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TechSparks Exclusive: Ryan Holmes, the founder of HootSuite on building one of the world’s most popular social media dashboard

Team YS
8th Apr 2011
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Social web is the next evolutionary phase of the internet. Be it brands, people, causes or media conversations and interactions are moving into the social media sphere. Over the last couple of years we have seen the launch of numerous social media dashboards, tools and analytics platforms. In this crowded market HootSuite has emerged as one of the most popular social media dashboards. HootSuite started in November 2008, reached 1 Million users on November 24th 2010.Ryan Holmes is the Founder of HootSuite. Ryan founded Invoke Media in 2000. to provide holistic marketing, development and design services. Invoke also developed products including early CMS and e-commerce web apps, the Memelabs contesting platform, and then social media dashboard HootSuite. Ryan talks to us about his entrepreneurial journey and future plans for HootSuite.

HootSuite is a product developed at a company which offered social media and web services. This is part of TechSparks Series where in we want to highlight product tech success stories. TechSparks is YourStory flagship event in association with CNBC TV 18 Young Turks to recognize product tech innovations in India. To know more click here : http://techsparks.in/

HootSuite started out as a social media services company, what prompted the transition to a product company?

Initially, HootSuite was created out of a need we had within Invoke -- a full-service interactive agency -- to post messages across multiple networks. We released HootSuite publicly to understand how the dashboard would be used by others and as our user-base rapidly increased, we saw compelling reasons for using the tool emerge, so we created a business to continue developing a better product with more functionality needed by business users.

We looked extensively at how the tool was being used by observing users’ actions and reactions and we discovered that HootSuite users had varying levels of need -- those who wanted it for personal use, and those who used HootSuite for their organizations or to run campaigns.

Seeing this tiered level of use led us to develop our Freemium model, which allows users with casual personal profiles to use the product for free, while others can opt into either a Pro or Enterprise plan with more advanced functionality and team collaboration tools. This has been incredibly successful so far. 97% of our users still remain to be free users, and we’re able to offer enhanced analytics and support to premium users who need the advanced functionality.

You are one of the biggest social media success stories, what does social media mean to you? Did you ever think you would make money out of tweets ?

I have always been interested in entrepreneurship and technology ever since winning the Apple II programming contest in grade 5 – social media provided me a platform to quickly build the businesses I’d envisioned. I think it’s important to view it this way; social media is a great catalyst for getting ideas out to an interested audience.

And did we think we’d make money off of Tweets? It certainly wasn’t the goal when we built the tool. We developed the dashboard ourselves because nothing existed that performed the way we wanted it to. We were really happy with the functionality, and, based on our experience, we knew that others would have a need for the tool as well. From there we went forward and released a beta version to the public, migrated to a Freemium business model and added Promoted Tweets from Twitter... and the rest is history!

Your company grew from a relatively small social media company to a global venture known the world over, please share some insights on your entrepreneurial journey, your advice to entrepreneurs

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My best piece of entrepreneurial advice is to understand the value and importance of partnerships. Entrepreneurs have a tendency to try and do everything themselves, but there is huge value in finding someone who can complement the skills you bring to the table and provide added support and insight.At HootSuite, we are continuously developing and constantly iterating. The social media landscape that we have today is not something we could have imagined even two years ago, and there are always new tools and tactics to adapt and add to our offerings.

Our new Social Analytics Reports are a great example of rapidly adjusting to the market’s needs. We saw an opportunity to offer our users advanced reporting and analytics capabilities and built over 30 different ‘modules’ or individual report tools without leaving HootSuite. This helps “close the loop” between marketing managers and C-levels wanting to analyze progress and results.


Going ahead how do you plan to keep Hootsuite ahead of the curve? What space interests you now? What are the social media trends to watch out for?

I mentioned earlier, it’s so crucial to constantly develop and improve in order to meet user expectations and industry needs. Listening to user feedback is really key in what we do. We monitor feature requests and comments to get a feel for what the market wants. Our App Directory is a manifestation of this user-feedback – people want more networks and tools so we created an API to allow approved developers to create apps and plug-ins for the dashboard.

As far as the direction that social media is going, we’re see geo-location and search as important trends. Businesses and consumers are both experimenting with location-based search in creative ways to build relationships. Mobile-centric check-ins activities like Foursquare and Facebook Places are gaining in popularity as a result and will further increase as companies outreach to these eager audiences – especially with increasing mobile use.


Does HootSuite have any specific plans for India?

Yes, certainly. India has an incredible entrepreneurial base and it’s definitely something we’re looking into. I had hoped to attend a conference in India in February and will continue to look for other opportunities to visit and meet social media practitioners and HootSuite fans (and practice yoga).

Last year I went to Japan which paved the way for HootSuite to expand into that country. We have a very large userbase there, in part thanks to partnerships formed while I was there. HootSuite is now fully localized including Japanese social networks and “keitai” feature phones versions. We hope to do similar localizations for India as well.

HootSuite is a great example of the freemium model working successfully. The social media dashboard and analytics space is very crowded and we need to wait and watch what kind of innovations will make some products successful over others.

Do let us know your thoughts on this story. Write to us at feedback@yourstory.in

- Vallabh Rao @raovallab

 

 

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