This International Women’s Day we’re celebrating seven amazing female founders who’ve started companies based on the idea of helping out other women. Whether it’s a business for women, or to help support women (or both!), each one has a mission Team SN stands behind.
Think of TheSkimm’s Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg as girlfriends who always want you to put your best foot forward. It’s essentially why they started TheSkimm—for fellow millennial women who didn’t have time to keep up with current events, so they just weren’t staying current. Carly and Danielle found a way to make the news, not only digestible and informative, but fun. (Yes, we just said that the news is fun.) For the past eight years now, they’ve been delivering top news stories to our Inbox, putting their own unique spin and breakdown on issues affecting us all. We love that they’re two smart women who know how to talk to other smart women—no mansplaining here.
The journey has been filled with many ups, and just as many downs.
Something Navy: How did you come up with the idea for your business? What was the journey like?
Carly Zakin: We started TheSkimm from our couch in 2012. We were roommates and producers at NBC, and we quickly realized that our friends—smart, busy millennial women—weren’t consuming news in its traditional form. We saw an opportunity to change that.
Danielle Weisberg: The journey from deciding to start something to growing the company into a brand with multiple touch points and over 100 employees has been filled with many ups and just as many downs. It’s been a total roller coaster, and we have learned more than we ever could have imagined.
SN: What were some of the roadblocks and how did you overcome them?
DW: When we started TheSkimm almost eight years ago, we were two 25-year-old women with no business experience. There was a lot we didn’t know. But we were journalists who knew how to write and ask questions, so we used those skills to help build a really strong network.
SN: Did you find that you encountered more challenges getting your business off the ground as a woman as compared to men in similar positions?
CZ: For the first year, we heard “no” a lot. We would be pitching to investors, mainly rooms of men, who didn’t understand our vision. We heard a lot of reasons for “no”—that we needed a technical co-founder, or that email was dead (which we always found ironic, because they would tell us that over email).
SN: How did you go about getting investors, or the “right people” to believe in your vision?
DW: In the beginning, we had just $4,000 in savings between the two of us, and agreed to go into credit card debt together. When we started to raise money, we made a spreadsheet of all the investors, angels, and seed funds we planned to go after. Anyone who said “no,” we would turn red. Before we knew it, the whole list was completely red.
CZ: We were so excited when we finally landed that first check. Today, we’re proud to say that we’re Series C funded, and our most recent round included a group of incredible female investors (like Shonda Rhimes, Tyra Banks, and Sara Blakely).
SN: Did you find being a leader or commanding a board room came naturally to you, or was it a skill you had to learn?
CZ: Being a manager has been one of the biggest learning curves (and we’re still learning). Before TheSkimm, we had never managed anyone other than an intern. We also had to learn how to raise money, build a board, and grow our team.
DW: We also know when to ask for help and when to tap into our network.
SN: What have been the most validating moments or milestones along the way?
DW: Our efforts to get out the vote and engage with millennial women. In the past few years, TheSkimm has successfully activated hundreds of thousands of people to the polls. Our Skimm 2020 campaign is just getting started.
CZ: The opportunity to meet Skimm’rs IRL. It’s always surreal when they tell us their “Skimm” moment—whether that’s feeling informed enough to lead a dinner conversation about the day’s news, to asking a manager for a raise.
SN: How do you balance your work and personal life? How do you self-care?
DW: I like to start my mornings with a workout and try to go to the gym a few times a week. I love having that one hour in my day where I’m not tied to my phone.
CZ: Lots of sleep. And wine, because, balance. It’s always important to disconnect from the work day.
SN: Who are your female role models?
DW: We’re lucky to have so many incredible women to look up to. And we’re even luckier to have the opportunity to talk to some of them on our podcast, “Skimm’d from The Couch.” We really value hearing advice from women like Bobbi Brown, to Taraji P. Henson, to Kate Upton, and Hoda Kotb. It’s so great to be able to share their perspective with our audience.
SN: What do you wear when you need to feel powerful?
CZ: Any outfit that can get me from the floor of a brainstorm to a dinner after work is my favorite outfit. My go-to pieces are probably my leather pants or a pair of skinny jeans.
DW: A great pair of flats. I always have an extra pair in my bag so I can change out of my heels to walk around the city and run from meeting to meeting.
SN: What’s the best advice you ever received? What advice would you give to women who have a great idea but don’t know how to turn it into a business?
DW: Ask for what you want. This can mean asking for 15 minutes of someone’s time, talking to your manager about a raise, or asking someone to invest in your business. The worst thing someone can say is no, and that’s OK.
CZ: Also, go on a vacation before you start a company.