In the first few minutes of pitching his new company, Candidate Labs, Jonathan Downey admitted that he’s operating in a market that is “done to death”: recruitment technology. But Downey, whose previous startup Airware shut down after burning $ 118 million, remains optimistic because of a little company named Zoom.
“There were lots and lots of videoconferencing companies and yet everybody’s experience was really bad,” he said. “It just took [Zoom] coming along and getting just a few more things right that totally transformed” videoconferencing.
Zoom lesson in mind, Candidate Labs launched today as a modern talent agency, after operating in stealth for the past seven months. The company also announced today that it has raised $ 5 million in seed funding. Investors in the round include SignalFire, Leah Solivan of Fuel Capital, BoxGroup, Lattice CEO Jack Altman and the founders of Opendoor, Eric Wu and Ian Wong.
Candidate Labs connects a data platform with 100 million professionals to its database of 60,000 jobs. Then it creates short lists of talent recommendations that clients can then screen and interview.
Its competitive edge is not in its access to data, but rather the technology it lays atop it. Downey said that Candidate Labs uses “human in the loop” machine learning, similar to Stitch Fix, which combines data and human judgement to better recommend style guides.
Candidate Labs leverages a big data set to get a product that is quality, not quantity. Using machine learning, Candidate Labs might extract a 25-person candidate list to help companies fill a singular role. Then a seasoned recruiter will look over the list to see the quality of the candidates, pull in personal judgement and create a final list. Once a client sees the list, Candidate Labs will see who it chooses to interview and then digest that feedback. Over time, humans and machines will get better at recommendations.
In an industry like recruitment, which has a lot of messy and unstructured data, human in the loop machine learning makes sense. There needs to be a two-pronged approach to hiring people, one that speeds up the bits that are purely logistical, but gives room for humans to make a correction if needed.
Candidate Labs’ big sell is that it connects sales and marketing professionals to jobs at a fraction of the time of normal recruitment tools. In over half of cases to date, Candidate Labs has introduced employers to candidates that are eventually hired within seven days. More than 50% of the talent it has placed has been diverse talent, according to Downey.
Leah Solivan, a general partner of Fuel Capital, invested in Candidate Labs in mid-2019 and said Candidate Labs’ launch compass is at a “critical inflection point for talent within the startup ecosystem.”
“During the best of times, candidates tend to rely largely on limited insights and a handful of network referrals to make a critical life decision with long-term consequences,” she said. “Their next role.”
“Candidate Labs is a recruiting firm that we wish we had been able to work with in building our own companies,” Downey said.
Along with the financing, Candidate Labs is announcing a job search tool. Sales and marketing professionals, among the most impacted by pandemic-related job losses, can use search filters to look for job openings. In early April, a ton of new tools were launched to help support those without jobs secure their next gig.
According to Downey, the tool will help Candidate Labs work directly with people within what is now a saturated job market.
Cockroach Labs is taken on the larger cloud incumbents like AWS, Azure, Oracle, and Google Cloud with its geo-distributed SQL database cloud-native service. CEO and Cofounder Spencer Kimball shares some insight on the company’s impressive growth, latest funding round, which brings the total funding raised to $ 195M, and much more.
Modern Games is a new studio working to create games that combine physical and digital play.
The company was founded by husband-and-wife team Justin and Amanda Kifer — serial entrepreneurs who previously launched companies including Citizen Local (acquired by MyLife in 2011) and Fidgetly, a fidget spinner company that also created a motion controller for iOS and Android games.
It sounds like the Kifers have a number of new titles in development, but the company is announcing today that it has acquired and is relaunching an existing game, Beasts of Balance.
The game was first released by Sensible Object in 2016. As demonstrated for me by Justin Kifer (the startup’s CEO), Beasts of Balance involves stacking physical animal pieces, while also scanning them into a companion app that keeps score and brings their fantastical skills to life. The basic game costs $ 99 (currently on sale for $ 79), and players can purchase expansion packs to get additional accessories, beasts and other “artefacts.”
The other Modern Games titles released this year will be purely physical board and card games, released under its Modern Games [Analog] brand. Kifer told me that the company’s big “flagship” launch is planned for 2021, with a mobile game that involves augmented reality and connected objects, and that takes place in a rich science fiction/fantasy world. In fact, Kifer’s even writing a series of young adult novels to flesh out the setting.
“I want people to think of Modern Games as a studio that is working hard every day push the boundaries what it is to play a game,” he said.
Kifer suggested that by combining physical and digital gameplay, Modern Games’ titles will have the real-world social component of a traditional tabletop game while taking advantage of gameplay that’s also possible digitally.
Kifer also said that by always starting with a core physical product that players need to buy, the company can avoid having to go the free-to-play route adopted by most mobile games. At the same time, he also emphasized that the company will keep the games relatively affordable, with a sub-$ 40 price for core products. (There were will be additional monetization through physical and digital add-ons.)
On the other hand, our remote demo made it clear that there’s a downside to relying on a physical products — since we weren’t in the same room (and, given COVID-19, are unlikely to be anytime soon), Kifer and I couldn’t actually play the game together.
“The games that we’re working on right now are also multi-player,” Kifer said when I pointed this out. “They’re games that could be played in proximity to other others, but they don’t have to be. For us, it’s all about bringing people together in ways that are inherently social, but it doesn’t necessarily mean physically co-located.”