Interview with Kathryn Minshew, Co-Founder and CEO of the The Daily Muse! – a Y Combinator company

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The second founder that we are interviewing this week, in our series of interviews exclusively with female founders, is Kathryn Minshew, Co-Founder and CEO of the The Daily Muse and their corresponding job search product, Company Muse

This interview is JUST ONE of the 150 interviews conducted for Accelerate - the 1st comprehensive guide on startup accelerators. If you’d like to gain startup insight from hundreds of founders, join an accelerator program, or simply learn the “must knows” about accelerator programs, pick up the ultimate guide here. You can also download a pre-view here!

Kathryn graduated magna cum laude from Duke University as a Angier B Duke Scholar. In 2010, Kathryn worked on vaccine introduction in Rwanda and Malawi with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and previously worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. She’s appeared on CNN, USA Today, Fast Company, PBS, Forbes’ 30-Under-30 in Media and INC’s 15 Women to Watch in Tech.

Kathryn Minshew, Alexandra Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery, Co-Founded The Daily Muse in 2011. The site offers in-depth multimedia profiles of a variety of companies who are hiring, combined with career content and professional development. They are also a member of the Winter 2012 Y Combinator class.

Amongst the numerous questions that we asked Kathryn, we asked “You guys have managed to generate a tremendous amount of exposure. What advice would you give to other startups looking to really get their product out there and spoken about?” Her response to this question is beyond textbook! Arguably some of the best advice that we have posted on the site to date.

Tell us what The Daily Muse is all about?

The Daily Muse is a career discovery and job search platform serving hundreds of thousands of women and men worldwide. We pair profiles of great companies (i.e. Intel, Pinterest) with career content on professional issues from negotiating a raise to managing a team.

How did you come up with the idea for The Daily Muse?

I was dissatisfied in my own career and frustrated with a lack of resources available to help people like me decide, “What did I want to do with my life?” I wanted advice on how to negotiate a salary and manage a team for the first time. I was curious to learn what a career in fashion, law or technology startups might be like. And frankly, I had no clue. My cofounders Alex Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery and I realized that there was a tremendous unmet need, and we were crazy enough to think we could solve it.

What were some of the challenges that you faced starting a company?

There were too many to count! Anyone who tells you a startup story that isn’t fraught with “WIFO” moments (We’re-Screwed-It’s-Over) isn’t telling the truth; there are always a ton of challenges. We faced (in no particular order): Being so broke I could barely sleep at night; Having extremely well-funded competition; Hearing 98 of the first 100 investors we pitched tell me our idea was bad. Sometimes, you have to get out of the startup bubble. Reading TechCrunch or going to tech events, you feel like everyone’s getting funded by Andreessen and all other companies are “going GREAT!” Guess what – in this industry, people will tell you that right up until they have to shut down because they have no customers. Ignore the hype machine. Everyone has challenges – everyone. You just have to focus on beating yours.

You guys have managed to generate a tremendous amount of exposure. What advice would you give to other startups looking to really get their product out there and spoken about?

We’ve been really lucky in a lot of ways. First, we create our own buzz wherever possible. I write a column on INC, and Daily Muse content regularly appears on Forbes, Yahoo!, and Business Insider. I worked on each of those partnerships for months, and often I was turned down at least once (record: 4 times) before making it happen. I respect people who tell me “no”, but that just means I need to wait a few months, understand why what I was asking wasn’t worth saying yes to (or who might be the right person to say yes), and trying again. I’m very determined :)

In terms of getting covered by others, we work hard to contribute to the tech community in positive ways, beyond just seeking exposure. I founded & ran a previous company with my cofounders before The Daily Muse, and though we never got an ounce of exposure, it was a great learning experience for (among other things) how to pitch and present your company. Finding a macro trend and demonstrating how something your company does ties into that trend? Really helpful to reporters. Connecting them with people who can aid on their current stories, even if it has nothing to do with you or your company? Also really helpful. Be helpful :)

You recently took part in the Y Combinator accelerator program, what difference do you feel being part of an accelerator made to your company?

Y Combinator was a great experience for us. Getting the chance to spend three months surrounded by ~140 other brilliant entrepreneurs – that’s an experience I would love to have again. I think a lot of us are going to be friends for life :)

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into an accelerator program?

Oh boy. Well, one thing is – be persistant. I applied to accelerators 11 times with my previous company, and was rejected every time. When Alex, Melissa and I started The Daily Muse, we’d given up on the idea. But Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio and one of our advisors, encouraged me to put our hat in the ring for Y Combinator, and low and behold, they gave us an interview! I was ruthlessly honest in our YC application: we were scrappy as hell, we had fanatically loyal users, and we were going to build this into a big fucking business regardless of whether they funded us or not. Luckily (for us both), they did.

What advice would you like to give to an entrepreneur thinking about writing their first business plan?

One great way to start is to pitch your idea to five people with some relation to your potential business – future ideal customer, potential investor, someday partner – and ask for candid feedback. What are their questions? Common areas of skepticism? The sooner you can nail down your fundamentals and anticipate outside questions the better. If you have a fuzzy understanding of how you might make money, do research. Exactly how much do individuals or companies spend per year in your specific space? How much of that can you expect to capture? What assumptions would someone have to make about your business to get to $10M in revenue? 100M? Call me old-school, but I like businesses that actually make money :) Also, getting paid by your customers is really fun!

A massive thank you to Kathryn for taking the time out of her busy schedule to put down some awesome answers to our questions. Don’t forget to check out Kathryn on twitter!

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