Q&A: Dheerja Kaur, Head of Product at theSkimm

The Idea talked to Dheerja Kaur, theSkimm’s Head of Product, shortly after the new year to discuss how theSkimm approaches new product development. We’re resurfacing this Q&A in light of theSkimm’s latest funding round led by Google Ventures, from which it raised $12 million that will be used in part to fund new subscription products.

The Idea: Can you give me a brief overview of your role as Head of Product at theSkimm?
Dheerja Kaur: As Head of Product, I think of my role in two parts: product strategy and product leadership. On the strategic side, I work with our founders to evolve our product vision, come up with new ideas to test, and always think ahead to where we want Skimm products to be in 6 months, 2 years, even 5 years. As a startup, we’re iterating and trying new ideas pretty much daily, so it’s important to find the right balance between having a vision and roadmap, and allowing for changes in direction as we uncover learnings. On the leadership side, I’m working with the entire company — product, design, engineering, editorial, growth, cash money (yes, that’s a team) — to enable them to ship products and ensure all teams are working together towards our goals.

What is a cool project you’ve been working on recently? Anything you’ve learned so far or hope to learn?
We’ve spent a lot of time evolving our app, which is also our premium subscription product. We recently launched a new audio offering called “Skimm Notes” that gives you 10 min deep dives into topics like Kim Jong Un or Net Neutrality. The development process was exciting — we did a ton of user research and testing, all the way from diary studies to live Beta testing, to figure out the best way to deliver context to our audience around these topics. It’s also our first audio offering, so creating the audio and building an in-app experience came with some great challenges and learnings.

Overall, it’s been an awesome experience to evolve the app — it was our first foray into mobile and subscription, and we’ve learned a lot. One of our biggest learnings has been how to apply the product “jobs to be done” thinking to media. Instead of just creating large swaths of content and products for the sake of it, we push our entire team to think about meeting a need. Everything you create — whether it’s a piece of content or a new product — should solve a user’s question or problem. This is especially true in a subscription model, when your entire goal is to generate user value.

theSkimm has launched so many new products in the past two years! What are you interested in doing or learning more about next?
We’re a very audience-focused company, which means we always think about the need we’re solving with a new product, and how it fits into a user’s daily routine. We’re really excited about building out audio offerings — most of our audience commutes, and Skimm Notes has already been a huge hit for Skimm’rs to multitask and learn in under 10 minutes. Voice and conversational UI is also such a natural fit with our audience, and it’s an exciting area to innovate.

What is the most interesting thing that you’ve seen recently from a media outlet other than your own?
I love what The Athletic’s trying to do. I spent a lot of my career in sports products at ESPN, and I’m a longtime member of the American Outlaws, a US soccer supporter group. I’ve always loved the idea of creating a membership product around your favorite sports teams and focusing on delivering the best in class for a specific team. It so obviously fills a need, and can totally reinvent the way we think about sports media products.

This Spotlight was originally published in the January 8th issue of The Idea. For more Q&As with inside intel like this, subscribe to The Idea, Atlantic Media’s weekly newsletter covering the latest trends and innovations in media.