Candoor is an online marketplace that helps Black, Latinx, Indigenous & other underserved college students and professionals receive feedback and mentorship from in-career experts for their dream jobs.
Abdelwadood Daoud’s first inspiration was his father. He was the ultimate entrepreneur: a Sudanese immigrant on a mission to give his family the best he possibly could. Daoud knew that he was destined to be a founder and make his success story not an exception, but a standard.
After joining the Visible Hands 2021 Accelerator, Daoud completed extensive customer discovery, made strides in his fundraising journey, and cultivated a network of inspiring founders. One of his most valuable takeaways, however, was confidence.
“[Visible Hands] didn’t think that I was just some random person; they saw my potential to build a company. I walked out of the program realizing that not only can I build a company, I have the support system to be able to do it.”
- Abdelwadood Daoud, Co-Founder and CEO of Candoor
Although his family struggled financially, Daoud’s father instilled in him the desire to create a company and build something for himself.
“I grew up with not much,” said Daoud. “My family of eight lived underneath the federal poverty thresholds from the day I was born until I graduated college, but I have thousands of memories of my pops starting various businesses. He was always entrepreneurial. A big reason I’m the person I am today is getting a chance [in life] from him.”
Daoud became a success story: the son of immigrant parents who worked hard to give their children a bright future. He landed an internship at Tesla during college and exited his undergraduate education with a job offer from a Fortune 500 company.
“As I grew up, I started to not enjoy those [accomplishments] anymore,” Daoud said. “I realized how broken the world was. There are so many people who are working just as hard as me, if not harder, that [aren’t] able to realize their American dream or even able to just help out their families.”
Daoud’s role as National Finance Chairperson at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) confirmed that these patterns of unequal opportunities in the workplace were starting long before the candidates even had a fair chance at the job. Focused on building symbiotic corporate partnerships, he would meet with HR leaders from multiple Fortune 500 companies who were looking to hire NSBE members. Although they expressed interest, their formal hiring process had a lot of barriers.
Automations in the hiring process at large companies are necessary to keep up with the thousands of applications received weekly. According to Yahoo, over 95% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). This automated system leads to 75% of resumes not getting read by a human because of keywords, file types, and formatting. Although streamlining this process is practical, it’s the underrepresented and underserved talent that get negatively affected by this process.
Daoud had witnessed firsthand the disconnect between employers seeking diverse talent and those who ended up being hired. As someone who was an exception to this pattern, he knew he couldn’t let his story be unique.
Daoud’s solution was Candoor, a startup dedicated to creating a more equitable landscape in the hiring industry.
“Candoor believes [a lack of opportunity for underrepresented talent] is just not fair,” Daoud said. “We need to go back to the basics and have humans find somebody with high potential, and then give them signals and mechanisms to be able to get them hired.”
Daoud and his team are looking to mend the gap between the desire for a diverse workplace and overlooked diverse talent. Individuals from underserved communities often do not have the generational wealth, extensive networks, or social capital to receive equal access to opportunities.
Candoor is creating a three-sided marketing place to help elevate Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other underserved talent. Advisors are connected with potential candidates and after feedback and mentorship have been implemented, the advisor can connect the advisee to the companies they’re looking for.
Why Visible Hands
The next step was finding someone to help make this idea a reality. Daoud started talking to accelerators and VC funds, however, they were looking for him to be further down a road he didn’t have access to.
“First, what you do is you have a family and friends round,” Daoud said. “I’m supporting my family and friends so that wasn’t an option for me. There was just a big disconnect.”
After learning about Visible Hands, Daoud was drawn to the connection between the Candoor philosophy and the Visible Hands mission.
“I knew I was not the classic American entrepreneur, I can’t just jump ship,” said Daoud. “To see any program out there that was investing in people the same way we do at Candoor [meant a lot].”
Daoud had a good understanding of the problem space he wanted to work in and had done the market research to get started on creating a solution. What he needed next were the right people to help him get there.
“I can confidently say that there was not one other accelerator that was going to work for me,” Daoud said. “I couldn’t have built much if it wasn’t for Visible Hands. I probably would have stopped because I didn’t have the money to go [on] and be able to build this and that.”
After getting accepted, Daoud was ready to continue the journey of creating Candoor. One of the biggest obstacles he had to face during the accelerator was completing the customer discovery process.
