Because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the past two weeks have been busier than usual. It’s a topic that is incredibly sensitive to write about and more than any other topic we cover, brings out opinions. Lots of them.
The New York Times recently addressed the reader mail they’ve been getting.
And we wanted to show you a glimpse into the Skimm HQ mailroom. Here is a sample of reader email we received over a two-day period:
“It’s amazing how biased theSkimm is against Israel”
“The blurb today on Israel/Palestine sprinted so far past that line that it couldn’t even see the line when it looked back over its shoulder. So now I know that Skimm staff are strongly pro-Israel. ”
“Your use of the word ‘reportedly’ when talking about Israel and Palestinians is enough to make me cancel my (free) subscription.”
“You often equate the Israelis and Palestinians as if
they’re on equal footing….I hope in the future you make it clear that Palestinian violence is illegitimate and extremely dangerous- far more than
“Maybe when you report the need you should do so in an objective manner. Maybe Hamas should protect its citizens instead of placing them in harms way. Israel has EVERY right to protect and defend itself. Let’s remember who went on the offensive. “
We have also received amazing emails from readers thanking us for trying to break down both sides of some very complicated issues here.
We do our best. You have a lot of opinions. And we hear them.
Today is our birthday. We are entering the terrible twos. This year has been a whirlwind and we’ve realized that running a business is a marathon and a sprint all at the same time.
Two years ago, we sat down in our very small apartment and sent an email to everyone we knew (friends, ex-boyfriends moms, people we went to kindergarten with) and asked them to sign up for this new thing we had quit our jobs to start. We were very little on sleep but very big on adrenaline, drive, instinct, and hope.
Last year, we went out to dinner to mark our birthday. This year, we couldn’t all fit at the same table. We’re having three birthday parties — New York, Chicago, and LA. And are celebrating a very big year — big subscriber milestones, big team growth, and big plans. We’ve moved off the couch, hired our first employees, filled out our first RFP, gotten health insurance for our business, had Lena Dunham tweet about us, finished a fundraise, eaten a burger on the “Today” show, had too little desks for the first time, and enjoyed it all with a team!
Things we learned this year:
- How to lease an office
- How to hire someone
- How to break up with someone
- The difference between an HMO and a PPO (still working on that a bit)
- When you need to be a CCorp vs. an LLC
- What to wear on camera so you don’t look bad (still accepting tips)
- How to work with an investor
- How to say No
- How to prepare for a board meeting
- How to communicate with someone who codes
- How to make changes on the fly
- How to be managers (ongoing process)
- When to say ‘I need a break’
- When to give up trying to be good drivers and Uber
- How to make time to have lives (always a struggle)
- How you fit a couch into a room where the doorway isn’t big enough
- That building furniture is a great team bonding exercise
- How to celebrate
When we look back on what we have started to build, it is twofold. It is a Voice and it is a Community. The enthusiasm for theSkimm Life and engagement generosity of our community is truly unprecedented. It is because of all of you that we have come this far and on our birthday, we just want to say a very, very big THANK YOU. Now go eat some cake.
Over the last few months, we’ve made a new friend at Skimm HQ. And we’re not sure how we feel about Mr. RFP. Technically, known as a “Request for Proposal”; we like to refer to it as ‘Really F*ing Painful.’
We were very excited to start receiving RFPs from brands and agencies who want to work with theSkimm. So we put on our adult pants and looked at this thing….and realized that it seemed pretty nonsensical. For those who fill these out everyday, we feel you. For those who have no idea what we’re talking about, run.
The purpose of an RFP is for an agency to have a very detailed proposal around dates, inventory, and pricing. The reality is a spreadsheet with more restrictions and instructions than the SATs.
Reasons why RFPs are hard for startups:
Get used to filling out columns like this because many a category won’t apply to you.
-But don’t you want to hear about my company?
RFPs are bare bones facts. When pitching, startups have a story they tell in conjunction with the facts. Maybe its a story on engagement or why they’re so innovative but it is very hard to tell it in this format.
-Come on up to my deck
Your presentation MUST adhere to the very strict formatting guidelines. We recently filled one out with a much bigger company who asked if our design team could make some tweaks to the deck. Uh, what design team?
-Did someone say flights?
We have had to make a Skimm thesaurus to track all the lovely new terms in these docs. Turns out flights are not just champagne, SOV is not a carpool lane, and third party tags have nothing to do w insta.
New Entrepreneur Lesson of the Day:Get a crash course from a friend/ investor/advisor on this. It’s formulaic and can be a headache but means you are growing up as a company. Hooray.
A few weeks ago, we learned about the trickle down effect. A friend told us that the biggest mistake her boss made was not realizing how her attitude affected others. Her boss had a bad morning? By noon, everyone had had a bad morning.
