As co-Founder and CEO of The Daily Muse, a career- and lifestyle-focused magazine and community for young female professionals, Kathryn helps women navigate a path to fulfillment and success. Prior to founding the company, Kathryn worked on vaccine introduction in Rwanda and Malawi with the Clinton Health Access Initiative. She previously worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and was co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pretty Young Professional, awarded Forbes’ “Top Career Websites for Women” in 2011. Kathryn has been listed as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” and Inc. Magazine’s “15 Women to Watch in Tech.”
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: My first job out of college was working for McKinsey—a place that gave me a whirlwind immersion into the business world. I was very lucky to find a few great mentors who helped me navigate those tough first years, but I realized not everyone was so fortunate. Soon, many of my friends were coming to me asking for advice, whether it was on negotiating a new job offer or a raise, or managing a team or a big project for the first time, or what to do when they found themselves on the verge of crying in the office.
I wanted to point them to some great resource—but I realized, as did my co-founders, that there just wasn’t anything out there. So we decided to create one.
Q: Who is a leader that you have great respect for and why?
A: I had the chance to meet Cathy Lanier, the Washington DC Chief of Police, earlier today and she honestly completely blew me away. I cannot say this enough: go learn about and listen to this amazing woman. She brings incredible compassion to her job: preventing and solving homicides and other crimes in the District of Columbia. She’s smart, innovative, and not afraid to go against conventional wisdom. Just, wow.
Q: If a business has several, viable ways to grow and innovate, how do you pick the best road to take?
A: This is a tough question and one we recently struggled with at The Daily Muse. I think building a minimum viable product (MVP) is really important here. As an entrepreneur, you live and breathe your product, so it’s easy to get caught up in what you think your customers will like. But it’s important to find out. Asking them is not enough. As Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Instead, I find it helpful to sketch out the minimum possible version of the product (or path) you’re considering. Eliminate absolutely everything that isn’t necessary. For us, we wanted to build a predictive job engine based on “fit,” but what we started with were photo & video company profiles. An MVP can be enough to test a particular path before you commit wholeheartedly.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: To the entrepreneurs out there who are just getting started and bootstrapping their way—my advice is to not be afraid of uncertainty. You are unlikely to have all the answers, and if you think you do, you’re probably wrong. But you can still believe in your ability to figure things out as you go.
There are going to be hard times and setbacks, and sometimes they are going to come out of seemingly nowhere. Heather Coughlin of isisparenting.com recently told me about the entrepreneur’s P/E ratio – puke to excitement. I love this concept! What’s important is that you don’t give up when things look tough. Be scrappy, be resourceful, be resilient. Figure out how to get to that next milestone.
Q: When I stepped down as President of a company after 9 years in that position, it was quite emotional. If you have ever sold, folded or needed to leave an organization you helped (or did) start, what was that experience like for you?
A: I lost my first company to co-founder troubles seemingly overnight, and I was devastated at the time. Pretty much my entire life savings was lost with it. But you know what? After having picked myself up and moved on*, I now kinda feel like I can get through anything. It’s a powerful feeling.
*I wanted to add here – The Daily Muse was founded less than three weeks after I lost my first company. Sometimes the biggest setbacks can turn into the best opportunities.
Q: How much time do you spend on networking versus focusing on the internal affairs of your business (such as management, strategy, ideation etc.)?
A: One of the things we’ve done very well as co-founders has been to divide up our responsibilities. I’m the one who does sales, fundraising, and overall relationship management—and as a result, I spend a fair amount of time meeting people and building those connections on and offline. Some weeks, that’s where most of my time goes. The reason this works so well is because my two co-founders are always focused on the internal, operational side of the business—managing our team, directing the day-to-day course of the product, and feeding our 30% monthly user base growth. Of course, all three of us get together when there are big-picture strategy decisions to make, and we’re talking about our vision and direction all the time—but in an early start-up, the day-to-day is much more about just getting that next thing done.
Q: A great negotiation can be game changing for one’s business or life. Studies have shown that men are much more comfortable negotiating and asking for what they want compared to women. What’s your advice to women who are uncomfortable negotiating?
A: This is so true. Nearly 60% of men will negotiate their salary in their first job—and just 7% of women will. But I get it—it’s tough. I didn’t negotiate at my first job either, and ended up missing out on money I never even thought to ask for. My advice to women is to equip themselves with information, because it’ll make that conversation a whole lot easier. Look up what other people in your same position are making. Take the time to think about the work you’re doing and the value it brings to the company—the sales you’re bringing in, the services you’re providing, the growth initiatives you’ve led. Once you quantify these things, it’s a lot easier to go in and have a conversation about facts and numbers. Women don’t like asking because we’re taught to be appreciative for what we have. But the truth is—no one’s going to just give you what you deserve. You have to go ask.
ON Career Transitions
Q: Many people become discontent with their current career yet are too afraid or reluctant to make a change. What’s your best advice for women in this situation?
A: When I made my first big career change, I was coming from a place where I wasn’t particularly happy in my job—and I questioned myself. I thought I was personally failing because I didn’t love that job. That was completely unfair. First of all, a career can completely fulfill one person and not another. That’s normal – in fact, it’s great! If we all liked the same things, job competition would be even more intense.
Second, changing jobs—even careers—is expected these days, and it’s not as scary as you think. My advice: start taking concrete steps toward the change, and see where it takes you. Start by writing down your goals and the places you see yourself. Identify jobs you’d like to have, even if you’re not sure yet how you’d get there. If they feel too far away, identify “stepping stone” jobs that could help you get there too. Look at the skills you might need, and see if you can sign up for a class or read articles online about that topic. Then, go find jobs you could apply to. Brush up your resume and send it in, even if it’s a total long shot. One step at a time—and before you know it, you’ll have doors starting to open in front of you. And it’s a lot less scary to make a big change once you feel like you have options.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: I would remind her that her first job doesn’t define her career, and she doesn’t have to have it all figured out. Sometimes, I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to get things right and figure out the rest of our lives—we make it hard on ourselves to just take the next step. That’s not fair. I would encourage her to find a job and a career path that she finds appealing and try it out. Set up some informational interviews, apply, and if it seems like a good fit right now—go for it. The generation graduating from college right now will change jobs every 18 to 24 months for the next 10 years of their career. And life’s going to throw you a lot of curveballs in there. So really, you don’t have to have it all figured out. Wherever you start, if you work hard, learn as many skills as you can, and seek out interesting opportunities, then you’ll be well equipped to take on that next step—whenever and wherever it is.
Q: What simple things in life today bring you joy?
A: I love acceleration
ON Time Management
Q: Online calendars, emailing ourselves, post-it notes… I’m still struggling to find the best way to manage my time and to do list? What’s your method?
A: Ha, you should ask my co-founder Alex about this one—she’s great at it. Her inbox is automatically filtered and labeled by Gmail, she puts everything on her calendar, and she’s always finding great organizational apps—Boomerang, Streak, PivotalTracker, Asana. I don’t work quite the same way—I juggle a lot, but I haven’t found the perfect organization system for it all yet. I will say, though, that one of these apps she found has proved brilliant: Boomerang. It plugs into your Gmail, and lets you schedule emails or hide them and “boomerang” them to come back in a few hours, tomorrow, or next week—whenever you want to deal with them. So I can go through my inbox, decide when I want to handle things, and have them come back to me then. It was pretty life-changing.
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite destinations?
A: I’ve lived in France, Ecuador, Cyprus and Rwanda. I can’t resist hard-to-get-to or unusual locales.