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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Muse's Successful Application to Y Combinator (W12)

The Muse applied to Y Combinator in fall of 2011 and was accepted into the winter 2012 batch. In the spirit of sharing what worked for us, we are publishing our application to encourage more women and non-traditional candidates to apply.

We didn't think we were what YC was looking for, but we applied anyway, and they proved us wrong.

Apply here for Y Combinator's next batch.

Your YC username:

Company name:
The Daily Muse

Company url, if any:

Please enter the Posterous url of a 1 minute video introducing the founders.

YC usernames of all founders, including you, KMinshew, separated by spaces.
KMinshew ACavoulacos MMCreery

YC usernames of all founders, including you, KMinshew, who will live in the Bay Area January through March if we fund you.
KMinshew ACavoulacos MMCreery

What is your company going to make?

The Daily Muse is building a massive community of job-­seeking women to rival The Ladders. We curate high cache job opportunities across fields that reflect the varied interests of today's professionals: finance, start­up, tech, media, fashion, and global public health, just to name a few. In addition to pay-to-­post career opportunities, we offer smart content and soon to be ­launched professional development courses. We want to corner "career" for professional women.

For each founder, please list: YC username; name; age; year of graduation, school, degree and subject for each degree; email address; personal url, github url, facebook id, twitter id; employer and title (if any). Put unfinished degrees in parens. List the main contact first. Separate founders with blank lines.

  • KMinshew; 25; graduated 2008; Duke University; B.A. in International Relations and B.A. in French;;­to­kigali;; @KMinshew1; The Daily Muse, CEO

  • ACavoulacos; 25 years old; graduated 2008; Yale University; B.A. in Political Science;;; Twitter ID: @acavoulacos; Employer and title: The Daily Muse, COO

  • MMcCreery: 25 years old; graduated 2008; Harvard University, B.A. Chemistry & Physics; (University of California San Francisco; PhD in Biomedical Sciences);; ; @melissa_quino ; Employer & Title: The Daily Muse, Editor in Chief

Please tell us in one or two sentences about the most impressive thing other than this startup that each founder has built or achieved.

  • In 2010 KMinshew worked on the national strategic plan for the introduction of the HPV Vaccine for the Government of Rwanda, including the development of a comprehensive plan for cervical cancer screening and treatment. As part of her role, she supported negotiations between the Rwandan Ministry of Health and Merck that led to a quadrupling in the amount of vaccine donated by Merck, from 500,000 doses to 2 million, and the introduction of the vaccine to Rwanda in April 2011 as the first sub-Saharan African country to offer it via the public health system.

  • After millions of Americans lost their retirement savings in the 2008 economic downturn, ACavoulacos created the first holistic model that computed by age and income group ­ how far from retirement security each demographic segment would be on the day they retired. With that complete picture into our (dire) future, she was able to model the effects of 10 potential laws being considered by a lobby in DC, to ensure that bills presented to lawmakers would in fact have the positive impact on our country that they hoped. The best of those are currently making it through Congress.

  • Under MMcCreery's leadership, our previous start­up PYP Media was named a Forbes' Top Website for Women and lauded for the sharp content and avid following it had earned. She was also the former Executive Editorial Editor of the Harvard Crimson.

Please tell us about the time you, KMinshew, most successfully hacked some (non­computer) system to your advantage.

I spent 77 days traveling around the world and only paid for a hotel room once; instead I stayed with friends from the year I spent living abroad, former colleagues from my time working at the UN, families I met en route, and a few shared hostel dorms when the first 3 options fell through. I spent time in Oman, China, and Ecuador as well as France, Australia and Sweden, and a lot of places in between. In Belize, I once managed to talk my way onto a plane that departed 12 minutes after I arrived at the airport. Traveling light and cheaply is all about hacking systems, finding work­arounds, turning strangers into allies and not giving up no matter how zany things get. I freaking love that stuff.

Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together. Include urls if possible.

For several months in 2009 and 2010, all three co-founders co-­led a team that tackled the 10­-year strategic review for Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street)'s South African production, Takalani Sesame. We created a strategy and operations project that focused on key strengths and weaknesses of the organization's partners (broadcasting, production, and funding), as well as areas for Takalani's growth in the future.

Starting in September 2010, all three cofounders began working on a venture called PYP Media, which was the predecessor to The Daily Muse. We had two co-founders at the time who were not a good fit, which led to a split in July 2011 after which we formed The Daily Muse (see below).

How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?

All three founders met while working together at McKinsey & Company in the summer of 2008. We have worked together on numerous McKinsey-­related projects throughout 2008, 2009, and 2010, culminating in the Takalani Sesame 10­-year strategic planning and review described above.

