How We Started A Career Site Used By 50% Of Top MBAs

TransparentCareer Founders Mitch Kirby & Kevin Marvinac

Mitch Kirby & Kevin Marvinac are co-founders of TransparentCareer, a free career platform for MBAs to share and view compensation information and company ratings. We wanted to share our journey of starting a company as students – the positives and negatives – in the hopes it will help MBAs navigate their own career journey.

In fall of 2015, Mitch Kirby and I were classmates at Chicago Booth, and both feeling incredibly frustrated with the recruiting process. Both of us were doing off-campus searches, and couldn’t get the information we needed to find which firms to pursue, what roles they hired for, and what compensation packages looked like.

Booth’s career office is stellar, but can’t share granular compensation details with students on a company- or position-level. Plus, we couldn’t tell if MBAs had actually liked working there without scheduling a ton of coffee chats.

We tried using sites like Glassdoor, but the information was too muddied to be useful – there’s no ability to perform “look-like-me” comparisons. A $74K-$142K salary range for a PM position at Amazon? Hardly helpful.

SHARING THE PROTOTYPE WITH CLASSMATES

So we built the prototype of TransparentCareer (then called TransparentMBA) and shared it with some classmates. The gist: we’d invite them to anonymously share their internship and full-time offers in return for access to the full database.

Eighteen months later, TransparentCareer is the largest source of MBA career data, with 10K+ company profiles, and we’re expanding rapidly to serve undergraduate and other master’s students.

Here’s a candid look how it all happened.

GOING FROM PROTOTYPE TO 5,000+ USERS IN SIX WEEKS

Most MBAs who want to go the startup route struggle with a major roadblock: finding a technical cofounder to get their product off the ground.

Luckily, Booth offers a fantastic crash-course in Ruby on Rails aimed at future product managers, startup founders, or business leaders working with technical products.  Mitch started building TransparentCareer as his final project, and coding 60+ hours/week in his spare time to get it running.

It’s not pretty, but here it is:


Believe it or not, this beautiful maroon web app supported our first 15,000 MBA users, taking in some fairly nuanced data and displaying it visually.

So, we crossed the first hurdle – getting people to use our prototype – but now we had to think hard about the potential for growing this into a business.  So we applied to Booth’s startup accelerator, the New Venture Challenge. With 10 weeks to make our prototype into a real, venture-scalable business, we had our work cut out for us.  

This was the pivotal moment in taking our idea and making it into reality, and one I’d recommend for any MBA student.  You’re racing against the clock to validate your startup under a ton of constraints.

WORKING 50-PLUS HOUES A WEEK ON TOP OF CLASSES

All four cofounders worked 50+ hours per week on top of classes to answer these questions, and eventually, we were ready for the final pitch in front of top venture capitalists from around the country. We ended up placing 1st in a competitive field and earned some seed capital for our business.

I’ve shared our pitchdeck here for 2 reasons. First, so you know that it’s not always the prettiest decks that make the difference (looking at you, consultants). Second, so you can see how the progress we made helped to validate and solidify the longer-term vision for our business – to be the online source for better, more granular, career data.

But our work during NVC was just the beginning…

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN AND INTO THE FIRE

After winning some seed capital, we had to think about our optionality. Mitch had an offer from a top consulting firm, and I was just starting my summer internship at Airbnb. I firmly believe more MBA’s don’t start companies right away for one reason: the opportunity cost is too high. It’s much easier for debt-ridden aspiring entrepreneurs to say, “well I’ll just do a couple years in consulting and figure it out later”.  Here’s how we made the choice to take the plunge:

  • Risk Profile: What are the risks to our personal lives and careers (e.g. financial risks, reneging on an offer, postponing graduation)? Can we mitigate these risks?
  • Optionality: Will we retain or gain career optionality if we become full-time founders?
  • Momentum: How much progress are we making? Do we believe we can scale this progress exponentially by going full-time, hiring a team, and raising capital?
  • Validation: Are there signs (customers, users, market) that indicate we could be onto something here?