As we wait with anticipation for the elevator doors to open at the New York City headquarters of theSkimm, we’re immediately greeted by heart-pumping music.
The playlist: songs that were popular in 2012, the year that Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg sent their first email newsletter as theSkimm.
These days, theSkimm has more than six million subscribers to its daily sum-up of the news. It has raised more than $15 million from investors including 21st Century Fox, RRE Ventures, Greycroft Partners, and The New York Times.
The office, located in New York City’s Flatiron district, houses all 50 full-time employees. The walls are painted bright teal, hundreds of books line the walls and serve as makeshift tables or stools, and comfortable couches populate meeting spaces. Champagne and snacks are present in equal amounts.
The team at theSkimm assures us the decorations and music are not typically this overwhelming, but the office does enjoy a good celebration. This time around, they were celebrating the fifth anniversary of the startup’s founding.
Here’s what else we saw during a recent tour:
Zakin said that her favorite part of the office is the way it’s set up. “When you get off the elevator, you have no idea who’s the most senior and who is the most junior,” she said. “One of our values [is] that every voice at the table counts.”
Weisberg (left) and Zakin (right) sit out in the newsroom with the rest of the team.
On this wall, you’ll see a cutout of the “theSkimm girl,” which the founders say is the embodiment of their audience. Together, the startup has come up with a list of theSkimm girl’s preferences: she drinks spicy margaritas, works out in the morning (though she sometimes skips to sleep in), and likes a great read.
There are signs around the office that remind employees of the startup’s core values.
The “humble brag wall,” set up between the elevator doors, shows some of the praise theSkimm has received. Among the clippings are tweets from Lena Dunham and Oprah, an article in the Wall Street Journal, and photos from Chelsea Handler, who’s also an investor in the startup.
The homey vibe seen throughout the office is meant to pay homage to the days when Zakin and Weisberg were sending out theSkimm from their apartment couch. The conference rooms were named after “Law and Order: SVU” characters. This one was named “Olivia Benson,” even before actress Mariska Hargitay, who played Benson on the show, became an investor.
There are six core teams at theSkimm, each with their own cheeky name: Words with Friends (editorial), Cash Money (sales), Wolf Pack (growth), the Tech Cloud, the Prod Squad (product) and the Get Sh*t Done team (operations). Here, various team members meet in the conference room called “Elliot Stabler,” played by Christopher Meloni in “Law & Order: SVU.”
The music played in the offices is usually decided on by whoever arrives first.
The kitchen houses all the snacks needed to get through the day. When they start, every new hire is asked what their favorite snack is, and the team works to get it for them. Birthdays, work anniversaries (“Skimm’versaries”), and company successes are always observed. The birthday and Skimm’versary honorees get to choose their celebratory food, which the team says has ranged from cookies and ice cream to pickles and burrito cakes.
Every week ends with a “Sip and Skimm,” where the entire team recalls their own highs and lows of the week.
“It’s very personal,” Weisberg said. “When you’re working with someone all the time, it’s important to know what’s going on with them and what’s driving them.”
The meetings are often accompanied by a food theme, like falafel, sushi, or pizza.
TheSkimm editors are sent hundreds of books to review for SkimmReads, a weekly book recommendation that appears in the Friday newsletter. The editors also sometimes suggest a drink to pair with the books.
“It started so organically. We were literally asking each other, ‘What are you going to read over Memorial Day weekend?'” Zakin said. “And so we said, ‘We should just tell the audience.’ And so we started just putting that in.”
TheSkimm has even created guides for all types of occasions, from beach reads to roundups of the best books of the year. According to the startup, books have moved up an average of 3,000 spots on Amazon’s Best Sellers ranking shortly after being highlighted in the newsletter.
The Champagne wall is dedicated to some of theSkimm’s big victories. A few of the little ones are from when Zakin and Weisberg were on their own, but they’ll be adding more with the team now that they’re celebrating their fifth birthday.
One major milestone they’ll always remember: helping over 100,000 people register to vote.
“That we had the direct line for them to activate was a really humbling thing for us, and I think it really shifted us from saying that what we do is a privilege to what we do is a responsibility,” Zakin said.
Readers of theSkimm can sign up to be “Skimm’bassadors” and earn rewards by referring friends to the newsletter. This swag closet is open to Skimm’bassadors when they come visit the office.
But it’s not all balloons and celebrations, and the founders felt they had a responsibility to show what startup life is truly like. TheSkimm’s Instagram gives a behind-the-scenes look at startup life, which was a deliberate decision made by the founders. “I think there is a lot of glamorizing [of] ‘startup life,’ and it’s the furthest thing … from easy,” Zakin said. “I think our audience has really responded to understanding the behind-the-scenes story.”
Recognizing and celebrating failures is another important part of how theSkimm moves forward.
“We talk about challenges and will reward someone who has failed with our ‘Failed so Hard Hat,'” Weisberg said. “‘Perfect’ doesn’t exist, so let’s throw that out and work from what we think would be the best product that we could make.”
“As we wrote in the [Medium post], when people think about theSkimm they usually are like ‘Oh, those two girls on the couch. They got a lot of people to sign up. They got a lot of people to register to vote. They got Oprah. What a cute story,'” Zakin said. “And I think we are fine with proving people wrong and letting people underestimate us.”