MATTOON — In late 2019, Quiante and Keithan Hedrick were planning to release their video chat company Instaspeaker which allowed users to talk with translators on demand when traveling to non-English speaking countries.
When the COVID pandemic shut down international travel, the two quickly switched gears over to another idea they had been thinking about after seeing the increase in popularity of another company, called Cameo, which allows customers to receive a prerecorded videos from a celebrity.
“We said the next iteration of this seems natural that you could actually interact with the celebrity because at the time Cameo was just doing prerecorded videos,” said Keithan, who is an alumnus of Eastern Illinois University, where he was a member of the football team. “Us being as resilient as we are, we quickly pivoted over to Candi.”
Almost two years later, the couple will pitch their company, Candi, to a panel of potential investors in ABC’s TV show, “Shark Tank” on Friday, Jan. 7.
Candi is a platform that allows fans to virtually meet and greet with their favorite celebrities or social media influencers.
To get on “Shark Tank,” Keithan, who is the co-founder of Candi, said business owners could attend an open audition or, as in their case, be reached out to by the show’s producers.
Although it took a lot of trial and error, Keithan said they built Candi on a lean budget to mitigate costs from their last endeavor and kept the platform relatively simple by using Zoom video calls to connect fans with their celebrity or influencer of choice.
“We’ve sent literally over 100,000 emails to different celebrities and influences, that’s no exaggeration,” Keithan said. “You're calling managers, you're calling agents, or you're calling cousins of celebrities. It really is a hustle and then as you get more experience with it, you start to develop relationships.”
Actress Alisa Reyes is best known for her role on Nickelodeon’s "All That" and the voice of LaCienega Boulevardez in the Disney Channel animated series "The Proud Family." Reyes said she was emailed by the Hedricks to take part in the platform and upon looking closer, she saw her friends and peers already booking people.
“I knew that this would be a good platform for me to do virtual meet and greets, to utilize it for my coaching services, and to give special shout-outs and possibly autographs,” Reyes said. “Everything about it has been really accessible for me … and it gives me an opportunity to also control the way my marketing, branding, and media would go out rather than maybe me doing it through a third party that would control the look of things.”
Reyes said the interactions with fans have been great and she loves getting messages back from people telling her how much she made their day or their family member’s day. But the beauty of Candi is how hands-on the assistance she receives with promoting her content and being able to touch base with staff to work on different ideas.
Quiante, who is the CEO of Candi, explained that once they reach an agreement, they work with celebrities to make accounts and set up their own rates with the profits being split 75% to the celebrity and 25% to the company.
With no prior connections to Hollywood or the entertainment industry, Quiante said they already have over 350 celebrities and influencers on their platform and 40% of their customers use their service at least four times, with 70% of monthly bookings being placed by repeat customers.
“While being on those calls I’ve seen people pour their heart out to the celebrity or just let them know how much of an inspiration they are to them,” Quiante said. “Even for the celebrities, some of them were nervous at first but then we would teach them certain things to say or give them a guide to making everybody feel comfortable.”
While most would assume the service would be bought as a gift for someone else, Keithan said people normally book times with celebrities just for themselves to catch up or even use it as a form of therapy.
Candi users like Michelle Guzman, from San Francisco, said she first booked a time with contemporary R&B singer Marvin Scandrick - better known as Slim 112 - for her daughter after not being able to meet him after one of his shows. Now she regularly books a time with him every month.
“I would book a meet and greet with him just to be in touch with him and follow up because you can’t really follow up on Instagram,” said Guzman, who is an administrator at Kaiser Permanente Hospital. “It’s not like it’s pre-recorded, you’re actually talking to the real person and Candi’s team is behind all of this with arranging it, contacting the celebrity, and letting you know that your meet and greet is ready.”
Guzman said that they save the meet and greet as a video to keep for memories and she would look back on older videos to just laugh and smile while remembering that day.
As for being aired on television, Keithan said it was an enjoyable experience and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build their business but also showcase their success as a Black-owned business that is representative.
“What was important for us about Candi is that we can be an entertainment company that is Black-owned and we're not exclusive to just Black people, we have tons of talent of all races, sizes, and shapes,” Keithan said. “We wanted it to be a platform in entertainment that represented that at the highest level and because Black people, a lot of time in entertainment, we just don’t get those levels of ownership.”