TheSkimm co-founder Carly Zakin on encouraging millennial women to vote

The millennial-focused company is on a mission to increase voter engagement since 2016.
/ Source: TMRW

We are all works in progress. Even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people who inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."

Every morning, millions of subscribers wake up to theSkimm, a daily newsletter that summarizes the most important topics of the day into a concise list. Since its development in 2012, the newsletter has grown exponentially.

Steered by co-founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, the newsletter has also developed several election-related initiatives aimed at getting millennial women to turn out to vote.

Zakin spoke to TMRW about what the journey has been like so far and what she expects for the future.

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TMRW: Where did the idea for theSkimm come from? What was the starting point?

Carly Zakin: My co-founder Danielle (Weisberg) and I actually used to work at NBC. We loved what we did, and we lived and breathed news, but we saw our friends were not engaging with and interacting with what we were actually producing, and that there is a way to reach them. We also saw that — and it's funny to say this now, because this was in 2012 — but at the time we thought there was so much noise. Today, that's obviously amplified. But at the time it just felt so noisy and there was just so much to kind of clear through the weeds every day.

What we wanted to do was really simplify that and make it easier to get up to speed and know what was going on, and really that's how our mission was born. We say we make it easier to live smarter. We wanted to meet our audience where she is. We knew the way to get her was first thing in the morning, in her inbox, and so we started the daily Skimm, an email that was meant to be a part of her daily routine. And obviously it took off like wildfire.

How do you decide what to feature in the newsletter?

Danielle and I used to swap stories where we would be at a group dinner with family or friends and we'd see who dropped out of conversations when. The idea was that in an era of hyperpersonalizatoin, we never wanted to close off ourselves or our friends with one type of story, whether it's international or sports or financial or political news.

It's always the best part of our day and our teams' day to select the stories. We ask "What's the most important thing going on today, and what's coming up tomorrow?" Nobody should ever feel caught off-guard about something that's going on.

What changes have you made to the newsletter as its audience has grown?

It's funny. So much of the format has evolved over the past eight years, and I think it has gotten better with time, but I think one of the things early on that we stuck to has been the really clean structure of the email. The aesthetic was that it was meant to always look like your friends sent you that email.

Those very, very first few weeks, we didn't actually put links into theSkimm. We were like 'We're going to save you all this time, and you don't have to click out.' And we were so happy that people were like 'No, I actually want to read a longer story,' and we started adding links.

What advice would you give somebody who is looking to start their own project, but feels a little scared?

Don't be your own worst enemy. That's something that is easier said than done, and it sounds cliche at times, but it's very easy to talk yourself out of something and talk about all the reasons why it won't work, but you won't know until you actually try. Just keep saying that to yourself.

Was there ever a moment where you realized that theSkimm was growing into something larger than you expected?

I think there were a few moments. I still smile when I think about how, in our first week in business, Hoda (Kotb) named us one of her favorite things, and that changed our lives. We will always be grateful. I think also when we realized a community had really formed around the company. That came to light in the 2016 election, when we saw that we had mobilized over 100,000 people to register to vote.

It was a really unprecedented amount of users and an unprecedented record, and I remember us looking at each other and being like, 'Wow, this audience mobilizes with theSkimm and on behalf of theSkimm and to create impact.'

Tell me about your election initiative, Skimm2020 . What has the response been?

Elections have been a huge undertaking for us for a few election cycles now. In 2016, we had over 110,000 (people) registered. In 2018, we had over 200,000 people show up through theSkimm and actually vote. In 2020, what we wanted to do, pre-pandemic, was focus on the activation of this audience, whatever that looked like.

Skimm2020 is a nonpartisan initiative and the goal is to provide our audience, millennial women, with the information and the tools she needs so that she can ultimately cast her ballot with confidence, no matter when or where or how she decides to vote. I'm glad we went down that road, because who knew that voting would have so many different options and so many different challenges this fall?

This month, we've been talking a lot about what the future of America looks like. Do you have any thoughts on how this initiative might impact the country going forward?

What we know about this audience of millennial women is that she is the nation's largest living adult generation. If every single millennial votes, they decide the election. That's amazing, and it's amazing to see how they are activating now.

It's also a generation that's had unprecedented challenges. Before the pandemic, she was leading in paychecks and degrees. She's been out-earning her male counterparts. She's been the decision maker in the household and controls the purse strings.

But at the same time, she's delaying life milestones. She's drowning in student debt, she can't afford her first home and her parents are going to be her dependents, just like the children she's having later in life will be. And that was pre-pandemic. What we've seen over the past seven months is a record number of women pushed out of the workforce. We have seen three decades of progress wiped off, hopefully temporarily, but wiped off.

There are just unprecedented obstacles in her way, but this is also an unprecedented generation not just getting her seat at the table, but actually changing things. She's going to decide on Tuesday what she wants her country to look like. She's turning out to make change.