The Society for News Design is excited to announce that Dheerja Kaur is joining our lineup of speakers for the SND Charlotte workshop on April 19-21 in Charlotte, N.C.
Kaur is the Head of Product at theSkimm, a company that makes it easier to be smarter by delivering news and information into routines. Their email newsletter, the Daily Skimm, is a daily read for millions of female millennials, and they recently launched an app that integrates into your calendar.
SND.org’s Greicy Mella chatted with Kaur about the contrast between ESPN and theSkimm, how Kaur overcame imposter syndrome and what to look for when making a hire.
YOU STARTED YOUR CAREER AT ESPN, WHICH IS A MALE-DOMINATED WORK ENVIRONMENT AND A MALE-DOMINATED AUDIENCE. BUT NOW YOU’RE RUNNING PRODUCT AT THESKIMM, WHICH I’D IMAGINE IS A MORE FEMALE-DOMINATED WORK ENVIRONMENT AND A FEMALE-DOMINATED AUDIENCE. CAN YOU SPEAK A LITTLE TO THOSE CONTRASTING EXPERIENCES AND WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED AS A RESULT? Working at ESPN was an incredible experience where I learned how to build products at massive scale — every line of code you write, every new feature you launch is seen by sports fans around the world. I also learned a lot about how to balance the scale and inevitable inertia of a big company with the desire to move quickly, iterate and try new things. At theSkimm, we consider ourselves an “audience company,” which means we focus first and foremost on our users — aka Skimm’rs — and the best way to deliver news and information in ways that fit into their routines. It’s a totally different approach to building products and thinking about your users. I’ve also helped the company grow from 12 to more than 35 employees.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO MAKE THE LEAP FROM A WORLDWIDE BRAND TO A STARTUP? I loved my time at ESPN and felt like I had learned so much about product development, building teams and content. When it was time for my next move, I wanted to take that and apply it in a new, unique environment. The opportunity to join theSkimm was everything I was looking for — a small, nimble team that was excited to try new things and grow, and a company that had a powerful, loyal user base that loved the brand. At the time there was only one product — the Daily Skimm — and the idea of building new products from the ground up with no blueprint was exactly the challenge I was looking for.
YOUR MEDIUM ARTICLE, “FINDING MY INNER ROCKSTAR,” TALKS ABOUT OVERCOMING IMPOSTER SYNDROME. HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THE NOTION THAT YOU COULD NEVER BE A ROCKSTAR? AND, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS WHO STRUGGLE WITH IMPOSTER SYNDROME? Writing that article was eye-opening. It took me so long to realize the source of my insecurity, and even longer to overcome it. I was lucky to have supportive managers throughout my career at ESPN, and I owe a lot of my success to them. They cheered me on every step of the way, promoting and rewarding me for what I brought to the table. It took them constantly telling me, “You are awesome, you are a rockstar, you will succeed,” to finally feel confident in who I was. I know how lucky I was to have that, and many people don’t walk into that kind of support system.
It’s so important to cultivate your own support, both for yourself and your career, whether it’s finding one or two mentors who will always be a listening ear, or cultivating relationships at work with people who will speak for you when you’re not in the room. I would also encourage people to be their own cheerleader.
There’s no simple answer for overcoming that feeling of not belonging, and unfortunately the odds are pretty stacked against minorities. Finding just one role model, mentor, or advocate can have a huge impact.
LAST SUMMER, YOU GAVE A TALK AT MATTER WHERE YOU SHARED THAT WORKING AT GRANTLAND TAUGHT YOU VALUABLE LESSONS ABOUT EMPOWERING OTHERS. HOW DO THOSE LESSONS INFLUENCE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE NOW? The most important thing you can do as a leader and manager is empower people and help unleash their full potential. Working on Grantland was a great window into how Bill Simmons found talented people and gave them a path and the tools to do their thing. Too often we see the same types of people getting promoted and put in positions of power — there’s so much untapped potential in unlocking the uniqueness of what someone brings to the table and encouraging them to be the best version of themselves.
WHAT’S THE KEY TO BUILDING A TEAM THAT WINS AND WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU’RE MAKING A HIRE? I’ve learned so much about building company culture from theSkimm’s founders, Carly and Danielle, and I think we have something truly special here. We talk a lot about “drinking the Kool-Aid,” and it’s so important to us that every single Skimm employee knows the company mission and values. It’s important that we regularly pause and do a company-wide “Skimm’cademy” focused on reiterating all of that and more. It’s something that we’ve double downed on since growing the team, and every employee has a fundamental understanding of how his or her role contributes to our mission and goals. It’s easy to lose this as we grow, and I think a key part of our success has been building and maintaining such a passionate, driven team. We look for a lot of things when hiring — smart, get-shit-done mentality, creative, passionate.
About SND Charlotte
• Don’t miss your chance to UNITE & REBEL, register today: Register
• Book your hotel room (before they run out!): Use the SND discount link
• Check out the lineup of speakers we’ve announced for the workshop. What a team!
• Don’t miss the Think Before You Make pre-conference day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center