Breakfast of Champions

Pure gold. That’s how Ryan Holmes describes customer feedback.

In 2008 at their Vancouver headquarters, Holmes created Hootsuite, the world’s most widely-used social media management platform. He writes here in the Financial Post that while the majority of Hootsuite’s 15 million users pay absolutely nothing, “they mean everything.” Why? Because free users stress-test the company’s platform every day, discovering flaws and demanding new features. The constant feedback these users tweet provide enables Hootsuite to continuously refine their product before focus shifts to landing big clients who pay.

According to Holmes, the best market disrupters learn to listen very closely to their initial users. “Because the barrier to entry is so low.. the only thing keeping (users) tied to the product is its innate usefulness,” says Holmes. Today, we’re told that big paying customers now form the heart of Hootsuite’s market. But Homes argues Hootsuite’s strongest competitive advantage remains the millions of free users endlessly stress-testing the company’s platform every day. At the core of Hootsuite’s business, there rests an underlying acknowledgement of the importance and potential for social media to foster customer feedback in developing customer-supplier relationships.

It’s easy, even inevitable, for the pendulum to swing too far, however. The scrappy upstart becomes the industry leader. Instead of catering to end users, attention shifts to landing those huge deals. There is an antidote, of course – staying obsessed with the free users. Google, not surprisingly, is a master at this. Today, Gmail’s billion-plus monthly active users dwarf the three million businesses who pay for G Suite. That won’t change anytime soon. But having a focus group that large ensures Google is always miles ahead of its competitors.
– Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite CEO

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