• The Muse Raises $16 Million for its Next-Gen Career Site

    Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.11.21 PMThe Muse, a New York-based career site that offers job opportunities, skill-building courses, coaching, and video profiles meant to show what it’s like to work at different companies, has raised $16 million in Series B funding led by Icon Ventures. Earlier backers Aspect Ventures, DBL Partners and QED Investors also joined the round, which brings funding for the 4.5-year-old startup to $28.7 million.

    Co-founder and CEO Kathryn Minshew says that platform’s users are largely women — 65 percent of them, in fact — with 50 percent of users below age 30, another quarter of them in their 30s, and the rest age 40 and over. That’s apparently been good for business. “When women find The Muse,” says Minshew, “they’ll come back and tell us, ‘We told 15 people,’” about the platform.

    What’s also good for business is LinkedIn’s announced sale last week to Microsoft for a stunning $26.2 billion, says Minshew. We talked yesterday about why the acquisition bodes well for The Muse, as well as what the company is building right now that could double its size.

    You founded the Muse with two other women, Alex Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery, with whom you worked at McKinsey. Cavoulacos is COO but McCreery is no longer with the company. What happened?

    She’s an advisor and a current PhD student at [University of California San Francisco] studying cancer biology. Whenever I come up to SF, I usually stay with her.

    The Muse has a variety of revenue streams, but the biggest is recruiting. How many companies are listing jobs and corporate profiles on the site at this point?

    We’re in the high 500s, with everything from smaller businesses to Fortune 1000 companies using the platform. In finance, there’s Vanguard, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs. In travel and hospitality, there’s Marriott. We have The Gap in retail; HBO, Conde Nast, Bloomberg and Hearst in media; and insurance companies like Geico and Aflac.

    You also do content marketing, letting sponsors basically give your users recommendations around career-related products and services. How big a business is that?

    It makes up a small but growing part of our model — probably high single digits to low double digits. We grew revenue last year by 5x, and sponsored content probably grew by the same percentage. Deloitte, for example,  sponsored an article about how to go from a military to a civilian career that was authored by an employee of theirs who has done it.

    Much more here.

  • The Muse Raises $10 Million (and Turns Away $10 Million)

    Kathryn MinshewThe Muse, a 3.5-year-old New York-based career site that offers job opportunities, advice, skill-building courses, and video profiles meant to show what it’s like to work at different companies, has just raised $10 million in Series A funding from Aspect Ventures, DBL Partners and QED Investors.

    Co-founder and CEO Kathryn Minshew says the platform, which is largely used by millennials – 65 percent of them women and more than 50 percent nonwhite — could easily have raised $20 million.

    We talked yesterday about the fast-growing, 33-person company — and what happened out on the fundraising trail. Our chat has been edited for length.

    You founded the Muse with two other women, Alex Cavoulacos and Melissa McCreery. How did you come together?

    We met while working at McKinsey, during my first first week on the job in the fall of 2008. Lehman had just fallen. There was a lot of upheaval. Even though McKinsey was a great educational experience, I realized I didn’t want to be a consultant. The three of us kept talking about what it would be like if you could get advice on your career and see inside companies before applying and we finally thought: maybe we should just start [our own career site].

    You say it’s taken off like gangbusters.

    It started off as a very basic content career site in September 2011, but we’d attracted 70,000 people to it in the third month. It wasn’t impressive looking, but based on that user growth, Y Combinator accepted us into its winter program and by the following summer, we had 100,000 people on the site each month. Now, 3.5 million people are visiting each month.

    Most are millennials. Our average user is 29, compared with LinkedIn, whose average user is 47. Sixty-five percent of our users are female, compared with LinkedIn, whose users are 55 percent male.

    Why is that?

    We think it’s partly because LinkedIn is more of a transactional networking tool; it isn’t a place where users feel like someone is looking out for their career.

    How is The Muse making money?

    The vast majority comes from recruiting; we now 300 companies listing jobs and corporate profiles on the site. Generally, companies are measuring their ROI by how may hires they’re making, how aware people are of their brands, and how many people engage with their materials, which we put together in part by sending a videographer into every company’s offices. We want users to see authentic, quality materials about what these workplaces are like. [Companies] just pay to sign up, and we take care of everything.

    What about content?

    We have a small amount of revenue that comes through content marketing. Our users are generally very willing to take our recommendations around career-related products and services, but we want to make sure anything sponsored is noted and that we don’t work with partners that we don’t think are relevant or up to our standards. Trust is an important part of our brand.

    What are some ways that you’re using all the data you’re collecting?

