Last spring and summer, Kathryn Minshew, co-founder of The Muse and one of Inc’s “15 Women to Watch in Tech”, was trying to raise money for the female-focused job site that was growing 30 percent a month and reaching 250,000 dedicated active users every month by June of 2012. She pitched herself, her co-founders — whom she met while working at McKinsey & Company — and the Muse to any and every venture capitalist, angel investor, acquaintance, and friend she could find. The company had solid fundamentals, a strong story, and a passionate community, but the raise wasn’t going well.
At one point, the founder was introduced via email to the head of a VC firm and got a reply from one of his associates. “We were given explicit advice that if we were introduced to a venture partner in a certain way and they passed us off to an associate, we were supposed to respond with, ‘Thanks so much. I’d love to talk, but I’m heads down on a product right now and I’m only able to talk to people with decision-making ability,’” she says. She composed a reply saying as much. Before sending, she showed it to five different male friends who were also founders and they thought the tone was fine. But the response she got from the associate at the firm was shocking. “I got a massive slap on the wrist,” she says. “The tone of the response I received was, ‘Don’t get too big for your britches, little girl.’ And it happened a second time as well.” When she showed the reply to the male founders, they were amazed by the brazenness of the email. They had never received anything similar in tone and couldn’t understand why the response was so cold and angry.