A company’s product is its lifeblood. It’s the one thing most responsible for a company’s success or failure, which is why smart product design is an absolute must for every business. And truly expert-level product design goes much deeper than nailing the visual aesthetic for your website.
I called in help from Aman Brar and Mike Reynolds, two respected Indianapolis-area CEOs, to unpack this very loaded and very important topic. Brar is the founder of Canvas, the first ever recruitment platform based on text messaging. Reynolds heads up Innovatemap, a product design agency that has helped more than 75 clients dream, design and scale digital products and services. The connection here is that Innovatemap worked closely with Canvas during its own product design phase, helping Brar and his team craft a stellar application and raise $1.7 million in early-stage seed funding.
The story behind how Canvas got its start is a great case study for every tech company that’s in the middle of product design or is preparing to tackle it in the future. In our conversation, Aman, Mike and I cover the journey from product ideation to launch, with a strong focus on the fundamental concepts of design. We also discuss why and how to conduct high-quality market research and the important ways that product interacts with brand and culture.
In this episode with Aman Brar and Mike Reynolds, you’ll learn:
- The very first steps you should take when designing a product (9:05)
- Three things you should keep in mind while planning your features (12:24)
- How to get the most value out of conversations with potential customers (17:25)
- Specific strategies for conducting user research and blind interviews (23:07)
- How to create a cohesive brand that powers your product (30:58)
- Why you need to distill your “big idea” into a narrower initial product (40:13)
Please enjoy this conversation with Aman Brar & Mike Reynolds!
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Aman Brar and Mike Reynolds Quotes from This Episode of Powderkeg:
“A well-built software product is a ‘good product.’ A ‘better product’ is marketable, valuable and useable.” — @mreynz_mike on @PowderkegHQ
“The hardest part of product creation is finding the wedge you’re going to use to enter the market.” — @amandbrar on @PowderkegHQ
“When you can compartmentalize your vision, then you can get feedback on its components.” — @mreynz_mike on @PowderkegHQ
“The big idea behind Canvas is to capture the world’s interviewing information.” — @amandbrar on @PowderkegHQ
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
Companies and Organizations:
Aman Brar (@amandbrar)
Mike Reynolds (@mreynz_mike)
Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)
Jared Adams (LinkedIn)
Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
Scott Day (@scottzen)
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The big insight a lot of people miss sometimes is like, the big idea is not the hardest part. It’s the wedge in which you’re going to use to enter the market. And that needs to be something honestly pretty small, like pretty small and rock solid and works every time. That’s actually the part that I personally needed the most help. Like, I’ve always felt pretty strong at the big ideas. And then it’s like surround yourself people that kind of force that distillation process is, I think, really important.
That’s almond Brock, the founder of Canvas, which is the first enterprise grade text based interviewing platform that’s helping recruiters screen more job candidates and market employment brands. And I’m really excited to share this chat with both Ahmed as well as Mike Reynolds, who is the CEO and founder of innovate map, which is a product design agency based in Indianapolis, Indiana. And today, the three of us are talking all about product design, and how to take new products to market. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And you’re listening to Episode 46 of powderkeg igniting startups, which is the show for entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators who are building remarkable tech companies in areas decidedly outside of Silicon Valley. And the entrepreneurs on today’s show. Both have their offices headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, and we met up at edge Media Studios, which is an awesome partner of ours here at powderkeg. We shot this whole interview on Facebook Live. So if you want to get the full effect, complete with the video and the audio from this episode, be sure to check out the live stream and sign up for future powderkeg Live episodes. You can get all of email@example.com forward slash powderkeg. But if you’re listening here right now with us on powderkeg igniting startups, the podcast, we have Mike Reynolds and Aman Brar. So let me tell you a little bit more about these guys. Ivan has an extensive background in leading tech companies through periods of high growth. But he’s also held key Corporate Strategy and Finance roles at Fortune 500 companies. As a former president of apparatus, also based here in Indianapolis, Aman led the company through a $34.2 million acquisition by publicly traded in global consultancy for tussah in 2015, and recently launched canvas, which you can find at NGO canvas.io. And he has already signed up a ton of clients including early adopters, from startups to Fortune 500 companies located in Silicon Valley all the way to the Midwest campuses enabling these organizations to transform their reach and engagement with talent by designing their recruitment strategies in a way that aligns with the communication preferences of today’s workforce. Our second guest is Mike Reynolds, who has been ideating and delivering digital products to market for over 20 years, 20 years. And it shows I’ve worked with this guy and their team. They’re amazing. Mike is just a visionary in the digital space, specifically in the areas of product management, user experience and Product Marketing. He’s got a passion for great product, which I love about him. He loves helping companies achieve that as well as powderkeg, which he’s working on a number of things with us right now. And he founded innovate map the agency that we’re working with in 2014. Today, he leads an exceptional roster of 16 of the Midwest best product professionals event map has helped over 75 clients dream design and scale more marketable and valuable products. Previously, Mike held executive product and design roles at both a primo and Teradata, after their premium acquisition by Teradata for over a billion dollars really amazing guy and amazing agency as well. So make sure you check out innovate map.com. And in today’s conversation, Mike almond and I talk all about product design and how to take a software product to market. It’s a great case study of starting up canvas and how innovate map help them take their product to market with a design first approach. There’s so many actionable takeaways, and it’s a killer story. So let’s get going and set this thing off. You’ve been all over the place including Silicon Valley. Thank you for being here in the studio today.
