Danielle Weisberg & Carly Zakin, Co-Founders, theSkimm


Danielle Weisberg : We're both 28. I grew up in downtown Chicago. I was always kind of a news junkie—growing up in Chicago, it’s really hard not to be involved in politics, so that was a lot of our dinner table conversation and that got me interested in what was going on at a really early age. I went just outside Boston for college, to Tufts, to study American Studies and English. After I graduated, I went to work for NBC News in Washington, D.C. for about two years, and then, I moved to New York and was working for MSNBC. Then I became roommates with Carly—but we actually met studying abroad at college, in Rome!

Carly Zakin : And by that time, we had actually interned for some of the same people, but not at the same time. So our paths crossed a number of times before we became friends and eventually roommates.

I grew up in New York though, in Manhattan. Every morning, my parents got the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal delivered and I still remember the sound of the paper when they dropped it off outside the door. But we were never allowed to touch the paper until after my dad had gone through it, so we usually read the papers at night, when he came home from work. And I watched The Today Show every single morning for my whole childhood when I got dressed and ready for school. I was a very informed kid and very much into TV news, so when I moved to Pennsylvania for undergrad, I ended up studying Political Science, Film and Modern Creative Writing. After graduation, I went to work with CNBC in New Jersey. Then, I switched over to MSNBC doing documentaries and then wound up at NBC in Peacock Productions.

Danielle : We both grew up with the news very much a part of our lives. For me, watching 60 Minutes was always a Sunday night tradition in our house growing up—we would have dinner with my grandparents and then watch it together. And my dad was a news junkie, always reading the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times and he always has on cable news—he watches both Fox and MSNBC just to get both sides of what’s going on. So when I was growing up, being informed was something that was expected of me so that I could participate in those conversations. Then, of course, it became a part of my job.

Carly : I think my parents, especially my mom, really instilled how important it was to be well-rounded and that really shaped me. My mom once told me it was a responsibility of mine to read books and to be well read, that she never wanted to hear I was bored. Plus, I loved the idea of telling stories to my family, things they hadn’t seen. My grandmother used to read The New York Post and I’d always read the ‘Weird News’ column and tell my family about it—I kind of got a high off of being the one they came to to find something out. I knew who Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer and Leslie Stahl were—they were my role models. Katie Couric was my absolute idol. But right now, for both me and Danielle, Sarah Blakely from Spanx fascinates both of us. We've never met her—she’s very elusive, we can’t find her. But we’ve read so much about her and are both so impressed—she started the empire with $5,000 and still owns 100 percent of her company. It'd be such an honor to meet her.

Danielle : Yeah, when we started The Skimm, we made a list of, like, 50 people we wanted to meet who we thought would be helpful. About a month ago, we were going through the list and it was astounding at how many people we've been lucky enough to meet and to hear their stories, and how many people have been willing to help us. People like Oprah, Sarah Jessica Parker…people that you grew up watching on TV and idolizing now not only read us every day but have been really supportive of us trying to do something different.

Danielle : It was hard because, when we started out after college, we both wanted to work in the industry but we saw that the jobs and the career path that we had always aspired to have may not be there in the same way in the next five to 10 years. We graduated in 2008, the market wasn't great, jobs were disappearing, and seeing that firsthand was really scary. But we saw our friends who were so smart and busy and we thought that there should be an easier way for them to get their news every day. We wanted to create a news source that really spoke to them and gave them their news in a way that fit in to their routine and that they would like waking up to each morning.

Carly : We both feel really strongly that part of the impetus behind how The Skimm originated was that it’s important to be well-rounded! No matter who you are or how educated you are, you're going to have a group dinner at some point and people are going to be talking about something and you never want to be the person with that look on their face of, like, I have no idea what you're saying. Whether it's about the Kardashians or whether it's about Syria or whether it's about an election, you just want to know. Even today, the newsletter that we wrote included Blake Lively allegedly having a baby, because that's something that people are going to talk about. So I'll read Politico Playbook and the New York Times, but I always go to People.com, too.

Danielle : It’s about looking at everything that’s going on. Before we started The Skimm, we always talked to people who were super smart but would come to us and say, “What happened today? I've been so busy.” And they had really basic questions that they weren't getting from a daily news source, so we were their daily news source. We would just kind of joke always, like, “One day, we'll start something.” We never said what that was. We never said what void it was filling...it was a joke. Then, we were both definitely having, like, our mini quarter-life crises of, “Do I go to grad school? What do I do.”

Carly : We had every grad school book you could have on our bookshelf, and we lived together in a very small apartment, where we saw each other every day and it was a physical reminder of, like, what are you going to do? Make your own path. So it was just like, OK, let's try it. And then, we started articulating what the idea was, and we both just kind of instinctively knew what it was. We wanted to create a news source that really spoke to smart, busy people and gave them their news in a way that fit in to their routine. We never really worked on honing a voice, it just kind of came to be. It was truly an out-of-body experience, and it got to the point where we we just had an opportunity and we quit our jobs and launched a few days later. It sounds crazy when you tell the timeline but it just happened so quickly.

Danielle : Yeah, we both went to a class together at General Assembly, when we were both still working at NBC, and it was about how to find your business partner and network—probably the only things we already knew! But after the class, we went up to the teacher and ended up going for coffee with him and telling him about the idea and he loved it. He told us that the only way we would fail is if we didn't try. So that gave us some momentum. But it was also crucial that we had real job experience backing us up. We both started working early.

Danielle : Yeah, my first internship was at MSNBC and I actually only got it because someone had dropped out at the last minute. I got put in this web unit because, at the time, no one wanted to work in the web unit, but it ended up being phenomenal because I got to learn a lot of what I do now. Things like looking at all the other outlets to see what they were writing about and then write my own pieces. And you know, putting together summaries for all of the executive producers and sitting in on planning meetings. It was my first taste of real life, and I knew that, if I worked hard enough, that I could get a job there. And that’s what ended up happening!

Carly : My first was probably the most memorable internship, too—it was the Specials Unit at NBC. If there was breaking news or if it was a special event, like a 9/11 anniversary or a space shuttle launch, that was the group that covered it. So, it was a really good balance of an adrenaline rush and planning. I think there were six senior-level producers working there that were truly the best in the business, they had been there forever and worked on every major show you can work on, and were in this group because they were so talented. And then, there was me and one other intern. We did everything from the admin stuff to getting to be in the control room to printing out scripts for anchors that I couldn't even breathe around, I was so nervous. The foundation of, like, who I am in the workplace came from them. I remember that, in my first meeting, I walked in without a notebook and my boss told me ‘I never want to see you without a notebook.’ So, now I always have a notebook or my phone to take notes on in my hand, and that's something that's ingrained in me because of that. Just things like that—they taught me how to be the kind of professional I want to be.

Danielle : The thing is, you don't necessarily have to start your own company right out of college or even be thinking about that but I would advise anyone to spend a lot of time networking and spend a lot of time talking to people and trying to get real work experience in the job that you want.

Carly : It's still hard to do this for the first time, especially being young. I think we got a lot of push back when we first started around and the kind of expectations we should have for ourselves, like “Well, you're only 26 or 27, you've got a lot of time ahead of you.” But I think that you are allowed allowed to dream big and if you are working hard to do it, no one should ever put a road block in front of you for whatever reason. I'll never say to someone else, “You're young, don't worry.” If you want to work, then good for you. Do it.

—as told to ITG

Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin photographed by Tom Newton. Subscribe to the The Skimm here.