A professional goal is something many of us strive for — that mountain we’re climbing one decision, one achievement, one role at a time. When KD Deshpande got to the top of his mountain, however, he went off-script, taking a leap to start Simplified, an all-in-one platform for marketing professionals. There’s a new summit to conquer and Simplified has raised $10.5M to date to continue that climb. KD shared his entrepreneurial journey and how ODF5 inspired him to make the decision to go all-in on his idea.
KD, who was born in India, came to the United States with a very clear ambition — starting a company. He didn’t have to wait long. While earning his Master’s in Computer Science from Arizona State University, he and one of his professors started Virtuon Incorporated. In the early days of AWS and cloud computing in general, the company helped small- and medium-sized businesses transition from on premise private cloud infrastructure to public infrastructure. Even though they closed the company when KD finished his degree, the experience introduced KD to the startup community and confirmed his love of building out his ideas.
Unsurprisingly, these two items led KD to Silicon Valley. While working for TuneIn, at that point a music search app, KD started building Vessel.io. The company enabled product managers and marketers to build and launch experiments in real time via a WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) platform. It didn’t stay a side hustle though. KD built out a team, raised capital from VCs, and eventually led the process of Vessel’s acquisition by Marketo. KD stayed on with Marketo to manage the integration of products and to launch new product lines.
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Half-heartedly climbing the ladder
After selling Vessel, KD took the opportunity to work with and learn from his teams at Marketo and then Uber. “I learned to do things the enterprise way,” says KD. Working with incredible leadership teams and shaping products that reached users worldwide was incredibly rewarding, but didn’t keep KD’s mind from wandering to what else he could hack.
When the opportunity of working for Facebook presented itself, KD didn’t think twice. It looked like the top of the mountain. He worked with the Facebook messenger team and “things were really good”. But here’s the thing — when you get to the top of the mountain, you see things from a different perspective.
“Getting hired at Facebook made me feel like I was finally reaching that last round, but when I got there, I looked around and saw [that] I was in the same place. I asked myself, ‘Do I really want to do this? Is this it?’ I was so focused on believing that this job was the job that I was afraid to admit — even to myself — that the life I wanted was outside this campus.”
KD’s start at Facebook coincided with the start of the pandemic, which focused his previous five years of tinkering with ideas on a new train of thought. From his experience at Uber, KD knew first hand how difficult it is for small- and medium-sized restaurants to stand out from the crowd, and how much larger companies spent in the back-and-forth of content production. He combined this knowledge with the realization that the pandemic was driving up the consumption of content and therefore putting even more strain on the production side of the equation.
“So I thought, ‘Why not allow businesses who are struggling to keep up with the pace and digital marketers who are struggling to produce that content at scale? Why not solve this problem for them? Make creativity software simpler for every person out there who is working hard to grab the attention of their customers.”
The inspiration to take the leap
KD worked on the idea solo for about six months, starting by building out a basic web app for creating design assets. He decided to join the 5th cohort of the On Deck Founder’s Fellowship, after initially deferring his cohort 3 membership. This was the push he needed to stop thinking “this can’t be it” and pursue the “this is it ” opportunity in front of him.
“I was like ‘wow’ this is the tribe I belong to. These are the kind of people I want to be surrounded with. This is where I belong. I was talking with a lot of like-minded people and fueling that burning desire. It inspired me to go and quit my high-paying job at Facebook.”
By all accounts, leaving a secure, well-paying job in the middle of a global pandemic, isn’t for the faint of heart. After just nine months of his “dream job”, KD left Facebook to pursue Simplified’s mission full-time.
KD credits the support from the On Deck community — both direct and in the form of enthusiasm — as the push he needed to hit eject on his “first-class business class seat in a cruising airplane in order to assemble your parachute while coming down.” He finally felt like he could do it (again) — start another company.
A Return to Fundraising
As KD points out, Simplified isn’t his first rodeo. That initial step away from the comforts of a corporate job was a big one, but the to-do list to ensure Simplified’s success was still looming. The first big milestone on that list was fundraising.
“I really want to give a shout out to On Deck as well as Vikram [Rajagopalan], and the folks at On Deck's fund, because they helped me immensely in my fundraising process.”
KD was able to get guidance on how to position himself and Simplified for fundraising. And in his experience with the fund's team, he got insights on how to expand Simplified’s business model — building an even stronger case for investment.
Aside from the direct support from the Concierge, KD found incredible value in the community support during the process as well. Founders shared their experiences with investors, gave each other tips, and provided feedback on pitch decks — something KD found indispensable in his fundraising journey.
Armed with knowledge, support, and encouragement, Simplified has raised a total of $10.5M led by Craft Ventures with participation from Khosla Ventures and Wing Capital. A host of other investors joined the round, including: Superhuman’s Rahul Vohra and Todd Goldberg, Manik Gupta (former Uber CPO), Pelican Ventures’ Ajay Yadav (also Roomie founder), and others.
Simplified’s flight path
KD is clear about the next steps he wants to take with Simplified and how this early round will support that vision. “For Simplified, for us, people are everything. People are the company,” says KD. So that’s the first place where this round kicks in — onboarding a top-notch, 100% remote, and diverse leadership team. The team is already made up of people from the US, Canada, Bangladesh, India, and Europe.
The second group of people KD is focusing on with this round of funding is the users. Initially, Simplified focused directly on marketers, knowing full well the struggle of creating not only single pieces of content, but entire campaigns. With early research it became clear that the real value Simplified would deliver is being the tool from ideation, to creation, to distribution — offering a suite of services to manage the entire marketing lifecycle.
In fact, users can try Simplified’s current suite of tools for free, including its AI-enabled content generation tool.
“You can generate an entire marketing campaign for your brand awareness in five seconds. It is a creative place with no learning curve. You can just input what you know, and Simplified can do the rest — it is really simple.”
The next phase of development will focus on two other pillars to complete the “full suite” offering. The first phase is enabling collaborative work, which would allow multiple stakeholders to work simultaneously. The second is enabling direct publishing, which would simplify the process (and reduce time spent) for every user.
“We wanted to create a space — not a product — that allows users to do more with less. Collaborate together and unleash their creativity. Imagine, if we can give them a day back in their week so that they don't need to worry about repetitive tasks and can scale their marketing without any hassle.”
KD knows he’s still at the early stages of his “build while you’re flying” journey with Simplified. However, he’s keeping his eye on the horizon — the mission to build out a tool that makes effective marketing campaigns simple and fast for everyone. “It’s one unified app for modern marketing teams. We’re not trying to solve any fancy problems. We’re thinking of that lone marketer or small business owner, that person who just wants to post the most engaging content that will resonate with their audience and help them grow their business.”