Tag Archives: startup

Community + Freemium = Start up Magic, Hootsuite Community

Recently, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes posted an article in his LinkedIn influencer column “Two Lean Startup Hacks to Get Millions of New Customers | Ryan Holmes | LinkedIn” to discuss some key tactics we used to build Hootsuite in the early days: freemium + community.

I am especially proud of the community focused narrative of which I’ll share a bit here:

Investing in Community-Building Programs  

But it’s important to note that freemium was just one part of our formula for user growth. Another big piece of the puzzle was investing in a fully functional community department at Hootsuite. In many startups, the community team – if there’s one at all – is treated as an extension of marketing or customer support. While their ostensible role may be “building a community” of users, they spend a lot of their time pitching products and fielding help calls.

Our community department, by contrast, didn’t have direct sales or support responsibilities. Instead, their primary mandate was to help people who already knew and loved our product connect with one another. They built out social media channels in a half-dozen key languages, enabling users around the world to share updates and learn about Hootsuite news and events. And they organized crowd-sourced translation efforts, recruiting international users to adapt our interface into local languages, everything from German and Italian to Thai and Chinese. (Amazingly, translations were volunteer-driven – motivated by love of the technology and a liberal helping of swag, i.e. stickers, t-shirts and cuddly stuffed animals inspired by our owl logo.)

Online efforts were supplemented by old-fashioned face-to-face events. In emerging markets, the community team helped users organize hundreds of free meetups (branded as “HootUps”), where people could get together and trade Hootsuite tips. Ultimately, a network of hundreds of volunteer “ambassadors” around the world took shape, enthusiastic users who spread the word about Hootsuite in their countries. Many of these ambassadors, not surprisingly, were bloggers, consultants and marketers who just so happened to have large online audiences of their own.

Cumulatively, these projects gave us entree into new markets, initiating the viral chain of adoption in other countries and spreading Hootsuite far beyond its original North American user base.

via Two Lean Startup Hacks to Get Millions of New Customers | Ryan Holmes | LinkedIn.

“How to Win the Networking Game at SXSW” Ryan (and Dave) in Wall Street Journal

How to Win the Networking Game at SXSW
Mar 5, 2014, The Accelerators, Wall Street Journal

After eight SXSW conferences, I’ve learned that the hard way. When my company was first getting off the ground, we were completely lost in the shuffle, despite our best efforts. In 2012, however, we had a 28-foot-long, 15,000-pound secret weapon. To stand out amid the gala parties and blow-out bashes hosted by much bigger tech companies, HootSuite decided to take to the streets. We transformed a Ford E-450 shuttle bus into possibly the world’s biggest owl, in honor of our mascot – mounting a pair of giant eyes above the windshield and affixing enormous plastic wings on the sides.

HootSuite’s former VP of community, Dave Olson, inspects the HootBus.

ANDREW LAVIGNE

Cheesy? Yes. Effective, absolutely. By the end of the conference, our logo had been splashed across the pages of USA Today, Mashable and Inc. The conference’s highest profile attendees were clamoring to get on board and party with us. And investors whom I didn’t even know were inquiring about thecompany. In the end, it cost us around $30,000 to buy and outfit the vehicle. Considering that hosting just a single party at SXSW can cost as much, if not more, that’s an absolute steal. This year, in fact, we’re bringing HootBus back for its third ride.

CMTY Building: Encouraging Passionate Users to Host HootUps

In a spontaneous spiel to colleagues, Dave shares the motivations and practical logistics for organizing Hootups – including sending swag packages and promotional support – and articulates the benefits for the organizer (notoriety and being part of something interesting) as well as resultant perks for the company including signups and culture artifacts like photos, tweets and happy users.

Pirates with Keyboards ~ (Dev)eloping Hoot Company Culture

Pirates with Keyboards ~ (Dev)eloping Hoot Company Culture by Dave Olson

As published in Vancouver is Awesome’s 2013 print issue on 22 April 2013

Company Culture at HootSuite

Originally published in Vancouver is Awesome’s yearly print edition, this article is now shared in original form for posterity and your enjoyment.

Inside of HootSuite, we often hear about what people think our internal company culture is like. From typing cats, to crazy rumours, all we can say is that it’s different and possibly weirder than you might expect. 

My point of view is a bit unique as I joined HootSuite as the first non-technical employee from the outside. At that time it was me, the CEO, and a core group of developers (devs). From my time here in the nest, I have a few observations to share about what makes our largest department unique.

A Culture of Camaraderie

Dev culture is dev culture. Throughout the company, we have programs and activities to connect different departments together in social settings. This is critically important when companies scale by bringing in different disciplines like sales teams, partner and affiliate programs, and marketing. These all have their own distinct cultures and the devs consistently show off their pieces of flair. 

