Daily Muse founder Kathryn Minshew talks about applying and getting into Y Combinator. By Doreen Bloch (Author, The Coolest Startups in America)
Formerly a consultant at McKinsey, Kathryn Minshew – founder of The Daily Muse, a destination website for women – has been named a Forbes 30-Under-30 and one of Inc.’s “Women to Watch in Tech.” Her work so far led to an acceptance to Y Combinator’s current class, where Kathryn and her team are working on taking the startup to the next level.
I spoke with Kathryn recently, and am excited to share her stellar advice for female founders, from why you should apply to Y Combinator to how to manage a large team.
Here are 10 questions (and answers!) with Kathryn:
Women 2.0: How did you quit your job at McKinsey? Kathryn Minshew: The first step is always intimidating. I made the decision to leave a stable job to launch my own venture out of the desire to give something that I had been thinking about for a long time a try. Like a child of 21st century, I believe somewhere out there is a career that I can be passionate about. I think people who stay too long in a job that’s just ok are selling themselves short. I forced myself to take the leap. I blocked out time in my life to work on a startup without salary. I had saved a bit of money so I wasn't living paycheck to paycheck. Until you raise funding, having that little security fund is helpful. Life doesn't turn out how you think.
Women 2.0: What is The Daily Muse? Kathryn Minshew: The Daily Muse is a career network and resource for professional women. The Daily Muse helps to find a job at an incredible company, get the job, and be successful at it. Basically, kicking ass and taking names.
Women 2.0: Why did you decide to apply to Y Combinator? Kathryn Minshew: We decided to apply on the recommendation of Rachel Sklar, one of our advisors. She wrote an inspiring blog post about how the female technology community can’t expect to change the ratio in incubators and accelerators if we don't apply to them.
I figured we probably won't get in to YC, but we have to apply. At least put your name in. We did, and it's a long application. The application gets you to talk about the people behind the company. It's a great way to show off your skills that wouldn’t normally come out in the fundraising process. We were thrilled and shocked that we got an interview. We felt like it was an amazing opportunity.
Women 2.0: What was the YC interview process like? Kathryn Minshew: We didn't get our hopes up. As much as I wanted to be accepted, we kept working as if we weren't getting in so that we'd be in good place if we didn't get accepted. We talked to five or six YC alums about what we should prepare. You have to be on your game because the interview is only 10 minutes. We flew to San Francisco, drove to Mountain View, blasting music the whole time, and I had one of those moments where I looked at my team and said, “we've done our best and we’ll be okay either way.”
Women 2.0: YC notifies interviewees on the same day. What was it like hearing the splendid news? Kathryn Minshew: When we got the call, it was an incredible moment. We were in a movie! We didn't think that they would call so early. We thought they call you between 6pm to 8pm, and we were so adrenaline-high and exhausted that we just had to get our minds off of the time. We felt like we nailed the interview. We did the best we could. Now it was up to them. I had my phone on silent. Half way through the movie, the phone lights up and I tear out of the theater. Paul Graham is in my ear inviting us to the next Y Combinator class. It’s such an incredible feeling. We’d been at this for a while. Getting in to YC was exciting on a lot of levels.
Women 2.0: Where do you hope The Daily Muse will be in a year? Kathryn Minshew: In the next year, we plan to reach over a million women with resources and community for job opportunities and professional development. We’re rolling out new features, and working with companies that are exciting and have job openings. We want to shine light on cool opportunities around the country and become a leading resource for female professionals thinking about making a career move.
Women 2.0: It appears that The Daily Muse team is quite large. How do you organize the company? Kathryn Minshew: We have three parts of the organization: Editorial, Product, and the catchall “Business” bucket that includes Marketing, Customer Acquisition and Retention, and Sales. What allows us to work well is that early on the co-founders came to complete agreement about which areas of the company we’re responsible for. It's incredible; I feel so lucky. We have a clear sense of strengths and weaknesses. There's trust and communication among the co-founders and team. We have a flat and collaborative leadership structure. We understand the areas people are best at and trust them to run with it.
Women 2.0: How does your background in Consulting help you as a startup founder? Kathryn Minshew: Being a consultant was great preparation for what I'm doing now. One of the most incredible things I learned as a Consultant was how to present my ideas in a structured manner. I also learned how to walk into a room and communicate that I belong. I learned about leadership and public speaking too. It’s a set of business skills that consulting firms teach that we hope to bring to a wider audience with The Daily Muse.
Women 2.0: What is your best tip for new entrepreneurs? Kathryn Minshew: There are lots of things I wish I had known. I have two tips - first, ask advice from others. Every situation someone else has been in it before. I would have saved myself time and worry by being more open and seeking out the advice of others. Second, make sure you have legal agreements done by a lawyer. Don't overlook this just because it costs money and it’s not fun to think about. Not having proper agreements can be painful. It's not sexy or awesome, but one of the first things to do is to go through that process so you’re aligned with other team members. At worst, the process exposes issues early on.
Women 2.0: What is your favorite thing about being a female entrepreneur? Kathryn Minshew: It's being part of the community of women entrepreneurs that exists in New York. I can't even count how many of them inspire me on a daily basis. It's truly amazing!
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Doreen Bloch is the author of The Coolest Startups in America, and Founder and CEO of Poshly (launching in 2012). Doreen is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where she was awarded the Jack Larson Fellowship for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Doreen is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council, and she regularly contributes to Forbes Women, The Huffington Post and more. Follow her on Twitter at @DoreenBloch.