Ryan Holmes

Taking Social Further: Exclusive Conversation With Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes

Hootsuite-7922

June 2009 doesn’t seem that long ago. Still etched in memory is seeing that life size owl mascot for the first time working a room full of Vancouver startup folks. I thought 140  characters of micro-blogging was a bastardization of the English language, so why does the world need a dashboard for it.

In this case eating humble pie didn’t taste so bad. Turns out that early Summer night, the early stage startup Hootsuite walked away with the “Peoples Choice” award. My tune about Twitter also changed less than 6 months later as a co-founder of the visualization application Mentionmapp. Seemed like Twitter and Hootsuite might turn out to be something afterall.

Since closing a $165 million Series B financing the past 14 months has seen Hootsuite on a tear. With last weeks news of having raised $60 million in new private equity and debt funding their total outside financing is $250 million. Add in the most recent acquisitions of startups BrightKit and Zeetl, founder and CEO Ryan Holmes is guiding the company towards realizing his long time commitment to building a Vancouver company that’s making a big impact on the local ecosystem, and beyond. Plus he’s been unwavering in about creating a $1 billion (plus) Canadian tech company.

DSC_0744

With a rare stop over these days in Vancouver, and even rarer 20 minute window of time in his schedule, I was fortunate to share an exclusive conversation with Holmes.

“It’s been a great week, and great month and really good year. We’re excited to share that the company has doubled revenue, doubled valuation, over 10 million users, including 744 of the Fortune 1000 as clients,” he highlighted. With their existing investors joining this latest round, and a new Boston based investor (he didn’t comment on the Wall Street Journal reporting it being Fidelity Investments, nor the IPO rumours) Holmes thinks “it also validates their excitement for the business.”

The acquisitions are all about “building out the social suite.” Holmes sees the Hootsuite platform akin to what “Microsoft Office or Google Apps does for office productivity. We’re creating a suite of tools to help our clients manage social.”

Being on this aggressive fundraising journey, and experiencing the subsequent rocket like growth trajectory I asked him how tight he’s keeping the seat belt buckled.  “It’s been a real blessing to be able to participate in the huge evolution of the social business. It’s fantastic to be creating a great Canadian tech company and story.” He touched on his excitement for attracting some of this country’s best and brightest here working with the team and the product. Just as importantly according to Holmes is “seeing people have experiences that will last throughout their careers.”

As well, he talked about the notion of creating the ‘MapleSyrup Mafia’ saying “some of the folks from Hootsuite may go out and create their own product, or maybe even be acquired by us or others. Hopefully they’ll go on to create other Hootsuites throughout the country and really help build an even more vibrant tech community.”

Asked if he sees a societal relevance of social beyond being simply the marketers best friend, Holmes replied with an unequivocal “absolutely. It’s so relevant, I think that conversation thankfully for the most part has died. As we’ve seen Twitter and Facebook IPO for instance, I have little doubt that social media is here to stay.”

hootsuite-lobby

Channeling my inner Marshall McLuhan, I pressed that beyond the medium being the message can social media be a medium of mobilization? “I think we’ve already seen this, with it being a spark of revolutions and contributing to the toppling of governments,” he said. “We’ve seen how much it can transform society. It’s not just a marketing tool, it’s a way we’re reorganizing and communicating societally. It’s a channel everybody’s paying attention to.”

Holmes added that “with both governments and protesters using our platform, we have an interesting and unique perspective to see how people communicate. get messages out, and bring dialogue to leadership and democracy around the world.”

Looking into the crystal ball, I asked him what he’s seeing in the future for social media. He mentioned how social commerce and social advertising two interesting trends. Furthermore he suggested, “just like search has become a blend of organic and paid, I think we’re going to see the same trend with social. There will be a blend of paid social, and organic social.” Holmes pointed out the Hootsuite is currently powering 5 million organic messages a day.

With offices open in London (UK), Singapore, and now looking at one in Latin America, and expanding Vancouver operations, Hootsuite continues to soar. On the strength of that overstuffed owl mascots tiny wings, Holmes and his team have carried themselves well beyond what many people probably imagined this past five plus years.

Advertisements

The Wise Owl Talks with the Space Cadet

They were introduced as the rock star astronaut and social media giant. Colonel Chris Hadfield and Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes kicked off the inaugural Innovators Speaker Series event forScience World at the TELUS World of Science last week.