Yeah, super excited to be here. And I look forward to conversation. Well, you
recently started a new company Correct? Yeah, canvas, which we’re going to kind of talk through that growth story if you’re cool with that. I have to awesome man. I know Mike, you and your team at Innovate map or super instrumental in sort of the growth that product, but I’m eager to talk to you about it. We’ve been threatening to grab beers and eat for a long time. And you’ve been busy just closing deals. It sounds like trying to at least love it. Can you give us maybe the elevator pitch on canvas? Yeah. So
we launched June 13, as the world’s first tech space interviewing platform. And it’s really been amazing the warm reception we’ve received from both candidates as well as the enterprise community that’s trying to engage with their next generation of talent. So here we are, a few months after launch, we’ve got enterprise companies engaged with everything from welders and machinists to software engineers, to sales professionals, and even believe it or not nurses, physicians and physical therapists. And so, you know, we’ve already engaged with 1000s and 1000s of candidates to the platform 10s of 1000s of messages transferring across the platform, and, you know, really creating these delightful magical moments with machine learning and AI behind the scenes. So it’s been a lot of fun.
That’s awesome, delightful and magical. with machine learning. Yeah, you’re like talking my language. Right? Yeah,
happy to dig in.
So tell me just real quick on that process. I’m interviewing for a role. And then I’m getting a text message from the employer. Yeah. So
you, you might be actively applying or you might be passive. So like, you know, one of my favorite examples is to take the notion of a passive candidate. Yeah, people are busy people around people are employed, and nowhere else in our life, do we ask somebody to get on a 20 minute phone call, right as your first point of engagement, what we believe is that you leverage immediate, like texture, reducing the barrier to entry for that candidate. So instead of the Ask being, hey, can you schedule a 20 minute call with me? It’s like, hey, you know, can we get to know each other over this platform canvas. And next thing, you know, you’re off to the races, and they can engage on their own time, and you can engage on your own time. So what happens is, is recruiters can typically do something like four to six phone screens in a day, right? Because if you think about a synchronous phone screen, you schedule you do it, you take your notes in the Canvas world, they’re literally doing up to 10 times that per day as far as candidate engagement. So it’s allowing candidates to engage at a much higher frequency and allowing recruiters to figure out who they need to move through that process. One of the analogies I often use is, imagine if Bumble worked, where you had to schedule phone screens with everybody you’re interested in ladies, that would be it’d be insane, right? But you might find your next life partner with the first step being a chat based conversation. So something tells me that that might be a good enough process to you know, hire your next customer service associate or sales, professional, whatnot,
I love it. And I want to talk through how you came up with that product, how you actually got it to market because from the outside looking in, you went from leaving apparatus to starting this company, and pretty quickly got to market with a product and started selling it. The design is amazing. How did you get there so quickly?
Yeah, you know, tying this together a little bit, I think, what’s the irony here is that your apparatus was an extremely engineering centric company. Right? So that’s what we did, we did hardcore enterprise cloud management, you know, scaling from, you know, a local company to a global company, and four or five years. But I think we have the insight to know that, you know, really, if we want to do this, right, it needed to be a design led initiative. Right? So we knew that we could nail the engineering part like that was never our concern, can it be scalable, can be fast, can it be going to do what it needs to do on the back end? And so we were looking for is how do we narrow in on, you know, a kind of a design lead strategy, the end of the day, for this to be successful? There’s real people called recruiters that are gonna be actively engaged in utilizing the software. And it’s a kind of a fascinating design exercise, because all of the magic of the software is hidden from the candidate. Right, the candidate is texting the company, right? Yeah. But yet on the company, and there’s this beautiful, rich experience that was was led in conjunction, design, you know, exercises with innovate map. And so you I think we just have the foresight to start working with him about research, then design, we didn’t lay our first line of code till almost the end to apply February 1, right, right around February had our first client in March. But I think if you step back, it makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, I like to use the analogy, when I explain, you know, what was the value animate map at it, it’s like, you know, like we, you want to know what the car is going to look and feel like and how it’s going to drive. And then honestly, the windy of the plumbing is not the hard part in this day and age. It’s nailing the user experience. And so I’m really glad that we had the foresight to jump in with a map and take a design lead approach to the product. But when
you start with design, Mike, awesome product, what are the first things you go after? Because my sense having worked with you already, it’s not what typeface are we going to use? And what kind of navigation are we implementing? At
the heart of it? I think people will often gravitate to the visual side, the visual side been about 10% of it. So obviously, it’s gonna look awesome, right? When and there are we I use the term hero screens or select hero screens. Obviously, in Canvas, you’re gonna want to put in all your product marketing materials. But the goal of the design is actually to meet really, really sound business goals like the user enjoys using units. You don’t have to, as I’m in scaling his business, hire a bunch of help and customer service people to convey or ramp up on the design. It should be intuitive, it should be enjoyable. And that’s what again, at the heart of workflow. So things that were going going through our mind aren’t, aren’t navigation. They’re not pixels. They’re like goals. What is the user trying to achieve? What is going to compel them to derive value out of this, it’s a big part of our methodology really get at the heart of that you never get it perfect, which is I’m just going to speak to modern agile practices, you’re always learning, you’re always iterating. But you should have a pretty strong, you know, hypothesis and guess, on that initial build. Yeah, that’s really a sweet spot where our firm will really through our methods really get at a very strong hypothesis, where the MVP is something that, you know, as I’m in selling, or as these beta customers are coming on board, they feel good that it will be valuable.
And with that MVP, minimum viable product, you know, amen. Did you come knowing what that was going to look like? Exactly? Or did you come kind of with a rough hypothesis and say, Hey, we need some help putting some product and packaging around this?
