Building a nextgen, authentic professional social network with Candor founder Kelsey Bishop
The below is a full (unedited), machine-generated transcript of a Youtube session / podcasting episode I recorded in September 2022 with Kelsey Bishop, founder of Candor. You can view the video/listen to the podcast on Youtube, Apple Podcast, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
Erasmus Elsner 0:19
All right, welcome, everybody to another episode of Sand Hill Road. I have a very special guest today that was introduced to me through a surfer colleague of mine. She was based in Lisbon, Costa Rica. And we’ve come full circle now. It’s Kelsey Bishop. She is the founder of, of Canberra, which is a professional network or platform to discover and share your work. They just raised a 5 million seed round earlier this year. So really happy to have you here,
Kelsey Bishop 0:46
Kelsey. Yeah, happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Erasmus Elsner 0:49
And as we see the this is not a virtual background that you have here. But the actual real background wonderful. What is it? Connecticut, New York, New Jersey,
Kelsey Bishop 0:58
the New England fall behind me?
Erasmus Elsner 1:01
Come see the leaves. Yeah, so maybe for the listeners out there. Give us just a cliff notes of what Kendra does. It’s join canva.com. What is it all about? How did you get to start it and where it’s at?
Kelsey Bishop 1:14
Yeah, absolutely. So candour is a platform where people sign up and make profiles where they share how they work versus their titles and work history, like you’d see on something like LinkedIn. And so the way it came about is I had a background in startups. And I joined, you know, a couple of different startup companies always kind of early employee type. I’m a Jane of all trades. So I’ve worked in OPS, roles, partnerships, marketing, kind of a little bit of everything. And what I found in my experience was no matter what role I was, in, no matter what company that I joined, my experience would always land in one of two buckets, one bucket being breezy, amazing team, everyone works together really well. And things just kind of click. And the product, you know, could be an early stages, and we could still be trying to figure out how to make things work. But the team works so well together. And those experiences have been kind of the highlights of my career. And then kind of the other bucket that I’ve experienced is I’ve joined teams where culture doesn’t quite click in that same way. And the team doesn’t work as well together as I might hope the business could be crushing it. But I think without that culture fit without that team fit, it’s really difficult to kind of find that, that feeling of belonging in your workplace. So when I left my last role started thinking about kind of how we get to know each other as professionals, right? Like from day one, how do we get to know each other, particularly in a remote world, and this is, like, really get to know each other as humans, like, what makes this person you know, get out of bed in the morning and excited and what do they value, and I realised it was really difficult to get to know your teammates, and this kind of, I think, was the source of many of my problems in in startups that didn’t quite click. And so started candour about a year and a half ago, to approach that problem. And today, we are mostly serving people in the tech community. And usually what happens is we’ll have a manager or a founder sign up for candour, make their profile, and then invite their teammates to do the same. And these candour profiles are basically serving as a readme, or user manual type of thing where people read them kind of get to know their teammates better, and can can intern work with them better.
Erasmus Elsner 3:25
And you can sign on sort of hiring managers and use that as a beachhead. It’s sort of a self serve product with a pretty nice landing spot for smaller organisations as well.
Kelsey Bishop 3:36
Exactly right. Yeah. So we have, we have small startups, you know, a couple of co founders and a few engineers, all the way up to multi 1000 employee organisations. And it really starts kind of at that team level. So maybe we have a people ops person initially sign up, and they initially and then they eventually spread it to the rest of the org.
Erasmus Elsner 3:55
And talking about your personal journey. I mean, you’ve graduated, I think it was in 2018. Yes. And you work for vanta. And on deck, you mentioned you had ops roles in one, some platform roles. Talk about sort of the experience, very specifically to understand where this initial spark of yours came from.
