Business Plan Challenge

Candidate.Guru’s big-data solution solves HR quandary: Will the new hire fit in?

Candidate.Guru CEO Chris Daniels and Steve Carter, who oversees sales and marketing, are photographed at FAU Tech Runway, where they participated in a startup accelerator program. Candidate.Guru was named Challenge Champion in the Herald’s Business Plan Challenge.
Candidate.Guru CEO Chris Daniels and Steve Carter, who oversees sales and marketing, are photographed at FAU Tech Runway, where they participated in a startup accelerator program. Candidate.Guru was named Challenge Champion in the Herald’s Business Plan Challenge.

Big Data, meet HR.

Marry them, and companies could generate new hires with much higher success rates.

That’s the vision and mission of Candidate.Guru, the winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge’s Community Track and the Challenge Champion, based on judges’ voting. Founder and CEO Chris Daniels, formerly in the executive recruiting industry, says finding candidates with the right skill sets, education and experience isn’t enough. Increasingly, culture fit is key: Will the new person fit in with the culture of the company and team? Will he or she get along with the boss?

Candidate.Guru is a big-data analytics solution that can predict a culture fit between corporate hiring managers and prospective job seekers without the need for surveys and assessment tools, Daniels said. The software-as-a-service-based solution used predictive analytics and machine learning technology to assess hundreds of thousands of boss/employee combinations and determine which attributes are indicative of a successful working relationship. A major asset is access to a database of characteristic data on every member of the U.S. workforce.

“Our customers can submit job candidates to Candidate.Guru via LinkedIn, job boards and human resources systems. We will return them in rank order based on the strengths of the culture fit with a specific hiring manager,” said Daniels, of Weston. The company ( is currently based at FAU Tech Runway, where it has been participating in a startup accelerator.

Daniels’ light-bulb moment came about two years ago when as an executive recruiter he was meeting with a Time Warner executive and hearing about how frustrating it was to have to talk to hundreds of highly skilled candidates to figure out who would be the best fit with the boss and the team. “Ever since then, I thought there has to be a way to solve this with technology, and that’s the journey we’ve been on.”

Research confirmed the opportunity. While U.S. corporations spend $72 billion annually on recruiting services and products, only 3 percent of them believe their end-to-end recruiting processes are excellent. Finding that right fit is key: A Gallop survey showed that 75 percent of workers who left positions voluntarily did so because of the boss. So then Daniels set out to build a team.

Daniels found one of his first team members, Steve Carter, in an unconventional way. Carter was a client of Daniels in his executive recruiting days. Carter, of New Zealand, had exited a publicly traded software company and was looking for a new opportunity. Carter said he was explaining to Daniels that he was looking for something where he could get involved on the ground floor. “He said, ‘Funny story, I’m working on something that you might be interested in.’ 

Carter said he loved the concept and he also became one of the company’s largest angel investors. Carter leads sales and marketing. Daniels hired Charles Wheelus, a data scientist and Ph.D candidate at Florida Atlantic University, as a key consultant. A developer in Atlanta, Cyprien Mvuanda, has been with Candidate.Guru from the beginning and is planning to move to South Florida.

One of the most recent members of the nine-person team is Roy Gerber, who was chief technology officer, chief scientist and other leadership positions for 14 years at Ultimate Software, a publicly traded human resources software provider based in Weston. Gerber has joined Candidate.Guru as CTO, “a coup for us,” Daniels said.

After more than a year of development and beta testing, Candidate.Guru launched its platform in January.

“The biggest challenge of being here has been the funding,” said Daniels, who said he turned down opportunities because potential strategic partners wanted the company near them on the West Coast. “We want to build this company here; we want to make this a South Florida success story.”

Candidate.Guru was initially funded by Daniels, who also raised nearly $475,000 in angel funding. It is currently raising $950,000 and has more than half of that committed, Daniels said last week. “This gives us more runway and an ability to accelerate growth.

The FAN Fund, a Florida-based fund that invests in growth-oriented seed and early-stage companies in the technology and life science sectors in the state, is leading the round. “Candidate.Guru offers an innovative quantitative method to predict culture fit, which has the potential of significantly streamlining the recruiting and hiring process and fundamentally improving the employment experience from both the employer and employee’s point of view,” said Benjamin Patz, managing director of FAN Fund.

Dan Chappell, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Seacoast Bank, was one of the early beta testers of Candidate.Guru. He said members of his team jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it because they are always looking for innovative ways to narrow the funnel of qualified candidates while expanding the net of the search at the same time.

“This gives us a way to prioritize the candidates in a wider search, and we’ve seen good results,” said Chappell, who has used the tool for mid-level professional and management-level positions. “We were beta testers, and now we are customers.”

He said he also appreciates that the team has a deep understanding of the industry and creates a collaborative environment rather than just pushing technology out. Throughout the beta process, the Seacoast team gave Candidate.Guru suggestions for improvement, which were implemented. “We became an extension of their team or they became an extension of ours; it was and is a great partnership.”

Daniels and Carter believe their sweet spot is companies of 1,000 to 5,000 employees, although there is no reason why their service would not benefit smaller or larger companies. Pricing is based on the number of candidates a company runs through the prediction engine. There are no upfront or infrastructure costs for using the service.

Candidate.Guru has about a dozen customers under trial, including FAU, Daniels said. “We are revenue-generating; we have converted customers from trials to paying customers. We are in discussions with some very large software companies partnering with us. …

“The success of this business will be all about execution. We have an incredible opportunity — we have a market that is desperate for a way to better identify and hire people.”