Ryan Holmes can't walk on water, but he is learning to walk on his hands. And anyone with the tenacity to do that deserves some recognition — especially when he's also the founder and CEO of a social media management platform that claims more than 10 million users around the globe.
Holmes is the head honcho at Hootsuite, whose web and mobile social media dashboard helps individuals and organizations monitor, post and track results across multiple social networks.
A Social Media Management Powerhouse
He founded the company in 2008 through his digital services agency, Invoke Media. Since then, Holmes has grown Hootsuite from a lean startup to one of the world's leading social media management platforms.
The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company has about 600 employees based at its headquarters and various other locations worldwide, including San Francisco, London, Singapore, New York, Hong Kong and Sydney.
Not bad for a guy who quit college to start a paintball company and pizzeria before jumping on the digital bandwagon.
Sharing Social Insights
Holmes writes regularly for a variety of publications. He's one of LinkedIn's top 20 most followed Influencers and presents at the leading tech conferences.
An angel investor and advisor, he also supports programs that support entrepreneurs, including his own non-profit initiative, The Next Big Thing.
Sobel: Tell us about the early days of Hootsuite.
Holmes: When social media was just beginning to emerge on the scene, many of our customers at Invoke were struggling to manage this new technology. So we developed Hootsuite, a tool that allowed them to manage multiple social media accounts at once.
Within months of launching, we knew it was big when hundreds of thousands of users joined — all by word of mouth. In the months after that, we realized enterprises across the board were facing the same social media management issues and that Hootsuite could help.
We saw Hootsuite’s potential to help more businesses and people leverage social media, so we spun it out from Invoke in 2009. The rest is history.
Sobel: What's coming next in social media?
Holmes: Social media is constantly evolving and reinventing itself. So much of what drives social media is based on the interests of consumers, which, if we’ve learning anything from social, are fleeting.
Never once since first emerging has the industry remained static. Given this volatility and just its plain newness, it’s no surprise that a company like Facebook performed unexpectedly.
This was the year that Facebook broke into other markets and really established itself as more than just a social network. The mobile ad market exploded this year, and Facebook’s aggressive expansion into that market doesn’t show any signs of slowing down in 2015.
This pivot into mobile changes everything for Facebook — mobile expansion in the future for the company is potentially limitless, and so its grasp on that market has expanded its business possibilities exponentially.
Over the past 12 months, Facebook has also acquired WhatsApp, Oculus VR and QuickFire among a slew of others, marking its expansion into sectors well beyond the traditional realm of social networking.
Look for Facebook to move more into mobile commerce. It has ambitions to ultimately become your wallet.
Sobel: What did pizza and paintball teach you about success — and taking the road less traveled?
Holmes: I feel very lucky to be where I’m at now — the CEO of a social media company with hundreds of employees who are as passionate about innovation as I am.
But the best path doesn’t necessarily have to be the road less taken. As a rule of thumb, I’d encourage people to try and do the thing they are most passionate about — whatever job or activity that excites them, and even sometimes drives them to do "crazy" things.
If that’s an oft-traveled path, it’s fine too.
When I was growing up there wasn’t a particular career path that really appealed to me, but I just kept moving toward my passions, activities and challenges I found appealing.
From an early age I was very interested in computers. So I spent a lot of time getting comfortable with computers and eventually taught myself to code. Years later I started Invoke. I also always loved starting businesses, so I started and ran a paintball company, then later a pizza business, an digital agency, and now, Hootsuite.
Sobel: How can we handle the constant barrage of digital information, all day, all the time?
Holmes: In the fast-paced, increasingly digital world we currently live in, many of us are constantly plugged in.
At work we chip away at our overflowing email inboxes. In our free time we constantly check our smartphones, looking at social media feeds or clicking on a never-ending flow of tempting headlines.
For me, throughout the last decade, I’ve been plugged in 24/7, living in a world where the line between what's digital and what's real gets blurred at times.
Of course, I haven't forgotten that I'm CEO of a social media company. My life's work is built around the premise that being connected makes our lives richer, more rewarding and more efficient, both at home and in the office.
But there is one thing we need to add into the mix for a healthy holistic life: moderation.
Whether that means putting the phone away when interacting with loved ones, declaring email bankruptcy or a complete digital detox like I committed to a few years ago, it’s a worthwhile and attainable goal.
I’m dabbling in meditation, which I think as a regular habit can work wonders.
Sobel: You expressed admiration astronaut Chris Hadfield, who became a social media rock star while spending almost six months on the International Space Center, where he endured a number of personal and professional challenges. Can you elaborate?
Holmes: What I admire most about Chris is that when life threw him curve balls, he hit every one out of the park.
Whenever he ended up in a job or situation that wasn’t exactly where he ultimately wanted to be (to become an astronaut and go to space), he did two things: First, he never lost sight of his dreams and kept following his heart, And second, he gave the job at hand 110 percent, knowing that it was just another stepping stone towards his goal, not a barrier.
And eventually, by doing those things, he realized his biggest dreams.
This can be challenging for people for many reasons. First, it can be difficult to find your big dream in the first place.
For me, unlike Hadfield, I didn’t always know exactly what I wanted to be. Some people still don’t know.
When I discovered in fifth grade how much I loved computers, I spent every recess, lunch and after school in the school computer library instead the playground.
I also loved paintball, so as a teenager, I started a paintball field.
I loved business, so I went to business school and I loved pizza and business so I opened a pizza restaurant in my early 20s.
Looking back, I just kept doing things that excited me and made me happy, and I trusted that as long as I was doing that, I’d end up somewhere good.
So it might be cliché, but if you still aren’t sure, I suggest you try out as many different activities as possible until you find the ones that really excite you. Then find out how far you can take that in your career and life.
Professionally, it can be tempting to settle for something safer and easier along the way, like a job that lets you comfortably pay your bills, maybe buy a house, save for retirement.
Chris himself could have stopped when he became a fighter pilot for the Canadian air force. But he didn’t.
He never lost sight of the big picture and decided to treat each job in his career as an important step in the journey. It’s about perspective and perseverance and Chris is a great example of that.
In his own words, “You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in.”