Yeah, I mean, I think we, you know, we had, we certainly had good ideas as to what we thought the product would be, but it was still rough Clay Right. And I think that, to me, I think the fascinating part of the exercise, it’s kind of easy to think about the 100 features, you want to lay in front of a recruiter, I think the process would have a map and where it was helpful is like, Well, how do you really just narrow it down to its essence and kind of the most important things? Because if you really want to, you know, we actually talked about this analogy of like, you know, how do we create that California roll to get people adopting sushi, right more broadly. And so what was, you know, we really talked a lot, that’s a good metaphor, I know what was going to be our California role in the product. And so honestly, we held a lot of stuff back, quite frankly, because we thought it was disruptive enough to kind of say, Look, we’re gonna use this very new way to kind of actually screen talent, not like holler at someone and say, what’s up? Like, literally, we’re going to make some decisions about who’s going to get an interview, right? And so we had, you know, I’d say, no shortage of features, I think it was really about, like, how do we kind of keep it down to the courses allow recruiters to kind of use to the concept of just doing this one thing, I’m gonna get used to engaging with a candidate via tax, ask them some questions, letting them ask me some questions through this beautiful interface that’s well designed, and then start layering in more features. And the analogy, one of the options we use, and I think it often gets overlooked as an amazing design fee. But I talked about Microsoft Excel a lot, right? Like, you can do two plus two in five seconds. Or you could design like mortgage analysis, right? Like whatever you wanted to do in that product, you can just take it as deep and as far as you want to go. So we talked about that analogy early on, where if a recruiter sits down, they got to be able to fire off a text message like in seconds, right and have that conversation and then allow those power tools to be kind of revealed to them as they get into that into that environment. So that’s kind of the approach that we took zooming out,
Mikey worked with over 75 tech companies with taking products to market including canvas, including us right now we’re going through this process I come to you with between 20 and 100 features that we want to have in this fully baked product of what we think is the MVP, minimum viable product. How do you work with clients and talk to me in terms of like, what should an entrepreneur be doing to ruthlessly prioritize and define which things go in what buckets
and just taking a step back and even making them more sensitive in some context of innovate map our goal is honestly, the business and creative side of the tech I think I’m in spoke to the things that you’d look at technology to solve that scalable is it architected well does it integrate? Is it low end bugs, that’s table stakes with SAS, if you have any of that wrong, the expectations it’s fixed the next day. So it’s really differentiate a lot of products is is what we describe, you know, well built as good product. And what’s better product kind of our tagline is that it’s marketable, valuable and usable. marketable mean, it sells valuable, meaning that you built the features that derive value, I’ll come back to that, and then obviously usable, and then kind of working back which do you start with? You start with value? Yep. Okay. So when someone comes up with an idea, we have methodologies, honestly, just to give you some ideas of the functions that support it, marketability, some product marketing, expertise, value, it’s really rooted in product management fundamentals, am I building the right thing. And then obviously, usability with UX and design principles, sorry, our team is basically made up of those calibers of product professions, and will partner with founders and tech teams to take care of that. And the value to that, obviously to a startup is is a better strong attempt out the gate at product market fit. So
So talk to me as a founder, like say, I can’t afford to work with innovate map, or I’ve never met you or I don’t have a chance to engage with an agency like yours. How can I start stepping through this myself? Well,
even just thinking of those three criteria, so even if you just said, Okay, start with value, value. So you have 100 ideas in your head, you’re going to have the funds to build for MVP, 20 of those, what are the right 20? You’ve got to start vetting, what are the features of value? And there’s a variety of methods for that. I mean, we’ve got methodology and get out in front of it. But there’s having conversations, not surveys, the only quantitative data yet unique qualitative,
okay, what does that look like? Did you already have conversations with customers? I’m assuming Yeah.
So I’d say with Amen. I don’t mean to interrupt. You know, he came with great vision, you know, but valuing some of the things we’re bringing to the table and in the early stage specifically when you’re pitching it. You need good marketability around your pitch deck and a good value in terms of clearly painting the vision of what you’re about to build. And then usability can get a concept mockup, thinking about those things early on. And with almond, he had actually thought through a lot of the value I think he I think, great vision and already thought through that, but working with us, and a lot of our first phase research helps not the research informs the design in terms of identifying key workflows, but a really more informed priority. Talk to me
about that research, like how do you conduct that? are some ways that founders and maybe even on how did you conduct some of that research?
So we actually leveraged innovate map? So I did the early research, which was just like vetting the concept with HR executives. So I kind of came to the table with I’ve had all these conversations. Yeah, I feel like this is real. How did you
have those conversations? I think this is important context for founders to understand. Yeah. So
you know, this is kind of tying it back to you know, what’s funny here is, you know, I had the idea. I mean, literally, I would just say, on the sense that go meet with HR execs say, look, what if you can engage them in screen talent via text in this asynchronous way, right? Where you’re like destroying the inventory, as you know it today, right? So if you think about synchronous phone calls, a recruiter can do four to six of those a day. What if you could do 100 of those a day? Right? And And would that be value? And so and imagine how many billions of bits of data have been lost over telephone calls, right? And now we’re capturing all that and we’re analyzing it, we’re making recommendations like would that change your world? And unanimously, it was like, that would change my world. So that that was really good. But I think we took that idea started making some early slides, whittled the product down, I think there’s one thing we’re overlooking that was so important to our journey, was that we showed up with all these ideas in the vision, we really distilled it like what is the core thing? And then so into the research design, just let’s say design and January, we started coding in February, we put the product in a paying customers hands in March. And then you start having all those real like, oh shit moments, like, oh, shit, we’re missing this notion. And, and oh, crap, we got that wrong, honestly, like just the fact that we were willing to share it so quickly. I think it was really cute. It was a paying client, because now we’re like, look, we don’t want a cancellation, right? Like, we got to continue to add value. Yeah, go in here. And so we picked up so many features, and then what I’d say even prioritization of features, just from recruiters that were on the platform so early, so I think just getting it getting MVP shipped super fast, which wouldn’t have happened without a bitmap and a great engineering team at Canvas. That was super critical, because I think that then laid our foundation for kind of the next three months in the three months after so are you
having these value conversations only after you have an MVP?
