Company as Iceberg: Casual Observers of theSkimm Don’t Realize What’s Below the Surface

Why are some companies judged primarily by the most visible portion and not what’s below the surface? Working with theSkimm for almost four years now, I’ve had the opportunity to see them consistently underestimated by many tech and media pundits. “But it’s just a newsletter,” is the summarily-passed judgment, and when the founders explain their broader footprint as an Audience Company, they frequently get a verbal (and condescending) “that’s nice” pat on the head.

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So yeah, the part above the surface for theSkimm is Monday — Friday newsletter with more than five million active readers (waaaaay more). Majority female, professional or aspiring professional, almost all US-based. That’s a reach and engagement that would make them easily a Top 10 daily US news property.

BUT, it’s the brand and trust that’s most amazing to me, and where that’s allowed them to go. The mission of the company has always been to make it easier to be smarter. Here’s what’s below “sea level” that many folks don’t understand:

  • theSkimm app integrates with your calendar and allows you to integrate their recommendations of upcoming events into your schedule. Top Five Grossing News App since the day it was released (more than a year ago) and a healthy seven-figure subscription revenue stream. Just as theSkimm was an early leader in reinvigorating email as a channel, the calendar is also a novel extensible platform. For example, a recent feature inserts timed reminders to schedule dentist and doctor checkups as part of theSkimm’s focus on women’s health (more on that below).
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  • Skimm Studies, an ongoing, community-driven investigation into what matters to millennial women, across a variety of topics. Their most recent study is on health care, tied to the debate around the AHCA. While theSkimm itself is politically nonpartisan, it doesn’t shy away from engaging its community on timely issues.
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  • Skimm’bassadors — the company’s community council, consisting of more than 20,000 enthusiastic individuals who provide feedback to the team, help spread the word about theSkimm, and hold local meetups.
  • Commerce — although theSkimm hasn’t yet rolled out any dedicated commerce products, their book recommendations have been called the “new Oprah’s book club” and routinely rocket their picks up the charts.

In the coming quarters there’s going to be even more coming which will continue expanding the value provided by theSkimm to its audience and take the company in some unexpected directions. Seeing all this from the inside obviously makes me favorably disposed to what’s being built, but a week of reminders as to how much bullshit female founders routinely have to deal with makes theSkimm that much more impressive to me. Rock on.

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You’ll find me @homebrew , Seed Stage Venture Fund w @satyap . Previously made products at YouTube, Google & SecondLife. Married to @cbarlerin .

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