us it's like laughable.

  • Why did you focus on a small market like women?”

  • That was literally said to us last week.

  • That would've taken at this point.

  • We're just numb to it, which is also sad.

  • Well, but I think it's also just a mark now of being like, "Thank you for telling me upfront

  • that you don't understand my vision, or my business," but it took us a long

  • It took us a long time to develop that.

  • Yeah.

  • The second thing was email's dead, like don't do email, and we're like, "Do you check your

  • email?"

  • People would email that to us to say, "Dear Carly, and Danielle, thank you for your time

  • in coming in, we think you both are really smart and great, but we believe email is dead,"

  • and they emailed it to us.

  • We were just like, "Is no one else seeing the irony here?"

  • I'm glad whatever was in us that allowed us to just zone that part out, because honestly,

  • if that happened today, I'd be like, "Maybe we should be listening."

  • Right.

  • For whatever reason, we had it in us to ignore it, and we just really believed that, and

  • we still believe email is a brilliant marketing tool.

  • It is.

  • You can't just send 25 emails a day, and I think that's a big mistake a lot of companies

  • make, is they're like they've got 100 newsletters, and they just spam you all day.

  • We send one email to everyone Monday through Friday at 6 AM, and that's it, and that's

  • the beginning of our suite of products.

  • I think we're very respectful, we say in our website, "We respect your inbox, and we also

  • respect brunch, so we don't bother you on the weekend," but I think we find it funny

  • that people still say that.

  • Yeah.

  • I think it's also kind of been the story to our company, which is we've never been the

  • hot thing from a venture perspective at the right time, so when we started, email was

  • dead, and then after email became cool again, content was dead.

  • Then it was ...

  • Then it was all video.

  • Yeah, then it's all video, and then it was programmatic, and then it was native, and

  • then it wasn't, so I think just starting with something that everyone considered to be dead,

  • was such a blessing, because we learned that we just had to believe our own internal compass

  • for what we think the company should be.

  • Yeah, I mean I try and tell people, and I give them the example “I'm like look,

  • do you guys realize,” god bless Facebook, love them, yay Facebook, but I feel like they

  • pulled off one of the biggest bait and switches in history.

  • I mean getting all of the everybody, all of us, right?

  • Build up these huge pages, these huge fan pages, and thenoh, you can't reach your

  • people, they can't see your stuff unless you pony up.”

  • I get it, I understand it as a business woman, but that's my whole point when I try and dissuade

  • people from focusing on social.

  • I mean, we have never ever built, and we never want to build our company on someone else's

  • algorithm.

  • Exactly.

  • Whether

  • Can I … this is business church.

  • People are going to be watching us on a Tuesday, or a Friday, or whenever you're watching this,

  • but this gets an amen from me, oh it makes me so excited, but it's the truth.

  • I think it was something that we always just kind of thought was common sense, and then

  • over the past few years we heard more and more people being like, "Well, I'm my moving

  • all of my content to Facebook, or I'm moving all of my content to Snapchat, or wherever."

  • Yeah.

  • And then for us, we always looked at it, and we were like, "Well that's interesting, it's

  • notwe want to have this direct connection with our audience," unless something huge

  • happens in society, and Gmail, and everyone else goes down, we do own that direct connection.

  • They know where to find us, they know we have an occurring habitual routine with where to

  • reach us.

  • Yes, I was telling you guys off camera, you're part of my routine, I love it, I laugh.

  • It's so much fun, even on my little ride over to the studio today, I was likeoh, and

  • I get to meet them today.

  • We're going to talk,” but it is.

  • Thank you very much.

  • I want to move on to why I have so much fun with it, and this is something, another thing

  • that we share in common.

  • One of the reasons why it was so taken, was the copy, the actual tone, and the humor,

  • and the connection piece, because for me – I'm part of your audience, even though I'm not

  • a millennial per se.

  • I'm someone who is very busy, focusing on a lot of different things, and not necessarily

  • able all the time to read every single newspaper that I want to read, or dive deep into every

  • single subject.

  • It was so refreshing to open my inbox, and have a hip-hop lyric as the subject line,