Back from Acceleration

Digital Magazine #3

Contributors:  John Schengber, TJ Rinoski

A year ago this month, our readers raised 10,000 dollars on Kickstarter to help us print and distribute Issue Two of Skinny Dipper Magazine. By most accounts they did not waste their money. The stories we produced were more complex and deeply felt than Issue One, and our readers responded enthusiastically. 


They packed out launch parties and community events designed to bring the magazine to life and connect its disparate readers. Meanwhile, our stack of copies gradually grew smaller, from 750 to 10. And we rode the wave. 


But despite what would seem like a successful publication, Skinny Dipper was still operating mostly as an art project behind the scenes. We were set on being an annual publication with no ads, grounded in the deeply held vision and lifestyle of its creators. And it was showing in dwindling our bank accounts.

That’s why our ears perked up when we came across a program called Lighthouse Labs that provides grant funding plus a 10-week crash course in entrepreneurship and venture capital. We knew that we needed help. We knew we needed to be smarter and less self-indulgent. We knew that the best artists are either sponsored by the Medicis or have driven their art like a business. But we had no idea how much we didn’t know. 


Turns out that Lighthouse is actually a top notch “accelerator”, which means it fast-forwards companies to a stage that would normally take them 1-2 years to reach. The accelerator process particularly emphasizes building scalable business models that require or attract venture capital investment. Unique creative talent, or the practice of law, as examples, are not scalable businesses. An app or piece of hardware is scalable. Print magazines are theoretically scalable, but few investors take interest in a declining form of media. Despite these marks against us, we were accepted, and soon enough we strapped into in an energy-intensive roller coaster that would last all summer. 


What happened as a result is something we’ll be eternally grateful for. LEARNING SO MUCH LEARNING. We underwent a massive mindset shift that enabled us to think about Skinny Dipper from a business perspective, as opposed to an art perspective. 


Whereas our previous art mindset consisted of asking:

1) What do you feel or believe?

2) What do you want to say? 

3) How do you want to say it?


The business mindset asks: 

1) What problem are you solving? 

2) For what market? 

3) Via which channels or business model?


Now, mind you, we haven’t answered every question fully, designed the perfect business model, or even validated our assumptions with successful revenue streams. But we do think we’ve got the basics down, finally. 


We translated our findings into a “pitch” that we delivered at the conclusion of the Lighthouse experience, in front of a crowd of investors, government leaders, and folks interested in Virginia’s entrepreneurial community. People in the crowd recorded our pitch with their phones and have allowed us to put together the recap video you’ll find above. We hope it paints a picture of our mission and vision going forward, while hinting at a business model. And though we can’t reveal every detail of what’s next, our readers deserve to know that something’s coming.


We’re more determined than ever to keep going. We didn’t lose our souls by thinking about Skinny Dipper as a business as we had quietly feared. No, in fact, our souls are now backed up by a much stronger brain and some fast-walking feet that are pushing us forward. Our readers have taken us this far, and we intend to return the favor. 


In the meantime, here is a revamped "The World Needs Us Naked." long-sleeve t-shirt. The world needs more skinny dippers. We hope you’ll dive in.

Our incredible experience at Lighthouse Labs is entirely owed to these people below. Thank you so much, Todd, Dan, Laura, and Somiah. You all are amazing and beautiful humans. We love you. 
Below are scrap photos and scans from a few of many
learning, ideating, and brain dumping sessions.
Skinny Dipper Magazine 
exists to catalyze self-discovery and human connection through storytelling.

Be bold and act like we’re invited, so that when they open those velvet barriers we walk right in with a nod. Lose sleep over the music we have forgotten, and leave if there is neither beauty nor sadness. Ask questions over dinner that require pencil and paper to answer. Print. Less screens and thicker calluses. Practice our dance while doing the dishes, and stay out there late. Unbutton around corners and fall off the bike, but stay on the ground and admire the mark we made on the street. Full burritos and well-worn maps. Wonder who designs salad dressing labels because we have some ideas. Load our words into a new canon, curse traffic, and show up unannounced because we know our friends. Get a double and see it twice. Fetishisize the past and be aliens together. Find a new way home. Kick ourselves for missing, clap for caring. Go wild with our look because we aren’t there yet. Speak with the flight attendants and hope that the runway below is full so that we can circle above the clouds at golden hour. Remember Ivan Ilyich and the favorite books of our friends. Tug hard on the tension between absolute narcissism and crippling self-doubt and find your dream in the middle. Push through and search abroad to see if this is there too. Go simple, go solo, go now. The world or nothing. Because if just one piece of this works, then this is forever.