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Kathryn Minshew: Helping Women Find Their Muse

Posted: 07/18/2013 4:32 pm

Just two years ago Kathryn Minshew set out on a path to help young women find their true passions and career aspirations. Together with two of her friends, she launched The Daily Muse, an online career advice platform.

Today the website averages an impressive one million visitors per month, and Minshew, 27, along with her co-founders, are expanding to bigger horizons. They recently launched The Muse, which goes behind the scenes of all types of organizations -- from startups to nonprofits to big corporations like AOL and Gucci -- giving viewers a glimpse of working life and posting available jobs.

The new website is already getting heavy traffic, Minshew says, and the audience has grown to include women from all age groups and even some men.

The Story Exchange wanted to know how Minshew and her two co-founders became successful so young and raised over one million dollars in funding. Her biggest weapons have been networking and cross-promotion. Without hardly any technical knowledge, Minshew forced herself into the tech scene in San Francisco and then, New York by going to as many events as possible. And she never misses an opportunity to spread the word about her business. She even admitted that Gmail blacklisted her as a spammer when she tried to send 1,000 emails in a day to alert all her contacts of the launch of The Muse.

We caught up with her during one of The Muse's events, aptly named The Ultimate Career Makeover, where they offered resume, career and financial advice, wardrobe and accessories suggestions for your dream job, and makeup makeovers for the workplace.

Watch what Minshew wore at her event.

Minshew gave us a few tips on how to get to the career of your dreams and why she moved her startup to New York.

Nusha Balyan (NB): You left a lucrative corporate position to start your dream job. What would you say to women who want to take the leap and start their own business?

Kathryn Minshew (KM): First, think about the risk that you're okay with and how you can hedge that risk. When I started my first company I still had a 40-hour a week job. I was working on my company on nights and weekends before I took the plunge and gave up a salary. That was really helpful because it let me fall in love with [my business] in a way that I knew that it was right.

Before I left my job, I had saved up about $25,000 - I just didn't spend a whole lot of money at all in my previous job, because I knew I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. I looked at my savings account and I decided I can make this work for 12 months, living in New York City and I'm going to leave my job and not worry about whether I made the right decision. I'm going to give everything to this company and at six months I'm going to take a step back and be really realistic with myself. Is this working? Do I need to take another job? Do I need to go back?

I think it does help to think about what's the worst case. I decided that the worst case is that after six months, spending half my savings, the startup didn't work out. I'd rather have that and know, than not take the leap and never know.

Watch to find out how Minshew discovered her own passion and what she has to say to those still searching.

NB: You also had your own business failure as part of the process. Why is failure so important for being a successful entrepreneur?

KM: My first company failed completely. And it failed at about ten months old. I had about 12 months of savings, so when it failed I was thinking: 'Do I go back to work?' And at that point I believed so deeply in what I was doing that I couldn't imagine anything else other than trying to make this business work. But I don't think we could ever have done what we did with The Muse if we hadn't failed and failed in such a spectacular way, because it did teach us so many lessons. The three of us, who are co-founders of The Muse, also worked together on the first business, so going through the failure together just made us so much stronger and so much closer together.

NB: You started your tech company in San Francisco, the Mecca of tech startups. Why did you decide to move the business to New York City?

KM: San Francisco and New York are very, very different when it comes to startups. They both have advantages. I think that the New York startup scene tends to be a little bit more made up of people who were in other careers, so a lot of the other founders that I know came from finance, or fashion, or consulting, or the nonprofit world and they came up against a problem that frustrated them so much that they had to leave their job and start a company to solve it.

A lot of my friends in San Francisco have been driven by the idea of founding a company, moving to San Francisco, and getting in the technology space since they were kids. So sometimes there's a little bit more of looking for an idea to start a company, versus in New York, it has been a little bit more of finding an idea that you're in love with and then the result is that you are going to make a company out of it.

New York is definitely more focused on revenue. We were told much more frequently in San Francisco: "Don't worry about making money. Just raise funding and you'll figure that out later." Whereas, New York investors were much more likely to say: "Alright, what's your cash flow situation, how much money do you have coming in?" I think that's been really healthy for us. I think most businesses need to make money early to survive.

Also, I think New York has a much higher population of female founders and therefore there's more of an expectation among some of the guys in the space that a woman can be successful. I've found that being a female CEO in New York, there are more role models to look up to, and just over all it definitely feels to me like that there's space to grow into and that there's more of an archetype of a powerful professional woman that I can live up to.

NB: You're also the queen of networking and that's a big part of what helped The Muse grow so quickly. How do you manage all these events while running a startup?

KM: For almost the first year of The Muse's life, I would do 5 to 8 networking events a week. And I don't necessary think that's the right path for everyone, but I realized that as an entrepreneur, one of my strengths was finding the right people who could help us. I didn't come into startups with any network. I mean I literally knew basically nobody in tech, and so I had to build it from the ground up.

My strategy was to force myself to go to events where I didn't know anyone. I would try and make friends with five people. I would follow up with those people over email and then I would see them at other events. The first time you meet someone, they're a new acquaintance, the second time you have a bit of an understanding, and the third time you meet them, you're old hats.

NB: How should new entrepreneurs take advantage of the startup community and what questions should they be asking?

KM: I've found that one of the great things about the startup community is that it's really open, there're a lot of people who are willing to give you advice. When we were going to raise our seed round, I tried to sit down with probably 25 or more founders who had raised seed rounds and I asked them what worked, what didn't, what I should do, what I have no idea is going to be a problem. And I became aware of things I never ever would have thought of. Sometimes you'll hear: "this is the way that this is done," but I've gotten used to asking people, especially in confidence, "is that the only way it's done?" And five people might say yes, the sixth person will say: "well actually, I did it a different way and let me tell you how." And [as a result] we've done a lot of things unconventionally, but ended up having a lot of benefits down the road and now I'm able to talk about them with other people.

 
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