In September 2010, KMinshew and ACavoulacos founded their first company together, PYP Media, with two other ex-­McKinsey women. We quickly brought MMcCreery in as our first employee and Managing Editor. PYP grew quickly and won a Forbes' award for Top Websites for Women under Kathryn and Alex's leadership and Melissa's editorial direction, but some jockeying for control by founders #3-­4 led to the disbanding of the founding team (pre-­funding) and the formation of The Daily Muse in July 2011, with KMinshew, ACavoulacos, and MMcCreery as co­founders. It was a painful and an expensive learning experience ­ but a great one for us to have so early on. Needless to say, we've learned some pretty incredible lessons from the failure of our first company.

[For reference, we worked closely with Bo Yaghmaie at Cooley LLP to make sure our new company was 100% legally kosher, and we're good.]

Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you're making?

We picked this idea because we are our customer: ambitious, confident women who don't want to find our next job on; who are equally likely to consider a tech start­up as the Gates Foundation as a hedge fund; who spent years searching for smart content that doesn't dumb down career issues for women.

Among the members of the founding team we have domain expertise in recruiting; in content creation and promotion; and in directly engaging with women ages 20-­35. What's more, we've been working in this specific field (job opportunities and career advice for professional women) for the last year, and the response from women has been unbelievable. Our user testimonials sometimes verge on the fanatical.

What's new about what you're making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn't exist yet (or they don't know about it)?

Members of our target demographic are currently finding jobs primarily via personal connections and occasionally via high­-touch recruiters who charge 20% of starting salary per hire; a small minority uses sites like the Ladders and an even smaller percentage turns to, SimplyHired and the like.

The skewed ratios of men to women on these sites is reflective of the research on transactional vs. relationship-­based networking, which is why the content arm of The Daily Muse is extremely important towards attracting and retaining a large pool of qualified women.

No one is currently tackling the "smart content for women" space, and it's one we can begin to capture with front runner advantage. Marie Claire is releasing a special issue on career, which they are consulting us about, and sites like ForbesWomen and Excelle at are desperately trying to capture the younger demographic. We have it and we're growing quickly.

Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?

LinkedIn will always be a fearsome player in the recruiting space, but its approach and interface will always leave room for other players in the space. The Ladders is another likely competitor, though we believe they are limited by the banker­-esque brand they've created and the fact that many young professionals do not solely define themselves by the ability to make over a certain salary; more and more, individuals are drawn to tech start­ups or global development in addition to, say, corporate strategy.

On the media end, Marie Claire is moving sharply in our direction (professional women, career content) but because of its strategy and the limitations of its mass-­market, print-­focused model, it is likely to become more of an ally than a competitor. We are in frequent touch with Marie Claire's publishers to talk about how we can work together.

LearnVest is another potential competitor, should we decide to move into personal finance or should they move strongly into career.

What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don't get?

We understand the demographic, inside and out. Most of the people trying to hire these women, market to them, and entertain them are well outside of it. They may have the "fashion advice for women" angle down pat, but we have a deep and nuanced understanding of the ambitious professional that makes our fans rabid and our voice distinct.

How do or will you make money? How much could you make? (We realize you can't know precisely, but give your best estimate.)

We have a clear step-­by-­step sense of how we could make $40M/year and market data that suggests a much larger opportunity if we can figure out how to monetize it. Currently, we're interested in:

- Email newsletters targeted by industry containing a mixture of content, paid job postings and sponsorships;
- A dynamic job board organized by industry and location, with additional predictive abilities telling candidates who possess certain skills or are looking in certain niche areas to consider [ X ] job in an unrelated field which fits a similar profile;
- A large resume database which recruiters and hiring managers can access and search for a fee, again with predictive and skills-­based abilities to suggest that a certain professional in finance might be a very good fit for a lead dev role at a burgeoning start­up

(To go bottom up, we believe email newsletters can get a $250 CPM for targeted job listings and a $2500 finders' fee for successful hires; job boards for our demographic can charge roughly $350/post, and resume database access runs roughly $1000 per recruiter per month ­ more if predictive functions are added. Top down, there are 7.5M women in our demographic changing jobs every year. If the top 10% are worth $20,000 each time that happens, the overall addressable market for recruiting alone is $15B.)

Training & Professional Development:
- Direct to customer or business / white labeled training program (a natural extension of our core content which we've already been approached about by several companies)

(To go bottom up, we believe individuals will pay $15 per course or, as LearnVest & Lynda have demonstrated, $120-­$250 for a year of access to courses. Businesses, on the other hand, spend over $55B every year on training and development in the US alone, and this market has a 9.8% CAGR).

