Firing Squad: Canvas' Ben Herman


Forget about Canvas being a text recruiting solution.


The new Canvas (no relation) is all about creating a diversity recruitment platform to reignite the employment landscape and bring DEI to the masses. Good thing for them, Firing Squad loves shooting down startups with big dreams. So can this Canvas eclipse the achievements of the old Canvas?


Gotta listen to find out. Firing Squad is exclusively sponsored by PandoLogic.


PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:

Disability Solutions is changing minds and changing lives through disability inclusion.


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Shark Tank Intro (35s):

Like Shark Tank? Then you'll love Firing Squad! CHAD SOWASH & JOEL CHEESEMAN are here to put the recruiting industry's bravest, ballsiest, and baddest startups through the gauntlet to see if they got what it takes to make it out alive? Dig a fox hole and duck for cover kids the Chad and Cheese Podcast is taking it to a whole other level.


Joel (59s):

What's up everybody? It's your favorite podcast and your cohost Joel Cheeseman joined as always by my favorite person, at least for the next 30 minutes, Chad Sowash and holy shit, we haven't done one of these in a while. This is firing squad, right? Yeah, firing squad. And today we are pleased to welcome Canvas to the show and welcome C E O. We'll get to that in a second. And CEO, Ben Herman, Ben. Welcome to firing squad.


Ben (1m 30s):

Thanks for having me guys. I'm excited to be here.


Joel (1m 33s):

You sound really excited. Are you scared at all? You're so cool. And laid back.


Chad (1m 37s):

We've already found out that we're Ben's emotional fluffers for the day. So it's time to get this bad boy rolling


Joel (1m 47s):

Mornings with Chad and Cheese. Yes. Ben has given us a new multi-million dollar startup idea. Tell him what he's won, Chad.


Chad (1m 54s):

Well Ben, you will have two minutes to pitch Jumpstart. Oh fuck no Canvas. At the end of two minutes, you will hear that bell. Joel and I will hit you with rapid fire Q and A. If your answers start rambling or you just get fucking boring, you're going to hear the crickets. At the end of Q and A, you will receive either big applause, start shopping for that private jet, baby. Golf clap, okay, maybe just to use Cessna or last but not least, firing squad.


Chad (2m 37s):

That means you're pretty much in a holy rowboat man. You got to start this shit from ground zero. Any questions?


Joel (2m 44s):

That'll give you a big wheel from his seventies collection in the garage, if you get the big guns, are you ready to go?


Ben (2m 51s):

No questions. I'm ready.


Joel (2m 53s):

In three, two. Ding, ding, ding.


Ben (2m 57s):

So I'm Ben CEO of Canvas. Spent 10 years recruiting started at the age of 17 and became fascinated by people companies and the whole hiring process. After that decade, having two daughters, I decided that was a lot of smoke and mirrors and this industry and most of the platforms didn't work. So I wanted to create a platform that ultimately helped people of all backgrounds find different opportunities and ready what I found and what I discovered was it was really an accessibility problem. Nothing more than that. And so we started with early and career talent creates a solution, has helped companies like Lyft, Pinterest, Airbnb, Twitch, et cetera, hire more underrepresented groups across the board.


Ben (3m 47s):

Had huge access and recently expanded this company to now take on more business, more experienced talent, and more companies.


Joel (3m 55s):

Where can they find out more about your company, Ben?


Ben (3m 57s):

Canvas.com. All right. Get them Chad.


Chad (4m 1s):

Okay. Ben. So getting a little bit into your history and past, as we take a look at tech today, it's incredibly important to understand that tech for the most part is a commodity and generally the leader is who you bet on. And you're that guy. So what gives a high school dropout the edge over all those Harvard MBA founders that are out there today?


Ben (4m 25s):

Well, I'm sure some would say there is no edge over them, but I would say I disagree. I think it's real life experience has been lived and I don't believe that you can get that in education. And so I committed my whole life to recruiting, as I said, since I was 17 and I worked with the most elite quant funds in the world who hired the most sought after talent and saw many, many different things from inexclusivity to promises that were never kept, to bias processes and to ultimately racism and favoritism that really affected my life.


Ben (5m 6s):

And so I have a real motive behind me to change the world for the positive.