Kelsey Bishop 4:15
Yeah, so I actually started my career when I was still in college, a classmate of mine started a company and we sat next to each other in class, and he was telling me about it. And that company was called campus insights. And it was a market research company. So I led sales for candidates insights for about two years. And that was like kind of the beachhead of my interest in startups. And I realised how cool it could be and how much impact you could have, especially as a young person, and I realised I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder or kind of like be, you know, someone who didn’t have a lot of impact in their company just because they were young. And I saw startups as a way to break in and be able to have a role with a lot of reach. So yeah, worked on campus incise for two years during college, we actually sold it right as we were going Graduating to an organisation within Harvard. And after that decided, okay, you know, I’ve kind of done it was more of a like Services Agency type of model. And after that I was like, No, I want to go work for a venture backed company work and like kind of see scale, see the rocket ship, see everything that everyone talks about. And so I decided to move to San Francisco and work for a company called Omni. And Omni was a consumers a storage and rentals product. So we basically had warehouses in San Francisco where people could store things like bikes and surfboards, and also rent out those items to the public. So it was a really interesting idea. I loved it, I was kind of a minimalist myself, but it was a really logistically difficult company. So I worked there for two years, like kind of at the end of things. And after that moved on to vanta, as an early employee, I think I was employee eight, or 10, or something like that. And I was their first non technical non salesperson. So I did ops, but I also did partnerships, I did a bit of marketing, I worked with legal teams, I did a lot of different things there. And it was an interesting time because the company was scaling so rapidly. So it was it was cool to kind of see the company grow so quickly. And then yeah, when I left vanta decided to start candour.
Erasmus Elsner 6:18
And I think one of the key challenges when you know when looking for a startup job right out of college is that startups couldn’t be more diverse, right? There’s so much heterogeneity in terms of the companies that are joining sounds like you’re going into consulting or you’re going into banking. It’s so definitely, and I think that’s also one of the problem that you’re trying to address that in a typical interview, you might be able to ask one or two questions, but it’s quite hard to, to understand the organisation. Also, if you look at outside reviews of that company, you know, thinking of glass door and the lights, those may work in larger organisations where you have more comps, and more data points, but it doesn’t really work for smaller startups. Right. And this seems to be one of the key insights. Yeah,
Kelsey Bishop 7:03
that’s exactly right. I think that was my initial pain point was that it is so hard to determine culture fit from the employee side. It is a pain point I think we’ll eventually try to solve right now I think candour is mostly used in internal teams for remote teams to kind of deepen their relationships. But eventually I can see candour being used in the interview and hiring process as well. We actually internally at candour have kind of switched the script a little bit, and we actually only do one to two interviews for people that we hire. And we do something called a mutual assessment, also known as a work trial. And a candidate will come in and actually get paid hourly to work for us for two weeks. And that actually has been a really interesting experience, because candidates get a first hand look on what our culture is like. And we also get an experience of what they’re like in our culture. And so it’s actually a really interesting thing, because we’ve slowly been trying to productize all of the things that we learned in those two weeks into the candour product. So it’s like, you know, what are those indicators that you get working with someone that you don’t get from a LinkedIn profile that you don’t get from an interview? And how can we incorporate them into the candour product? So that’s something that we’re we’re actively doing used to
Erasmus Elsner 8:17
be called work samples. And you know, you haven’t sometimes on the technical side coding interviews where you have to produce project work that you actually see a person interacting over a longer, longer period of time trying to understand motivation, trying to understand workstyles different work routines, I think that’s quite helpful. But when you start at one and a half years ago, how did it look like it was in the middle of the pandemic? How did that go down? And how did you sort of from that idea, then come up with the first version of the product will then be p, get some first customer feedback and get the foot in the door?
