Getting it right the second time around with the Muse CEO Kathryn Minshew

 

After 148 rejections in the first funding round, Kathryn Minshew co-founder and CEO of the Muse took note of what she did wrong and upped her game when she went looking for new financing. Minshew scored close to $30 million thanks to the new approach. 

 

In Kathryn’s money story you will learn

-How Kathryn and the Muse team re-vamped their strategy the second time they raised money

-How Kathryn rebounded from the 148 rejections in the seed round of financing

-How The Muse raised $30 million from investors

-How they were able to ask for less money and come out with more than the original targets

-The way Kathryn structured her process when pitching investors

-How they organized their pitches and research to be more effective

-Kathryn’s investor prioritization strategy

-The specific thing Kathryn said to investors to get them to the table faster- and with more interest in her company

-How a second round of financing is different- and should be approached differently from a seed round

In Kathryn’s lesson you will learn:

-The advice Kathryn found most helpful from her networks and mentors

-How she got help from other entrepreneurs

-How to tell if the investors are wrong not to invest- or if your idea and pitch is missing the mark

-How to figure out who your end users are- and why it is important

-Strategies and specific things to ask in order to get honest input about your company

In Kathryn’s money tip you will learn:

-Negotiations can be about more than just cash

-How to ask for signing bonuses, signing bonuses, flextime, vacation time, better titles.

-Why budgets for professional training are essential and how to negotiate for them

In my take you will learn:

-How to learn lessons from rejection, and incorporate them in your next venture

-The importance of taking the time to throughtfully plan and customize presentations and pitches

-How to level the playing field even when the other party is clearly more powerful. 

Episode links:

TheMuse.com

Kathryn’s book with Muse co-founder Alexandra Cavoulacos The New Rules of Work

Follow Kathryn and The Muse!

Instagram @kminshew @themuse

Twitter: @Kmin and @TheMuse and @TheNewRules

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/thedailymuse

https://www.facebook.com/minshew

 

Transcription

Kathryn Minshew:
If you tell someone you're the founder of a company and ask for their input, they are more likely to give you positive impact because they don't want to hurt your feelings. If you tell them that you're a consultant helping a company understand how its market positioning lands, or helping a company better understand what it's doing well and what it's not, people are much more likely to give you totally unfiltered feedback for the series A because I was running a process.

Bobbi Rebell:
You're listening to "Financial Grownup" with me, Certified Financial Planner, Bobbi Rebell, author of "How to Be a Financial Grownup". You know what? Being a grownup is really hard, especially when it comes to money. But it's okay, we're going to get there together. I'm going to bring you one money story from a financial grownup, one lesson, and then my take on how you can make it your own. We got this.

Bobbi Rebell:
Hey, everybody. This is an episode about rejection, and what you would do differently the second time around. How to tell were they wrong to reject you? Maybe your message could be a little bit more on point. The Muse founder and CEO, Kathryn Minshew has told the story many times of how she and her colleagues were rejected 148 times when they when to raise money for their startup, The Muse. Once the company got off the ground, it has been a massive success, and many people would say, "Well, those 148 people, they must be so sorry that they rejected it." And of course, that is true to some extent. But also, Kathryn looks back and realizes she had a lot that she would do differently the next time. And in fact, she did do it differently when she went back for the next round of financing, and that's what we talked about. Here is Kathryn Minshew.

Bobbi Rebell:
Kathryn Minshew, you are a financial grownup. Welcome to the program.

Kathryn Minshew:
Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.

Bobbi Rebell:
And you are well known as the founder and CEO of The Muse, the amazing job site, and also well known for being rejected when you went to raise money. Tell me how many, 140 something times?

Kathryn Minshew:
148 times. It was like rejection for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a few meetings and noes inbetween for fun.

Bobbi Rebell:
And you are the queen of resilience, and one thing that you talk about in your book, "The New Rules of Work", which I should have mentioned to everybody. She is the author of a fabulous career book called "The New Rules of Work".

Bobbi Rebell:
You talk about your personal brand, and how important it is to define it. That fundraising and the lack of it for so long became your personal brand. So you brought with you a money story that has to do with what happened next, after you finally did get the initial funding and you went back for me. Tell us.

Kathryn Minshew:
Absolutely. Well, first of all, I'll say it's much easier as we all know to talk about failure once you've moved past it. So it became much easier to tell the story of the 148 noes after we had already successfully raised our series A and B rounds. So we've raised almost $30 million in venture capital so far for The Muse.

Bobbi Rebell:
Amazing.

