The brains behind Techcouver have been covering Hootsuite since 2008.
Back then, there was no Owly—or even a Hootsuite, for that matter. But there was one Invoke Media, a digital agency growing in the heart of Vancouver and at the time toying with a rather “Bright” idea.
And that is where our story begins…
2008 – 2009: BrightKit and the Capital “S”
In 2008, Vancouver-based digital agency Invoke Media released a simple time-saving tool called BrightKit. This an app allowed users to manage multiple Twitter accounts from a single interface.
Fun fact: Twitter was barely two years old at the time.
In 2009, BrightKit opted for a name change to HootSuite. (Back then, it was offensive not to capitalize the “S.”)
The name was suggested by user Matt Nathan, who contributed his idea when the startup asked its Twitter followers for a new name. Yes, Twitter really did function how it was supposed to back then.
From the original logo came Owly, the beloved mascot.
2010 – 2011: Millions of Dollars, Millions of Users
After a ringing White House endorsement in 2009, Hootsuite completed Facebook and Linkedin integrations by 2010 to become a fully fledged social media dashboard. Maintaining momentum, the BC startup followed up its evolution with its first round of capital: $2 million in 2010 from Hearst Interactive Media, Blumberg Capital, and angel investors.
That very summer, Hootsuite began to monetize. The company leveraged the “freemium” model by adding optional paid accounts with additional features. By the end of 2010, the company had hit its first major customer milestone: one million users.
Within a year of that milestone, Hootsuite had already reached two million users. At 32 months old, Hootsuite was responsible for the sending of 500,000,000 messages across 4,000,000 unique social profiles.
By the end of 2011, Hootsuite would raise $3 million in capital, acquire competitor Twapper Keeper, and expand its executive team. The year ended with an acquisition of Geotoko and rumours of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg being in Vancouver to buy the blossoming startup.
(Turns out, Zuck was there for Japadog.)
2012 – 2013: The Grand Vision of Ryan Holmes
The year 2012 started with HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes stating his bold ambition: he wanted to build Hootsuite into a billion-dollar company, ultimately taking it public. Just weeks later, Hootsuite would reach three million users.
In the spring of 2012, Hootsuite raised $20 million in a round led by Omers Ventures. The round valued Hootsuite at roughly $200 million.
In the fall, Hootsuite acquired competitor Seesmic. Five months after hitting four million users, the company announced five million.
Seven million members by the summer of 2013 had Hootsuite on an incredible growth trajectory.
2014 – 2015: Growth After the Lowercase “S”
It was in 2014 that Holmes’ crew made the decision to lowercase the “S” in Hootsuite. This was of course big news. Even so, the size of the company’s titanic $165 million Series B round caught many off guard. It was bigger news. IPO rumours started ramping up.
With more than 300 employees, and paying customers in 156 countries, Hootsuite was a force to be reckoned with. Holmes was named one of Vancouver’s most powerful people by Canadian Business. Before the end of the year, Hootsuite was at eight million users.
As Hootsuite passed nine million users—including 75% of Fortune 1000 companies—the company changed its logo for the first time. And, as IPO rumours persisted, Hootsuite hit 10 million users.
By 2015, the company raised $60 million and acquired social telephony company Zeetl. Hootsuite boasted 1,000 employees and an estimated valuation north of $1 billion, achieving the first of Holmes’ two major goals.
Holmes hinted at an IPO in 2016—at this point it was a matter of “when,” not “if,” he offered.
2016 – 2018: Owly Goes Through Growing Pains
The company endured some “growing pains” around 2016—a corporate restructuring often inevitable among such rapidly growing firms—though Holmes was still stoking the IPO rumour fire as user growth continued.
The company’s restructuring appeared to work, with Hootsuite entering 2017 in a cash-flow positive state. Growth was back—new offices in Toronto and Sydney, Australia were tapping fresh talent pools.
However, by 2018, certain aspects within the company had turned sour again. The company was desperate enough to explore a possible sale—well below its peak valuation. It was an interesting alternative to IPO speculation, which persisted regardless.
2019 – 2021: A Shift in Leadership
There was “internal chaos” inside Hootsuite, which forced another wave of layoffs in early 2019. By the end of the year, Holmes publicly revealed his intentions to step down as CEO to spend time with family.
It took eight months for Hootsuite to find a replacement for the cofounder, who remained as Hootsuite’s board chairman. That replacement was Tom Keiser, who was credited with boosting Zendesk’s annual revenue from $200 million to nearly $1 billion.
In 2020, with a new CEO and some water under the bridge, Hootsuite was ranked on Impact Centre’s Narwhal list. The list identified Hootsuite’s total funding as $300 million. Hootsuite won Best Social Media Scheduling Software at the 2020 MarTech Breakthrough Awards.
Hootsuite was a Narwhal again in 2021. That same year, Holmes teamed up with fellow Vancouver angel Manny Padda on a fund called LOI Venture to address a shortage of capital for founders under 30.
IPO speculation continued as recently as 2021, before an increasingly moody market forced the company to tone down its ambition.
2022 and Beyond: A New Social Order?
Hootsuite this summer rebranded with a social-first vision. The new brand colours are bright and bold, and faithful Owly got a revamp too.
However, it’s unclear what exactly a “social-led brand” is, even after reading the company’s lengthy blog post discussing the matter in detail (since when is detail so ambiguous?).
It’s also odd to note that a verified Twitter brand with more than 7 million followers on the platform garnered a single-digit handful of likes for such a seemingly major announcement. Shouldn’t a social-based brand have some social engagement?
Still, we’re hopeful the company’s new leadership and new vision can restore the former glory of Hootsuite, which remains a staple of Vancouver’s tech scene a decade-and-a-half on.
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