Vancouver-based Hootsuite has appointed Tom Keiser, former chief operating officer at San Francisco-based Zendesk, as its new CEO. As first reported by Fortune, Keiser will replace Ryan Holmes, who was at the helm of the social media management company for 12 years, following his decision to depart in November.
Keiser, who has three decades’ experience in technology and business, will officially join as Hootsuite’s CEO July 6. Previously, Keiser helped drive Zendesk’s annual revenue to near $1 billion and grew its headcount to nearly 4,000. Keiser also previously held leadership positions at Ernst & Young, The Gap Inc., and L Brands.
BetaKit sat down with Holmes (virtually) to discuss stepping down as Hootsuite’s CEO after 12 years and Keiser taking on the role.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
You are stepping down as CEO, but remaining as executive chairman. In some ways you are stepping back, while remaining in control. How involved will you be in the execution of Hootsuite day-to-day and setting its priorities?
I’m a big believer that you only really want one cook in the kitchen, and my goal with bringing in Tom is to help him and support him, getting him up to speed, and then get him executing and not be a backseat driver.
I’m going to be involved at a board level to help set up financials and targets for the year, I’m really helping them with strategy, looking at some of the marketplace, competitors, potential M&As that we bring into the company and other things like this, and just helping him settle in with the team and get executing.[I’m] really excited to get him in, and I’m sure you caught some of the numbers but he led Zendesk, [which] was at a $2 billion valuation and it’s sitting in a $9 billion valuation today. So, he is a really nice fit for the scale of operations in terms of the long-term of the company.
With Keiser, you have someone who obviously has operational experience of a SaaS company, but particularly in terms of customer support. Some of Hootsuite’s revenue comes from all the educational certification and work you do to help enterprises engage with social media. Is that the motivation for bringing on someone like Keiser?
One of our company values is his passion for customer success, and Tom really has that passion through working at Zendesk. They’re a very customer-centric organization, as are we.
I would say the education and the services is actually quite a small part of our overall revenue. The tool helps people manage social, from calendaring and content creation and scheduling, all the way through to what we call engagement, which is often that support piece – social selling, social customer support. So, that conversation piece on social channels, and then also analytics behind it to understand how you’re doing and where you should be focusing.[Tom] has a really deep understanding of the customer support piece, absolutely. But more importantly, if you have worked at a SaaS company, as we are, that services small businesses, medium-sized businesses, and big enterprise, and that is a very rare thing. There are many … businesses out there that just sell to small businesses and solo-preneurs, but there are few that sell all the way through, and that was a really unique part of Tom’s experience that we liked.
In November you said your primary mandate for the new CEO, while you were looking, was to expand the company’s product offerings, explore possible acquisitions, and overall strengthen the health of the business. Is that still the case?
We’ve made a big investment in our product team this year, contributing to making big product investments through the year. What we’ve seen over the last little while with COVID is a lot of unique product usage, [an] increase in product usage.
We have research that social is the most important customer channel; it’s only strengthened by this unfortunate situation. That thesis is now stronger than ever, we see that businesses, especially when they are challenged from a brick-and-mortar perspective, they have to go to social. So, we’re seeing a lot of customers there, it’s accelerating digital transformation in businesses and we’re here kind of benefiting from that digital transformation that we’ve been calling for years.
Where does Hootsuite fit in as a social media product, particularly since we’ve seen this evolution where Hootsuite was, when you launched, the API layer connecting a company to multiple social media platforms in a way that they didn’t have access to before. And now, those platforms have much more robust tools and might be restricting your access.
In terms of our relationships with social networks, they’re undergoing a huge amount of transformation right now, which you have alluded to. When we think about what our role is … we think about ourselves as being a trusted partner for those social networks. And we’ve seen all indications that the work that we do is really important for them and for their customers.
At the end of the day, they’re most focused on their relationship with their consumers. If they don’t have an audience, then there’s no ad business, that’s where they spend a majority of their time, focus energy, [and] resources.
So, when you think about the work that we’re doing, there’s kind of two parts that make it really relevant. One is that we flip between all these social networks in somewhat of a Switzerland-type way – that is really important for the social networks’ biggest customers, their ad customers, but in a way that they won’t work together. So we provide that linkage between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the list goes on, emerging social networks, TikTok, etc. So we can help provide that lens and oversight into it.
Is it more valuable or less valuable to be ‘Switzerland’ in 2020, from a social media perspective?
I think it’s more valuable, and I would go on to say with what we’ve seen with things like Cambridge Analytica, that the social networks are looking for fewer and trusted partners. And so we think of the trust that we have, the relationships that we have, with all these partners as being somewhat of a competitive moat.
We know that they’re not looking for … partners to do what we do. They’re looking for fewer that they can work and partner with that can ensure data security, and privacy, and we’ve been a really good partner with them over the last number of years in this regard.
Would that maybe be an area which you’d be looking at when you’re talking about the development of new products?
We have a lot of compliance, security, [and] functionality in our product. We’re always evolving that security compliance because we have a lot of government, healthcare-related businesses that we need to help service and support. It’s always a component of what we do in our roadmap.
How big of a transition is this for you from being the point person every day to now having a lot more free time?
I’m so grateful, so, so grateful for the opportunity and the experience and to have led this business from a small team at one of the biggest companies in Canada. It’s been an incredible experience and one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’m also just really thankful for this inflection point; the team is so strong. We’ve adjusted and tweaked and got to a point to where I think Tom is inheriting a really strong team that he can work with. It is bittersweet, but I know that the company is in the strongest position it’s ever been in and they’ve got an amazing leadership group that is going to be propelling it forward and I’m here to help support.
To ask you a question now solely as board chair: would you rather see Hootsuite go public, or sell, or merge? What’s on the agenda?
It’s honestly just continue execution. The market is massive for what we’re doing. The business keeps growing, and I’m not really fussed on the outcome of where we go with it. I think that there is just so much opportunity in front of us with that’s what I’ve got, Tom out of the gates to just focus on, business as usual and growing the business. It’s not a mandate to come in and investigate other liquidity events, it’s just to keep executing.
Does your ability now to look at Hootsuite from a board perspective and not just as the CEO change how you view the outlook of the company?
I don’t think it really changes the perspective. I mean, liquidity ultimately becomes the driver for the investors and for the team that was equity in the business. So whether that’s an IPO or through other means that can be something that is ultimately a consideration, but when you see such opportunities in front of you, it’s hard not to just keep growing the business.
Images courtesy Hootsuite.