Ariel Lopez is on a mission to remove bias and increase visibility for all candidates with her data-driven recruitment platform Knac.
The Atlanta-based firm helps companies’ source and screen applicants more effectively and equitably. It uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to help recruiters make fairer decisions in the hiring process.
After graduating from Eastern Carolina University, Lopez moved to New York and landed a job in recruiting. In this role, Lopez was able to gain firsthand experience hiring candidates for companies.
“I spent a great deal of time thinking about what the industry is hiring for and why they are hiring for those things,” says Lopez, who self-identifies as Afro-Latina. “I thought about any barriers to entry that may exist for people and how we can dismantle them, making it easier for people to prepare and qualify for the jobs they want.”
Knac uses scorecards to evaluate applicants and compares the skills listed in their resume from previous job experiences to the skills required for the job, Lopez explains. There are employers who think candidates from big-name schools and companies are the only people worth hiring, she adds. However, Knac wants to bring more humanity into this process using scorecards to give a more holistic view of a person’s value as a potential employee.
“A big part of our success over time has to do with how we are tapping into other data sources,” says Lopez. “Knac wants to use that data to tell a better story of who the person is.”
To make more of an impact on the workforce, Knac has begun re-tooling their platform for mid-market companies, says Lopez. By focusing on companies with less than 1000 employees, Knac’s practices can have an immediate impact.
The startup has had a recent boost. It’s received funding from Google for Startups Black Founders Fund and a strategic partnership with hiring software company Greenhouse to use its customer base to grow Knac’s sales. Greenhouse CEO Daniel Chait also invested in Knac. The startup has about $500,000 investments total.
Knac is inspired by Lopez’s experiences as a recruiter, talent manager, and career coach. She understands the frustrations within traditional recruiting and created Knac with the grievances of jobseekers at heart.
“Our ethos is with the job-seeker,” says Lopez. “We care deeply about the candidate’s experience and making it easier for people to get the jobs that they want and understanding what they may be missing.”
Lopez learned that the process for hiring in the technology industry isn’t as equitable as it could be while working with big tech companies.
“It’s less than efficient and often relies on biased hiring practices to fill their roles,” said Lopez. “The homogeneous culture we see in tech and other industries has everything to do with how companies are hiring and what they’re hiring for.”
Knac evolved from Lopez’s decades of experience. Her journey began in Tampa Bay, Florida, and continued in New York City. She is now based in Atlanta.
“Regardless of your jobs, as long you tie things to a specific purpose, your experiences will build on top of each other, which happened to me,” said Lopez. “I always cared about helping people, which translated into a recruiting career which translated into career coaching. Which led to me becoming an entrepreneur and figuring out how to build solutions and innovate on my own.”
Lopez’s experience as a career coach has impacted the way Knac interacts with both recruiters and jobseekers. The platform provides candidates with individualized feedback and tangible next steps as well as real-time analysis on hiring practices for employers.
“When candidates apply to roles at companies like Facebook and Twitter, rejection is often done by ghosting candidates or sending a generic ‘sorry we’re going in another direction’ email,” said Lopez. “You get that 50th rejection letter and you want to jump off of a roof.”
To address this issue, the Knac platform gives candidates written correspondence detailing why they may not have been the best fit for the role, in addition to providing some recommendations on where and how to best continue your job search.
“If you’re not quite ready to apply for a role and you need to work on your skills, Knac will suggest where the gaps in your resumé are so you can become proficient in those areas,” says Lopez. “For example, if you are missing experience with a certain tool or software required for a certain job. We’ll let you know those are the things you need to improve on before re-applying.”
Increasing communication and transparency is just one of Knac’s cornerstone features, along with integrating more inclusive algorithms into companies’ applicant tracking systems to identify a wider range of candidates.
While job-hunting, Lopez received a highly unanticipated, canned rejection email from social networking company Tumblr. 2 years later a Tumblr recruiter approached Lopez at a conference to compliment her talk and expressed her wish to have hired Lopez before.
“This was the first time I felt personally that [recruitment] is a mess. It’s so much bigger than diversity,” says Lopez. “Anyone that is good is being overlooked because the process doesn’t allow you to see them.”
Providing more data-driven insights not only allows Knac to determine exactly what criteria jobs will require but also to identify those skills in a wider variety of applicants – like Lopez.
“It can feel like your resumé is going into a black hole. You hope that someone sees it but there’s not a lot of trust and certainly no guarantee that they will,” says Lopez. “We care about making sure people that come from under-represented backgrounds or people who traditionally get overlooked in a recruiter’s pipeline have the same access as everyone else.”
Lopez launched the beta version of the company in 2019, relocating from New York to Atlanta because of the city’s emerging tech ecosystem. Her team currently consists of co-founder and chief product officer Sarathi Srinivasan, whom she met shortly after leaving General Assembly.
“Sarathi is the yin to my yang, anything that I lack in is where he picks up the slack,” says Lopez. “He is able to compliment me in a way that is very beneficial, not only to the business but our roadmap going forward.”
To grow Knac, Lopez plans to hire 5 to 10 people in Atlanta within the next 6 to 12 months, including a VP of Engineering.
Personally, Lopez wants to continue helping people move forward in their careers. She is currently writing a playbook to help guide people working in tech for a fall 2021 release.
“I care very deeply about the future of work and helping people make sense of their careers,” says Lopez. “I am working on a playbook specifically for people who are interested in figuring out their transition to a new tech career or accelerate in the tech career they have.”
Looking at Lopez’s track record and various interests, Knac has a great foundation to thrive. All of Lopez’s experiences can benefit the startup in one way or another.
“Regardless of your approach or job, as long you tie things to a specific purpose, your experiences will build on top of each other, which happened to me,” says Lopez.
Lopez and Knac will both continue to evolve as the workforce and corporate America continue to evolve.
“Anything related to the future of work or hiring you will likely find us because those are the things we care about and where we really want to push the needle,” says Lopez. “I haven’t had a super traditional background, but I wouldn’t think I’d be where I am today without it. A lot of hustle, grind, and just seeing opportunity along the way.”