And then we realized—CEOs can’t have bad days. Not exactly realistic so when they do, they need to do it in private. As founders, our team looks to us daily for direction, encouragement, (we hope) inspiration, and for precedent on what type of company culture we are building. If we come in not feeling well, stressed, tired, generally in a bad mood, it becomes contagious.
When it was just the two of us at Skimm HQ (back when that was our couch) — if one of us had a ‘moment’, we could leave the living room, close the door, and go nap. Now we have a team, and no nap room.
As our team has gotten bigger, and our space has felt smaller, we’ve all realized how one person’s bad day can affect everyone else. And so we’ve learned what not to talk about.
Things that you can’t say in a startup because everyone else is already thinking it:
Join the club.
I had to cancel plans because of work
Comes with the territory.
I need a day off
You do you.
You can and will feel ALL of these things and when you feel them, you should say I need to go work outside, or at a coffee shop, or need to take a day and come back refreshed.
NEW ENTREPRENEUR LESSON OF THE DAY: Find a game face. Not for yourself, but for the team.
Everyday we get asked ‘when do you sleep?’ We’ll talk about our schedules another time but the answer is yes, we sleep the right amount a night — just not all at once. And yes, we are up when the newsletter goes out at 6AM ET. After that, we go back to bed.
Anyone who has worked in a newsroom would describe the unique adrenaline rush you get right before air time, or in our case, publish time. Which does not exactly make it easy to fall into a restful slumber.
And since we’re not going to drink wine at 6am, we’ve had to come up with an arsenal of Skimm tricks to get the job done:
theSkimm Way to Fall Back Asleep
NEW ENTREPRENEUR LESSON OF THE DAY: If your company has odd hours, find helpful workarounds.
So sometimes it doesn’t work out. And it’s the worst.
A few months ago we had our first break up. And yes, we’re talking about the team kind. It was definitely a mutual “it’s not you, it’s me” situation in the most non BS way ever. We knew the break up was in the works for awhile but as in many relationships, we didn’t want to deal with it and thought time would make it better. Right before ‘the talk,’ it was unclear whether Skimm A or Skimm B would throw up out of anxiety first.
But when it was over, we both breathed a sigh of relief. Something that wasn’t the best fit was taken off of our plate — although it was replaced by a lot more work. And then we thought about why break ups scared us so much
Things that are no fun about splitting up:
1. Finding someone else sucks
Interviewing candidates is not fun. It takes a lot of time and you talk to a lot of people that aren’t the right fit.
2. It’s personal
As much as you try to say it’s about business, it’s not personal, at this stage in an early company, everything feels personal.
3. People are gonna talk
The only people we care about right now are our readers and our team, and when something rocks the team, our immediate worry is how it will affect overall morale and company culture.
But staying in a bad working relationship is the equivalent of knowing you’re with the wrong person and thinking the only thing that will make it better is moving in together. And that’s depressing. When two parties are unhappy, something needs to change.
NEW ENTREPRENEUR LESSON OF THE DAY: Check yourself in relationships. And don’t be scared to cut the cord.
As founders, we’ve talked a lot about how pivotal and important our internship experience was. We both started interning in high school and eventually, it enabled both of us to get a foot in the door for life changing college internships at our dream news organization, which ultimately led to our full time jobs. We are forever grateful for the people that took a chance on us when we spilled their coffee, had no fashion sense, wore a backpack with both straps, and broke their copy machine. And who also gave us amazing opportunities.
Even now when we look back at assignments we were given as interns, we think “WHO THE F WOULD TRUST AN 18 YEAR OLD TO DO THAT?” But thank God someone did.
We’ve always made a promise to each other and to theSkimm that we would be as generous of mentors to people that we meet through theSkimm, as we were fortunate enough to have.
But sometimes, easier said than done.
In January, we got a very nice and way too long cover letter from a high school senior—who we’ll call Intern Y— who said he loved theSkimm and wanted to intern with us. We forwarded the letter to our community marketer and said “very young, but good enthusiasm, keep on file.” We told him the truth which was that we weren’t thinking of summer interns until later in April. But the reality was the thought of us hiring a high school student made us go HAHAH.
And then in March we got another letter:
"I’ve read your Tumblr and decided to take your advice: don’t beat around the bush and ask for what you want.
I want to work at theSkimm. It is the bright spot in my (and now all my friends) morning. I will come in at 6am or 6pm. I’ll stand in the Central Park heat holding a theSkimm sign and pass out flyers on those seemingly endless summer Shake Shack lines. I’ll make shameless Facebook statuses promoting theSkimm and help up Instagram game. I’ll make Excel spreadsheets as fast as I watched the second season of House of Cards and answer your phone calls as well as Joan Holloway. When it comes to juice, you’ll be covered and maybe I’ll even make my famous Nutella mug cake for those particularly long Wednesdays.
