"It took a while for me to figure out what I wanted to do. I grew up thinking that I would be an ambassador secret agent. [Laughs] From age 14 to right before I graduated college, I was really interested in the foreign service and the United Nations. I learned to speak French, Turkish, and all these things. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work in a US Embassy in Cyprus that I realized the idea I had in my head of a career in foreign service wasn’t quite the same as the reality of it. Even though I still love international relations as a topic, I started looking for a different path. After college, I spent a few years in consulting working at McKinsey, which is a great way experience a bunch of different industries at one place. My next job was with the Clinton Health Access Initiative to work on vaccine introduction in Malawi. It was such a quick transition—I walked out of the McKinsey office at 9:30PM on a Tuesday and the next morning at 11AM I was on a plane to Africa. It was really fascinating, but I think working in international development requires a tremendous amount of patience. I was encountering so many situations that I just didn’t know how to handle. At one point I was trying to negotiate a raise—which I had actually been promised—but the person who had made the promise had left the organization and it wasn’t in writing. I was so uncomfortable and nervous about how to negotiate a raise that after the phone call about it was over, I went to the bathroom and threw up. I realized that there has got to be a better way to learn about this.
That was the first step, but I kind of fell into starting The Muse. I had started working on a blog in 2010 meant to help other women like me in their 20s try to navigate their careers. We were looking to answer questions like, how do you negotiate a raise? How do your assert yourself in the workplace without seeming like a bitch? It was an online content site at first but then we started attracting an audience who just kept wanting more. At the same time I was searching for a job, too! I would get so frustrated because it was such an undifferentiated mess online. If you didn’t know what job you were looking for, it was so challenging, because every website started with a big empty search box. I started to think about this challenge. On one hand, we were giving people career advice in a small way and on the other hand I was personally experiencing this big frustration of trying to find the right career for me in the first place. And then how do you actually go out and get that job? The opportunity was so much bigger than what we were going after. Instead of a career advice publication we needed to create an all-in-one destination for people to navigate their careers.
First, it was just content. Arianna Huffington wrote something on what she would tell her younger self. We were able to combine a set of luminaries with some of this day to day peer advice and all of this went through a very strong editorial filter. Then within a month we put our first job listing on the site. The first company we partnered with was Uber. They had 16 employees at the time, they were this little Series B stage, Silicon Valley start-up. We created a couple of paragraphs about it and we emailed it out to our subscribers and waited to see what would happen. They paid us I think $600 for the process and then there was an additional bonus of around $2000 if they hired anybody. They ended up making three offers because the quality of people we attracted was incredibly high. Unfortunately, none of the people they offered jobs to accepted them. But that really validated part of our thesis. We see it kind of like a dating profile—positive but honest. When we're interviewing companies to work with, we look for are the people who love the company and enjoy working here and why. If we don’t think there is a credible case to be made, we won’t work with the company. The Muse should be a trusted destination for answers. A hand when you need one. Someone to talk you through tough decisions or situations. A starting point.
Something I've learned is that when people tell me I can't do something, I immediately wonder why and then think it through. It only makes me more motivated to prove them wrong. And I just have a high tolerance for ambiguity and stressful situations. I work late nights catching up on emails, and then in the mornings, I just hop on my laptop right away. Then, every other day I’ll hop into the shower! My husband is horrified that I don’t shower every day. I’ve always had long hair and drying it is such a pain in the ass and then showering without getting your hair wet is so much less satisfying. It’s mostly a time thing. And I do sometimes shower two days in a row but it’s an extended joke among anyone that’s ever been a roommate of mine. [Laughs]"
—as told to ITG
Kathryn Minshew photographed by Tom Newton in her home in New York on Thursday, October 11, 2016.