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Ryan Holmes, HootSuite’s CEOGrant Harder

Before it became one of the most popular social media management tools out there, HootSuite was nothing more than an internal tracking tool–a way for a single marketing agency to find out how much bang it was getting for its social media buck.

Vancouver-based Internet marketing firm Invoke Media launched HootSuite late in 2008 and spun off the company a year later. The software is a kind of superpowered social media dashboard. It lets users monitor what people are saying about them and their companies on networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Over time, HootSuite has also come to include various analytics and scheduling tools, allowing users to automatically send social media messages at prescheduled times, or to figure out just how many people are responding to those messages. "We're looking at helping give better visibility into the effectiveness of how people spend time on social media," says Ryan Holmes, HootSuite's CEO. By giving users detailed metrics on what people are doing online, he adds, those users can get a better sense of the return on their social media investment.

Employees: 50 Year founded: 2008 Number of users: 1.7 million Number of languages for its software: 9 Major competitors: CoTweet, Radian6 and Spredfast

HootSuite runs on a "freemium" business model. About 97 per cent of the software's users download the free version of the product. The remaining 3 per cent–most of them enterprise customers–pay for a more powerful, full-featured version.

In addition to adding more features, HootSuite's staff have focused their energy on getting their products on as many devices as possible. The software is now available for desktops and various mobile devices, including iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android-powered phones. (The team is also working on a version for Research In Motion's PlayBook tablet.) HootSuite has also launched several versions in other languages, and even has its own service that shortens website addresses so that they don't take up too much space in Twitter posts.

Lessons Learned

  1. It always pays to have the best employees. Start with a good core team, and build around them.
  2. Stay lean. A lot of creativity comes as a result of watching what you spend.
  3. Eat your own dog food. The company uses its own products internally.