Or? Oh, no, yeah. So
talk to me about how do I have those conversations? Am I scheduling a 15 minute call? Or am I getting face to face for an hour?
Couple things? I mean, just to an entrepreneur, one worry about the marketability value and usability your product? That’d be one. And then okay, well, if you’re worried about how do you get at at some of the things to eliminate that worry. Two things that really come to mind. The first one is be very careful with false positives. And do not feature hunt. And I’ll tell you what I mean by that, it really does talk
to me about that first one false positives.
Most people will vet is this a good idea? We live in a day and age where at least philosophically, there is no problem with that technology does not have some play to solve or enrich. If you believe that that’s a fact, then you’re not blown away by any idea. It’s really the execution of that idea. My wife, my daughter had great tech ideas to you know, it’s just is this is this some something worth pursuing a business around? You need to have conversation? Why worry about the false positives? Is people vetting simply, is this a good idea? Especially if you’re only asking friends? Yes, great, go for it, that’s very admirable, you’re going to start something, you get fans, fans don’t make a good business.
Who should I talk to you?
I’m just a great example. This, you want to get out there, you know, industry, people familiar with the tech domain, you know, they’re gonna give you some paints about blind spots. But it is having conversations, you know, and it is all the while you are teasing and exercising how you describe your vision. And if the vision is big, those are the ones that most people like, not just like, I’ve got an app that’s done in 30 days. And that’s, that’s it, I got no vision beyond that people like big ideas like canvas. But to distill that into this is how I see the world and I want to go do this first and this second, and this and when you when you can compartmentalize the vision, then you can like get the feedback on the components, where you let’s just say I’ve got it, the vision is five components ABCDE. And I’m telling this to people, and I might have in my head wanted to start with a but everybody thinks that C is the winner, you want to weigh that. So being able to clearly convey the product and have conversations that are really describing your vision, then the other side of it is be careful not to dive into the features yet if I built this, would you like this? Once again, you’re just going to get a lot of head nodding early on, keep the questions more around what are your pains? What are business problems? What if I solve this pain? What if I solve this pain? Even that’s a rough one,
you know, would you pay for the solving
the solving of this payment? How
much would you pay
it and then you might might be even early to go to that you know, because really what you’re going And after, if I were to build something, is there a market that would buy it and derive value from it? And then obviously, then that has the exponential growth?
And are these conversations meetings that founders should be scheduling and and teeing it up as this is a feedback meeting? Or is this I’m going to a networking event. And I’m going to talk to as many people at this networking event as possible, pitching them on my idea. My take is
both Yeah, I mean, I probably did more of the latter, where I was started, whatever I came up with the order, but that was what I wanted to tell, you know, I did a lot of the one on one scheduled No guys, right? Because I really wanted to get the right person and really be able to read body language and understand if I was being glad handed or not. And, you know, one of the key insights I had early on is honestly, like, no one was telling me what the pitfalls might be with Canvas. And so I for me, was critical as I left town, right? I literally, that’s actually how I got engaged with Mike because I had no deck I’d already raised honestly had people ready to fund and, and I was like, I need to leave town. Yeah, I in fact, I was like, I was like a Wednesday or Thursday. And I’m like, Look, I’m flying to Silicon Valley on Monday, I probably ought to have a deck right, the given I didn’t have one yet. And so that was kind of our entry point was how do we express this in five slides, right? And so that that trip where I finally was engaging with unknowns, like friends or friends of friends, instead of just a friend, it was super critical and giving me the confidence to come back and say, Okay, that’s a tough market, people are seeing the 1000 ideas a day. And I’m actually walking back with investors, right, from just seeing just casual investors from seeing the ideas that that gave me the fuel to say, look, I think, you know, we’re on to something. So let’s keep those conversations up. And I would just talk, anybody that was recruited or anybody who was an HR leader, like I mean, I’d say three of those meetings a day, probably 45 minutes in length, where we were just kind of really getting into it understand and I did that tenaciously. What’s great about that is that process cultivates customers, and it cultivates, you know, lots of good things, you know, kind of investors, customers, etc.
How long were you out there? You said three meetings a day? Yeah, how
many days I would say this is basically what I did from September 12. Through mid October, probably a month of just, this is literally my full time. Yeah, I was was meeting with people that I jumped on a plane for Silicon Valley, and middle was in mid October, early November, something like that. I did that for a week, okay, you know, came back and then just kept doing that, and was kind of tweaking and tweaking, tweaking, and then what innovate map did then was start formalizing that process. And then they went out and did like a blind interviews with recruiters where the product, the company, and other employees, no one was involved, but them as an intermediary without disclosing what the idea was, we’re trying to validate pain points, and other things like that. And that was, why is that important? So it gave us some really good data, right. So like the whole the quote around, we had done some studies sitting by recruiters. But hearing recruiters just tell Mike not or his team, not knowing what the objective was, that they’re only able to schedule three to four to five phone screens at a day, it was just a safe way to get that information, right? If you think about what could be more important to a recruiter than connecting with human beings. And we’re basically using a process where they can connect with maybe three or four of them in a day, we got to do better, right? I mean, so it’s gotta be a better was gonna be. Yeah, exactly. Because we have a lot of validating information around that.
How did you run those meetings? You know, so this is post you doing this for a month plus, maybe closer to two months? Yeah.
