Kathryn Minshew – Co-Founder & CEO of The Muse

Episode 227

Listen as Kathryn Minshew, Co-Founder and CEO of The Muse, shares her lessons in building her company that has helped more than 75 million people find incredible jobs, companies and careers! This episode is packed with tons of lessons and loads of wisdom on #TheKaraGoldinShow

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be. I want to just make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control.

Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show, though, join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so excited to have my friend and beautiful, beautiful, leader, person, CEO, wonderful, wonderful lady, Catherine Minshew. She is the co founder and CEO of the Muse, which is this amazing, amazing career platform that is now used by I think it’s well over 75 million people now. incredible place to find jobs, amazing companies and careers. And the Muse has pioneered the concept of value based job search, and was recently named one of Fast Company’s 50 most innovative companies in the world. Congratulations. That’s amazing. Catherine also hosts the Muses podcast, which is called The New Rules of work. And she has an A great book, which I actually loaned to somebody, I realized I tried to grab it this morning, and I know exactly who borrowed it from me and they never return. It’s such a great book, The New Rules of work, which is really great. I want to talk a little bit more about that. Because since then we’ve had COVID. And I’m sure you have another book in you as well, right, like, along the way, because there’s so many new things that have have learned too. But anyway, we’re gonna get going and chat more with Catherine about just all the wisdom from her journey that she’s learned. So tell me a little bit about the start of your path. Did you always know you want to be an entrepreneur?

Kathryn Minshew 2:22
No, I definitely did not. In fairness, I didn’t know very many entrepreneurs or have a good sense early on of what that path was like. I grew up. Well, my family moved to the Washington DC area when I was about 12. And so I decided very early on around then that I was going to be a secret agent or an ambassador. I was in love with that television show alias with Sydney Bristow was, you know, Jennifer Garner played this like double agent, and she spoke different languages. And she, you know, was so badass. And I thought like, yeah, that’s gonna be me. And and so I majored in political science, I learned different languages. I took internships and traveled all over the world. And luckily, in 2007, I ended up working at the US Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus, and I realized, like, Oh, my goodness, that idea I had of this career does not match the reality. And I moved back to New York, I was recruited by McKinsey and Company to be a management consultant. But I was just fascinated by like, how do people pick their careers? And how do you know if a job is going to be a good fit for you? How do you understand what a company is like to work for before you actually go in there, and then people say, you know, you’re supposed to stay for two, three years, I was really, I was really frustrated by a lot of the existing job search tools, indeed, was big at the time. LinkedIn was useful if you had a really, you know, comfortable, well built network, but I didn’t have that yet. I was in my mid 20s. And so I started a blog on the side that was designed to help other women like me, in their 20s and early 30s, navigate their careers. And I started to realize I was not the only one having these problems. I was not the only one asking these questions, and that a lot of people think wanted something more from their career than just a paycheck. But there were not a lot of tools that let you actually figure that out. And so I started the muse on what you know, 10 years ago, which feels like both forever and yesterday. And the idea exactly, as you said, What’s to really help people find careers that align with their values, their preferences, their individual priorities, and to give people a lot of resources and advice to help them make better career decisions. So the last two years have been a really wild ride, frankly, the entire journey as you know, you know, building something from the ground up is never without its challenges, but it’s also been incredibly fulfilling. You know, all the all the triumphs and tribulations because that one, like

Kara Goldin 5:01
one journey could hold. That’s awesome. Did you know other people who were starting companies? I mean, it’s like, you know, it’s interesting. I obviously founding a company too. I think a lot about this. I mean, people are like, wait, I worked at McKinsey too, and I wasn’t going and starting a company. I mean, how did you get this ability to know that you could do it? Or what? Like, what were the first steps? Where Where did you come up with this courage to be able to do that?