Hadfield shouldn’t need much of an introduction, but it’s worth noting that he’s the pioneer of many “firsts” in Canadian space history. That includes: the first Canadian to use the Canadarm; the first Canadian to board a Russian spacecraft; the first Canadian to perform two spacewalks as a mission specialist on STS-100; and the first Canadian to command the International Space Station (ISS). He’s also currently promoting his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

Meanwhile, most of Canada’s technology community is familiar with Holmes’ efforts as the CEO of HootSuite. Beyond changing social media management for over seven million users across six continents, he’s also an authority on the social business revolution. Holmes further serves the community as an angel investor and advisor, mentoring startups in Canada and around the world.

10919644503_d6252471de

While he wasn’t the first to tweet from space, he’s certainly prolific with his 140 character musings, so it seems only fitting for Hadfield and Holmes to have a conversation about  science, space, the power of music and social media.

The evenings host, Riaz Meghji, had them each reflect on a conversation that proved to be of early importance in life. Holmes spoke about a Grade 12 teacher relating the story about 15th century workers throwing their sabots (wooden shoes) into the wooden gears of textile looms to break the cogs, fearing the automated machines would render the human workers obsolete.

Sharing the origin of the word saboteur, Holmes said that “change is inevitable, so throughout my career I’ve thought about the resistance to the change of technology, and tried to adopt it, embrace it, and be on the frontside of the wave. I think that has really stuck with me.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when Hadfield revealed that “two guys named Buzz & Neil” were his inspirations.

He spoke in revered terms about the first lunar landing. Above all, he said was “their conversation and making the decision to find a new landing place, in spite of limited fuel. It was a lifetime of building the knowledge, awareness, and professionalism that allowed them to find safe place to touch down. They only had 16 seconds of fuel left.”

With Buzz and Neil averting disaster and announcing “the eagle has landed”, Hadfield’s deciding against extraordinarily long odds to become an astronaut was set. His advice for what it takes to become an astronaut is pretty good lifestyle advice in general. He says “take care of your body. Eat smart and exercise a little; get an advanced education; practice decision making. The more decisions you choose to make the better you’ll get over time.”

Holmes asked if space tourism is realistic? As Hadfield pointed out “private citizens have paid up to now some $30 million to go, including the founder of Cirque du Soleil who bought a ride with Russians. He spent six weeks training in Russia to fly aboard Soyuz. As well, you’ll soon be able to spend $250,000 and fly Virgin Galactic to get the sense of weightlessness.” Hadfield likened the future of spaceflight being an everyman experience to that of the history of buying an airline ticket. One day it will be commonplace.

Hadfield asked Holmes about how business plays an important role in the community, noting that it’s not just about being a revenue generating endeavour. Holmes shared his excitement for launching a new foundation, The Next Big Thing, which “is about the discovery of the next generation of entrepreneurs. Ten 17-18 years olds (who are probably asking themselves what’s next?) will be given the opportunity to discover anything from a new twist on the lemonade stand to a new software idea. We’ll get them set up at Hootsuite HQ, and connected with a bursary to lessen the risk, and with mentors who will help propel their ideas forward.”

Crediting his nephew for the question, Holmes line of scientific inquiry moved to a little body function junction when asking  “what happens when you fart in space?“ Hadfield had some fun, and patiently offered that “gravity won’t let you burp in space.” You can reverse engineer the answer to gas, as he further suggested that “it’s non-propulsive, which is likely result of poor nozzle design.”

With almost one million Twitter followers (@Cmdr_Hadfield) (and a YouTube success with his remake of Space Oddity, garnering over 19 million views), Hadfield doesn’t just talk a good social game. He thinks the popularity of the video is because it  “crosses over between the fantasy and the reality of spaceflight, and gets people thinking of what’s going on in the Space Station.”

At one point it seemed as if Hadfield was actually channeling Holmes, when talking about social media having to be a social experience. He suggested that you need to really care about what you’re communicating with 140 characters. It’s an opportunity to engage in meaningful thought and the exchange of ideas..

However, appreciating the sight of our planet from space Hadfield leaves us all with the most important thought to ruminate on, simply saying, “we’re in this together. “

This story originally appeared in BetaKit