Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg are co-founders of theSkimm, a media start-up that sends out a daily newsletter to 4 million subscribers worldwide, most of them millennial women. (Before the election, they successfully registered 95,000 women to vote.) The pair employ 37 people and travel frequently for their jobs, but they’ve learned to compartmentalize their stress and log off from work email from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. They have also — without planning it — started dressing alike. Here’s how they get it all done.
On a day in the lives of two start-up founders whose newsletter reaches 4 million subscribers:
Carly Zakin: Our newsletter goes out at 6 a.m. EST every morning and the last edit is at 5:58 a.m. My day officially starts from a business standpoint at around seven, and then I usually have a breakfast meeting with a founder or an investor. Last week, it was with a founder. Afterward, we came back to the office, where we had to do a press interview. I had to then interview three different candidates over the course of about two hours for a job opening. I had two internal meetings — one about our app, one about our Skimm’bassadors. Then Danielle and I had a brainstorm together, a networking meeting at a media company, and our editorial meeting. After all of this, I took a break to work out for an hour and then we had work drinks. When I was all finished, I got to see some friends, then go home and watch Gilmore Girls.
Danielle Weisberg: I usually wake up around seven and work out in the morning. I go to spin and try to beat the shower line and then head to a breakfast meeting and then head into the office. Usually I have a few meetings internally, either about what’s going on with our sales team — thinking about how we can craft new marketing proposals — or about kind of putting out fires as they come up. A big part of my day has become interviewing so I spend a lot of time talking to different people, trying to meet people out there who are thinking about career shifts. Then the brainstorm that Carly mentioned and a few more internal meetings. Every day is a mix of all of those things.
On what it’s like to brainstorm at theSkimm:
D.W.: Our brainstorms consist of a lot of whiteboarding. Every Monday, Carly and I start our week with about two hours of the two of us and a whiteboard, just going through what our priorities were for that quarter of the year, what we each are focused on. We make a list and divide the tasks. We put our names next to each priority. After that, we go through the company vision. We’ve been using a house metaphor a lot — how we think about the foundation, how we think about every new initiative. We think about how we want the doors to be but not necessarily how we want the interiors to look. We get it to the point where we can then talk to our team and our hiring managers and make sure that everyone is on the same page with what we are building.
On the importance of being uncomfortable at least once a day:
C.Z.: The good and the bad of running a business is that every day is so different. A founder friend told us, “If you’re not uncomfortable every day, then you’re not doing something right.” I am happy to say that we are uncomfortable all day. We’re doing so much of this for the very first time and I think the big hurdle we’ve been very open about overcoming is managing. That’s something that we had no experience doing before and our team is 37 people now. We’re constantly learning how to be better managers and better CEOs, knowing how to communicate better. We’re really good at saying no because it keeps us focused. When potential partnerships end up being distracting and taking us away from our focus, we have gotten better about knowing what it is important.
On why they decided to start keeping as strict a schedule as possible:
D.W.: In the beginning, we didn’t have a schedule. It was the two of us running theSkimm from our apartment, so we were basically working all the time. I don’t think that made us as productive. We still got an amazing amount done in those six months, but I think we ended up running around in circles because there was so much to do and we wouldn’t designate time for each task. We would start writing whenever. We would finish writing whenever. It didn’t really make sense.
I think putting a schedule behind our day has really helped — and it became a necessity once we started to hire people. When we were roughly a team of six, we’d be out of the office, and our employees would be like, “Where’d you go? We don’t know where you’ve been for the past hour and a half.” We weren’t used to having a team. I think making our schedules and our calendars visible is something that has gone a long way to show transparency. That way, if anyone on our team needs to find us, they can look at our calendars and see what we’re doing.
On the email organizational system that only Carly understands:
C.Z.: I’m really into list-making and crossing things off my list. I think the act of crossing things off a list is very therapeutic. I have a system, too — it’s one of those “organization within your madness” kind of things. No one understands it but me. I use Gmail, and I have a system for what I keep in my inbox and what I star, and then I know the difference between whether I have to follow up with someone or if I’m waiting for someone else to follow up with me. No one understands it but it works great for me.
On why they have to share their packing lists with each other before traveling:
C.Z.: The one thing that is pretty funny for us is when you spend enough time with someone, your tastes start to become similar and you start to own the same things. So before we travel, we tell each other what we’re packing. On more than three occasions, we’ve shown up in the exact same outfit.
D.W.: Last year, the week after New Year’s, we met each other in Las Vegas for a conference. We exchanged our Christmas presents there and we had gotten each other the same exact pair of pajamas.
C.Z.: Our uniform when we’re on the road is our Skimm sweatshirts, our neck pillows, and leggings. And for work, it’s leather pants, a blazer, and a top, and different color heels. We coordinate so it’s not the exact same top. We have a system. We are people who often have to go straight from the plane to a meeting, but we do not look good on the plane.
D.W.: I have a hoodie up, I have an eye mask, I have a sweatshirt over me — it’s not a cute look. So we are experts at changing in the bathroom at airports.
On aspiring to be as low-maintenance as possible in their beauty routines:
D.W.: I think putting on makeup on the go is something we’ve perfected. I use the term “perfected” loosely, but we can do it in cabs. I wait for the red light to change before putting on my mascara. I think it’s just something you get used to and helps you navigate how you choose to spend your time. Sleep is something we definitely prioritize. We don’t get a ton of it, but I think we get enough.
C.Z.: When we travel together, we usually share a hotel room and we give ourselves 15 minutes to get ready before wherever we have to go. We are both purists.
On the power of scheduling time to stress out:
C.W.: Being a CEO forces you to compartmentalize, stay in the moment, and think about the bigger picture. I’ll look at my schedule and say, “Carly, you get from 10 to 10:05 to stress and then you have to stop.” I’ll go to the bathroom and just look at my phone or I’ll take a walk and that’s my time to stress for the day. I think it’s not realistic to say that it works all the time, but little tricks like that have helped me compartmentalize and stay focused during the day.
I was never a workout person before theSkimm and I’ve made working out very much a part of my routine, because it really is a healthy break to be off my phone and just focus on something else. That’s huge for both of us. Because theSkimm comes out Monday morning, our Sunday evening and afternoon is really our Monday morning, so we pretty much turn off Friday afternoon and do not get on our work emails until Sunday afternoon. If you’re getting an email from us on Friday night or Saturday morning, it means that we’re stressed about something.
On the most exciting thing about running a newsletter that reaches so many subscribers:
D.W.: Communicating with our audience every day is so rewarding. We can have the most stressful workday ever but we get thousands of emails every day from readers who are telling us their favorite thing from the newsletter that morning, or how theSkimm helped them through their day. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the stress of running a business, but when we take a step back, it’s amazing to see the impact that theSkimm is making in our readers’ lives. It instantly puts everyone in a good mood here.