Day 1: A visit from Skillcrush CEO Adda Birnir

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Another stimulating and information-packed session during the first day of classes today. Probably the most useful portion for me was a visit from one of last year’s fellows, Adda Birnir, CEO and founder of Skillcrush, which is a tech site for beginners. A few general points that I found useful:

  • Your investor is investing in you (because the idea will change over time), and vice versa — pick investors whose business models you believe in.
  • It’s tempting to want to try and skip ahead, but things happen naturally when they do, and you have to trust the process.

Hearing her perspective also resonated with me because of the similarities between Skillcrush and my current concept. So it would probably be helpful at this point to explain a little bit about what I’d like to do. The idea is to develop a sports website for the casual sports fan: the person trying to keep up with office water cooler talk; a foreigner trying to learn more about American sports; and yes, a girl trying to impress a guy. (Fun fact: 111 million people watched the Super Bowl last year, but the average viewership for a regular season NFL game was only 17.5 million.)

At a broad level, it’s similar to what Skillcrush is trying to do — boil down what can be a complex subject to “beginners” in layman’s terms. And also provide a service that serves a predominantly female audience. Adda says they don’t explicitly single out women in the marketing and distribution process, but the tone of the newsletter and website design have a distinctively feminine feel. It seems like having a particular demographic in mind is helpful to maintain a focus, but not marketing it as “tech for women” keeps things broad enough and doesn’t shut men out. I think theSkimm does a good job of this also.

It was also somewhat reassuring to hear that even after considerable success — Adda was profiled in Columbia Journalism Review’s 20 women to watch — she’s still not sure about the viability of Skillcrush as a business model. So it takes a lot of time, and that’s ok… and regardless of what happens, you can still have fun, learn a lot and provide a pretty useful service in the process!

A few other encouraging points from the discussion Jeremy led in the morning that I appreciated:

  • One of the objectives of the program is to “inject new energy into the journalism world” and catalyze innovation (in addition to actually “making stuff”).
  • “If you can’t be first, create a new category,” the idea being to try to find a way to add value/stand out in some way. The example given was that if you can’t be Charles Lindbergh, be Amelia Earhart.
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