Kathryn Minshew is the founder and CEO of The Muse, a career development website that caters primarily toward professional women. Minshew will be speaking at ad:tech for the L'Oreal and Beautiful Marketing Innovation keynote presentation Nov. 7 at 11.45 a.m. Here are some excerpts from an interview conducted with Minshew, who has been listed as one of “15 Women to Watch in Tech” by Inc. Magazine:
First of all, could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and then about your companies, The Daily Muse and The Muse?
Sure! I'm 27 years old, was an international relations major in college, and have spent a lot of time being fascinated by the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” I wasn't sure and I felt like I should be. I experimented with the UN, with management consulting, with global health, but I ran into a lot of rough patches along the way and had a lot of career and life questions that weren't answered.
I wanted a resource that spoke to smart, driven professional women like myself. It also drove me crazy how much most companies seemed alike online, and I began thinking there might be a lot of value in creating a job board that is more visually-oriented than text-based. When I describe The Muse, I say we're a career development platform that has helped nearly 2 million people answer the question, “What do I want to do with my life?" But in simple terms, we're a place for people to explore jobs, get inside interesting companies through photo and video and dive into all sorts of career questions from negotiating a raise to dealing with an office bully.
How did these companies come about, and what are your aims and ideals for the same? I'm also interested about The Muse being a woman-only founding team--could you tell me the challenges you faced, and any hurdles you had to overcome? Was gender ever an issue for you when starting up?
I launched The Muse and our flagship publication The Daily Muse in September 2011 with two cofounders, Alex Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery. We'd worked together at McKinsey on a pro bono project for Sesame Street and spent a lot of off-work hours talking about our lives and careers, particularly issues that women face in the workplace. Eventually we realized there could be a very interesting business in combining a new take on job search with great career content. We focused on awesome, smart professional women, but we have a surprising number of male users as well.
The company wasn't without its false starts, though. My cofounders and I initially collaborated on another company from late 2010 to mid-2011 that didn't work out, and we had to pick up the pieces and start over again with The Muse. It was a really painful experience, but I don't think we could be doing as well as we are today without going through those big setbacks first.
And to the second half of your question, yes, a women-only founding team is still treated as being really rare. The reactions we get are interesting. We bring a very unique perspective because of our gender and our status as a minority, but it hasn't been without challenges. Investors sometimes assume by looking at me that I am dissuaded easily, or weak, or only in this to build a small nice cute lifestyle business.
When I go to events, people ask me who I'm there with, as in whose girlfriend I am. I've been told outright, more than once, that adding a man to our founding team would "give [you] more credibility." Comments like that just add fuel to my fire. I am the most determined person you will ever meet and every time someone says "but you're so smart for a girl" or something else ridiculous, I get that much more focused.
What would be your best advice for people who want to be entrepreneurs like yourself?
Be determined—be so, so determined. I can't emphasize this enough. People will constantly tell you no, and you have to dig deep to find that core belief in yourself and your product that keeps you going. Because it's a lot harder than it looks in the press. Especially if you're inside the tech scene echo chamber, it can seem like everyone is launching on TechCrunch and raising $10M. But there's a lot of struggle and soul-searching and misfires in this industry, and you have to accept that everyone else—despite what they might say publicly—is facing challenges and doubts too. That's one reason I feel so lucky to have cofounders, because usually only one of you is in the pit of despair at a time.
As far as advice goes—not to be too meta, but do get lots of advice; don't take it all. Lots of people are full of shit, so sometimes you just need to go with your gut. But it can be helpful to know the rules or best practices before you to break them, so I always have 4-6 people I speak with before I make nearly any big decision.
Could you tell me what you will be talking about at the L'Oreal and Beautiful Marketing Innovation keynote, and why should ad:tech visitors come to your presentation?
I'm fascinated by the topic of this panel—opportunities and challenges for brands and startups—and I'm expecting to have a very candid, practical discussion about the dos and don'ts of small companies partnering with large brands. At The Muse and The Daily Muse (our publication) we've benefited immensely from close relationships with brands like L'Oreal, but it's been a learning process. How do you approach these brands? What's the best way to get a foot in the door? Once you've got their attention, what can you expect? We've put together a tremendous number of big brand partnerships, from content syndication with places like Forbes (see one of our most successful examples here) to hiring partnerships with brands like Dell, Sephora and Foursquare (here, here and here) to some exciting marketing partnerships currently in the works. I'm going to be pretty honest about some of our misfires along the way as well.
I attended an ad:tech panel last year, but this will be my first time speaking. I have tremendous respect for the event and was thrilled to be asked. I'm looking forward to meeting as many interesting people as possible—and from what I've heard, ad:tech will be a great place for that!
Check out Kathryn Minshew’s site, The Daily Muse, by clicking here.
This article is part of Allvoices’ series on ad:tech, the largest digital marketing and technology conferences and expositions. Check out allvoices.com/adtech for more of Allvoices’ ad:tech New York event coverage. This series is supported by ad:tech.