And it’s a point of frustration for me because honestly, I was like, I wanna do that didn’t mean like, I want to I wanted to jump ahead, and let’s sell this thing. So some of it’s like trusting your that’s like, this is where the trust of your design partner comes in. Quite frankly, I would have skipped that part. I would have felt like, Hey, I’ve got enough, but here I am. You now feel like quoting things from that research? That’s awesome. You know,
can you talk to me about letter that particular part of the research process? Because I’ve never done anything like that, and any of the companies have?
Yeah, I think of it this one, I’m gonna take a step back, just allow me 30 seconds just to give you some, like the approach, I mean, the approach we’ll take, we’ll discover and research so we got to get our arms around his vision. You only do research specially on a high pitch pace to answer unknowns. And so at that point, the some unknowns that are typically early on for founders, what’s the feature to start with what I need some input whether you know, what are the features that would derive immediate value, I might have my head great vision, but it’s really a prioritization exercise. Typically, our research is trying to wrap their arms around that with a secondary goal of trying to understand goals and workflows because that will influence the UX design and then we then take that to a concept and ideas ation and prioritization phase. We’re coming in with UX and product management and then we’ll go to design and iterate with engineering but in that phase it really is intended to answer a nuanced and so you approach each one custom lot open ended questions I give the example of innovate maps value very often to somebody made us understand the tech world is if you’re trying to build your dream house we will sit down with you understand your goals if you’re going to live there forever or flip the house in a year we design a very different house right and you pick very different features for that house just apply to apply that to technology but then picture that conversation with like the couple in the dream house now our outputs are going to be a very bluntly the pics Are the house the blueprints and all the interior design? That’s kind of the Innovate map equivalent. But all those decisions of what to do are really based on discovery questions. And so our points of these, these interviews are really to ask things like, goals, needs, desires, qualitative questions, not how many bathrooms you want, you’re going to get to that, but it’s really trying to get at the heart. I mean, early on, you’re really trying to get the heart of that. And the probably the best thing around, it would be open ended questions.
Is there an open ended question that you always ask in this research phase?
Typically, tell me about your day? It depends on where you’re going. I think there’s a big difference between user research. Yep. Okay, when we’re trying to get the heart of the workflows, and then like research that is kind of validating the idea. So like, when amens coming in, early on, and like in October, November, he’s trying to vet you know, the idea of the business the vision that he has, and when we sit down there in December, January with him, now we’re worried about what’s the right priority of the screens to design and the nature of the workflows that will be designed.
So how are you asking those questions in those meetings? So what was some of those questions that you’re asking in those meetings in December, you validated the idea that there’s pain points around it, there’s a real business to be and product to be made here. But now you’re trying to just prioritize features
workflow based. And what I mean by that is, we’re talking to HR, tell me about your day, walk me through your first thing you’re doing, because we knew we were going after recruiting, okay, recruiting, what’s your first step, and you’re not interested in how they’re interacting with tech, you’re actually looking for manual opportunities for tech to come into play. I mean, I do mean this, there’s an entire out of out of this, like the three years of research on our team are all master’s students from I used informatics, they are absolutely the best I’ve ever seen at it. But in general, I’m kind of giving you an an idea of it. It’s very workflow, open ended question, task orientated, goal orientated type questions. And I would isolate that to the user research. That is a little bit different than validating your business with an investor with a shirt that’s different. But when you get into user research, what those things are going to enlighten you on are unmet goals, laborious workflows, and those create tech opportunities. And when they match with the vision, like founder has magic starts to come out of that. That’s how
you start to identify this. It’s valuable when it’s a big pain point. Yeah, you really just changing how high is the pain point. And
it’s got to match with the vision. So in this instance, with Canvas, it’s solving a recruiting workflow pain, yep. Okay. So we’re not asking them about their problems with payroll, right? You know, that that may be an unknown in one day, as Canvas grows bigger, but it’s always got to come back line division. So there’s got to be kind of a pointed focus to the conversation, right? So in this instance, we’re really looking at recruiting workflows, pains, opportunities.
And so in those scenarios on and what were some of those findings in the research that you had a third party neutral third party data? Yeah.
So I would say there were there were awfully validating, right. So one was when he kind of question a ton about your day, recruiters cannot get off of rightfully just how busy they are. Or you just kept hearing Oh, my God, I’m so busy. I’m so busy. I’m so busy. But then when you would talk about like, well, how many how much human interaction are you having in a day? It would be like, you know, three or four. And they don’t love being on the phone necessarily. Or they started figuring out that? Well, no, yeah, I mean, I like being on the phone. But don’t ever like no phone. No, I like connecting with people, like you see, there’s like what’s going on here? Right? Is it really? Is it really that you? Oh, yeah, that’s their goal. And so you started getting these threads, like the number one thing you want to do today is connect with people, but you’re connecting with real people, you know, that’s the problem is connect. So it started to emerge to these themes. A clear one in the recruiting world is, you know, how do we attack the feeling of are overwhelmed, but at the same time, they can’t, they can’t connect with enough people. And so we really started to kind of pull on that thread. And we heard that it’s very validating evidence. Now, there’s also potential sales roadblocks that emerge from that, right. So for example, if you’re really, really really busy, you know, how do you incorporate change management doing something in a different way? Right. So if you’re, you know, really good at writing handwritten letters, and you’re just announced, I know, I want you to use email. Right? Right. You know, it’s like, Well, I gotta make the time to learn how to do email, right? So we had we have we’d send we continue to have to kind of attack that specific problem of, you know, how do you make the investment to go from your modality today to your modality tomorrow,
one key piece, I want to access one of the most innovative pieces, and probably the biggest aha I had from the research is, there’s a variety of roles. And in this instance, you know, he’s going to sell to heads of HR and recruiters are going to use it, yes, want to talk to them. But the goal is, how do people want to interview and most of the fascinating user research actually came from and it was validated by humans vision of how dreadful that is, right now, if you are looking for a job and you just want to know, you know, you see a big company, it’s posted, you know, they have a branch in Indianapolis is this role in Indianapolis for you as someone trying to find that job, you want to know and you don’t, you don’t need an hour interview it I want first contact with a representative there and I want to passively If possible, have conversation with them, show interest, I can go back and forth, things like that. I’ll just highlight that as well as make sure it’s the full circle of the breadth of what the product is going to be.
