Apparatus alum rolls out text-based recruiting startup

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There are many ways for recruiters to screen job candidates. Former Apparatus Inc. President Aman Brar thinks texting should be a prime channel, and he's rolled out a company based on that outlook.

The startup is called Canvas Talent Inc., and its software serves as a hub for recruiters to manage text conversations with multiple prospective employees. Recruiters would use the Canvas web app or mobile app, but candidates need only use their phone's native texting function.

brarAman Brar

Canvas is not out to replace phone calls, in-person interviews or other hiring communication methods, said Brar, Canvas Talent's CEO. Rather, the company hopes to serve as the initial channel for helping employers decide which candidates they want to advance to live interviews—as well as a channel for sharing company information, scheduling and follow-ups.

"If you look at the dating world, think about how awkward it would be if you called everyone that you're interested in on Match and how inefficient that would be," Brar said. "But that's largely what we do with the telephone screen in the talent game."

He added: "We believe that at the very top of the funnel, a Canvas text-based interview is the right way to get started before you move down that pathway together."

Canvas was quietly founded in December and has five employees. It recently raised $1.7 million from individual investors in and outside Indiana—including a few prominent tech leaders who have also joined the firm's talent advisory board.

Those investor-advisers are Scott Day, senior vice president of people and culture at OpenTable and former head of talent strategy for Airbnb; Jeff Perkins, founder of Huntbridge and former vice president of human resources at SpaceX; and Todd Richardson, chief administrative officer for Cheetah Digital and former executive vice president of administration for Salesforce.

Bridget Boyle, a Roche Diagnostics vice president, is on the advisory board but is not an investor. Separately, Cummins CEO Tom Linebarger is on Canvas' board of directors.

Team members include Chief Talent Officer Kelly Lavin and Chief Operating Officer Jared Adams, both of whom previously worked at Apparatus.

"Having Kelly and Jared, and all our history together, just allowed us to move at lightning speed," Brar said.

The idea behind Canvas is that shifting norms have made prospective employees more open to texting prospective employers, and that text interviews are far more efficient than phone calls for screening candidates. 

Some recruiters already communicate with job prospects by texting, but Brar thinks Canvas offers several advantages. Its software recommends questions and allows users to save preset questions and links, including culture videos or benefits information.

It also gives users the ability to add reactions or comments to candidate responses only visible to the user, and share transcripts of the conversation with hiring managers.

So far, Brar said, Canvas users have interacted with more than 1,000 candidates.

"We put our software into production in March, and today we've got everything from welders to machinists to salespeople and software engineers," said Brar, adding that he just signed a client who will be using it to recruit nurses and physicians. "So the variety of candidates that are being engaged with on the platform is really strong."

Brar, 39, joined managed-IT firm Apparatus in late 2009 and stayed on through its $34.2 million acquisition by Massachusetts-based Virtusa in April 2015. One of his duties, before and after the acquisition, was recruiting.

He left in September 2016 to start his own company. What eventually became Canvas was his top startup idea.

"The way we communicate has just shifted, both in our personal lives with texting and Snapchat, to our corporate lives with Slack and messaging," Brar said. "The phone call has just become less relevant to productivity, to our personal lives, to the way we keep in touch with friends, acquaintances, and loved ones."

Brar declined to say how many customers he has, except to say that he's landed "hot technology companies in San Francisco," Fortune 500 companies in the Midwest, startups and financial institutions.

"When we think about the volume of candidates and recruiters out there, we have no doubt that this is a massive economic opportunity," he said.

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