Alexandra Cavoulacos — The Muse

The Human Company Playbook
October 26, 2016

How The Muse defied startup cul­ture and defined their own— from the start.

The Muse’s cul­ture is unlike many. Babies are wel­come in office. Ass­holes are banned. Most dis­tinct, though, is their tim­ing. At small com­pa­nies, peo­ple poli­cies are often formed after a trig­ger event. Not so at The Muse.

The founders never ques­tioned whether to offer employ­ees health­care. They’ve long had a parental leave pol­icy. They feel strongly that work­ing all week­end and late at night is too much.

Founded in 2011 by CEO Kathryn Min­shew and COO/​Head of Prod­uct Alex Cavoula­cos, the NYC-​​based career-​​advice por­tal has helped 50 mil­lion peo­ple a year (par­tic­u­larly Mil­len­ni­als) find the right com­pany cul­ture for them. Fit­tingly, The Muse’s own cul­ture is a model for the mod­ern workplace—influenced by the cofounders’ belief in doing what is right, and by their expe­ri­ences at places like McK­in­sey, where cul­ture is at the forefront.

Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties, dif­fer­ent lifestyles, dif­fer­ent needs at dif­fer­ent times in their lives,” COO Alex Cavoula­cos explained. “Mak­ing sure that our core cul­ture be one that is wel­com­ing of all—I think that’s how we’ve approached it.”

Not quite “all”—their job descrip­tions out­line a strict “no ass­holes” rule, and it’s not in jest: “It’s been really impor­tant to us in terms of not mak­ing excep­tions for bad behav­ior just because some­one is bril­liant enough or cre­ative enough or brings in enough money,” Alex said.

She describes their guid­ing com­pass as their Muse-​​y val­ues: empa­thy, care, pas­sion, and a focus on doing the right thing to do. It’s eth­i­cal, but it’s also part of build­ing a long-​​term busi­ness plan. A startup with a short-​​term sell might func­tion with ass­holes in their ranks, but not if they’re in it for the long haul.

To read the full inter­view, visit The Human Com­pany Play­book.