    We can tell that people who are interested in certain companies will probably like other types of companies that wouldn’t be obvious from the [mandate] and size of those companies. We can pull out when someone is open to looking for a job because what they’re clicking on and reading starts to change [and we can personalize the experience for them].

    The data is useful for employers, too. They want to be able to compare their recruiting efforts to other companies, so if they say, “We didn’t see as many applications for this role as we wanted to,” we can tell them, “We can see 1,000 people clicked on that role and 40 people applied. That conversion is substantially lower than your close competitor; maybe there’s something in the job description that isn’t communicating what you want it to.”

    How many markets is The Muse operating in currently?

    We’re actively serving jobs in eight markets right now, including New York, San Francisco, L.A., Chicago, D.C., and Boston. But we’re launching soon in Atlanta, Austin, and Houston, and we get nice – and angry – requests from Portland, Raleigh-Durham and other places asking why we aren’t there yet, so we’re investing heavily in expanding the number of cities we serve.

    How was fundraising?

    Even though the market is very good right now, you never know how it’s going to receive your particular company. But it was fun – even a bit crazy. The market is a little insane. People were aggressively pushing us to do things that didn’t make sense. I had to go to a lot of people who I really like and who would probably be very valuable and useful and say, “We’re not going to raise $20 million.”

  • A Duo Reunites Over a New, Online Lending Opportunity

    ApplePieDuring the go-go ‘90s, an innovative company called OffRoad Capital emerged on the scene, pairing accredited investors with startups seeking funding via its online platform. A kind of AngelList 1.0, even OffRoad itself was backed by $17 million from roughly 150 accredited investors.

    Alas, its timing was lousy. Just as OffRoad began gaining real momentum, the tech market nosedived, and in 2001, the company was quietly acquired for an undisclosed amount.

    Now the band is back together. A year ago, in fact, OffRoad founder Stephen Pelletier and former OffRoad executive VP Denise Thomas rejoined forces to create ApplePie Capital, a San Francisco-based online loan business focused on franchise financing. Now the pair, who say they’re chasing a roughly $42 billion market, are announcing $3.77 million in funding from Freestyle Capital, Signia Venture Partners, QED Investors, and Camp One Ventures. Yesterday, I caught up with Thomas, who has taken on the role of CEO, to learn more.

    Why the franchise industry?

    We saw an opportunity partly because there’s a lot of data that shows the franchise segment of the small business market is a heck of a lot less risky than small businesses at large.

    Where is the money coming from that you plan to loan out?

    We have [access] to capital aside from the capital we’ve raised to operate our business — money from institutional and individual investors that will allow us to fully fund the loans that come on the platform. We aren’t disclosing those specific sources; that’s precious information to us. But all sorts of interesting people are involved.

    Not many people realize this but on P2P lending platforms, just 25 percent of the capital comes from individuals at this point. The rest comes from institutions. They saw the performance data and realized they could base decisions on their own models to ensure they’d hit their target returns. Our model is attractive to many of those same investors, particularly double-bottom line investors with mandates to create jobs. One in 20 working Americans is employed in the franchise industry.

    What interest rates will you charge, and how much will you see versus these institutional investors whose money you’re using?

    Our interest rates will range rom 8 to 12 percent and could get even lower over time [as our risk falls]. We don’t make money on the spread; that goes to the investors, minus a 1 percent processing fee, and there’s no real margin there. We make money off the origination fee, which is 5 percent if the money comes entirely from our network and 3 percent if [our customers] raise money from their own network, which we also help facilitate, taking on the liability and handling processing, state registrations, loan servicing, and so forth.

    Why is what you’re offering better than SBA loans, which offer more competitive interest rates?

    I’ve interviewed more than 50 brands, and SBA loans have become very painful. First, they’re offering 20 percent fewer of them before the financial crash of 2008. It’s also very difficult for anyone to get a loan of less than $1 million. And though today’s rates are 5 to 6 percent, you’re not locked into those rates; they could change, unlike our rates. Not last, it can take up to four six months. We’re offering speed and flexibility. By the way, we’re compatible with SBA loans. Maybe someone can’t qualify for one today, but after they’ve owned two or three or four units, they might.

    Is there a penalty for paying off your loans early?


    I remember OffRoad creating an index of startups that investors could back. Is there a plan to package these loans together to minimize risk for ApplePie’s investors?

    Absolutely. We don’t have a fund today, but we’re already diversified across five industries, and for now, there will be two ways for investors to participate. They can either choose the brand they want to invest in, or they can talk with us about a vehicle that, let’s say, commits $10,000 across 10 deals. We can ensure that happens.

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