Millions of Millennials Get Career Help from These Savvy Women

The Muse photo

The Muse co-founders Kathryn Minshew (CEO) and Alex Cavoulacos (COO) innately understand how to target career-minded twentysomethings because they fit that profile themselves. But they’ve also done lots of testing around who their core audience is and what problems they should be solving for.

In the five years since these two started their Millennial-focused career site, The Muse has attracted a base of 50 million users. It’s an audience that ranges from job seekers looking for gigs and advice to companies targeting digital natives. Although capturing the attention of this coveted demographic is no simple feat (18-34-year-olds are the largest generation in the US, and everyone wants a piece of them right now), The Muse’s growing fanbase is by no means capped by age.

The founders say their success comes in part from experimenting with numerous hunches, a Lean Startup approach that sometimes means building a manual MVP for a future digital offering.

We’re really excited to introduce you all to the women behind The Muse and hear their thoughts on creating an intentional culture of innovation during next week’s Startup Tours, part of our Enterprise Summit in New York City Feb. 24-25. But first, Minshew and Cavoulacos tell us a little more about shifting audience assumptions, their riskiest hypotheses, and how Millennials differ from previous generations when it comes to career searches and job expectations.

As the heads of a millennial-focused career site, how do you see this generation’s career needs versus versus older generations? And what does it mean that your audience is comprised of digital natives?

Millennials are looking for more out of their career than many previous generations, with a greater emphasis on mission or culture fit than personal income/reward. For example, a recent Deloitte survey demonstrated that Millennials believe an organization’s treatment and development of employees (and society) is paramount, alongside economic goals and motivations. More so than prior generations, Millennials are looking for a career with meaningful purpose and societal impact. Our audience relies upon a company’s digital footprint to comprehend how a company’s values align with their own, and uses a Muse profile to get a deeper look into whether this is the type of place they would want to work. It shouldn’t be rocket science to give potential candidates a photo and video “inside scoop” on an employer before they apply – but we’re the only ones who are doing it at scale.

What’s something people are using your site for that you didn’t expect?

Funnily enough, one of the most surprising elements was employers using our articles internally for their employees professional development. For example, one company created a “hitlist” of their favorite Muse pieces and sent it to every new manager as required reading (who doesn’t need to read This Is How You Give Honest Feedback to Anyone, Anytime, Without Hurting Feelings or Here’s How You Can Be the Cool Boss Without Losing Your Authority?). We’ve also seen other organizations make some of our round-ups part of their weekly internal newsletters, such as this piece on 45 free online professional development classes we recommend. It’s an upside of employers seeing us as career development, not just job search.

What was the company’s MVP when you first started, and how has that changed over time?

Any company in the career space has a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, as you’re building a two-sided marketplace (individual users/career searchers and company customers/hiring partners). We started out with 100% of our focus on one half of the marketplace: our individual users. We became laser focused on creating the best career content on the internet, and on providing value and advice that our community would find relevant and share with others. We built this audience to 100,000 monthly active users before we launched company profiles and jobs, the other side of the marketplace. Many of our users were thrilled to have better job searching options (and the ones that weren’t job searching pretty much just used us as before), and our companies were able to access a ready-made demographic from Day 1.

What’s the riskiest hypothesis that you’ve tested about The Muse, and how did that test turn out in the end?

Recently, one of the riskiest hypotheses we tested was that our users wanted to book career coaching through The Muse. Our initial belief in the idea came from user interest via inbound emails and social, but there were still plenty of naysayers. Internally, our biggest question was whether a stated user desire for more career help would translate into actual credit card transactions and whether it would be an additive to our business as we believed, or a potential distraction.

We did a small initial test via email, sending users to one of four landing pages for a resume review with various tiered pricing and positioning. Looking at data from the transactions and initial reviews (combined with 1:1 conversations with several of the early people who bought), we found several hypotheses confirmed and several surprises. For example, one of our early beta purchasers was a 28-year Air Force veteran looking to transition to a civilian career.

With this early data and user input as a guide, a portion of our team spent the next three months designing and building the product a substantial investment on an as-yet-unproven part of the business and launched in early November, the morning of a board meeting. So how did it go? Luckily, pretty well. We’ve nearly doubled revenue from that part of the business in the three months since launch, and the average user-to-coach rating is 4.9/5. Check it out for yourself at!

What have you learned about your audience that’s different than the assumptions you had about them in your early days of thinking about the company?

When we launched The Daily Muse in 2011, we were initially focused on empowering women in the first 10-15 years of their career. It wasn’t long before professionals, young and old, outside of that core demographic, found the The Muse, and identified with that key question, “What do you want to do with your life?” From professionals in their 50s or 60s who were looking to change careers, to parents seeking to re-enter the workforce, to veterans looking to transition into civilian jobs, it became clear that our content appealed to a much broader group than we initially anticipated.

In the early days, we were excited to see 100,000 people on The Muse in a given month; now we’re nearing 5 million monthly visitors (and almost 60 million lifetime visitors). While our core demographic continues to be female with an average age of 29, it’s exciting that The Muse has been able to help so many different types of people improve their careers and find jobs they love. We’re excited to see that continue.

How has Lean Startup methodology come into your product and/or process?

The biggest way Lean Startup methodology has become part of our process is that we test everything, and we think about the smallest thing we can test. We’ve built bandit testing methodology into our back end so that we can run numerous tests at a time, and continuously improve our product. We also aren’t afraid to launch something initially with a manual component, which we later build out and automate if the launch is successful; but which could be scrapped if it’s not a hit. This approach has made sure our engineering resources are spent in the most impactful places.

What’s next for The Muse?

Ultimately, our goal is to build The Muse into the most beloved, trusted career destination in the world. In 2016, this means reaching over 10 million individual users each month and continuing to expand nationwide (and beyond!) to more than 1,000 companies. In 5 years, this means that every single person who is thinking about the next step in their career, considering a new job, or seeking to improve their skill set in an existing job is thinking about The Muse. We’re very excited about Coach Connect, a product we launched at the end of 2015 that allows our users to connect with Muse-vetted career coaches for personalized advice. From career changers and job seekers, to executives, to new managers, coaching is something that people need in all different stages of their career, and we’re excited to continue to roll out new services to best serve our user base.
Join our Startup Tours in NYC as part of Lean Startup Labs: Enterprise Summit Feb. 24-25. Grab a ticket here, and bring your whole team for maximum inspiration value.

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