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Tom Keiser, former COO of San Francisco-based Zendesk, has been named CEO of Vancouver-based Hootsuite. Keiser will replace the company's founder Ryan Holmes as of July 6.

The Canadian Press

Hootsuite Media Inc. has chosen former Zendesk Inc. executive Tom Keiser to replace founding chief executive officer Ryan Holmes, who is stepping down after a battle last year with the company’s board over his leadership.

Mr. Holmes will remain the social-media management company’s chair, while Mr. Keiser takes over as CEO on July 6. In an interview, Mr. Keiser said he would focus on increasing the company’s customer base, and would take the next 12 to 18 months to find “a more clear path” for Hootsuite – including determining whether it should remain a standalone company and potentially make a public offering, or consider a sale.

While Mr. Keiser did not directly acknowledge any difficulties Hootsuite faced under Mr. Holmes’s final years as CEO, he said he saw Hootsuite as a company at a crossroads. “Fast-growing companies struggle with prioritization, and where to focus the minds and energy of employees,” he said over video conference from Atlanta.

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Hootsuite was one of Canada’s most promising scale-up tech companies last decade as it seized the social network zeitgeist, developing tools used by businesses worldwide to manage their social media presence. At its height, the research firm CB Insights valued the company at US$1-billion.

But the Vancouver company began to struggle in recent years. The Globe and Mail reported last year that Hootsuite was seeking a buyer, and struggled to find offers higher than US$700-million before abandoning the process. It also laid off about a 10th of its 1,000 employees.

Sources told The Globe in November, 2019, that after the failed auction, the board launched into months of tense talks about whether Mr. Holmes should continue to lead the company. Hootsuite announced that November that Mr. Holmes would step back once the company found its new CEO. A month later, Hootsuite overhauled its executive team as three key members left.

Mr. Keiser was most recently chief operating officer at San Francisco’s Zendesk, which makes customer service software. He said he arrived at the company when it was a similar size to where Hootsuite is today, and sees significant parallels. During his time there, he said, the company grew to 4,000 employees from 1,000, as its revenue rose to nearly US$1-billion from US$200-million.

“It was a fun time – a company with a proven product and was growing really rapidly, and needed a whole lot of work to point it in the right direction,” he said of Zendesk. “I was looking for something similar to that, that had a founder and a board that were on the same page ... that had a company, a brand and a product that could do more.”

Mr. Keiser said he hopes to focus on growth at Hootsuite, which has been struggling with its identity in recent years. Social media has lost the lustre it had a decade ago, becoming a regular part of doing business rather than an exciting new frontier. The dashboard market, meanwhile, has become more crowded, as competitors such as Sprinklr Inc. have increased their dominance.

Sources told The Globe last year that Hootsuite’s board had grown concerned that much of its revenue growth came from price increases, while it was losing big accounts. It also struggled with changing industry dynamics, such as increased fees from Twitter Inc. for social-media management firms.

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“At Hootsuite, we routinely look at our entire leadership team – which includes me – to determine the best path for our future stages of growth and continued success,” Mr. Holmes wrote in an e-mailed statement to The Globe in response to these details last year.

Mr. Keiser declined to comment on these concerns, but said that customer turnover is common in enterprise software companies such as Hootsuite, and allows companies to better consider customer needs. “You’ve got to keep differentiating,” he said to address the new problems customers need solved.

Mr. Holmes ran Hootsuite for 12 years. The company said Monday that it has about 200,000 customers, 1,000 employees and 15 offices globally.

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