Kathryn Minshew:
It's been a totally wild ride. So my financial story involves what I set out to do, or rather what I did in the series A to ensure that we had an outcome that was very different than the seed round. Because, obviously, I knew how important it was for that next round, to get it right from the go-ahead. And so to try and condense the story into something very quick, we wanted to go out and initially we were thinking about raising six to $7 million. But actually given the advice that I got while preparing for a fundraise, we were actually told to start out saying we were thinking five to six or five to seven, and then slowly let the demand build. So instead of us going out for a big number and being less sure if the market would respond, start out with a smaller number. And then, if the market is really excited about our business, let the negotiations and the demand push it up, which ended up working really well for us because we ended up raising 10 million after we had overwhelming demand.

Kathryn Minshew:
I also was incredibly structured about the process probably because I was a little bit paranoid after having such a difficult time with our seed round. So ahead of time, I really worked the story, got all of our metrics out there. I thought about how best to position them, which numbers to lead with, what to put first so that we could really grab people's attention. We were obviously lucky in that we had really great revenue growth and a lot of very strong metrics.

Kathryn Minshew:
And then, I actually created a spreadsheet. I took all of the investors that I was even remotely interested in talking to. I put them in a spreadsheet. Divided it up by location, so that when I was in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, DC, et cetera, I could meet with people who were there. Then, I included information about whether they had invested in any similar companies, any competitors. Any companies that might give them a better understanding into what we did at The Muse. I would include notes from different meetings. I actually would also rank how excited I was after each meeting to continue conversations, so I could prioritize the ones that I was most excited about. I would say that really helped to keep me on track, and so we were also able to run a pretty tight process, where we pinned all of our first meetings with investors to the same two-and-a-half or three-week period.

Kathryn Minshew:
It was really interesting because in the seed round, we had a lot of trouble with investors saying, "Oh, I'm busy, right now. But how about in a month?" I wasn't confident enough in the business, so we would just take whatever we could get for the series A because I was running a process. I would write back to people and be like, "You know I'd love to talk, but unfortunately, I need to get all of our first meetings done by X date. So I can push it a few days, but let me know if you're going to be able to make it work. And if not, I'm totally fine. We'll keep in touch and maybe there'll be another round that you can participate in." And what was fascinating is a lot of people would say, "Oh, let me move around my schedule. Absolutely, I can make it work." And suddenly, we were negotiating from a more even position. And the ones that weren't able to or the ones that said, "No, sorry. I can't do it," they probably would have never backed the company to begin with.

Bobbi Rebell:
True. Do you think looking back, obviously when you were going for the most money, the second round, you were a stronger situation to begin with. But had you used the techniques that you were now using that you just talked about, would you have had more success the first time?

Kathryn Minshew:
You know, maybe. It's so hard to know because the seed round for a startup is really different than later rounds because people aren't necessarily looking at your metrics. They are to some extent, but they're really betting on you. And I think the fact that it was my first proper company that I was fairly young at the time, this was six-and-a-half years ago, so it was very early in my career. And I think that plus the lack of knowledge or understanding about what we were trying to do in the business were some of the biggest concerns. So I do think we could have had a better time and controlled the process a bit more, but I also think there were just some fundamental and structural things that we had to get through and really prove on very limited capital before we could really go out and successfully fundraise from bigger investors.

Bobbi Rebell:
So now, what is your advice to listeners and especially want-to-be entrepreneurs that are looking to raise money, start businesses, and especially to young women?

Kathryn Minshew:
I would say, firstly, you can't understate the importance of perseverance because it is so hard in the early days. But I think that doesn't mean that you just keep doing the same thing without adjusting your tactics and thinking about how you could be more strategic. I found it to be so invaluable to get the advice from others, especially other female entrepreneurs. Because sometimes we have a lot of great friends who are entrepreneurs, who are men, but sometimes the tactics or the approaches or behaviors that would work for them, didn't work the same when I did them because of unintentional or unconscious bias or other things. And so I found that it was really helpful to surround myself with a network of entrepreneurs of both genders to get a lot of advice, to test out different approaches to see what felt natural and normal to me. Because if it feels too unnatural to you, investors will probably pick up on that, and it won't help you communicate that confidence that you are looking for when you're starting to talk to investors about your business.

Bobbi Rebell:
So one last question about this for our listeners, how do you know the difference between maybe your idea just isn't that good, and that's why you're not getting funding and you should stop, or you should persevere as you did because your idea just isn't hitting the right people at the right time with the right message?

Kathryn Minshew:
Absolutely. So you've just gotten to the crux of what makes this so hard, which is that there is no silver bullet, and you will never have 100% confidence or certainty either way, which is incredibly difficult. However, I think there are a few things you can use to help you directionally get that sense of whether your business is likely to be successful. The first, and I think the most important is to figure out who are your end users and do as much as possible to get unfiltered feedback from them.

Kathryn Minshew:
For example, if you tell someone you're the founder of a company and ask for their input, they're more likely to give you positive input because they don't want to hurt your feelings. If you tell them that you're a consultant helping a company understand how its marketing positioning lands or helping a company better understand what its doing well and what it's not, people are much more likely to give you totally unfiltered feedback, and you need that unfiltered feedback when you're trying to ascertain if you really need to keep pushing forward on your business.