If I am being too forward, I apologize. I know it’s not April yet, it’s just that working at theSkimm seems SO much better than making sure a group of 6 year-olds put on their sunscreen for eight weeks. “
So we brought him in and when we met him, there was no way we couldn’t bring him onto our team. Intern Y has gone above and beyond finding ways to organically spread theSkimm, taken initiative on assignments that weren’t even for him, and, most importantly, he’s been a team player— just two weeks ago, every person on our team said he was their ‘high’ of the week.
NEW ENTREPRENEUR LESSON OF THE DAY: Prove people wrong.
A few weeks ago we had lunch with a mentor in the industry and gave her progress on where we are. She told us a very simple and obvious piece of advice that we needed to be reminded of — “You have one job, grow a list. Anything unrelated to that is not your job.”
We raised money at the end of last year to do just that—intentionally not focusing on revenue and other products right now. Our company mantra is ‘focus’ and while everyone on our team has different backgrounds and different skill sets, each of their jobs is the exact same thing . Grow the list.
But each week, we find that our schedules are getting busier and busier. Somehow there are days when we are in meetings from 8a to 4p that aren’t actually about our job—growing that list. And so we had to do a reassessment.
Things we’ve learned about prioritizing:
A. Say no to shiny objects
We talk to lots of brands with fancy names that want to work with us but not in a way that will help us grow. We also talk to lots of brands you’ve never heard of that want to work with us and have amazing ideas…that also won’t lead to growth. We’ve had to learn to be very strict about putting things in buckets — yes, this will lead to growth OR no, it won’t lead to growth right now.
B. Don’t get engaged
Often times we find ourselves chatting about engagement and rationalizing ideas because they are great for user engagement and fun. We’ve come to realize that doing things for “engagement,” which kinda sorta leads to growth, is the equivalent of moving in with someone and kinda sorta thinking that means you’re getting married. Not the same.
C. Stop talking to everyone
We all have meetings that are for networking, for the purpose of ‘you never know where it might lead,’ and ‘it’s good to know people in the space.’ This is all true. And no one wants to become the person who is difficult to schedule with or is always ‘so busy.’ But an early stage startup is on a time crunch. We have had to do a schedule crackdown and on Mondays we now have a founder’s breakfast where one of the first things we do is purge our schedule of meetings that are not directly related to growth.
NEW ENTREPRENEUR LESSON OF THE DAY: Focus.
Tech has never been our strong suit. We’ve talked about that from day 1 and frequently dropped that we are hiring a developer. Hint hint…
What’s always scared us about all things tech is not actually the tech itself but communicating with a developer, which is sometimes an art in itself. You have to know something about tech to be able to articulate what your system is built on, how it runs and what you want it to do. And quite frankly, it’s not the part of our day jobs that makes us feel the best about ourselves.
A few months ago a developer told us we ‘shouldn’t concern ourselves with all tech matters.’ In the company. That we started. And grew. And run. Everyday.
In the last few months, we have worked incredibly hard to understand more about our system, and how it runs, and what we want it to be. We’ve discussed languages we didn’t know existed and learned so much about analytics that we secretly wanted to write an email to our former stat professor and say HAHA.
And on Monday, we interviewed a developer and at the end he said “Wow, you really know your stuff.” In our minds we cried and jumped up and down. In reality, we said thank you.
NEW ENTREPRENEUR LESSON: Nothing is un-learnable. Don’t sell yourself short.
Over the past four months, theSkimm family has expanded from 2 to 7. With that growth, theSkimm kind of resembles the Duggar family. Minus Jim Bob.
We’ve learned that having a family is exhausting. Turns out people need to be managed and they don’t read your mind. While the latter is disappointing, the former has been a learning curve for us. Last week, Skimm A & B worked out of SF and had one of their most productive days of work in a very long time. When we thought about why, we realized it was because we didn’t have to talk to anyone. No offense to our team.
Things we’ve learned about managing
1. You have to be organized
Each week we have a team meeting and there has to be a clear agenda. Each day, multiple people are asking for direction and feedback. We have to be clear about giving that.
2. You have to talk. A lot.
Each week we hold 1-on-1s with each team member. Last week, these meetings took 6 hours. We have since put a 20 minute cap and told our team that the meetings are for them—if they want to talk, we are giving them the time. Don’t have an update? Don’t need to meet.
3. You have to remember things
Every day we are putting out fires, brainstorming, and tossing out a lot of ideas. We have to remember what’s in and what’s out — and so does our team, who has to follow up. Easier said than done. We’ve now each developed our own to-do list email system to keep track of what we’ve delegated to people.
4. You are always on
Sometimes we have days we want to sit in a corner, write, eat cookies, and not speak to anyone. But ‘me’ time is non-existent, leaving us to wonder ‘Is this what it’s like to have kids?’
5. It’s hard. Nuff said.