On a fine day in September, Bhupendra Khanal landed in Chicago. He had all of $1000 to accomplish a few things: meet prospective clients and investors, pitch his product at a conference and cover his travel and stay. That was five years ago.
What followed, was some of the hardest days in his life as the co-founder of Simplify360, a social media marketing suite now being eyed by big corporations like Adobe.
Khanal had fixed up his stay with an uncle who lived at Grand Rapids and was looking forward to launching the product they’d built out of Bangalore at the midVenturesLaunch, a conference where 25 startups would pitch to win a purse of $150,000. The demo went well but Khanal, a vegetarian, found himself in a fix. Vegetarian food was scarce and whatever he could find was costly. “I couldn’t think of spending $100 that day including stay,” Khanal recalls.
Thankfully, he met a Nepali family, which helped them find a cheaper place to stay in Devon Avenue, not too far from the conference. The next day, they packed food to the conference and ate it three times a day. It was a humbling experience, he tells me. Entrepreneurship wasn’t anything like they showed in the movies.
“It was difficult but a great experience,” says Khanal, who along with his 5 co-founders went without a salary for 19 months. “The only thing we did was work! When pressure increased, we worked even more,” he says.
Before starting Simplify360, the company had tried its hands at a few more products that didn’t quite click. In 2012, they raised angel funding from Amvensys Capital Group, a Texas based private equity firm to grow its clientele in the United States. The journey is dotted with good and bad days.
Fast forward to 2014: Khanal’s social media startup is being courted by large corporations for a buy out. Simplify360, an integrated social marketing suite now has over 100 clients including some of the big names such as the HDFC Bank & ITC Foods.
As large technology companies and media agencies vie for a bigger share of the Chief Marketing Officer’s wallet, the interest in his startup is peaking. Reportedly, the company has received offers from large corporations such as Adobe and WPP.
With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites taking up a bulk of the average Internet users attention, Social media marketing suites have become important for marketeers. Companies like Radian6, Sysomos and Buddy Media which provided social media listening capabilities, were snapped up by the likes of Salesforce.
Led by Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle, the social media solutions space has seen many acquisitions. Adobe, one of the companies said to be in talks to acquire Simplify360, bought Omniture in 2009 and has subsequently launched many social media analytics products. Oracle bought Vitrue in May 2012 and collective Intellect in June the same year. A year later, the database company bought Eloqua. In July, it bought up Involver and added to its social marketing cloud. Salesforce bought ExactTarget in 2013 and has its own social marketing offering.
“We are open for strategic investment but it is early for outright sell,” says Khanal, who believes that he must aim bigger. “We are building Simplify360 to become one of the global leaders,” he said. Looking back at the years they spent building the startup, Khanal says “The time is well spent…Having said that we have a long way to go, and we are in mood of content or satisfaction.”
The social media marketing and analytics space is likely to see a lot of small acquisitions. However, Bhupendra wants to shoot for a position in the global top 5 list. The company is also making enough money to sustain, he says.