Kathryn Minshew:
So in my case, even though we were getting rejection, after rejection, after rejection from a lot of investors, we were hearing things from our users and from people who were signing up to use The Muse that indicated we had tapped a nerve and we were on a path that people love. They wanted us to use the product. They'd say I love The Muse, but can you do these five things? Make it better here. Change this. That's all positive feedback because that shows you that there is a need. You just have to keep getting better, and I think that is what gave me the oomph to keep going. But I will just call out it's not like I knew the whole time, oh my gosh, this is a great idea. I just have to keep going. I definitely struggled with whether I should accept that these people that were much more experienced than I, that were successful investors, maybe they knew something I didn't, and I just had hubris.

Bobbi Rebell:
All right. Let's do a money tip. You are the career guru, and you have so many amazing ideas and tips in your book. I wanted to pull some out of there and get maybe your favorite tips that people can use in their careers, and their ventures that they could maybe put to work ASAP at their next job interview or their next negotiation, what have it.

Kathryn Minshew:
I thought through a lot of different things I could share here, and the one I came up with that I wanted to talk about today is the fact that when you negotiate, it is not just all about cash and I think it can be really empowering to realize that because so many of us have anxiety about negotiating a salary, negotiating a raise. Whether it's at the beginning of a job search, or when you're getting a promotion. But I would encourage people, remember that there are a lot of other things you can negotiate for.

Kathryn Minshew:
So obviously, base salary is the thing that people talk about most. But what about signing bonuses, performance bonuses if you achieve certain things? You can also negotiate for flex time, for vacation time, for a better title that might help you in your career. One of the most creative things that I've heard is people negotiating for a budget for professional development and training.

Bobbi Rebell:
Specific money. In other words, not just saying, "Will you send me," in theory. It's very specific.

Kathryn Minshew:
Oh, very specific. In fact, there was someone at an organization that had mandatory salary bans that the leadership wasn't able to go beyond, and so she said great. Why don't you dedicate ... I think it was five or $10,000 towards training development conference that will include my travel, and that will help level me up to be a better employee for you, to let me do my job better, and it won't invalidate the salary cap. This will just be another way that you're investing in my growth, and they said yes, and I think that is such a great example of creativity when it comes to negotiation.

Bobbi Rebell:
Amazing. That's such great advice. Thank you so much. Tell us quickly before we wrap up, what are you guys up to at The Muse these day, and where can people find you?

Kathryn Minshew:
Absolutely. So people can find me at The Muse or @kmin on Twitter. As a company, we are doing a lot right now, but we have been really focusing on we rolled out a new feature called Discussions on TheMuse.com, where people can ask and answer each other's questions. So if you have a career question or you want to learn more about negotiating a raise, we've got a way now to get advice from our community and hear other people's stories. And then, I'm also just kind of fascinated down the road by continuing to explore this idea of how people make the best career decisions, how they find the right fits, and how we help companies tell their stories in a more genuine and authentic way that isn't about just come work here, we're great, but really shares the information people need to know to decide do I want to be part of that organization, or be part of that company?

Bobbi Rebell:
Hey, friends. Here's my take on what Kathryn had to say.

Bobbi Rebell:
Financial grownup tip, number one. Like she did, do your homework, including learning what went wrong the first time. Even if you think the companies or whomever you were pitching to were wrong to reject your idea, we all have room for improvement. Kathryn went out and asked for advice, for example, about how much money to ask for. She actually went for a smaller number based on the advice as a strategy, and ended up raising more money, so it worked. She was also much more organized and structured in her preparations the second time around. She was specific to each company, and deliberate in her presentation. She planned geographically, so she could be efficient with her time. Kathryn even ranked how excited she was about prospects, so she could prioritize and focus on her resources and the best alow there.

Bobbi Rebell:
Financial grownup tip, number two. Stand up for yourself, even if you need them more than they need you. In Kathryn's second round, when prospects said they didn't have the time to meet with her any time soon, she pushed back and was not only able to get them to the table faster when they were interested, but also to level the playing field for a stronger negotiating position.

Bobbi Rebell:
Thank you for listening to this episode of financial grownup. Please subscribe if you have not already. Reviews are great if you have just a few minutes. You can follow me @bobbirebell on Twitter, @bobbirebell1 on Instagram, and learn more about the show at BobbiRebell.com/FinancialGrownupPodcast. I hope that you all enjoyed this episode of "Financial Grownups" with The Muse's Kathryn Minshew, and that we all got one step closer to being financial grownups.

Bobbi Rebell:
"Financial Grownup" with Bobbi Rebell is edited and produced by Steve Stuart, and is a BRK Media production.