Right on schedule in 2009, the then 23-year-old Minshew was beginning what many call a quarter-life crisis. Despite having landed a prized position at the elite management consultancy McKinsey & Company, Minshew felt unfulfilled and, well, lost. As she sought out career resources to help her discover other avenues for her talents, she was met with a dearth of options. The proverbial lightbulb went off when she realized the necessity for a new kind of career guidance tool.
"I spent a lot of time wondering why there wasn't a website that helped people navigate their career paths," says Minshew, who is now 28. "You can only spend so much time wondering why no one else has done something before you just do it yourself."
So in 2011, Minshew--along with Alex Cavoulacos, 27, and Melissa McCreery, 28--founded The Muse, an online career platform that encompasses job listings, skill-building workshops and advice columns. (McCreery is no longer with the company.) With free online classes that range from interviewing workshops and cover letter tutorials to courses on increasing productivity and efficiency in the workplace, the company now attracts well over a million users each month.
But its beginnings were far less auspicious. Minshew jokes, that in the early days she and her co-founders subsisted on "ramen and hope."
The New York City-based founders barely had enough to pay rent, let alone create the all-encompassing career resource they envisioned. So, they started out small--limiting the website to just the Daily Muse, the advice column portion of the site, as the founders searched for backers to fuel further site development.
Money remained a struggle as investors continually rejected The Muse. When the company hired its first employee, Minshew had to guarantee the employee's salary from her own bank account. But after 148 pitches, the team landed a spot at Y Combinator in November 2011. From there they landed $1.2 million in seed funding, followed by another $1 million round last February.
"I cried," Minshew says. "I was so happy that I was actually going to be able to make payroll."
Today the Muse guides users through their career choices not just via helpful articles, but by also taking them behind the scenes of different career paths through online company profiles. The virtual tours of each office include photos, videos and written blurbs about what it's like to work there, as well as filmed testimonials from current employees.
"It seems like an obvious product today, but there was nothing quite like this when they started," says Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of social news site Reddit and one of The Muse's early investors. "They had to convince a lot of people they were building a future no one else could see yet--the gift and the curse of trailblazing."
Minshew continues: "People's relationships with jobs have become a lot more personal in the last few years." She notes that the separation between work and life shrinks as technology advances. "It's not just hours and pay that are important anymore. People want to know what the company is like, what the culture is."
The featured companies, which are hand-selected by The Muse team, pay an annual fee to be included on the site, providing a source of revenue that Minshew says will help make the startup profitable well before the end of this year.
Future plans for the company include adding to current class offerings while also greatly expanding its company and job listings to include a wider variety of industries and locations. With money no longer an obstacle to growth, Minshew has her sights set on making a difference too.
"Being able to hear someone say, 'I found an incredible job on The Muse,' or 'It gave me courage to make a career change,' that's the motivating factor," Minshew says. "That's what inspires us to keep helping as many people as we can."