Movers and Starters is an exclusive series that profiles the individuals who drive Toronto’s startup community.

Candid is an app that enables real-time exchanges between candid photographers and brands. Nariman Haghighi is Candid’s CEO and co-founder.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up mostly in Toronto. My family immigrated here from Tehran in 1989. I spent grades 1 and 2 there and have a ton of great memories, but the rest of my life has been centered in Toronto and it’s always been home to me. 

Where did you go to University and what did you take?

I studied Computer Science at the University of Waterloo.

When you went to Waterloo, what kind of career did you think you would get into when you finished school?

Waterloo is an extremely structured school. You start interning in your first year, and for most students there, it sets the tone for the rest of your career. I knew I would be working on web software… and all 6 of my internships had a web software focus, so I had a pretty good idea of the type of career that would lead to. I only know of a handful of cases in my program where the people went on to do something entirely different.


What was your first job out of University?

My first job was technically a software development position with NVIDIA in Santa Clara. I did my last 3 internships there. They offered me a full-time gig when I was done school and I signed. I came back to Toronto for graduation and to spend the summer, before moving back to the Valley. I took what I thought was a temp position with a small boutique consulting firm called imason inc. that I had worked with in the past and I loved working there so much that I decided to stay. The Valley is great on so many levels, but leaving your hometown is never easy.

Yeah, I know what you mean. How did the idea for Candid come about?

My partner Dominic Gignac and I started FiveAces last summer to allow businesses to better leverage outside expertise (the crowd) in strategic ways that benefited both sides. We had both worked at Workopolis, so we both had a lot of experience with Recruitment/HR and our first approach to the problem was ElasticForce, a marketplace that would make it easier to collaborate across companies, a few hours at a time. We pivoted over to Candid after a few months because we saw the mobile photography space as a more natural way to deliver the same benefit to a much larger market.


How did you settle on the name? is something I had registered months earlier while out for dinner with my friend Andy Anthony, then set aside. He had a crazy idea around a marketplace where you could request a photo of anything you wanted to see around the city, and someone in the vicinity would take a photo for you and you’d pay them a dollar. IO domains have a lot of street cred in the start-up world and the idea of I/O (input/output) around our daily moments–a real-time bridge between candid photographers and businesses–seemed to be the most concise way to brand ourselves, at least from a techie’s perspective. We have these amazing devices that can capture powerful and inspiring moments but there’s little structure or incentive around how we use them in a way that directly benefits what’s important to us. The name is just a perfect fit for a business focused on harnessing the power of candid photography, simple and to the point.

How does Candid directly benefit the user?

Great question — and something that’s a constant focus for us as ‘agents of the candid photographer’… maximum control, choice and reciprocity are our guiding principles.

Today, the benefit of Candid for the user is distribution for their personal brand. You can literally be seen by thousands of people moments after taking a great photo. That type of distribution has never been possible before and we always attribute pictures back to the photographer so people can learn more about them.

We also provide businesses a monthly report that shows very clearly which people are taking the best photos for them so that they can reach to them out and provide additional incentives. It’s really at this at this stage that the concept shines for both sides—for businesses, a brand advocate with influence on Instagram who you have a direct relationship with through Candid is a powerful concept in this day and age.

On the consumer side, users get a more intimate sense for the products that they use every day. Authentic images inspired by real customers provide a true sense for the product and the community behind it. Most people prefer this type of honest marketing, especially as it relates to brands they’re already familiar with.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced since you started Candid that you didn’t exactly anticipate?

Our biggest challenge has definitely been around partnerships and marketing. 
For a concept like Candid to go mainstream, you really need someone who can think strategically about building relationships and a sales infrastructure across North America & Europe to sell the service through agencies rather than direct selling businesses one at a time.

We really underestimated this component and thought that a stellar product priced at 1/10th of the competition would be enough to gain a foothold in the market but marketing and partnerships are crucial, arguably more so than the product itself, at least at the beginning.

Another issue that caught us off guard is how many of independent merchants can’t make simple changes to their site, like inserting a snippet of HTML/JavaScript. We thought our e-commerce integration would work for just about anyone but you’d be surprised at how many merchants are dinged with exorbitant service fees for even simple changes to their website. As a result, we shifted our focus to a “hosted” gallery product that gives merchants much of the same benefit without having to make changes to their site. Lookout for us in the Shopify app store in the weeks ahead as well, that should also make it much easier.


What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a start-up entrepreneur in the last year?

It sounds cliché, but make sure you absolutely love what you do. You will have an infinite number of reasons to quit along the way if you don’t.

Yeah. What sectors of the mobile-app world do you see as having the most growth potential in the next three-five years?

I’m a big fan of Umano. I started to build something similar called Bliss Stream a few years ago, but this team just moved faster. I’m also a big fan of QuizUp. I like educational apps that make it easy and fun to learn and stay informed. There’s way too much “undirected” use on mobile phones these days and I think a little structure around our habits on these devices can generate significant advances towards health, communities, education, etc. The domination of games in the App Store has always been a bit depressing for me—I’m bullish on the reverse of this trend.

Okay. And what’s next for Candid? The Shopify pick up seems huge. What else is on the horizon?

We have a few Toronto/Montreal agency relationships in place for January that should really speed up adoption and put Candid on center stage—including a couple of big Canadian brands that should hopefully launch any day now. We also have a small but growing community of fashion & makeup brands in NY that are helping us gain a foothold there. The next step really is to focus on these big fashion centers in US and Europe and build relationships with local partners that see the benefit of building on Candid.

In the meantime, we’ve been collecting a lot of data to better understand how people interact with UGC in the e-commerce flow and surfacing this data through powerful reports will really give us a unique edge. We still have a bit of work to do to make sure our solution is accessible to every merchant on the planet (from a pricing perspective & ease of use) so we will continue to refine that experience as well.

Thanks a lot.

For more information on Candid, visit: or follow Candid on Twitter: @Candid


Jordan Sowunmi is a writer and editor at the Toronto Standard. He is on Twitter: @jordanisjoso

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