Chad (5m 11s):

Over the years of being in recruiting, you've obviously used tech a lot. What made you think that you could actually take in industry the diversity equity inclusion industry? One, that really has been a smokescreen for the most part and actually make it into something that is quantifiable and something that moves the needle.


Ben (5m 32s):

Yeah, that's a great question. First of all, I would agree with you is, as I say, a lot of smoke and mirrors. I think you have to have the data and you have to have self-reported data. I don't believe that AI and NLP is the future, meaning predictive ethnicity and gender based off of someone's name or photo. We take a color, brave approach, not color blind approach to recruiting and how we go about that is, it's companies working together to complete the diversity data gaps. And if we bring all of that data into one place, every company and every candidate will be more successful.


Joel (6m 11s):

I speak for both of us when I say when, the word Canvas, raised a $20 million or 20 million across our desk, we both did a double-take because there's a Canvas that's near and dear to our heart that you could find at gocanvas.io that was acquired by Jobvite a few years ago. One, props for the canvas.com acquisition. I want to know how that went down. The original name was jumpstart.me. Why did you go to Canvas? Like just, what's the story of moving from Jumpstart to Canvas the domain acquisition? Why'd you land on Canvas? Just tell us, tell me about that story.


Ben (6m 51s):

Yeah, there's a lot to that, that the, the short and sweet, so I don't hear some tweets is that Jumpstart doesn't mean never really had the level of trust, authenticity and magnitude of the vision that we had for the company. And we realized that it didn't kind of allow us to expand our horizons and we felt pretty restrained by the domain. So we wanted a big, more relatable brand and we believe that everyone's painting their own picture. Everyone's telling their own story. And I had great access to the domain through a mutual friend.


Ben (7m 35s):

And so, you know, for, it was a brand that could represent us very, very well.


Joel (7m 39s):

Oh, so say more about, you had great access to the domain. What does that mean? Was it being used? If it was by whom and how did that go down?


Ben (7m 49s):

Canvas.com's never been used, it's always been parked. My, you know, my friend introduced me to someone who, you know, is really well-respected when it comes to domains. I've really geeked out over domains since the nineties and held many myself, and sold them. And so connected with this guy and we hit it off and spent the last year talking about how we could make something work and already great dough that made it worthwhile.


Joel (8m 21s):

Yeah. What was the price tag on that?


Ben (8m 22s):

I can't disclose that.


Joel (8m 27s):

All right. So you announced in may a $20 million series B raise, what will the money be used for? What was the necessity to go out and raise more money? Talk about that.


Ben (8m 40s):

Yeah, the money is really going to be leveraged for us, expanding to help everyone from all backgrounds and all years of experience. As I say, we started in early career, helping students find internships and new grad opportunities, and now this is about helping everyone. And so that means, you know, a lot from a marketing perspective, sales perspective, and then also from our kind of, you know, engineering product and design efforts,


Joel (9m 9s):

Are you international to a high degree now or will that be part of the growth strategy?


Ben (9m 13s):

Not right now, but that's something that we're looking at for the near future


Chad (9m 16s):

Getting candidates and even employees to self ID is rough. They just don't do it because there's nothing in it for them. So why should hiring companies believe Canvas can drive better self ID?


Ben (9m 32s):

You're creating the universal profile for a candidates career. So we're taking data, from every fragmented place, meaning an ATS and bringing that to one place, which is Canvas, allowing candidates to own control and represent that data, how they want. And so that is a big enough incentive for the candidate somewhere having, you know, completion rates above 80% on this data, compared to 10 to 15% from an ATS application.


Chad (10m 6s):

Okay. Help me understand here. Canvas seems like an experience in efficiency layer for only diverse candidates, or do you become the experience layer for all candidates?


Ben (10m 19s):

It's for all candidates? I think it depends on, you know, how we define diverse, right? Diverse means something probably different to every person, which is great, but to us as a company and to me as an individual, it means everyone is we all have unique stories, different backgrounds, and I believe that we should be able to really represent ourselves for our true self versus just our experiences.


Chad (10m 46s):

So it sounds like if I'm a company, I need a programmatic solution, I need a CRM, I need an RMP. Now I need a DRP, a DERP. And all of that layered over top of my ATS. Is that correct? Or do you guys take over for RMP, CRMs? Where can a DRP actually fit in that I can remove and perspectively find money to buy you?


