Kathryn Minshew on Why Silicon Valley Needs a Feminine Touch
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Even at 25, Kathryn Minshew knew having a career -- at least in the traditional sense -- wasn’t for her.
So in 2011, after several consternation-filled conversations about women in the workforce, the former McKinsey & Co., consultant, co-launched The Daily Muse, a website for career women looking for tips on ascending the ladder.
“We didn’t quite have all this fleshed out, but [we knew we] wanted to create something that gathered and empowered women,” says Minshew, in reference to her New York-based site, which just reached 1.7 million users in September.
A three-month stint a Y Combinator, the exclusive San Francisco-based accelerator, probably helped. But to learn more, we sat down with now 27-year-old to chat about her start-up story and why she ditched her career:
Q: How did your previous work experience prepare you for the CEO and co-founder role?
A: My first job was a management consultant for McKinsey. It taught me a lot about myself: What I wanted and didn’t want in the workplace. I think McKinsey as a whole is really great for leadership training. My boss would sit me down after meetings, and walked me through everything I did that made me less credible. It was really helpful.
Q: I know you’re not a technical founder, but having tech skills is obviously important for a web startup. How did you make it work?
A: Both of my co-founders code now, but neither of them did when we first started. We had to think about the most stripped down version of our product that will allow us to create what we wanted. For us, it was a modified WordPress blog that sent job listings out via email. Was it sophisticated? No. But, it was a start. By the time we were ready to hire our first full-time developer, we weren’t three kids with ideas. We were already in the trenches.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received as an entrepreneur?
A: No doesn’t mean no. It means wait, and ask again. I have employed that successfully in my life. When people tell me no, I respect that. It doesn’t mean be a nuisance. It just means I need to understand why. That way, I’ll know how much I need to improve, and how long I have to wait before it’s appropriate to bring it up again.
Q: It’s well known that only a small percentage of venture-backed companies are helmed by female founders. Have you faced this bias, and, if so, how have you overcome it?
A: There are still a lot of traditional roadblocks to women who are seeking funding. Women that are starting companies are often perceived to be starting lifestyle companies. One of the most infuriating pieces of feedback is ‘you seem really nice.’ Or, ‘this is a cute business, but it’s really not VC fundable.’ I think there’s a grit and toughness that you need to make it past the number of patronizing remarks about your nice little lifestyle business. Women entrepreneurs who are successful, get razor sharp about how to anticipate and address the potential question of whether they’re ‘really serious.’
I do it early on by leading with statistics about the size of the market, the size of the opportunity and explicitly stating how unbelievably determined I am to aggressively go after it. Many of my guy friends don’t have to be so explicit because it’s expected.
Q: Do you think things are getting better for women in the Valley?
A: I definitely do. Increasingly, men and women are more aware of their biases. There are more successful women role models now, and there’s more discussion around the subtler handicaps for women. Progress is being made.
Q: What advice would you give to young founders just getting started?
A: Find people they can be brutally honest with and who will be brutally honest with them. The startup scene tends to feel like a lot of hype, and, if you read a publication, it feels like everyone is getting funded at $1 million a pop, eight times a day. The reality is that there’s a lot of struggle, there’s a lot of heartache and there’s trial and error for everybody. So, it’s good to get honest feedback.
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