Kelsey Bishop 8:51
Yeah, it looks a lot different than it does today. It’s I’m a solo founder. So in the beginning, it was just me. And I’m also I don’t consider myself a technical founder. And so in the very beginning, it was me and my bubble app. And bubble is this amazing, no code tool that I highly, highly recommend for early stage founders. And so what I did was I just signed on to bubble. I use one of their templates and started experimenting with messaging. So I just kind of created different landing pages and just got eyeballs on them, and to see kind of what resonated, what didn’t, and refine kind of the value prop before and started building. And eventually, I got kind of, you know, I had done enough user research to figure out kind of that initial MVP, and I built it through Bumble. So it was all through a no code app on web. And people can basically sign up and interact with a real application. And that was kind of how we we did it for the first 100 users. So for the first six months, it was me and my bubble app and 100 users and then I decided to kind of like launch more publicly on Product Hunt. And at that moment, I realised that this beast was was too big for one woman and I needed to bring on a team. So I decided to raise that first round of funding in September of 2021, so just about a year ago to really bring on those founding team members, and so decided to bring on an engineer, product designer, and an ops person. And that became kind of the founding team that really built out what I think the first real version of the product was, which was an app that was natively coded and not designed by me, thankfully, because it was pretty brutal when it was. And so yeah, I think that’s kind of, you know, the journey as, as it began, was really I think, about a year ago, when when we brought on the founding team.
Erasmus Elsner 10:30
I talk a lot with founders on the low code, no code side, some people say, bubble and Webflow. They’re sort of treacherous gateway drugs for founders, because you never get off of them. If you don’t manage to find a technical founder, how was sort of the migration from that sort of user base on to the native app? Was it difficult? Was it sort of a clean, fresh start? Did you have to download the database and then basically start all over again? How did it go down? Yeah,
Kelsey Bishop 10:57
I mean, honestly, I thought it would be more complex than it was. So in total, I was probably on bubble for about nine months, between all like the landing pages, and then actually building the app, and then kind of doing the transition. But yeah, our lead engineer, built out the first version of the app in about three weeks, and was able to migrate all of our original bubble users on to our new app. So I thought it would actually be much more complex. But bubble makes it really easy to kind of export your data in a way that’s really neat. And honestly, I have nothing but good things to say about about bubble and my no code experience, I think, I wouldn’t have been able to really get over that hump of building an MVP without a co founder, if not for Bumble,
Erasmus Elsner 11:39
you raised his 5 million round in total. But I, I assume it was all on a convertible note. So I can assume that you raised it over a period of time, sort of smaller checks, friends and family first, smaller funds, how did the round two get structured?
Kelsey Bishop 11:53
So we’re seven people full time. And then we have a few kind of part time contractors on the team as well. So still quite small. And we raised a million and a half precede. In about a year ago, that round that first initial round that I was mentioning, and that was led by a for BC, who I absolutely love. They’re this incredible precede fund my the lead investor was actually the first pm at Twitter. And so he helps me with a lot of kind of the initial product thinking especially on the consumer side, which is quite difficult, I think, especially in the beginning. And then just three months later, we were preempted for a seed round by contrary capital. And that was a three and a half million dollar round. So yeah, I basically didn’t have time to enhance the precede before we raised the seed round, which was awesome timing given given the market. And so yeah, total funding today is 5 million. With those those two rounds.
Erasmus Elsner 12:41
I mean, preempt that was my favourite word last year. A lot. A lot of preemption picking, please talk a little bit about how how you decided who to bring on to this preempted round.
Kelsey Bishop 12:52
Yeah, so we got super lucky with our investors, I truly think we have such a talented docket of people backing us, my main things that I was focused on was one just get like really good humans that I want to work with onboard. Because I know this is a long term relationship. And I also know that I’m the type of person that just wants to have great people in the room who I really trust. So that was kind of priority number one. And priority number two was kind of the experience background network that would be useful for candour. So this could be the consumer social background, that is really interesting for us to pull on learnings there, or kind of the HR people background and network, because eventually those will kind of be our buyers and our champions internally. So a lot of our angels, we have a docket of about 40, angel investors. And then I think there’s six or seven funds that we have on so they all kind of fall within different experience categories. And they’re all just great, fantastic humans. So I feel like I’ve gotten really lucky
Erasmus Elsner 13:49
on the angels. How did that go down? Did you go on Angel List? Or what was it sort of you speaking to people and once you have a lead, then it’s typically much easier to get angels in? How did that go down? Practically?
