Career Alternatives: Starting a Business to Fill a Void

by Vault Careers | February 02, 2012

On September 6, 2011, a declaration was made to the masses that independent women who wanted to achieve career success would have their voices heard and their needs met with the creation of a new business.

The Daily Muse, located at thedailymuse.com, was launched to bring community and career opportunities to professional women. According to the site, The Daily Muse targets a tremendously under-served demographic: confident women who want insightful articles and career advice written just for them, who are fed up with the Cosmo diet of sex tips and how to drop a dress size.

The founders, Kathryn Minshew, Alex Cavoulacos, and Melissa McCreery promise to offer personalized job search, sharp, authoritative content and a thriving network specifically targeted at the highly educated, ambitious women of their generation.

The site, itself, offers a lesson to job seekers out there. All three women have achieved success in the business world–Ms. Minshew, the current CEO, previously worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company (which incidentally earned its 10th straight No. 1 ranking in Vault’s Consulting Prestige Rankings this year).

Ms. Cavoulacos, the current COO, also ex-McKinsey consultant and Yale University graduate, was the executive director of Global21–a network of international affairs magazines at premier universities around the world. And Ms. McCreery, the current Editor-in-Chief, was a former Executive Editorial Editor at the Harvard Crimson and a former management consultant at… you guessed it… McKinsey & Company (No. 1 in Vault’s European 25 Rankings and Vault’s Asia 25 Rankings this year).

So, why do successful business women who can continue making money in their respective fields, start a business during a rough economy aimed at an untested market? Vault spoke with Ms. Minshew to get a better understanding of the decision to create The Daily Muse, the reasons behind leaving McKinsey, and the difficulties of running a new business in a bad economy. Her story is discussed in a special Q & A below:

Q: What went into the creation of The Daily Muse?

I first started to think about the need for a community of female professionals while I was working at McKinsey. In college, I was never active in women's organizations, because I didn’t see the need. When I first joined the workplace, I suddenly became aware of a whole suite of double-standards, subtle obstacles and unintentional biases: how to find a mentor, and whether that mentorship relationship is handled differently by the mentor or the mentee based on their being from the same or different genders? When to negotiate a raise and what methods are appropriate? How to respond to awkward comments by a client?

As I started digging deeper, I found a tremendous amount of research that backed this up. To quote just one example, something like 60% of men negotiate their first salary out of college, while only 7% of women do. And yet when I went looking for guidance, for content targeted at me as a female professional, I found very little.

Media for women in their 20s and 30s is pretty much limited to 121 sex tips or how to catch a boyfriend. I was much more interested in whether or not I liked my job, and how I could be better at it. I saw a huge market that was not being addressed, and I decided to respond to that need.

Q: What goes into the decision to leave a company like McKinsey behind?

A: I learned an incredible amount working at McKinsey, including invaluable business leadership skills and great frameworks for problem solving, but I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be long-term. Instead, I wanted to use the skills I was learning at McKinsey to move into a different field. In that I was really lucky. McKinsey is such a prestigious company that working there can shield you for a year or two and allow you to seek new experiences, without being as penalized for seeming unfocused in your career search.

When I was getting ready to leave McKinsey, I interviewed at a high-paying hedge fund and a few large US-based organizations, but there were other goals I wanted to achieve. I was always interested in international relations and I was at a great point in my career where I had the flexibility to travel and work abroad.

I knew that would get harder as I got older, so I did my best to take a calculated risk and jump feet first. I went to Rwanda and led its national strategic plan for the HPV vaccine introduction with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which was a tremendous experience One of the great things about working with the organization was that I was able to solve real world problems. I understand what it’s like to have jobs in a different part of the world and get your hands dirty.

Q: At Vault, we discuss all the time that employees are now looking beyond prestige and actively searching for jobs that satisfy them in a different way. Is that how you felt?

A: Each person has a different set of priorities for what makes them happy at a job, and I think it’s important to be honest with yourself about what those are. A lot of people are content leaving their passion for the weekends just as long as they are making a solid paycheck, and if that’s really what is important to you, it’s better to recognize it.

But I didn’t want to be one of those people, and increasingly I think other professionals are coming to the same realization. I wanted to be happy with what I was doing, not just on Saturday, but all the time. And for me, part of that includes making a social impact. That’s equally or more important than salary for me personally.

And I lived it, making no salary for the last 12 months while I drained my savings building this company with my cofounders. Was it hard to skip out on dinners out, nice things, travel I could have taken? Sure. But it was worth every second.

Q: Why create a portal for professional women? What was missing?

A: It’s still surprising to me how many media powerbrokers characterize the female consumer as interested only in shoes and sex tips. When you go looking for tips on how to kick a** and take names in the workplace, there’s suddenly silence. Women are increasingly taking on leadership positions, and they deserve a place devoted to helping them advance their careers. Men and women can face different obstacles or perceptions in the office, and we’re actively working to help people understand and overcome that.

There’s also a perception problem. When a really young, fresh-faced guy walks into a boardroom, people assume he may be an Excel whiz or a computer geek. For women, it’s sometimes, “I wonder if she’s bringing the coffee?” We want to help change those perceptions.

To be continued--tune in tomorrow for the second half of our Q and A with Kathryn Minshew. 

--Jon Minners, Vault.com

Filed Under: Job Search | Workplace Issues


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