Scott Dikkers, founder of The Onion, recounted the beginnings, challenges, and successes of the college humor magazine during the closing keynote at the 2022 CUNA Lending Council Conference Saturday in San Diego.
Throughout his story, he offered three tips for people to keep in mind as they pursue their own goals:
1. Find a mission. Dikkers says he realized his mission was comedy and laughter after he discovered Mad Magazine as a child. His home life was serious, the goal was to work hard, and there was no laughter. Instead, it was believed that joy was for the next life.
“It’s important that we all find our mission, that thing we all live for,” Dikkers says. “For me it was comedy.”
He became the class clown—even crawling the five blocks to school one day instead of walking—and eventually moved to Madison, Wis., where he published his first comic strip in a student newspaper on the University of Wisconsin campus. It was there that he joined forces with two other men and launched The Onion.
2. Seize the opportunities. Dikkers recounted how The Onion found itself the subject of lawsuits based on the satirical fake headlines and articles that appeared in the newspaper. But he says staff never got discouraged and continued to seek ways to improve the publication—including building the reader base through video, digital, and the internet.
These opportunities allowed The Onion to weather the storm in 2008 when print media took a drastic hit because by that point, 80% of the publication’s revenue was coming from digital, which allowed the paper to survive.
“Once you find your mission, you have to persevere within that lane,” he says. “If you persevere, you’ll expose yourself to opportunities and the more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll find opportunities.”
3. Remember to laugh. Regardless of the challenges, opportunities, or wins that you experience, Dikkers says it’s important to remember to take time to laugh and have fun.
“You need to have a sense of humor,” he says. “You need to be able to laugh at yourself.”