Kelsey Bishop 14:03
Yeah, it was all referrals and kind of warm introductions to angels who are in the space. And typically, as soon as I got one angel on, they would introduce to, you know, 10 other people who they thought would be really interested in. So yeah, there’s, you know, a lot of other founders who are on board, those are some of my favourite investors, because I can learn from them, particularly if they’re like one or two steps ahead of me. And we can kind of go through the journey together. Because I think there’s a big piece of, of the founder journey, especially as a solo founder, that I really want that camaraderie and that connection and kind of other founders just know what you’re going through. So we have a lot of other founders on as angels. And then we also have a lot of like people lnd Dei, HR types of backgrounds are one as well. And they were both in forming kind of the early product and helping us with narrower thinking around. How do we ask different prompts in the products? How do we make them inclusive? How do we make them so that they’re really representative of the people crafting these profiles. And then they’re also really helpful in kind of piloting us with their teams. Right. So they care about people, they care about culture. And so a lot of these folks have been the early users and getting this out with their team and testing it and providing feedback, which has been really helpful, cool them.
Erasmus Elsner 15:17
So it’s really like a snowball sampling one, referring you to next and that one being a potential customer. And you mentioned, you’re a solo founder, crazy thing to do. And a lot of solo founders, they suffer from depression along the way. And a lot of, you know, accelerators like Y Combinator, they really suggest that you have another round, or was there any pushback from the investor side,
Kelsey Bishop 15:39
being a solo founder is not for everyone, it is definitely a more difficult journey, particularly in the early days. And I cannot tell you how good it felt to finally bring on a team and not be going at this alone. It was difficult for sure in the beginning, but I honestly I love it. And I’m glad I did it. I think the main reason why investors care about having a co founder is because in the beginning, there’s a lot of product risk. And so if you think about the different levels of risk investors take in different parts of the company lifecycle, in the very beginning. So precede round, the biggest risk is that you can’t actually develop a product and get it off the ground to test this idea that you have, I was able to do that with Bumble, right? I didn’t need a technical co founder. And so a lot of investors ask, they’re like, you know, why don’t you have a technical co founder on? You know, it seems silly not to. And once I pointed out well, like, hey, the whole point of bringing on an engineer of this stage is really to get an MVP out. And I’ve done that. I think a lot of investors were more open minded, because that risk, wasn’t there anymore, right? We have an MVP, we have hundreds of users, you know, we’ve de risked this part of the equation. And of course, there’s a question of like, 10, Kelsey recruit, which is a totally different question. So as long as they were comfortable answering yes to that, I think they kind of got over the co founder piece.
Erasmus Elsner 16:56
Yeah, that’s, that’s funny, because Ken Chelsea recruits when the core of the companies is recruiting and recruiting the right people. Now let’s talk a little bit about where the product is today. And then also about traction, the first lighthouse customers, as they call them, and sort of how you’re iterating on a day to day basis.
Kelsey Bishop 17:12
So So basically, for the first about a year, we were really deep in product development. And because we’re going consumer first, which means that we are prioritising growth, and we are not monetizing it really means that our product has to be excellent. And in a consumer world, it is really it takes a long time to get a product to be exactly what someone wants and have those inherent growth loops where they’re inviting their teammates. And so I would say like, up until pretty recently, within the last few months, we were really just prioritising like, let’s get this product, right. And that’s still kind of the number one thing that we’re focused on. But that being said, we are starting to see some really interesting kind of virality loops happen. And I’ll share one example is there was a software engineer from the John Deere team, John Deere like the the lawnmower company, yeah. And he signed up, he made this beautiful candour profile. And he shared it with 20 of his John Deere teammates, like he like physically, like he invited them added all their emails to our invite flow, and invited them to Canada. And so then they all signed up and made these beautiful profiles. And so that’s like, one example of the growth loop really working is if we can get that one initial user to get it. And they make this beautiful profile, basically, the product will sell itself. Because if you invite a teammate, and they see this gorgeous profile, they’re like, wow, you know, I know this person so much better. Now. I would love to share the same things about myself. There’s a very natural kind of growth virality thing that happens. And then similarly, you know, you have this cohort of 20 people within a massive organisation like John Deere, all of a sudden, everyone else on different teams looks at this team. They’re like, Wow, they’re so culture focused. They’re so forward thinking this is amazing. We should do this on our team as well. And so slowly, you start having these, like niche networks happen. And the cool piece of that is right now, I say that we’ve been in this single player mode. And single player mode refers to one person signing up for candour, and being able to get value from the product, even if they don’t know anyone else on the platform. What we’re moving towards now is this multiplayer mode, where one person signs up and they actually know people on Kandor. And they have this like each network forming. And that is kind of like the building block that you need for a really powerful social network. And so what we’re thinking through now is in multiplayer mode, how do teams interact on candour? What is kind of the social engagement look like? How do we like validate people make them feel seen make them feel understood when their teammates are around? And so those are kind of the big questions that we’re answering. And I think that basically is what will power kind of the real meaningful growth that we’re looking for.