Advertising & Branded Content:

-Examples here include content branded by Dove's self esteem campaign; sponsorship of our "Finance" vertical by CitiCards, or an AmEx and Dell sponsored Women's Symposium

If you've already started working on it, how long have you been working and how many lines of code (if applicable) have you written?

Our beta site is up and running at with a minimum viable product based on attracting the userbase necessary to hit the ground running with our job products. We are launching our first career newsletter Wednesday with a paid placement by Uber and are working on the outlines for our predictive job products.

How far along are you? Do you have a beta yet? If not, when will you? Are you launched? If so, how many users do you have? Do you have revenue? If so, how much? If you're launched, what is your monthly growth rate (in users or revenue or both)?

We had 22,000 users to our beta in September with 25-­30% growth predicted for October. We've done our first revenue deal, a recruiting contact with Uber, which was a flat fee for the job posting / "Career Concierge" newsletter plus a performance bonus for each hire sourced through The Daily Muse. That newsletter and contract begins the day after tomorrow (10/12/11).

If you have an online demo, what's the url? (Please don't password protect it; just use an obscure url.)
We don't have an online demo for our more sophisticated job products yet; they're still in the whiteboard stage.

How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-­and-­egg problem in the sense that it won't be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?

We use content as a lead gen to attract users: our content is currently syndicated out via Huffington Post, Forbes, Business Insider, and Inc, and we're working on closing a video deal with HuffPost that will drive additional thousands of users back to our site. One of our strategies that has been very successful has been having inspirational and influential women write original content for The Daily Muse.

Arianna Huffington wrote the lead article for our launch in September, and she's been followed by women ranging from Cindy Gallop and Rachel Sklar to the head of the U.S. Geological Survey. Marissa Mayer from Google and Nicole Lapin from CNBC have agreed to write as well.

We've also agreed to a partnership with Refinery29, a global fashion newsletter with 500,000 subscribers, to provide information & plugs for The Daily Muse to all of their subs in November in exchange for awesome tailored career content from us. If it goes well, we plan to extend it.

If we fund you, which of the founders will commit to working exclusively (no school, no other jobs) on this project for the next year?

Myself and ACavoulacos will be working exclusively, with no other commitments, for the next year. Probably the next five years, whether you fund us or not, but we hope you do fund us! MMcCreery is getting her PhD in Biomedical Sciences and is therefore only 1/2 time on the company, a fact that is reflected in her equity stake. She was full­time for the first several months and we've seen smooth sailing with the combination of her as Editor in Chief and our one FT employee Adrian as Managing Editor. All of our Associate Editors (8) and writers (75-­80) are volunteers.

For founders who can't, why not? What level of commitment are they willing to make?
See above.­­ Melissa still spends 40+ hours per week running Editorial for The Daily Muse, which frees up myself and Alex to concentrate on everything else. In the rest of her time, she is getting a PhD in cancer research at UCSF.

Do any founders have other commitments between January and March 2012 inclusive?
Nothing other than previously described above (MMcCreery).

Do any founders have commitments in the future (e.g. finishing college, going to grad school), and if so what?
Nothing other than previously described above (MMcCreery). We are otherwise all yours!

Where do you live now, and where would the company be based after YC?
We live in New York City, and the company would be based here after YC.

Are any of the founders covered by noncompetes or intellectual property agreements that overlap with your project? Will any be working as employees or consultants for anyone else?
No, we will not be working as employees or consultants for anyone else, nor are any of us covered by noncompetes or intellectual property agreements.

Was any of your code written by someone who is not one of your founders? If so, how can you safely use it? (Open source is ok of course.)

We brought Alec Turnbull, a close friend of mine and a great web dev, onto the team in June to build our minimum ­viable ­product. He's a great guy but in September we mutually decided that his heart wasn't in staying with us long term, so we've been helping him find his next move and he's been helping us interview developers. We have narrowed the field down to two highly awesome, amazing female developers, one of whom we would like to bring on as soon as we close a round. (We like male devs too! We just happen to be finding females at the moment).

Are any of the following true? (a) You are the only founder. (b) You are a student who may return to school when the next term starts. (c) Half or more of your group can't move to the Bay Area. (d) One or more founders will keep their current jobs. (e) None of the founders are programmers. (Answering yes doesn't disqualify you. It's just to remind us to check.)

If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we've been waiting for. Often when we fund people it's to do something they list here and not in the main application.
Nope :)

Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered. (The answer need not be related to your project.)

91% of women feel advertisers don't understand them.

Also, honey badger don't care.