Kathryn Minshew 5:33
You know, I think that my parents were always really incredible about encouraging me to try new things and take risks. And so I had a lot of, I guess, what you could call self starter energy, from a young age. I really loved the theater, in middle school and high school. And so when I was in the eighth grade, I decided I wanted to put on more plays. And, you know, the school only did I think, to a year. And so I thought, Well, who would enjoy watching plays put on by 13 year olds, and not have it be a pity audience, because I didn’t just want to sell tickets to friends and family. And I was like, you know, young children and senior citizens. And so I started a children’s theatre troupe. That was, you know, we never made any money. But we would go to local, the local library, children’s hospitals, eventually, the local senior citizens center and put on very simple plays. And, you know, it was it was hard, and it was stressful, but I loved just having an idea and then making it happen. And that was a great kind of petri dish, right? Because it was somewhat low stress, like four year olds are really forgiving as an audience. You know, individuals who are in an assisted living center, like sometimes they were just so happy that we were coming to put on these plays, that if something went wrong, or you know, wasn’t exactly perfect, it’s sort of it got me very comfortable with like, just being willing to take risks and to try, you know, to create something. And then fast forward a few years, you know, again, I didn’t really think of myself as someone who would be an entrepreneur. But when I was working at McKinsey, one of my closest friends, there was a guy named Mark Ramadan, who was starting to think about the idea for Sir Kensington’s, which is, you know, an incredible condiment company. And so, Alex, my co founder at the Muse, she and I, and Mark would hang out on Thursday nights after we’d come back from wherever, you know, client project we had worked on that week. And we would just, you know, catch up on our lives and talk about our futures. And it was really fascinating to me that, you know, Mark was creating this ketchup brand. And so seeing it up close, just, by the way, yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s a fantastic product. And it just started to make me realize, like, well, I guess maybe I could start a business as well. But, you know, the path was long. And initially, I did not even really want to be the CEO, I was afraid of the responsibility. I felt like I wasn’t up to the task. And it took a few months of actually being in the trenches and doing the work before I said, Well, actually, I love this. And I, I love you know, that that moment where it’s like, um, it’s stressful, too, but it’s like, it’s all on you. And, you know, and then and then recruiting people to the cause and building a great team. And, you know, figuring out how you can kind of get everybody moving towards the same goal to accomplish things that that no one would be able to do on their own. Like, I don’t know, it took me a while to find my groove, but, but I really loved it. It’s, frankly, it’s one of the reasons that I’m really passionate about opening up, you know, just the sort of real stories of entrepreneurship to other people. Because I think if you believe that entrepreneurs are these, like magical beings that just are, you know, struck by lightning, and they have this beautiful idea that springs fully formed out of their head, and everything’s perfect. And they never doubt themselves. Like, it’s very easy for other people to say, well, that’s not me. And again, I’ve had those moments, I spent a lot of time very early on being like, that’s not me, or I don’t think, you know, I don’t think I can do this. But, but at the same time, I think that, you know, I realized over time that specifically some of the ideas I had around career and around building a more inclusive workplace. If I wasn’t going to build them, you know who was

Kara Goldin 9:37
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Kathryn Minshew 11:59
So we got really lucky in that we worked together at McKinsey. But actually well, I was actually she and I were also unlucky. We first before we started the Muse together, she and I started a business previously that was kind of like a version one or a version zero even of the idea that led to the muse. And we started it with two other women. And unfortunately, after about 10 months of work, which, you know, now it’s easy for me to say like that probably seems short. But at the time, I had really only been working for a couple of years. So it was like a quarter of all of the times I’ve been in the workforce. And, you know, I threw myself into that first company, I you know, it’s like you feel like you empty your own life force into the company to keep it alive. And we had a really, really terrible and painful falling out. It was not awesome. I would say that I have learned since that it’s really important to make sure that you go into business with people where you share values. And you know, you share kind of a common ethical compass about how things should be handled and how people should behave. But we had this incredibly painful split, and that first business, you know, all of a sudden, like I I kind of was left with nothing. And I think Alex and I going through that together, it was awful. Because, you know, I lost every penny that I had saved up until my life at that point, pretty much I lost in the failure of that first company. But it really made us realize that, you know, we had gone through something really hard and painful together. And I think we saw something in each other that made us say like, Hey, you know, I trust you and I want to go on this journey with you. And so, essentially, like days after the demise of try number one, we started the muse.