Erasmus Elsner 19:52
And to understand the product a bit better? Maybe you could sports test the user flow, when I log into Canada, what do I see? And How do I create this beautiful profile that you talked about? Can I
Kelsey Bishop 20:03
share my screen? Yes. So this is actually my candour profile. So when you sign in, we kind of guide you through a setup of what of these profiles. And you can see here, these are all questions that I’ve answered about myself. And this is all through a carousel. So we basically say, you know, go through this carousel, answer questions that you feel like well, kind of show your work self and those get added to your profile. So this could be things like, you know, what do you do on a Saturday, what’s your favourite movie, but it’s also like, tell us about your proud work moments. Tell us about things that you value that motivate you, and give an intro video on your profile show your happy place. And so you can see it’s a very dynamic multimedia profile that kind of is meant to, to spark inspiration, you know, we’re not boring, we’re very consumer forward, it is supposed to be beautiful. The second piece of candour is inviting your teammates. So I’ve invited all of my candour teammates actually to give their take. So we call these little prompts, take cards, and teammates can actually give their take on how I stand out at work. And so this is a really cool, meaningful way that users tell us they feel super seen by their teammates. So they’ll kind of write about my superpowers, you know how I show up at work. All of that good stuff. Users can also control visibility of their takes, so I can hide ticks, I can pin them to the top of my profile if they’re more meaningful to me. And down here we have the candour graph, which is something we’ve developed with l&d professionals to kind of highlight in these leadership categories where you really stand out. I can also search for your legs. Yeah, so I can read my teammates profile. If they request takes from me I can write takes for them.
Erasmus Elsner 21:48
Now talking a little bit about business model. You have mentioned that you’re not monetizing at this stage. What’s the long term plan? Is that to have an enterprise solution to have sort of teams sell up and move into a self serve SAS? Or what’s your take on that?
Kelsey Bishop 22:03
Yeah, so So candour is a network, and with any network, you have a tonne of data. And in our case, that data is really interesting for two reasons. One is on the hiring side. So if we have data on what someone’s like personality wise, their values, kind of how they fit in the greater scheme, we can actually make tailored suggestions on how to match talent, right, so we can give you a suggestion not only for a product manager, but for a product manager that fits and aligns with your culture. The second way our data is useful is on that culture side. So for people, leaders, for founders who are really focused on employee retention, and making their culture great, and their company a great place to work, Kendra can actually provide insights on where their culture is crushing it, and kind of where they stand out. And also, you know, maybe areas that they want to focus on if they really do want to boost employee retention. So I think those are the two ways that you know, our data through just a massive network can provide value is on the hiring side. And on the people side,
Erasmus Elsner 23:02
yeah, makes a lot of sense. And the larger accounts, you mentioned, John Deere there, once you get a sign up, let’s say, an unsolicited sign up, then you sort of track it. And then at one point, you reach out proactively to talk to the people behind it and to understand what sort of their needs are or what’s sort of that part of the iteration currently, as you’re still trying to figure out the right monetization model?
