C-Suite talk with The Muse’s Kathryn Minshew

The Muse’s Founder and CEO talks to Ladders about career transitions and becoming an entrepreneur.

Ladders talks to The Muse's Founder

Prior to founding PYP Media and The Muse, you worked in both private and public sectors. Did you find any of these transitions particularly challenging?

Compared to the public sector, the private sector tends to be a lot more bottom-line-driven – and, in my experience, that translated to a lot more rigorous analysis of costs, expected profits, and the like. Not to say this is absent from the public sector, but in the private sector, it takes on a different importance. There’s plenty the two have in common–understanding costs, navigating complex relationships between various partners, working out deals–but the goal of a government isn’t to build a great product or service and sell it in the same way that it is for a company.

What advice would you give someone looking to make a switch to the private sector to ensure a more seamless transition?

My best advice is to stay open-minded. Any time you make a major career switch–from the public to the private sector, between industries, even from a large company to a small one–there’s going to be a lot of change to get used to. But, there’s also going to be a lot that you learned at your previous position that’s going to set you up to make an impact in your new career.

What led you to create The Daily Muse?

I’ve felt for a long time that there was a disconnect between what we tell kids: “You can be anything you want to be! Find work you love!” and the tools we provide adults to actually discover and realize those dreams. Personally, I went through a period of deep introspection over “what I wanted to do with my life” and the result of that was TheMuse.com.

One of my goals has always been to illuminate the different options on the table. Kids grow up knowing they can be a doctor, a lawyer, and a scientist, but there are thousands of other choices, and I don’t think we provide enough information about the rest. I wanted to build a place where an outsider could see inside the offices of Facebook, Gucci, or thousands of other companies, and listen to videos of their employees talking about what it’s like to work there. It’s extremely gratifying to see that playing out on The Muse and The Daily Muse (our community’s publication), though I think we have a lot more up ahead!

What is the most important thing a professional should consider before starting her own business?

You’ve got to start with a deep understanding of yourself, of how ready you are to be pushed outside of your comfort zone. Starting two companies has been the most beautiful, passionate, challenging and painful experience of my life. I had to watch everything I’d built the first time get wiped away in a matter of days, and then start all over again from square one.

As an addendum, I always remind people to make sure they’re protected legally when starting out – sign contracts for any partnerships, don’t spend money on a business without proper documentation, etc. I see so many people work on businesses without formalizing their partnership or ownership arrangement, and it often ends in a very bad place. My own situation with my first company can testify to that. As hard as it can be to pay a lawyer in those early days, make sure you get your business properly set up. If anyone working with you drags their feet on doing so, it may be a red flag.

The Daily Muse does a great job of showcasing different employers and shedding light on their cultures. How important do you believe cultural fit is for the candidate and prospective employer?

Cultural fit is absolutely critical – I’d venture to say it’s one of the top three things a potential employee should be looking for. Outside of your relationship with your spouse or partner, your relationship with your company – with your colleagues, boss and surroundings – is one of the most impactful in your day-to-day life, so make sure it’s working for, and not against, you. I also want to add that cultural fit is a very personal thing. A company can be a great cultural fit for some and a terrible cultural fit for others, so don’t let the opinions of others override your gut. Even if your coworkers can’t stop talking about what an amazing company you’re at, if it’s not a cultural fit for you, that’s OK. Just accept it, do your best, and choose better next time.

How would you describe the culture at The Daily Muse?

We want to be a company where everyone on the team feels valued and pushed to grow. We’ve divided up the world in terms of who does what, but we’re always looking for ways to give our employees a chance to get their hands dirty with something new, or pick up a new skill they’re looking to develop. We want everyone on the team to be constantly growing.

We also want our team to be happy, and for this to be a job they can see themselves staying at. Being a startup, there’s a lot of work to be done–and I mean a lot–but we’re big on being flexible, which means everything from flexible hours to getting input from our team members about how they want to see their role grow. I think that’s the only way to build a company where people feel not only like everyone’s invested in the product, but also invested in them individually in their careers.

Finally, we’re big on transparency – we have an “all-hands” meeting every other week where anyone can ask anything, and we strive to create a culture where we’re as open and honest as possible.

What’s the best piece of career or job-search advice you ever received?

When I was in high school, I remember going to our school’s career day and hearing numerous people talk about how they got where they were. During the course of their speeches, I noticed every one of them had a common vignette in their career-path stories: At some point, they were given an assignment, a project, or a role where they didn’t know what to do, and they decided to wing it, and it became a springboard for an important step in their career.

If I look back on my own career, the same has been true for me. There have been so many times I’ve found myself looking at an assignment or hurdle where I didn’t quite know what to do: as a business analyst at McKinsey, during my first week on a job in Rwanda, when I started my own company, when I had to price an unbuilt product, etc. In each one of those situations, I’ve examined the situation critically, reached out to mentors or experts I knew, and forged ahead to figure it out. Now, when I come across something that I just don’t know how to do–and believe me, there’s still plenty–I have the confidence that I can handle it. I don’t always know how, but I know that if we, as a company, are going to blaze our own trail, then there isn’t going to be a path ahead for us to follow, so I might as well get used to it.

Thanks Kathryn!

Kathryn Minshew is the Founder and CEO of The Muse, a career website dedicated to long-term professional development. Kathryn has appeared on CNN and Bloomberg, spoken at MIT and Harvard, and contributes on career issues to the Wall Street Journal, INC, and the Harvard Business Review. She was recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Media for the second year in a row, as well as Inc.’s 15 Women to Watch in Tech. Say ‘hi’ to her on Twitter: @KMin