Kara Goldin 13:59
You know, when we weren’t together? wasn’t in the first one. I just don’t know. She

Kathryn Minshew 14:03
was she was four of us. Yeah, so we split two into Daleks and I started the Muse and the other two went on to go do you know other things? And yeah, it was it was hard because it meant I started the muse in depth and with you know, no, like it was really not financially a great situation for starting a company. But on the flip side, I think I loved and believed in the idea so deeply. And it did really help Alex and I just cement our partnership in those early days.

Kara Goldin 14:32
That’s why so you had four co founders in the first one? Yes,

Kathryn Minshew 14:36
exactly. Wow. In the muse, it was Alex and I and then we had an incredible woman named Melissa McCreary, who had been a employee she was our one and only employee of the first company and she came on as the third co founder of the Muse. Although she was also in graduate school, getting a PhD and now she runs a lab doing cancer research. Totally, really close but um You know, haven’t worked to get like, I think she stepped back from day to day at the Muse in 2013. And then Alex stepped back last year. But I’m still really close with both of them, which is, I don’t know such a gift.

Kara Goldin 15:12
That’s amazing. So today, we’ve heard about the great resignation, obviously. And you’re probably seeing, so how does that affect you? How has that affected your business? I mean, what are you seeing people really want and, you know, a next role more than anything, obviously, so many roles have gone remote. You it’s not really about it used to be about posting what city you were based in. Now, it’s sort of like, you know, I don’t care where they live as long as they can actually do the jobs. But what are you seeing on on your end?

Kathryn Minshew 15:47
Yeah, I don’t think there’s a single company that has been unaffected by the great resignation. And it is fascinating to see how quickly some of these changes are taking place. A lot of them have their seeds pre pandemic, but COVID has been this great accelerator. So first of all, you know, as I think everyone knows, at this point, people are leaving jobs in record numbers. And our data shows that we are nowhere near done. In fact, in our most recent poll on the muse, 67% of people were thinking about changing jobs in the next 12 months, we’re also seeing candidates say that if they do start a new job, and it’s not as advertised, or as expected, that they don’t feel like they have to stay for a long time before moving on to the next, I think the pandemic created the sense that life is short and precious, and people should join companies and work at jobs that align with their values. And so, you know, it’s been really powerful for us at the Muse, because we’ve always had this values based approach to job search. And honestly, I think candidates have resonated with the Muses approach. Since the beginning, it’s been employers that have sometimes been harder to get on board. But now that candidates are even more likely to vote with their feet, a lot of employers are saying, you know, we have to step up our game. And so employers are coming to us and saying, you know, these are the benefits we’re offering. We now on the Muse allow job seekers to search for jobs based on benefits. So today, you can say I only want front end engineering positions with paid maternity leave, I only want to see Marketing Associate roles with tuition reimbursement. In about a month and a half, you’ll be able to search for additional things like fertility benefits, and you know, all sorts of other attributes that candidates are telling us they want. And on top of that, I think we’re seeing this really interesting shift in business in general, it’s being driven by technology, it’s being driven by, frankly, access to data. But, you know, CEOs have been saying for years that our people are our biggest asset, but like how many companies are actually run that way? Unfortunately, not not enough. And even companies that aspire to treat their people really well and to make smart long term decisions sometimes suffer from a lack of data, a lack of really great HR and talent products. So I think the interest in future of work that we’ve seen in the last six to 12 months, is spurring just a tremendous amount of investment of innovation. I could not be more excited to be in this industry right now. And you know, things are really changing in a material way. I’ll give you just one more example. Because it’s I don’t know, it’s like a drum that I feel like I’m eating right now. But I really care about it. Like the vast majority of companies, I would estimate, probably upwards of 95% of companies do not connect any pre hire and post hire data, which means that they invest 1000s or millions of dollars in hiring people. And then they completely wipe the slate clean when those people become employees, and they track their performance over time. Now, I think one of the things that we will see as we’re starting to connect these data sources is that, you know, there are certain things you do when you’re hiring people that affect whether they’re successful employees, for example, giving an employee more information about the company culture is more likely to result in retention, productivity and satisfaction, because they feel like they’ve proactively opted into a situation that they were aware of, instead of, you know, being blindsided by an environment. That wasn’t what they expect. But because companies haven’t been kind of connecting the dots pre and post I think that I think a lot of people don’t realize that in some cases, they’re just you know, throwing their hiring dollars into into a pit into the ground plate.