Dev camaraderie is forged during late night coding sessions and time sensitive problem solving, leading to a mutual professional respect. Of course this respect also manifests itself in foosball duels, nerf gun battles, stacks of pizza boxes on release night, and even arts and crafts. 

We don’t have to manufacture culture… it grows organically.

#FunFact: One of our front-end devs, Eric, routinely sketches pictures of his colleagues on the back of cardboard or notebook paper… he’s even been known to make shrines to colleagues who are celebrating a birthday.

No Dev left behind

Developing HootSuite Culture at Crab Park in Vancouver
Devs helping devs!

Devs want to produce code which gets used. In some big companies, programmers will digitally write poetic code which never sees light of day due to company direction changes, internal bickering, or lack of coordinated execution. 

At HootSuite, my dev colleagues seem to thrive on developing code which is both deployed quickly and will be used widely. This isn’t just for senior devs, the egalitarian approach means all worthy code is used no matter who wrote it. 

Devs own their projects and are thus responsible for figuring them out. It’s a collaborative atmosphere where small task forces develop to address specific problems, and they’re given an opportunity to choose their tools in order to fulfill their mandate. This stands in opposition to being pushed into a dogmatic technical solution from someone outside the team.

Front Row View of Rapid Growth

There’s a big difference between managing services and writing code to serve a 100,000 user market, compared to a 5 or 50 million user market. At HootSuite, we have a unique view of the challenges around scaling rapidly – and globally.

Faced the challenges of ensuring services are up around the clock, everywhere, in many languages, while also coexisting with major social network service providers, our devs flourish. This situation offers incredibly valuable skills and experience which can only be gained in this kind of rare  environment.

Keep in mind, HootSuite isn’t just for helping people sell more widgets or sharing what they had for lunch… HootSuite plays a role in major world events including theEgyptian Revolution, where Twitter and Facebook were blocked by the Egyptian Government, but HootSuite remained functional. So for 36 hours, we facilitated the voice for the revolution, the counter-revolution, major media, and even the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Fortunately, one dev added right-to-left scripting for the iPhone, which allowed people to use HootSuite in Arabic in the midst of the struggle. Luckily for us, the systems were able to sustain 7000% growth overnight from Egypt.

Nimble & Agile

HootSuite company culture
Ryan and Simon in their whites gearing up for the HootSuite summer retreat.

Each morning, the devs gather around a cardboard sign that reads “what i’m doing.” While circled around a screen with columns of cryptic tickets, much like medieval monks contemplating the gospels, they massage every idea and distil each into a domino-like line of micro tasks. These tasks are then dutifully moved from column to column until released into the wild. 

Keep in mind, projects will go from idea to completion and release in a matter of days. As was the case in the Secure Profiles Tool which came on the heels of noteworthy social media PR conundrums from Red Cross and Chrysler.

From idea on Thursday, to product release and announcement on Tuesday, this is more than just agile – this is yoga-like flexibility!

Oldschool is still school

When I first arrived with small group of devs, I noticed how they relentlessly worked to ensure quality. Three years later, the core founding devs still work hardest and continually lead by example.

They’re doing it because they love doing it, and the passion and tenacity is contagious to the juniors. While HootSuite enjoys attention from the outside, at our core, the devs are guardians of their culture and work to bring the newbs to rarefied air rapidly. No room for b-lists skills in this tribe.

#FunFact: Our “QA Dude” has documented HootSuite’s good times with a seemingly endless stream of wigglies. These fun snaps capture the bits of our growth and culture that the major media will never see including our semi-secret shotgun ritual at each million milestone.

Passion Fueled

Epic melon slingshot in the back alley of HootSuite HQ
Melon slingshot in the back alley of HootSuite HQ during the dev olympics!

While some companies can get away with displaying ‘fail whales’ and stock outage messages when things go awry, we take a different approach at HootSuite. With a global audience doing remarkable things from managing social at heavy hitting brands or sharing mom’s clam chowder recipe, we take our system seriously.

I recall the morning when the Amazon Web Services Cloud went offline, and i noticed our normally serene CTO’s brow slightly furrowed(!) This let me know that we were in for the long haul on this problem. I headed for a large coffee.

Without missing a beat, our systems admin (who is constantly on the ready for the zombie apocalypse with a CB/HAM enabled transformer jeep) headed out the door to Army and Navy saying: “i’m gonna need a toothbrush, a towel, and two packs of smokes.”

Fifteen hours later, we were back online (the first such company of the downed companies), and through some resourceful and ingenious solutions, we had data in store back up and running. We also managed to spin the Amazon outage chaos into apositive story and a case study.

Hero-worthy

While HootSuite’s brand is often manifested via our Owly mascot, lists of the notable brands using the tool, and our noble CEO’s face seemingly *everywhere*, within the company we all know that without the devs rocking the keyboards with precision and dedication, we’d be nowhere. Further, what they are doing is far from vanilla – there’s some heavy duty, wild tech going on under the hood and a crew which is encouraged to actually innovate, not just talk about it.

Whether through arduous nights of coding, wearing pirates outfits, or staging their very own watermelon Olympics, the devs at HootSuite have forged a contagious culture of innovation and perfection, delicately balanced with skullduggery.

To them, i say, “Thanks for letting this liberal arts community guy hang out with ya.”

##

SXSW: Checking in while Gearing Up in Austin

Dave checks in while preparing swag and other gear piled high on a lawn in Austin, Texas awaiting the HootBus while SXSW 2013 gets underway.

Curated tours app Urbandig in Vancouver Sun – Featuring me and beer

I made a tour for a startup app called Urbandig which shares “locals” tours of special interests in various cities. This article by Gillian Shaw at Vancouver Sun shares the story with some blurbage on my Gastown Beer Tour contribution.

##

Vancouver startup firm puts a new twist on travel apps

Urbandig is like having a best friend who can show you all the cool spots

By GILLIAN SHAW, Vancouver Sun October 19, 2011

VANCOUVER – What do the digerati do when they’re sitting around wondering how they can discover the really cool spots in town that only the locals know about?

Why, they make an app for it, of course.

That’s just what happened last spring in Los Angeles, when a group of Vancouver new-media types were chatting with friends there about the difficulty of finding those out-of-the-way places that may not even rate a mention in the travel guides.

{snip}

Dave Olson, marketing director for Vancouver’s HootSuite, was the first curator in Vancouver, where he writes under the name of his personal blog, uncleweed.

Olson is “incredibly busy” with the fast-growing HootSuite, creator of the popular social-media dashboard, said Rodgers, but like others involved in the project, he made time to share his passion for a subject dear to his heart — or his tastebuds — craft beer.

“He is a good friend of mine and I know he’s constantly logging the beers he tries on a site called Untappd,” said Rodgers. “We wanted it to be content from subject-matter experts. When you open up the app and Dave Olson tells you to go to Six Acres and try the Raven Cream Ale, you know that you can trust Dave is going to guide you to the right place.”

{more about my pal Mikala}

Mikala Taylor, creator of the popular music website Backstage Rider, is another Urbandig curator. “I cranked out a tour based on some of the places I seem to live in, which are really all the music venues in Vancouver,” she said. “Rather than just say ‘Here are some great music venues,’ I flipped it on its head and aligned it with the stuff I like to do, which is hang out with bands.”

And so you’ll find Taylor’s tour includes tips on the best places to stand if you want to meet the band, where the tour buses are parked, the backstage area and other insider tidbits.

“I remember when I first moved here there was a book, eat.shop vancouver, which had really interesting takes on some of the cooler places in the city,” said Taylor. “Not so much like a Lonely Planet or Time Out guide; it seemed to be more in the trenches.

“To me, Urbandig seems like an app version of that book. If you really drill in there are some really cool tips from the experts, people who really know something about what they’re writing about.”

Source: Vancouver startup Urbandig wanders off the beaten path with its new travel app

HootSuite Takes A Little Cash Off The Table To ‘De-Risk,’ Aims For Bigger Game via Venture Capital Dispatch, WSJ

Early investors and employees of the social media management company have sold $20 million worth of shares.

Social media management company HootSuite Media has ballooned since it started a little over three years ago, winning business from global brands and growing to nearly four million users, with $75 million in revenue expected this year.

Now HootSuite’s founder, Ryan Holmes, and some of his fellow shareholders are taking money off the table–they sold $20 million worth of shares to OMERS Ventures, an investment arm of one of Canada’s largest pension plans, in one of the biggest venture capital deals in Canada in the last decade.

Source: HootSuite Takes A Little Cash Off The Table To ‘De-Risk,’ Aims For Bigger Game – Venture Capital Dispatch – WSJ

Notes about Building a Posse – Social Marketing Kung Fu

3 buckets

– diff motivations that they care about

– don’t identify them and put them in the right bucket – you’ll lose them or they’ll go rogue 

1) rockstars – want to be affiliated with the brand and have it’s fame shine onto themselves (what can they get out of their relationship with you) – respect amongst peers

2) gardeners – diligently test your system for bugs (kind quiet emails that notify us of our mistakes)

3) interns – gain practical knowledge to advance their careers – loan yourself out – you give me skills, I give you labor 

clearly identify what they want to do and need constraints

they’ll feel that they’re authorized to speak on the company’s behalf – they’re not

– be clear that they are here to accomplish very specific goals and tasks

– make the objective the objective 

specific goal:

– translation project – see int’l growth and diff languages

– starting with japanese – people out there answering questions full-time in their free time

– listen and pay attention to them

– brought on japanese intern

      – get market research from japanese

      – keep asking what your market is doing

      – keep pinging people

– create strings to be translated

– pitting countries against each other (in a friendly way)

– recognize contributors publicly and amplify it

– build assets through recognizing people

– fb, content goes to die

– hootups

– don’t start support in other languages until you have “critical mass”/enough momentum

– customer support can be an endless black hole for time/money -> not necessarily the key to success in tech

– next belt – unpleasant situations

– figure out what makes your helper click – credit internally, public pats on the back,

– comment obsessively

– reinforce and build their confidence by giving them inspiring and rewarding tasks

– have them participate and put their name on it

– use visual assets

HootSuite: A software-as-a-service success story via The Next Web

Source: HootSuite: A software-as-a-service success story By Mike Vardy,  July 6, 2011

HootSuite may just be a Twitter client to some, but there’s no denying that its software-as-a-service model as served it and its users well.

Earlier this week, The Next Web covered HootSuite’s achievement of reaching the 2 million user milestone. Considering that the Vancouver-based company has stood the test of time while other social media and Twitter clients have either sold out or bowed out, this is a remarkable accomplishment. But there’s a lot more to HootSuite’s success than just being a great Twitter client; HootSuite’s rise is a testament to how a great idea that stays the course can reach great heights. And the heights it has reached compares with that of some pretty stellar companies that are also part of the software-as-a-service/freemium business realm.

HootSuite has seen growth to date that is on a similar trajectory to the widely popular Evernote, Yammer and Dropbox. The data below outlining Evernote’s, Yammer’s and HootSuite’s rise to 2 million users illustrates that there is significant market success of SaaS tools and Freemium business models.

Evernote and Dropbox have continued to grow rapidly after the 2 million user mark, and HootSutie shows definite signs of trending in the same manner. International growth is a key contributor to HootSuite’s user base, having sped this via community building, outreach and crowd-sourced translation.

HootSuite’s reach and trends (courtesy of Alexa) also rank with that of the aforementioned companies, as well as Dropbox and SalesForce, other examples of business using the SaaS and Freemium models:

Also worth noting is the relative growth rate of users on each of these services:

HootSuite beta Launch: December 2009
HootSuite 1 Million: November 2010
HootSuite 2 Million: June 2011

Evernote Launch: June 2008
Evernote 1 Million: May 2009
Evernote 2 Million: December 2009

Yammer Launch: September 2008
Yammer 1 Million: July 2010
Yammer 2 Million: Feb 2011

Dropbox Launch: April 2008
Dropbox 1 Million: May 2009
Dropbox 2 Million: Sept 2009

While the data clearly shows that SaaS and Freemium models are fast becoming a widely used solution for many users, it also foreshadows something for HootSuite in particular: it may be the only third-party social media client left standing in the future because of how it has done — and continues to do — business.

Release Day – Social Media Kung-Fu Purple Belt

What to release

Substantial and ready to rock
Iterate rapidly, bundle around features and themes
Code names (useful)

Know your Coverers

Make Lists (Twitter and Email) – divvy it up, invite personally
Kindness, not condescension
Understand their beat
Respect time (make it easy)

Craft Stories

Same (3) talking points > into different forms
Quote from customers (CEO sparingly)
Lead with “why this matters”
Tune your vocab and tense (active not passive)
Images to support theme (illustrative)

Line up Dominoes &/or House of Cards

Constant – Media kit tune up blog.hootsuite.com/media

Thursday – Internal memo: master plan to share with squad

Monday 1PM PW Local Press release with assets
Monday 1PM Media preview email: short with embargo deets, interview, assets (infographic!)
Monday 4PM Key client preview email (optional)

Tuesday 5AM Blog post (canonical ~ everything points here)
5:15AM Twitter
5:15AM Facebook
5:20AM General email
5:30AM Wire release
9AM Linkedin groups
9:15 AM Forums, Q &As
11AM Webinar
+ Interviews

then….
Listen
Reply
Thank
Share
Repeat

Prepare for pushback (haters & carpetbaggers) with comment copy

Remember Yellow Belt? Log it all with tags
Thursday – News Round-up with “mini-release” push (trackbacks too)