"Great nations start stoic and die epicurean." Curiosity + Constraints, the Skift formula in the last five years.
29,334 stories, 88 research reports, 64 podcasts, four conferences, five redesigns, seven newsletters, 350,000 newsletter subscribers, 783,000 social followers, 151 sponsors, five offices, four annual retreats, four marriages, five Skift babies and 41 employees later, Skift is five years old today.
1825 days later, we’re here.
Of all the achievements anyone can ever ask of a company from its infancy, your staying power — your mere survival — is the toughest of them. Let no one else tell you otherwise. Make it a media startup, and you’ve created the biggest odds against yourself right from the start.
Skift’s story as a company has been documented well enough, most of all by me in various essays I have written (this being the most quoted of them) and my countless tedious Tweets and Facebook updates. But the biggest reason for our success, five years later, is the undocumented and unsung part of it: We were all in, we showed up every day, with every ounce of energy we had and kept producing, over and over again. We kept building it, on our own, our own way.
The Skift launch post on July 30, 2012 started this way: “This, then, is where it starts. Every startup is a journey of thousands of serpentine miles, and Skift’s officially starts today.” The Skift Take on that story defined everything we have done since: “Skift it, we’re doing it!” And we kept on doing it. That’s all really there is to it.
Media is the simplest of businesses: find a topic you really care for, report the shit out of it, and find multiple ways to ask for money. This is the only way I know how to build a media company, and that’s what we have done in the last five years.
For my co-founder Jason Clampet and I, the right lessons of the last five years are important to understand, to help frame the next five years of growth for all of us. The lessons we have learned in these 1,825 eventful days, call them media lessons or business lessons or just life lessons, these are the lessons we have lived.
The 5 Cs of the Skift Journey
- Curiosity, driven by naïveté, will take you far. Curiosity is the precursor to creativity. The great part about travel is it is global and enmeshed in every sector of the world. If you’re curious about the world, you’re curious about travel’s place in it. We came in as the naive outsiders to the travel industry, with little knowledge about how we were supposed to cover the world’s largest sector when we started. Curiosity about the promise of travel and its effect on the world, that’s what we were trying to figure out since day one. We kept asking questions, naive or otherwise, and that has kept leading us down new paths.
- Constraints are what keeps us on the path. Being a small company has meant always being short on resources. Less is better, less is deep, less is slow and deliberate, less is human, and humane. In many ways that has defined the ethos at Skift, and has kept the primacy of action over intent. Constraints — having less — has also means less panic about every new thing every other media company is chasing. We know what we’re good at and what we aren’t.
- Competitors are worth ignoring completely. Assume all competition is crappy. Then ignore them. This may not work in other sectors, but it works very well in media. What got us here? The stellar quality of our editorial, nothing more, nothing less, either. In our case, it so happened that the competition’s editorial was jaded at best, in the terrible to average spectrum. And they had been such bad businesses that there was no point benchmarking our performance against any of them, and we surpassed most of them early on anyway. Our successes or failures have in no way been affected by anything competitors did or didn’t do.
- Camaraderie among team. We hire decent friendly high-energy people — not rockstars, not huge egos — and give them meaning in their work. They see the tangible effects of their work on the industry we’re covering and that creates a feedback loop for them to create better and better work. We spend tons of time with each other, celebrate each other’s milestones big and small, and we do a lot of things together. We don’t create competition amongst our own people, not even in the sales team; we believe that grates away at the relationships. We are really, sincerely focused on diversity AND inclusion of our team, in all possible facets, and know that we are better off for it. We are really, sincerely interested in making the professional and personal lives of our people better, we believe that is really the reason why people stay with us long term. Only one person has willingly left Skift to join another job in the last 2.5 years, and that is in large part because we like each other, like being around each other.
- Consistency of effort. Show up and produce, every day, day in, day out. Consistency, in right amounts every day matters a lot more than being consumed by work and work alone. The quality of our work is the end result of this consistency mixed with patience. That’s is the not-so-secret of our fecundity.
There is this extract from one of my favorite business books, “Small Giants” by Bo Burlingham, that perfectly explains what makes Skift “Skifty”, so to speak. It is a remarkably clear description of what a company mojo is, and in so many ways describes what we have created in these past 1,825 days:
“The answer, I believe, has more to do with the people than with the businesses. To me, the owners and leaders of these companies stand out for being remarkably in touch with, and focused on, what most of us would probably agree are the good things in life. By that, I mean that they are very clear in their own minds about what life has to offer at its best—in terms of exciting challenges, camaraderie, compassion, hope, intimacy, community, a sense of purpose, feelings of accomplishment, and so on—and they have organized their businesses so that they and the people they work with can get it. When outsiders come in contact with such a business, they can’t help but feel the attraction. The company is cool because what’s going on inside it is good, it’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s something you want to be associated with. From that perspective, mojo is more or less the business equivalent of charisma. Leaders with charisma have a quality that makes people want to follow them. Companies with mojo have a quality that makes people want to be part of them.”
At five years old, we are secure in our own mojo but never satisfied. Contentment, a word which should never be spoken, only spat, said a wise man in “Paris Trance.” Our goal is to continue to surprise and delight our subscribers, sponsors and the industry every day.
Thanks everyone — past and present Skift team and their families, Skift readers, Skift sponsor partners, and general well-wishers — for being part of our journey. We’re looking forward to the next 1,825 days, every day.
The Skift launch and anniversary posts over the years, in case you’re interested in reliving our progress:
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