Ben (11m 12s):

We definitely sat on top of the ATS and I would say that we've built one of the most sophisticated universal integrations for all ATSs. For me, I just don't really believe that the future is in, you know, a CRM. We can obviously hold install all historical communication and records and relationships between candidates. But I think the way that CRM has has evolved is just about how do we spam candidates over a period of time to hope that one day they'll respond. And I don't believe that that's the future of recruiting and I don't believe that that's helped the industry today.


Ben (11m 54s):

And I think it's a large problem like that we face, is because candidates are spam by companies, hundreds of times over the course of many years. And so we're more about giving accessibility, giving great to signal, better data to enable companies to actually be speaking to candidates who are more interested in that organization versus going out to try and attract people who aren't necessarily interested.


Chad (12m 19s):

Talk about your integration strategy, getting into the ATSs is where is that? And what is it on the roadmap?


Ben (12m 26s):

At least integrated with Greenhouse, Lever, and then we became official partners of Workday, Jobvite and others. I spent so long working with ATSs and was largely the person who would work internally for companies to, to onboard and integrate these ATSs. And so I know all the data that's held and all of the data, you know, that's available through different APIs. And, I believe that our integration is the best out there, in terms of what we can do in read and write, given us and giving companies the ability to know a lot more than they know today.


Joel (13m 7s):

How many integrations do you have and how many left do you have to do?


Ben (13m 11s):

Currently we have done five, but the way that we've built this system, we expect to onboard probably 15 to 20 more within the next 12 months.


Joel (13m 22s):

Do you consider yourself a product or a feature?


Ben (13m 25s):

A product.


Chad (13m 26s):

You just talked about spamming candidates, right? And that's something that we do. We ask them to apply, they apply, go into a black hole and then we ask them to apply again. But, what's the difference between doing that or creating a talent community and this is from your website invite potential candidates to exclusive and curated private communities, or reach the entire talent network on Canvas with a public community. I mean, who curates the relevant content and ensures the community doesn't stagnate? I mean, this seems still like it's on the shoulders of the company or is Canvas actually doing that as a service for the client.


Ben (14m 9s):

When you think about talent communities, it's somewhat a newer concept. I look at recruiting, in like three different phases, which is super relevant to this question. The first phase is like, I'm not necessarily looking, but I'm kind of like open to learning more about what's out there, right? And so it's like an exploration phase. The next is like, I'm actively wanting to leave my job, therefore I'm interviewing. And then the third one is like I'm negotiating and I'm about to resign and take like a new job offer. And I think throughout those phases, you need, you need different services as a candidate and as a company. For us, we think about, you know, how do you engage with talent?


Ben (14m 49s):

How do you source talent? And how do you understand the talent? And everything is underpinned, with diversity data. And so when you think about the talent communities, engagement is important. And so that's given even candidates to candidacy the ability to understand more about industries, understand more about the process, or just in general learn like what they may or may not like. Whether it's between, you know, them or it's between companies and candidates then it's more for them to actually ask questions to the recruiters and usually these questions will be asked, you know, a hundred times over email and you'll have to answer those a hundred times over email or ignore the candidates, which usually is what happens.


Ben (15m 31s):

And so we want to create, you know, a place where people can get that questions answered and it's more scalable in communication times. And so that's really where the talent communities comes in. And then in terms of like applying, well, I think you're talking about like inbound applicants versus outbound sourcing. And I think that's like a really whole different conversation and is pretty interesting, especially for us.


Chad (15m 59s):

A couple of different things. The talent community has been around since like around 2004. This is not something that's new. Now, the way that you might be pulling this off the process might be different and it might be new, but Avature started in 2004 as pretty much a CRM slash kind of like talent community. But overall, you know, what's the difference from a communication standpoint? How can your platform communicate better and more consistently with things that are relevant to the candidate versus, you know, just throwing press releases at them. Who does that?


Ben (16m 32s):

I would say it's more of a newer concept concept in terms of how we see them operating and how they've been leveraged more recently in the form of communication, asynchronously, like slack and other platforms. And so we want to create the place where it's more interactive, right? Where candidates can get answers to questions from other candidates, and also connect with other candidates to learn more whilst also given recruiters or hiring managers or whoever the ability to either help or give more information and data to candidates throughout the process to be more successful.


Ben (17m 15s):