A Slice on Kyle Smith, Founder and CEO of Escalated.io
While Kyle Smith was in college, the world experienced a pivotal innovation that shaped his career: the internet. He saw advertising moving from television screens and newspapers to online channels, something no one was familiar with yet. This sparked a curiosity in Smith and led him to spend the next 20 years in ad-tech. During this time, and while founding his first company, centered around trading media, Smith noticed an issue with ad fraud in the industry. This problem was the catalyst for his current venture, Escalated.io, an ad fraud prevention software.
Though this is his first time fundraising, Smith has found it to be a positive experience. “It’s been great to get out there and talk to people. There are so many different types of investors out there who bring different experiences to the table. Everybody has been very warm and receiving, and I love telling them my story.” He also describes the tech ecosystem in Indianapolis to be thriving and supportive for entrepreneurs, though many people overlook it since it’s not as big as places like San Francisco.
Even with this support from investors, Smith faced some challenges entering the COVID-19 pandemic. They initially set out to serve small businesses with their ad fraud prevention software, but these businesses were the ones hit hardest during the pandemic. “At that point, we had to just go back to the drawing board and make a pivot. We ultimately decided to be an enterprise-level service and burned six to nine months redoing everything. The pivot ended up being very positive, though, and we’ve had a really good response from the enterprise market.”
Early on while starting Escalated.io, Smith says he was “wearing too many hats” before he expanded his team. After a few years of navigating pivots and growing the team, the roles are more split up and they work as a “machine” with their different expertise. He had to take the risk early on, having faith in the company before anyone else. “There’s always the risk of the unknown. You know your market and you know your product, but you have to communicate that effectively to get it across to others. The risk is that you’re not always able to do that and you can’t connect every single time. You look back and say, ‘Oh, that was a missed opportunity,’ and end up dragging yourself. It’s a natural situation you have to deal with as an entrepreneur.”
While this risk can be deterring, Smith encourages his fellow entrepreneurs to not give up. “There are so many friction points you’ll hit that can be dissuading to a point where you’re almost like, ‘Is this a good idea? Should I really be doing this? Maybe I should just pack up and go home.’ But it really is just the center of your belief, you know what you’re doing. Don’t give up, just keep reaching and aspiring, sooner or later you will get there. But in that same breath, I will say, know your limitations.” For first-time fundraisers, Smooth advises, “When you go out there and pitch, you have to realize that you are an expert in your industry, whatever product or service you’re selling. The investors are talking to you because they’re very interested, likely they know at a high level what you’re doing, but they don’t have your level of expertise. I think one of the biggest mistakes is leaving critical information out of your pitches that may help investors. So, for anybody that is doing it for the first time, convey your message and do it in a way where it’s easily understandable to all parties.”
As a serial entrepreneur, Smith is motivated by solving problems and “moving the needle forward.” He will continue growing Escalated.io, taking it through the fundraising process and eventually leading it to an exit down the line. After that happens, chances are he’ll find another problem to solve, in ad tech or even in a completely new industry. “If the time is right and I’m at that point in my life, then absolutely, I would do it all over.”
Kyle Smith has over 20 years of experience in the advertising technology industry and has founded two companies in that space: Adversal Media and his current venture, Escalated.io. Smith attended Indiana State University specializing in Management Information Systems and is based near Indianapolis, Indiana. Connect with Smith on LinkedIn.