December 28: Capango

By December 28, 2022HC 2022

Capango is one of the many gifts of Loudoun this holiday season. This is one story in a series of 31 that highlight #LoudounPossible opportunities in the county. Check back every day in December to learn more!

Walk down any Main Street in America and you’ll see a sign of the times: “Help Wanted. Now Hiring. Join Our Team.”

As the U.S. unemployment rate drops to 3.7% – near the 3.5% from February 2020 – so too has the workforce participation rate, now at its lowest point since the 1970s.

The jobs exist. The people who could do the jobs are available, including high school students aging into the workforce, and recent retirees aging out.

Perhaps the missing piece is a spark of connection.

“The simplest way to describe Capango is it’s a dating app for finding hourly labor at retail and restaurants,” Capango Owner Stefan Midford explained. “Why is that experience broken? We felt like there was a huge opportunity to help the industry.”

The need has never been greater. The current U.S. workforce shortage has hit the restaurant industry especially hard, with more than 700,000 kitchen and wait staff leaving in September alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this 5.7% rate of quitting is more than double the average across all industries.

Just as the gig economy revolutionized industries like transportation, lodging and logistics, Capango seeks to change the landscape for shift work at restaurants, retail and other hospitality venues.

Originally a Canadian expat, Midford has been living in the U.S. and working in retail technology for more than 30 years. In 2002, he launched Natural Insight in Loudoun County, which offered cloud-based workforce management software for merchandisers, product companies, event marketers and retailers.

“In recent years, my clients started to say, ‘Hey, I can manage my workers, I just can’t find them,’” Midford said. “And when we looked at it, we discovered that a lot of the competitors out there have advertising platforms for retail work, but what they’re not doing is changing the job hunt experience. That’s what we wanted to look at.”

Midford started up Capango within Natural Insight and spun it off before selling the parent company in 2019.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the questions that Capango was founded on are even more prescient:

  1. Where do students look for their first job?
  2. What are the generational preferences of Gen Z?
  3. How do they think about hourly labor?

Rather than guessing the answers to these questions, Midford set out to truly understand.

“We spent a full year in research and prototyping, working with three different universities to test Capango’s interface,” he said. “We did things like standing in front of Starbucks with gift cards. People were going to get their coffee, and we’d give them a gift card if they would use the iPad and pretend to look for a job through this app.

“We did the research to really understand what worked and what didn’t work.”

Midford acknowledges that type resource investment isn’t possible for most startups, but credits the success of Natural Insight for making it possible.

“We saw really keen reception, particularly from the job seekers,” Midford said. “To date, we’ve had over 65,000 job seekers download our app to look for work, which is awesome.”

Capango’s business model also relies on buy-in from businesses and retail hubs that buy it on behalf of member businesses.

“The thing that we love is when we do a demo for a company, more than 50% of the people that we present to will close,” he said. “They onboard their employers and put job postings in Capango.”

Locating Capango in Loudoun

Midford moved to Loudoun County in the late 1990s, inspired by the Web 1.0 innovation happening in close proximity to AOL’s Dulles campus and fiber infrastructure.

When the time came to start his first company, and later Capango, Loudoun County was a perfect fit for everything a growing SaaS company needs.

“We’ve really liked it. We love the fact that Loudoun County is easy,” he said. “Being near transportation and being able to travel interstate, nationally and internationally, it was a huge bonus for us.

“We’re right out by Dulles International Airport. We did a lot of traveling at my last company and our clients were all over the world. I think 25% of our revenue was international. We didn’t have any clients in Virginia, Maryland or D.C., so everybody was a plane ride away.”

With each of his Loudoun startups, Midford has experienced the business-friendly, hands-on approach to economic development that also makes Loudoun County unique.

“I’ve been in the county for a while, both with the business and I live in Loudoun County. It’s just a great environment,” he said. “I’ve got a good relationship with the Economic Development team and have for years now. They understand a little bit about Capango and how different it is compared to other things that are going on in the county.”

While Capango is built to help retail and restaurants meet their staffing needs, it also requires a pipeline of elite tech and sales talent to maintain its growth trajectory. With its safe communities, great public schools and exceptional quality of life, Loudoun County is a major selling point for Midford’s team.

“We need highly-skilled people. As we grew my last company, we were able to transfer people into Loudoun because of the environment of the county and the dynamics of living here,” Midford said. “There’s certainly lots of competition in this area, but people are willing to move to this area and excited about the growth.”

He added: “It’s a fascinating county. I love the fact that in 45 minutes, I can be in downtown D.C., in the middle of the Nation’s Capital. In 40 minutes, I can be in the woods on the Appalachian Trail.”

Looking ahead, Midford sees a bright future for Capango in Loudoun County, especially as the company shifts gears into growth.

“We’re kind of moving out of what I’ll call the strategic phase and into proving that we’re really good business managers. We can grow fast, but lots of companies fall into this chasm right now.

“We’ve got a product, we’ve got good adoption. We’ve got good results,” he said. “Now we have to scale.”

The Loudoun Innovation Challenge Experience

Midford has been a serial entrepreneur for more than two decades, but viewed the 2022 Loudoun Innovation Challenge as an opportunity to revisit the nuts and bolts of his business.

“It forces you to actually go back and think about your business, about why it’s different. What is your differentiation in the marketplace?” he offered. “So, I always use these types of events as an opportunity for me to think really hard about our business, why we’re here, what we’re doing and why we think we’ll be successful.”

Capango was one of 12 finalists for the 2022 Loudoun Innovation Challenge. The experience left Midford inspired about the future of entrepreneurship in the county.

“The competition was a reminder that there are so many different ways for people to be successful entrepreneurs,” he said. “If you look at the list of finalists, and you look at the types of businesses they run, it’s always encouraging to see how many people come up with unique ideas in different areas.

“For budding entrepreneurs, there’s always opportunity out there. Loudoun County clearly has a wide breadth of different types of entrepreneurs doing some amazing things.”

For anyone thinking about pursuing entrepreneurship in 2023 and beyond, Midford offered some sage advice.

“You have to be passionate about what you do. It’s really easy for me to get up in the morning, feel excited and go talk to somebody about it,” he said. “So, the number one thing is you have to be passionate about what you’re doing.

“For me, that’s trying to help hourly labor find work, trying to help new students find their first work opportunities and build a resume, and trying to be better and more efficient with how we do it.”

As someone innovating the future of work, Midford understands the importance of building a core team to guide your business.

“Every entrepreneur gets lots of input, and you have to kind of weed through and decide which pieces you want to follow and which pieces don’t fit with your vision,” he reasoned. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a really good board of advisors and a board of directors. Those groups help you think about your business.”

To learn more about how Capango can solve your workforce needs, check out their website today.

Thinking of starting or relocating your business in Loudoun County? We are a full-service economic development organization, dedicated to your #LoudounPossible business success. Working with us is like adding a team of no-cost specialists to your team, with expertise in the following areas:

  • Site selection and real estate searches;
  • Workforce development and pipeline support;
  • Process and permit navigation;
  • Fast-track and financial incentives;
  • Marketing and communications outreach;
  • Networking, resource and industry introductions.

Contact Dave Diaz today to launch your #LoudounPossible journey.