“There’s a lot of wrong ways to do customer discovery and I was definitely on the wrong side when I came into the accelerator,” Daoud said.
Daoud utilized his concierge: a member of the VH team who is responsible for curating an individualized engagement plan for the founder throughout their time in the accelerator. VH Vice President and Partnerships Lead, Michael Omenazu, quickly became an extra set of hands for Candoor.
“From an operational standpoint, Visible Hands acts as an extension of your team,” Daoud said. “For any founder who’s not well capitalized or doesn’t have a huge team, it almost feels like VH will double your size.”
Omenazu worked with Daoud to formalize his customer discovery process, as well as used the VH network to give him real support from people in the diversity hiring space.
“Mike got back to me with a spreadsheet of 200 plus contacts within the diversity space,” Daoud said, “And 30-40 of those contacts actually responded and said they would love to help.”
Omenazu helped Candoor gain momentum with their customers and Daoud was able to take these contacts and create meaningful company growth.
“Each week offered intimate insight into the growth of Daoud as a founder and Candoor as a company,” Omenazu said. “Candoor conveyed its commitment to customers throughout their product development process. They made it clear that feedback from users would dictate and inform Candoor’s future.”
Daoud knew lots of people were interested in the problem of overlooked, underrepresented talent, however, his task was to figure out how to use their feedback and make Candoor the missing link in the diversity hiring space.
“I had talked to hundreds of candidates, but [at Visible Hands] I learned how to do it in an organized, scalable way,” Daoud said. “I also understood how to have a good conversation with a customer to get the answers I need, not that I want.”
How else was Visible Hands a catalyst for growth?
Daoud came into the accelerator knowing he wanted to tackle customer discovery; what he didn’t know is that Candoor’s team structure would also change drastically during these 14-weeks.
Justin Kang, VH General Partner and Co-Founder introduced Daoud to Shelby Schrier and Kristina Wu. The two were a team coming out of Harvard Business School who were also dedicated to solving for the lack of resources and equitable opportunities for underrepresented talent. Along with Uma Abu (Co-Founder and already on the Candoor team), they met up and decided that their goals aligned to the point of combining their missions. Candoor had two new co-founders.
“We recognized we were working toward the same underlying mission — to democratize access to transformative careers for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other underserved professionals,” Schrier said. “It also came down to personal fit; Daoud and Abu are not only teammates whose opinions we trust and value, but authentic leaders we genuinely enjoy spending time with.”
Now that the Candoor team had some momentum, it was time to start fundraising. This was a difficult mental hurdle for Daoud, as his background inhibited him from visualizing the scale of what he was building and trusting that others would want to support him with their capital.
“As somebody whose parents collectively never made over $50 thousand; to have already raised five times that amount is crazy to me,” Daoud said. “Visible Hands was my ticket to understanding that this was possible.”
His fellow cohort members were an essential part of Daoud’s confidence building. He looked up to them for fundraising support, inspiration capital, product building advice, and everything in between.
“I’d say 70% of the problem was, can I go in front of an investor and say ‘I’m looking for a million dollars?’” Daoud said. “I think that [confidence] came more organically from conversations with other founders who fundraised. The accelerator gave me that confidence, and I don’t think I could tie it to anything other than the other cohort members.”
Not only did Daoud learn from the founders during the weeks of the accelerator; but he can to take these connections with him through his career.
“I would pay $25 thousand to end up with the networks that I ended up with,” Daoud said. “I think it’s a $25 thousand value to be able to hit up Dr. Moyo or Su Sanni or connect with Mei Lin for my fundraising strategy.”
Daoud faced major company-building hurdles and tackled them effortlessly during his time in the program.
“That’s what the accelerator really is,” Daoud said. “Walking in with being a diverse entrepreneur, who’s missing a few things, and walking out with things still missing, but having the competence to realize you are capable of being a founder.”
Since completing the Visible Hands accelerator, Daoud and Candoor have grown tremendously. They signed their first two paying customers: a series B startup and a large university.
Additionally, they’ve raised $250 thousand of their $1-$1.5 million round, with a $150 thousand follow-on investment from Visible Hands.
Visible Hands is proud of Candoor’s impressive growth during the accelerator. We encourage all founders who align with the Visible Hands mission to consider being a part of our accelerator. If you are an aspiring or early-stage startup founder from an underrepresented community, apply now to join our 2022 cohort.
- The Visible Hands Team