Kara Goldin 19:39
Yeah, no, I think that’s really important. I think that’s a super super good point. So yeah, it’s it’s really interesting. What about what are you seeing in terms of people? Having people go into the office, how are people touching that right now? Like, I mean, obviously, many jobs are remote or sort of a hybrid, but are people committing to that or people just doing away with having an office? I mean, what are you really seeing out there, the majority of

Kathryn Minshew 20:09
companies that I speak with are still remote first, because with all of the different worker opinions about safety and COVID, and distributed work, I think that it’s hard for a lot of companies to feel right now, like they can force their employees to show up in person, especially those with young kids or immunocompromised, etc. That said, there’s a lot of discussion and planning for the future, I am seeing some smaller companies start to encourage people to come back a few days a week to build those in person bonds. And I think what we are really on the cusp of is, you know, I actually prefer the term the great reshuffle to the great resignation, I love it. Because I think that a lot of people are just rethinking what they want. There are people who are coming to us and saying, I cannot wait to be back in an office five days a week with my colleagues, learning, building relationships, getting mentors, there are other people who are saying, I’m never going back into an office remote is the life for me. And then frankly, the largest proportion, about 41% of respondents in the most recent poll, want a hybrid approach. They want some in person and some remote. But the tricky thing is that people are developing these very individual preferences. So if a company says, we’re going to be part hybrid, or you know, we’re gonna be hybrid part remote part in the office, and we want everyone to be together on Wednesdays, if an employee has a personal reason that Wednesday, it’s really important to them to be distributed, there is a decent chance that they’re going to leave and look for a new job that will accommodate that preference. So I think we’re, we should expect, unfortunately, for business owners, we should expect to see a lot of continued change and, and challenge in the kind of hiring and retention areas. I think companies are just ultimately going to have to choose for their specific company and culture, how do they want to operate, and they do think employees want some flexibility. So if you choose in person, you know, giving people some optionality, we’re all adults here. If you treat your employees like adults, they tend to, you know, pay it back to you in spades with with that kind of mutual trust. But I think companies just need to really be, you know, be clear about what choices they want to make, and then give people a lot of time and understand that some people will opt out. And that is just, that is just the nature of the environment we’re in right now.

Kara Goldin 22:29
I love it well, and I actually think for Gen Z coming up to I have a few of those in my house and they are dying to go back and go are not dying to go back. They are dying to start in an office. Like they feel like that’s what work is for them. And it’s I think it’ll be really interesting that I almost think it’s going to be a competitive advantage for some companies, because some of these, you know, they want structure, they want some kind of place to go. They want they’ve, you know, view work as their social system you had mentioned at McKinsey, where you met some people where you started to really get that drive and idea to go and start your own company. So I think there’s definitely advantages there. But obviously, we have to get through this crazy time more than anything. So tell me a story where you faced a huge challenge. You know, maybe it was, I’m guessing it was at the Muse, where, you know, you really had to pivot in another direction, you weren’t sure that you were going to be able to pull it off and you learned some super key lessons.