Kelsey Bishop 23:25
Exactly. Yeah. So I mentioned my very first role in tech was in user research. And I find that user research and just getting in touch getting on the phone with our users has been kind of the biggest lever for us understanding the needs, understanding where the product should go based on what our users want. And so exactly right, you know, someone signs up, they’re doing the behaviour that we expect them to do, can we hop on the phone with them and really understand how we can make the product what they need. So that’s still very much part of the process, and probably will be for a long time.
Erasmus Elsner 23:56
Let’s talk a little bit about current business environment. And I mean, you seem to be heads down in product and building. But obviously, there’s gloom and doom around the tech side, especially in terms of venture funding, follow up on earnings. How does that affect you on a day to day basis? Do you feel like it’s harder to potentially upsell? Once you start monetizing? Do you care at all? I assume with those 5 million seed round, you have enough runway? How do you think about the current environment?
Kelsey Bishop 24:22
Yeah, so I actually hope that we can wait out the market before we raise next I think it is a really tough market to raise. And right now fortunately, we have three years plus of runway. And so I do hope by the time that we’re looking towards a Series A the market has shifted a bit from where it is today. And I hear similar things from from bounder friends who are in similar boat is like, let’s wait it out. And if you’re in the position to do so, that’s generally been kind of the hope, the desire for a lot of founders.
Erasmus Elsner 24:51
We met through our colleague Michael, who’s based in Lisbon, you spent some time in Lisbon. Now you’re back in the US. How are you building the companies that the remote first company. How do you think about sort of that in terms of building the company up?
Kelsey Bishop 25:04
Yeah, I think actually my biggest win to date has been our team. We have such an incredible team. It feels like magic. It’s the best team I’ve ever worked on. And that is definitely like my five biggest personal win for candour ever, I do think we’ve really benefited from being able to recruit from around the world. And so we are a remote first team. We have teammates in New York, Toronto, as well as like UK and Spain. So really all over the world. And I think, you know, being able to recruit being able to kind of adjust for different timezones and have a more asynchronous culture has allowed us to just recruit really brilliant people, I will say that we are remote first, but we do get together once a quarter. And that kind of week we get together is really important for kind of setting a strong foundation for our time apart, we usually pick a different location around the world, the team usually just votes on it and slack. So we’ve we’ve been to Mexico City, the team was in Portugal, not so long ago. And we’ll meet up again next quarter, somewhere, hopefully, in between Europe and the US. I love the remote first culture, I think it really does allow us to have that competitive advantage of recruiting from anywhere in the world. But it does require a lot of intention. And I think our product actually helps with that a lot for remote teams, and our own team included, but that in person time is also really important for us to kind of set a strong foundation.
Erasmus Elsner 26:24
And on a personal level. I mean, you went from lockdown, bubble, low code, no code of solo founder to now being a CEO, young CEO. How does that feel? And how does how does it also translate now into into scaling it
Kelsey Bishop 26:37
up? Yeah. I mean, I feel like I have my dream job. To be completely honest. I love my day to day. I love the work. I love the team. And yeah, it I honestly I see myself working on candour in this problem for the next 10 years. I hope we can you know figure things out with candour. I do think we’re starting to see really strong indicators that we’re in an interesting market and people really care about what we’re building. But yeah, I do feel really lucky. I think I have my dream job.
Erasmus Elsner 27:02
And as we’re running against the clock, maybe your call to action, where can people find out more about tender? How can they sign up? Who should reach out to you? Where can they reach out to you?
Kelsey Bishop 27:12
I would encourage anyone curious to just sign up and test the experience for yourself. You can sign up at join canva.com Join j o i n candour, CIN dlr.com, and just get a sense for the experience. I think that’s the best way to really learn more about what we care about and what we’re doing and we focus on and yeah, we are recruiting a couple more engineers to our team. So we’re Ruby on Rails full stack. So if you have any interest in software development, and you’re based US, Canada, Europe, reach out to me and Kelsey at join candour.com.
Erasmus Elsner 27:41
So yeah. Wonderful, Kelsey, thanks for being here.
Kelsey Bishop 27:45
Awesome. Thank you.