And I think the one fascinating part about this journey is like the idea of the big idea behind Canvas, we want to capture the world’s interviewing information. That’s actually what Canvas is about. Text was the first lever To begin to create a process where you can capture all that data through this new modality introducing this new thing where you can start to capture and analyze this data, but that the idea is much bigger than the hard part. It’s like the what’s the wedge? Right? What how do you go insert yourself into that market? And that’s what this whole process led us down. Right? So we’re going to capture the world’s interview information. And then where are we going to start and we found a novel place to go start and do that.
And I think just tying design back into this one thing, that’s just been a pleasure where we’re not going to canvass I mean, every everything in terms of you know, mentions coming up with a pitch deck. I’ve seen his brand. He’s got to look professional, kind of to entrepreneurs out there looking primetime to investors to Team recruit talent that matters. And then are you telling the right story, your vision, you know, position it in the right way that matters? Is it we strive for, you know, people get it, love it, want it within 10 seconds? That’s that’s pretty solid messaging positioning. And then obviously, when you get to the user, it’s got to be absolutely dynamite and something that they love. All those things come into play.
You came in with the name already, right? We did. Yeah. How did you come up with a name it I love it.
It was a brutal process relating, we were thinking about names. We had lots as we knew we wanted an accessible, playful brand that was gonna win things that we were playing with. And so I just I was driving into work at apparatus. I’d heard this. Tim Ferriss had a podcast on the canvas strategy from back in the Roman days where like, the emperor would send out some junior people to go kind of clean up the smaller issues they could focus on important it was called the canvas strategy, the people that really good at that started getting promoted. So I had that name Canvas being around my head. And then a short time later, I’m talking to Jared, I’m like, Jared, I need a name for the company. And Jared looks back at this piece of art, and it’s called by Canvas number five, because what about Canvas, and I’m like, I can’t believe you said that. So that’s literally how it kind of came. Gerrans, my co founder, that’s awesome. I’m like, let’s just roll with that we call Tom Walsh that I smell or five seconds later. In fact, we just received the trademark board a few weeks ago. So congrats, sir. But I think we’re just kind of like we’ve had so many names, like that’s a good one. Let’s go right. Yeah. And it’s worked. So we’re excited about how
do you so you have the name. But then end of the day name is just a word. Yeah. And it’s really your brand that puts meaning behind that? Yeah. How do you go about building a brand around that? Did you work with an outside partner for that? Or is that something you guys kind of came up, I
would say innovate map really just took us to the next. Okay. So I’ll give you some we they really brought the brand to life, if you look at the kind of the mark in Canvas in the in the brilliant insertion of these chat A’s kind of these little chat window A’s in there. And then how we were pulling just that as a symbol of the company out. And it was just amazing work. I remember, Mike and the team, you could tell they had a secret. And they were just so excited to kind of unveil what they wanted to do with the name. And it was just one of those things where a lot of times you like you want to be tasked and you want to, you know, sleep on something that we saw, and we’re like, that is exactly what we’re doing. So that it was kind of they really nailed it. And from there, you know, internal brainstorming. And I remember that reveal day, it was like everyone had chills, it was just really, really
talked to me how you go about you and your team, taking a concept like Canvas and a word and starting to like, drive meaning with that with the brand, which is not just, you know, words around that word. But it’s really like the design and feel of the product,
we were real proud of this. And I’ll just be very transparent. We’ve been innovating mass for around three and a half years. And we started with product marketing, really focused on the buyer. And then we had product management us come see we have in the last year and a half to two years really built out our product brand. And honestly, what why that has happened is twofold. One, we get startups coming from the onset, like with the idea stage, so they wanted that. And honestly the creative of the brand needed to be cohesive with the product marketing materials, pitch deck sales decks product site, as well as the product, that consistent experience really, from a business perspective had us kind of grow into also doing product brand. And so our process being originated or lead from thinking of the product and how its positioned in mind that comes into play was we’re thinking about this. So obviously, it’s not an art project to us, right. That’s the biggest thing. So it’s got to convey their culture, the entire framework of it has to resonate with constituents, and that might be audiences there admirers audiences that are buyers, and then users and then it’s got to flow to the entire all the buyer content, and then all the user content. And so you know, if you were to go to campuses website, we’re very proud in terms of Yeah, it’s great, we love the mark as well, but it flows throughout, you know, and then the experience as you translate that into the product, that’s not a jarring, inconsistent experience. That’s a very consistent experience. And I would just highlight the need for that, especially in product, who’s actually even envisioning a freemium model where someone’s going right from your marketing materials into the product Yep, that the consistency of how your your your product brand looks in marketing and sales materials, as well as in the product is becoming significantly more of a touch point.
I was gonna mention my favorite part of the stories is Mike’s overlooking one thing, which is I did not want to do this. We had a mark and we have a logo and I’m like no we gotta go we got a client turn it up marks white like that. Yeah, and I’m like this and so and we had a logo we were fine with low back. We liked our old logo, maybe down one day in Canvas floor will reveal what the old logo was, but, but we were like, Oh, time for this nonsense, right? Like let’s get going and And I can just tell by the look in their eyes that they really wanted to do this and like, fine, fine, we’ll take a timeout. And we look at it. And we’re just like, holy crap. Like, that’s amazing, right? And so it was one of it, you’re just back to having a good partner, where they’re not just going to be yes, people, as I’m trying to just barrel through the process to get to the end point. That’s my favorite part of the story is that, you know, we would not have been not would not have happened and let’s actually force the issue that No, no, we’ve got something great. And we can’t we got to talk to you about it. And that that was how that came about.