Kathryn Minshew 23:39
Oh, my goodness. I mean, I could, I could probably tell you 1000 different times in the early days that we faced death. didn’t think we were gonna make it. You know, I recently found an old journal from when we were pitching the, you know, pitching the company to investors the first time and we were not having a lot of success. And I was I was writing in my journal, like, maybe it’s me, maybe I am not the person that could take this business forward. You know, maybe I just, maybe I’m not good enough. But I think, you know, if I were going to give you a specific example, I think the one that’s coming to mind is goodness 2013. So very early days, I was about two years into running the Muse and we had an investor who signed a term sheet to lead our next round I had a few different term sheets on the table, but we chose this one because it was the best terms and felt like you know, the the right move for the company. And this the lead investor, then found out a few months later that I was no longer dating the person I had been dating and he made a really The aggressive pass at me. And, you know, it was like, it was terrifying because we had not actually closed the deal. I mean, in retrospect, thank God, we hadn’t closed the deal. But at the time, we had turned down all of the other investors because that’s what you do, when you choose a lead investor, we had signed this term sheet, we were deep in the process of getting this round close getting this money in which was, which was a, you know, a lifeline for the company. And I remember sitting down with my co founder with Alex, and we made a list of every expense we could eliminate in the company, and it included, like taking my salary to zero, and I was gonna move in on her couch, it included, you know, the, the, you know, how we would have to let go of our team if we couldn’t find more capital in three, four or five, six weeks. And, you know, I just, I remember, for a day or two being caught in this spiral of just, it was almost paralysis, right? I couldn’t imagine how, one day we had been high flying, growing, you know, about to take in this capital. And the next time it was, it was a really, really terrible situation, he put me in and I just didn’t feel like we should be taking money from this person. And luckily, we were able to find other investors. A woman who was very active in the startup community in New York, actually, sort of heard about what happened. I was supposed to see her a few days later, and I had to beg off because I was kind of alternating between, you know, existential despair, and like flailing panic. And so I had to cancel our meeting. And when she heard about it, you know, she ended up kind of learning more about the business investing, I was able to get a number of other folks including our first ever celebrity investor, so you know, I think, um, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t wish that situation on anyone. And I think it made me you know, it. Certainly things like that show you a lot about who you are. And

Kara Goldin 27:08
but there’s Uriah, right, you know, you terrifying, terrifying, but I think people make businesses, right. And that includes investors, that includes suppliers that includes employees, so I think that was a really brave and wife’s decision. So Well, this has been absolutely awesome. I mentioned before Katherine’s book, The New Rules of work, which is so so great, and definitely listened to her podcast as well that she does it’s so good. And Catherine, it’s been so great to learn a little bit more about your journey and about the Muse and about just overall your amazing entrepreneurial journey that is just so many learnings in there for sure everybody, check out the Muse if you have not, and definitely follow Katherine on social What is your handle, by the way, on Twitter

Kathryn Minshew 28:05
is at Canaan, Instagram is at K Minshew k m i n sh GW or I also post a lot of new stuff on LinkedIn. You can just find me at Kathryn Minshew. So yeah, I would love for people to you know, tweet at me send me a comment. I’m really fascinated by just the way that you know, work is changing. We’re all part of rewriting the rules. And thank you so much for having me. By the way, this

Kara Goldin 28:28
was fun following you is just it you have so many great things that you post so many learning. So definitely everybody get to follow Catherine for sure. And thanks, everyone, for listening to this episode, please subscribe to the Kara Goldin show. And be sure to not miss stories like Katherine’s that are so educational and inspiring. And please give us five stars as well. It really, really helps with the algorithms and find me on all social platforms at Kara Goldin. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of my book undaunted, where I share my journey of entrepreneurialism, and we are here every Monday and Wednesday. Thanks, everybody for listening. And thanks, Katherine. Everybody, have a great rest of the week. Thank you. Bye. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me? or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight. Send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening