Many people I spoke with in the Singapore startup community knew about Hootsuite, but few could tell me the name of its founder, Ryan Holmes, or describe his character.
“I like to do a lot of things outdoors,” he shared with me in an exclusive interview with Tech in Asia. “In fact, I went heliboarding four days before my trip to Asia.” The heliboarding didn’t turn out too well, as he broke his right foot in an accident. Still, he seemed cheerful and confident as he first greeted me.
The injury did not deter him from making his first business trip to Asia. He arrived in Singapore after grueling business trips to New Zealand, Australia, and Malaysia, and shared that there will be more trips to go before he returns to Canada for a possible surgery on his injured foot.
Canada-based Hootsuite has raised an estimated US$247 million in funding since its founding in 2008. The company is rumored to be a unicorn, with a valuation north of US$1 billion. This valuation has yet to be confirmed, as Ryan has only mentioned it in a tweet.
Ryan described himself as a life-long entrepreneur, starting multiple entrepreneurial ventures since he was 16. According to him, he loves the experience and has a penchant for solving problems for customers.
Social media managers are the CMOs of the future
Ryan shared a teaser of his upcoming book, The 4 Billion Dollar Tweet, saying:
“Hootsuite has over 15 million product users. I think of them as the CMOs of the future. Social media managers, community managers, online marketing managers— these people understand where the customer relationship lives. However, getting executive buy-in [into social media] has been difficult. A lot of CEOs just want their social media teams to take care of social media.”
His main point: Leaders and CEOs need to get involved with social media.
He likened the use of social media to email in the early 2000s. According to him, if you don’t know how to use social media today, “you will be obsolete” just like you would have been if you didn’t know how to use email today.
He cited President Donald Trump’s tweet on Lockheed Martin in December 2016, which caused a plunge in market valuation by US$1.2 billion.
“My question to leaders [is] if somebody like Donald Trump or somebody influential tweets about your company today, have you built up the DNA, do you know how to use this medium and this technology, or are going to get caught flat-footed? Directors who assess reputation risks are not doing their responsibilities if they do not understand [the importance of] this communication media.”
The perfect example of embracing social media in Asia
Social media is growing in tandem with the rise of internet users. In fact, Southeast Asia shows the highest penetration of social media users, averaging 75 percent of internet users.
According to Ryan, Hootsuite is increasing its headcount in both Australia and Singapore by 40 percent, doubling down on its success. They are also looking to India and other high-potential markets. This is why he visited the region to meet customers like AirAsia.
A day ago in Malaysia, he met AirAsia group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. He hailed him as the perfect example of a leader embracing social media and said that his company will benefit from it.
“In social media, if you are not there, your competitors are going to be there and they are going to be eating your lunch. If you aren’t there and you are not going to build the DNA around social expertise, [your competitors] are going to eat your customer base.”
Unique challenges in Asia
I asked Ryan what challenges Hootsuite faces in Asia. According to him, product localization around sentiment analysis and interpreting sentiment are important issues. “What someone means in one language may mean differently in another,” he shared. “[There are] many idioms [in different languages] that you cannot take literally. This is a complex problem.”
He also cited the challenges of getting social media into China. He is observing Facebook as it inches into the Chinese market and will wait and see until the social media giant paves the way. He hopes to offer Hootsuite when social media becomes more interesting to the Chinese government.
Advice to startups doing social media
Ryan’s advice to startups:
“It is an amazing era that we live in. In all our pockets is a piece of hardware and software that is worth multiple millions of dollars [in value]. Before the days of the internet, producing and deploying a video was a huge cost and required tons of resources. Now, anybody can [produce] and deploy content at zero cost and [compete] with the biggest brands. And that is scaring big businesses. Big businesses need to understand social media [more] than they’ve ever had to. Startups need to understand social media, as it is their biggest competitive advantage. If they understand how to use it, deploy it, and engage customers with it, they stand to disrupt every big business out there.”
This is the second article of the “Dive Deep” Series, where the author talks to high achievers and game changers on their thoughts, lives, and entrepreneurial journeys.
This article first appeared on Tech in Asia.