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.