Ryan Holmes has been addicted to technology since he was a kid living off the grid in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, when he ran a computer he'd won in a school programming contest off his parents' car battery. Today, the founder and chief executive officer of social-media dashboard company Hootsuite is heavily invested in tech, not only in his own company but in everything from startups on private investing platform AngelList to the biggest publicly listed names such as Apple and Twitter. The Globe recently talked to Mr. Holmes about his predilection for tech plays, as well as his large position in real estate and why a quarter of his money sits in cash.
When did you start investing?
I was taught to save at an early age. My mom bought a $500 government bond for me with some birthday money when I was 11. She told me if we sat on it would be worth $1,000. I got to look every so often at the interest on it, and how it was growing. That got me interested in investing.
What investments have you made in the markets?
I put money into mutual funds through RRSPs for a number of years. Then I started buying some stock, typically blue chip tech stocks. I have some money invested in Apple, some in Twitter and some in Facebook. Some of the usual suspects. Those have been my primary [stock investments] over the years. I have a bias for technology. I don't own any petroleum. I think our society needs energy, so I don't really have an allergy to that … but I'm not as bullish as I am on technology.
What about private investments?
I invest in a lot of companies on AngelList. My first investment was in LaunchRock in 2011 [acquired in 2014 by crowdfunding platform Fundable.com]. I received some stock in the acquiring company. What I look to do in investing is to leverage and diversify and take money you can't necessarily allocate and get it to work somewhere else. With LaunchRock, I liked the founder and what they were doing. I liked the vertical they were going after [helping startups to acquire users]. They showed great promise. I always look for great entrepreneurs at the helm. It's a consistent theme with any of the companies I invest in.
How do you come across these private investments? Are they connected to Hootsuite?
These are things that I've primarily found. One of them, Geckoboard, does have a Hootsuite integration, but it's not at all a prerequisite. I want to maintain arm's length and not have a conflict of interest in any companies I invest in. With ZenPayroll, for example, there are no integrations, but it's a fantastic company. I got in on the seed round. It has been one of my best investments so far. I got in sub-$10-million and it has a valuation of more than $1-billion now.
What has been your worst investment?
A penny mining stock. It was a number of years ago on a "hot tip." I lost a bit of money. [He hasn't invested in mining since].
What are your investment criteria for public and private companies?
I like tech stocks. From an angel perspective, I primarily invest in SaaS [software-as-a-service] businesses, usually ones that try to solve a B2B [business-to-business] problem. One of the things I'm doing through AngelList is syndicating deals out because I have a lot of interesting deals coming my way. I open it up to other investors to be part of those syndicated deals.
So you're a tech entrepreneur who really likes tech stocks. Are there other sectors you like?
Technology is eating the world right now. There is so much that's getting reinvented, so many disruptive technologies. I also like tech-enabled businesses as well, such as Uber.
How are you diversifying your investments?
I do also have some money in real estate investments. I own commercial and residential properties, primarily in the Vancouver area. About 50 per cent of my money is in real estate, not including my house, about 25 per cent in cash and the other 25 per cent split between angel and later-stage tech companies.
Why do you have a quarter of your money in cash now?
For the diversification. To have coverage, in case markets change.
The tech market is hot. Do you worry that it's getting too frothy?
I'm in the non-bubble camp. I believe this is an amazing market right now. There are true fundamentals to the business that are getting created. There is so much going on right now. The capital markets are looking for places to put money to get good returns and this is a great spot to do that in.
Are you still planning to take Hootsuite public? If so, what is your current timeline?
We are building the foundations and best practices of a public company. We are not in a hurry to go public; an IPO [initial public offering] would be another step in the company's long evolution, not a finish line.
This interview has been edited and condensed.