But when you when you hone in on something like that with your team, are you looking for like one core thing, that you can then trickle into the rest of the product in the marketing? Or are you looking for, like a set of values to kind of interweave throughout?
No, it’s, it’s, I mean, it’s a combination, what we like to do is align on the goals of the brand. Okay. And
so for Canvas, what were some of those goals? Oh, accessible,
you know, kind of could speak to the enterprise actually separate from the enterprise
just conceptual words that sort of set you apart from the competition, you know, accessible, that’s, that’s
great, playful, accessible, different, but it can’t go too far. Because it’s going to be I mean, enterprise HR is going to have to feel like they trust it. Yep. convey a little bit of tech. Yeah. And it is different from each, you know, if we’re making if we’re designing a medical software brand, versus a consumer brand, versus those goals come into play, what are you trying to achieve? And it’s typically some sprinkle of the company culture coming through some sprinkle of the opinion you’re trying to convey with the audience, you will really try to get it what exactly do you mean by that? Right. And honestly, we’ll try and do about five goals. We’re consistently in our process, checking back to those goals. Yeah, this one’s great on playfulness, but it’s not professional. If it doesn’t speak tech,
one big decision we made was we decided you won’t find the words artificial intelligence on our website, right? Like we decided that that wasn’t the point of our brand and right we’re trying to accomplish. And so very early on was like, not like, that’s what those are tools we use, in our words, to create these magical moments for recruiters and candidates. And so we’re, that’s all that needs to be said about it. And we’re going to just keep cranking and doing that behind the scenes. And then we’ll let the brand be, I think AI is not going to age, well in that way. Right? And say that you wouldn’t launch your company as a cloud computing based company now, or you wouldn’t launch it as having electrical power, right? Like it just these are tools that we now have access to. And I we just felt like to attack the market, we want to do attack, we felt like that, that needed to be something that was kind of behind the scenes, and we didn’t need it to be kind of AI forward in that
way. And to clarify you right now you’re talking about your pitch to customers. I understand you guys collaborated even on the investor deck side of things, too, right? Are you leaving AI absent from the conversation when talking to investors as well
or no, absolutely not a different race. And I think that’s that’s what was critical. What Mike was saying is like, understand your audience and you know, like, I think investors want to know that you’re thinking about the disruptions happening in the space, right? I think HR executives certainly want to know, right? But what does a recruiter want? And whoever wants to know, how are you going to make my life easier today? Right, like, it’s your job to figure out how right and so we decided that when it comes to creating this revolution with Canvas with the recruiter universe, that we didn’t need canvas, Droid oriented, marketing and branding. You mentioned
the fundraising process. I guess I brought it up. Do you feel comfortable talking about that? Sure. Yeah. Because you were, you’ve raised over a million now in capital. And it seems like that came together pretty quickly. Was that just kind of based on the relationships you build? And that early exploration conversations?
Yeah, you know, I think it’s fascinating, you know, how much credit you’ll get after a success story? Right. And I think there’s no doubt that, you know, the timing of kind of coming off of apparatus and rolling into Canvas, I think there was, you know, a fair amount of excitement about, you know, what are you going to do next, and then, you know, some people that really want to participate, and whatever that next thing was, and so I think that that’s probably, you know, just a proven track record, and is probably where fundraising success kind of comes from, but I’m what I’m really proud of is, you know, we from the get go, and our seed round had investors from Portland, multiple investors from San Francisco Bay Area in New York City. And definitely some HR executives that were, you know, where I wasn’t on a texting friend basis with and so, you know, having the previous heads of talent for SpaceX or for Elon Musk, Jeff Perkins, Scott de who was approved out of town for Airbnb, and folks like that, that are advisers and investors in the company where we didn’t have previous strong relationships. I think that’s that’s what’s been most exciting to me. And then seeing any Apple’s community really rally around, certainly wanting to participate in Canvas. We’ve been very fortunate in our fundraising exibit expedition, if you will.
Well, and it sounds like you guys were collaborating the entire time. What did you find to be most effective in that fundraising process in terms of how you communicate through the words, but also through the design of a deck or maybe even a demo? Yeah. So
I think we started expressing some of the brand, early to the investors and I there’s no doubt me, I think there was an appreciation. We were an experienced team, taking this really seriously kind of in a very kind of pre money pre revenue stage already having, you know, really solid display of what we were going to go execute on in terms of the design. Yeah, I mean, I think it mattered that And a bitmap could sharpen our, our story. And when people looked at it, they started like, you know, I would be proud to be associated with this, this early thing, the quality is so high on it. Right? Yeah. That certainly, you know, helped, you know, the other fascinating part of the journey is like taking it from the big idea to the the narrow entry point, right. And so if you look at our a lot of our early pitch deck, it we probably raised the first half a million on we’re gonna go solve cancer and, and world hunger at the same time, right? And then we’re gonna do one of those, you know, what are we gonna do like a part of one of those, as you start to really figure out how you’re gonna attack the market. And so I look back at those, and I hope we get to everything that was there. But that was a really important part of the process was kind of kind of narrowing.
