By Sarah Schmid Stevenson, Xconomy
In the past decade, there has been plenty of handwringing in places like Indiana over the droves of talented young people leaving the state after graduation. Tech talent, in particular, tends to flee for the coasts as fast as possible, so it can be a challenge for homegrown companies to attract the attention of job seekers.
Adding to this dilemma is a growing distaste for phone conversations among the younger generations. (Raise your hand if you have a twentysomething in your family who sends your call to voicemail, only to immediately fire off a text message asking you what in God’s name is so important that it merits a phone call.) Texting has become the primary communication channel for many, and that includes conversations with potential employers—which can stymie the efforts of recruiters still using legacy devices like the telephone.
Canvas, an Indianapolis startup emerging from stealth this week, thinks it may have a solution. Aman Brar, the company’s CEO, calls connecting with the next generation of talent “the conversation du jour” in many corporate suites.
What Canvas offers is a text-based interviewing platform on mobile or desktop app for recruiters and hiring managers. Candidates answer questions from recruiters via standard sms messages, and recruiters use Canvas to rate applicant responses, make recommendations on the best matches, and screen candidates for potential in-person interviews. Canvas makes money by charging recruiters a subscription fee.
Canvas’ features include a portfolio of pre-written interview questions as well as the ability to text job descriptions, videos highlighting a company’s culture, or information on salary and benefits. It also records the conversation as it plays out, eliminating the need to manually take notes and allowing for easy sharing with colleagues and managers. The candidates being contacted don’t need to download any special software to participate—they just text their responses to the recruiter’s questions.
“It’s a better experience for the candidates, and it helps recruiters and hiring managers with more in-depth decision-making,” Brar explains. “Marketers and salespeople are obsessed with meeting people where they are, and Canvas does that.”
The “elusiveness” of young professionals is what’s driving the adoption of Canvas, he says. Between 2017 and 2025, 50 million millennials will be hired, Brar says. According to OpenMarket, approximately 60 percent of millennials prefer to engage with companies over text messages because it’s convenient, fast, and easy. Survey data from Yello indicates that respondents would welcome a text from a business because that’s the form of communication they’re used to, and the report also shows that 86 percent of those surveyed felt positively when text messages were used during the interview period, an increase from 79 percent just one year ago.
Brar began developing Canvas last September, less than a week after he left his previous gig. (“I took the weekend off,” he jokes.) He made his bones in Silicon Valley, where he served as president of cloud computing startup Apparatus, which sold to Virtusa for $32.4 million in 2015. However, he saw Indianapolis’ tech growth unfolding and decided he wanted to return to Indiana to take part. He tapped two former Apparatus execs, chief talent officer Kelly Lavin and chief operating officer Jared Adams, to come on board as co-founders.
Brar spent the remaining months of 2016 fleshing out the Canvas concept, eventually flying back out to the Bay Area to test his ideas. “I was blown away by the response,” he says. “I took it as a sign that I should jump in.”
In fairly short order, Brar raised $1.7 million in seed funding from a group of investors, including Scott Day, senior vice president of people and culture for OpenTable and former head of talent strategy for Airbnb, and Jeff Perkins, founder of Huntbridge and former vice president of human resources at SpaceX. Day and Perkins are on the company’s advisory board along with Bridget Boyle, an HR exec with Roche Diagnostics, and Todd Richardson, co-founder of Emplify and a former Salesforce executive.
Brar says Canvas has so far screened more than 1,000 job candidates, and the company signed its first customer, Aegis Worldwide, in March. (Aegis Worldwide recruits manufacturing and engineering talent.)
“When we started, I would never have guessed our first client would be in manufacturing,” he says, emphasizing that Canvas isn’t just for tech companies.
Brar plans to spend the rest of the year going after more customers and adding features to Canvas. He cites data from Deloitte that found 4 to 10 percent of a company’s budget is spent on human resources technology, for an annual HR spend of tens of billions of dollars in the U.S. alone, he adds.
“It’s a massive opportunity in the sense that talent is on the mind of every company,” he says. “Phone calls are not the norm for the next generation. We’ve ridden Alexander Graham Bell’s phone technology for 140 years, but it’s time to add a new tool to the tool set.”