The Muse Raises $10 Million (and Turns Away $10 Million)

Kathryn MinshewThe Muse, a 3.5-year-old New York-based career site that offers job opportunities, advice, skill-building courses, and video profiles meant to show what it’s like to work at different companies, has just raised $10 million in Series A funding from Aspect Ventures, DBL Partners and QED Investors.

Co-founder and CEO Kathryn Minshew says the platform, which is largely used by millennials – 65 percent of them women and more than 50 percent nonwhite — could easily have raised $20 million.

We talked yesterday about the fast-growing, 33-person company — and what happened out on the fundraising trail. Our chat has been edited for length.

You founded the Muse with two other women, Alex Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery. How did you come together?

We met while working at McKinsey, during my first first week on the job in the fall of 2008. Lehman had just fallen. There was a lot of upheaval. Even though McKinsey was a great educational experience, I realized I didn’t want to be a consultant. The three of us kept talking about what it would be like if you could get advice on your career and see inside companies before applying and we finally thought: maybe we should just start [our own career site].

You say it’s taken off like gangbusters.

It started off as a very basic content career site in September 2011, but we’d attracted 70,000 people to it in the third month. It wasn’t impressive looking, but based on that user growth, Y Combinator accepted us into its winter program and by the following summer, we had 100,000 people on the site each month. Now, 3.5 million people are visiting each month.

Most are millennials. Our average user is 29, compared with LinkedIn, whose average user is 47. Sixty-five percent of our users are female, compared with LinkedIn, whose users are 55 percent male.

Why is that?

We think it’s partly because LinkedIn is more of a transactional networking tool; it isn’t a place where users feel like someone is looking out for their career.

How is The Muse making money?

The vast majority comes from recruiting; we now 300 companies listing jobs and corporate profiles on the site. Generally, companies are measuring their ROI by how may hires they’re making, how aware people are of their brands, and how many people engage with their materials, which we put together in part by sending a videographer into every company’s offices. We want users to see authentic, quality materials about what these workplaces are like. [Companies] just pay to sign up, and we take care of everything.

What about content?

We have a small amount of revenue that comes through content marketing. Our users are generally very willing to take our recommendations around career-related products and services, but we want to make sure anything sponsored is noted and that we don’t work with partners that we don’t think are relevant or up to our standards. Trust is an important part of our brand.

What are some ways that you’re using all the data you’re collecting?

We can tell that people who are interested in certain companies will probably like other types of companies that wouldn’t be obvious from the [mandate] and size of those companies. We can pull out when someone is open to looking for a job because what they’re clicking on and reading starts to change [and we can personalize the experience for them].

The data is useful for employers, too. They want to be able to compare their recruiting efforts to other companies, so if they say, “We didn’t see as many applications for this role as we wanted to,” we can tell them, “We can see 1,000 people clicked on that role and 40 people applied. That conversion is substantially lower than your close competitor; maybe there’s something in the job description that isn’t communicating what you want it to.”

How many markets is The Muse operating in currently?

We’re actively serving jobs in eight markets right now, including New York, San Francisco, L.A., Chicago, D.C., and Boston. But we’re launching soon in Atlanta, Austin, and Houston, and we get nice – and angry – requests from Portland, Raleigh-Durham and other places asking why we aren’t there yet, so we’re investing heavily in expanding the number of cities we serve.

How was fundraising?

Even though the market is very good right now, you never know how it’s going to receive your particular company. But it was fun – even a bit crazy. The market is a little insane. People were aggressively pushing us to do things that didn’t make sense. I had to go to a lot of people who I really like and who would probably be very valuable and useful and say, “We’re not going to raise $20 million.”



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