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Growth Hootsuite's Holmes: a go-big attitude to emulate

There's an expression, "go big or go home," that is all about striving to take success as far as you can, or not even bother to get in the game.

It is an attitude that, in many respects, evades far too many Canadian entrepreneurs. While confident, they are arguably not as bold, cocky or big enough dreamers as their southern counterparts. While high-tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, for example, talk about becoming world-beaters, Canadian entrepreneurs seem to be happy just to create a viable business.

That may help explain why far too many Canadian high-tech entrepreneurs that get an offer for their company on the table will just happily take the money and run, rather than take on the risk, and aim for the reward, to keep growing their businesses for a much higher valuation.

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So it was refreshing to see Ryan Holmes, the founder and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based HootSuite Media Inc., recently publicly declare his major ambitions for the popular online service, which lets people publish and monitor activity on a variety of social media platforms.

"I want to build a billion-dollar company and take it to an IPO exit, enable the financial independence of 50 people around me and build something disruptive, like how Netflix disrupted the traditional movie rental industry or how Apple rewrote music," he said during an interview with BCBusiness that was reprinted in Techvibes.com.

With 2.7 million users, HootSuite is one of the most popular tools to use social media. Its customers include large companies that operate a portfolio of social media services for marketing and sales programs to individuals who want to post and monitor activity on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Just as important, HootSuite has established a strong business by offering free and premium versions of its service.

As a result, HootSuite has become a popular takeover target. Among leading rumoured suitors are Facebook and Twitter.

But judging from Mr. Holmes' statement, it does not sound like HootSuite is going to sell out any time soon. Instead, he seems intent on staying the course until HootSuite becomes big enough to attract a mega-offer. In a Globe and Mail story published last November, Mr. Holmes said $100-million in revenue and a $1-billion valuation was within reach, and that Hootsuite had become the "guys to beat."

While there is some risk in going for it since new competitors could emerge, the upside to having big ambitions is the opportunity it brings for a much larger takeover offer.

If the Canadian entrepreneurial landscape is going to evolve and mature, Canadian entrepreneurs need to embrace the "go big or go home" attitude. They need to believe their ideas and companies have the potential to become industry leaders.

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That may mean becoming cockier and more ambitious but it is a necessary competitive element.

Special to The Globe and Mail

An earlier online version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Techvibes that should have been attributed to BCBusiness. This online version has been corrected.

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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