Do you feel like you picked up momentum, the more you narrowed in on the specific Yeah,
I mean, we’d still be developed, we’d still be designing to have, you know, we, I don’t think we’d have a product for sure, if we, if we had been trying to execute on the kind of the the original, what I call it, the 30,000 foot idea, you know, then we got to the, to the 10,000 foot idea was, we’re going to attack attacks, and then then kind of bringing it to life even further through what I just call this rapid distillation. Right. And I think the the big insight a lot of people miss sometimes is like, the big idea is not the hardest part, it’s the wedge in which you’re going to use to enter the market. And that needs to be something honestly pretty small, like pretty small and rock solid and works every time. That’s actually the part that I personally needed the most help, like, I’ve always felt pretty strong at the big ideas. And then it’s like surround yourself people that kind of forced that distillation process is, I think, really important.
Yeah, it just might think I’d add to that just even for entrepreneurs is really the focus of distilling down product market fit at the end of the day, sometimes what I’ll see is a lot entrepreneurs will overweight the product and not think about the buyer both matter equally, the better precision you can have is I’m going to talk to this market. And it might be it’s making some tough decisions on roles you’re gonna go after, even if I’m even thinking back to him his vision of HR in general and the for him to have focused on this role in HR and then build product that solves specific pains for that role, have it resonate with the users and the people that be experienced that incredible precision. And then when you land that kind of fit, you can build on either way, you can say I built a product, that nominee to expand the markets that I’m going to put this product into, or I’m going to solve more problems for the market I’m already working with, yeah, that’s your product then can expand. It’s always got to be aligned. And so boiling the ocean, talking, not knowing who you’re even selling to, that’s fine, those early conversations truly get a hone in on who would buy this. And then obviously then if once you’ve your idea lines there, then you want to figure out the experience, you’re going to present to the user base.
One of the interesting things you know about the distillation process guy, you know, kind of a key strategic insight. And we still I don’t wanna reveal too, because we have plans on some of these because of the next leg of our journey. But originally canvas, I think was going to do more inside the company, we kind of sat there and thought about what are all the roadblocks and having this enterprise IT background, we’re like man, it dealing with CI CEO dealing with security dealing with, you know, just gonna extend that sales process. So we jokingly kind of referred to the recruiting landscape as the demilitarized zone, you don’t need those security numbers you don’t need, you don’t need all this stuff to kind of get started and not part of the journey. So you can get to the enterprise and really not have to go mess with a lot of the stuff that you have to mess with. It slows down sales cycles. And so some of it’s kind of like taking market realities, mashing it up against your product and your vision and going, you know, again, what’s the best place to start, right. And so, one insight was, hey, tax looks like a great place to start and other insight was outside of pre hire seems like a great place to start to kind of think about how to go disrupt out marketplace with with chat and machine learning and some of these techniques. And so it is kind of such a multi dimensional type of strategy game. And some of those insights were just as simple as manual, it’s just a lot harder to sell it inside than it is outside, right? You think about a recruiter, a recruiter can be like, no, no, I’m not collecting any information. I’m just I’m just like getting to know this person, I don’t need their social security number and their next of kin. And there’s all that stuff that you need as part of that formal internal process. So there’s just a lot of stuff that we were triangulating on to get to kind of what Canvas was from the get go.
I really appreciate you and coming and sharing your story about Canvas and how design has impacted not just culture and brand at Canvas, but your investment that you’ve been able to raise and the sales that you’ve been able to drive. I’m really eager to watch as as your company continues to excel, and grow and hope you’ll come back and share more of your adventures as they unfold. Yes, big important year for us. Definitely. Definitely. And, Mike, thank you so much for sharing your expertise. And this particular case study is really interesting to me, you know, as we’re just now engaging with innovate map on some of the design for our membership technology that we’re building already loves, from the conversations we’ve been having. And I appreciate you sharing some of those insights so that other founders can get involved in in that innovation design process as well. Thank you guys. Both. Pleasure being here today for fun. Yeah, of course. That’s it for our interview with Mike Reynolds and Aman Brar, but it does not have to be the end of the conversation. Make sure you hit up Mike and his team at Innovate map on Twitter, they’re just at Innovate map all one word. And of course you can find Aman as well at at Aman de Brar on Twitter again that’s Aman de Brar and you spelled N A M A N. D Brar. br AR. Make sure you hit them up. Ask them if you have more questions about the experience of taking Canvas to market if you’re interested in the product, or if you’re just interested in connecting on a founder level in general, these guys are amazing and feel so grateful that we had the opportunity to share their story right here on powderkeg igniting startups. And for more stories on entrepreneurs, leaders and professionals outside of Silicon Valley, make sure you give us a little subscribe on iTunes, you can find us at powderkeg.com/itunes you want to subscribe there because we have some amazing guests coming up. So please don’t miss that. And while you’re at it, please, please, please leave us a review on iTunes. This is how we reach new people. And the positive reviews we’ve already received have helped us dramatically grow our audience for sharing these entrepreneurs stories. So thank you so much. If you’re one of these people that has already left us a review. Again, that’s powderkeg att.com/itunes. If you haven’t subscribed or left a review yet, please check that out. And while I’m on that subject, we’ve got a helpful companion firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find show notes for this episode, as well as all of the past articles, and interviews and even events come on out to one of our powderkeg pitch nights. We have them all over the United States right now, although we have our eye on global. But at those pitch nights, you can come and connect with other tech entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals that are just like you, it’s a great opportunity to get out from behind your computer screens. You know, take those headphones out, come learn about the latest companies innovation strategies that are just disrupting industries and changing the world. We also live stream those events. So if you can’t make it out in person, or if we’re not in your city yet, you can check us out at facebook.com/powderkeg We’ve been getting some really awesome feedback from you guys. So thank you for that. But I go to a lot of these powderkeg events myself, I just want to mention that again. So I’d love to catch you there in person if you can make it again, you can learn all about those events as well as new articles and episodes of powderkeg igniting email@example.com I’ll see you there or we’ll talk to you in the next episode.