Steve Johnson talks at e27's Founders Drinks yesterday

Steve Johnson talks at e27’s Founders Drinks yesterday

With reports out yesterday that Hootsuite may choose to go public sooner than expected following Shopify’s IPO success, which saw the latter’s valuation rocket to more than US$2 billion Thursday, it was with great pleasure that e27 welcomed Hootsuite’s Chief Revenue Officer Steve Johnson as speaker at Founders Drinks May.

Johnson, who was visiting Singapore from Canada, stopped by Red Dot Venture’s new co-working space in Block 79 to discuss Hootsuite’s journey: “From early stage to global hyper growth.” Indeed, the company recently moved into its new Singapore offices at The Working Capitol in Chinatown from where it will base its continued expansion across Asia-Pacific.

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Steve Johnson, Chief Revenue Officer at Hootsuite

Steve Johnson, Chief Revenue Officer at Hootsuite

“Growing and expanding the team across the region is high on the agenda at Hootsuite to support our current growth and future ambitions,” Simon Trilsbach, the company’s VP for APAC, said in a statement earlier in the week, just as the company unveiled its new Facebook ad tool.

And the seven-year-old Hootsuite is certainly one startup that knows all about “hyper growth,” having seen its revenue rocket of 56,514 per cent over past five years, as of data from November 2014, coming in second in Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 rankings. With that in mind, let’s jump into some growth tips that Johnson gave startups in attendance last night.

1. Get social or get dying

Going back a few years, Johnson said it was obvious to him that “social media management was going to be as ubiquitous as email.” Boy, was he right about that. Hootsuite is now seeing an average of 10,000 new user sign ups every day, and claims more than 10 million users across the globe.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review earlier this week in an article entitled “What CEOs have learned about social media,” Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick, pointed to a recent analysis that “found that 80 per cent of the chief executive officers of the world’s largest 50 companies are engaged online and on social media.”

Trends in social media according to the HBR article, which very much echo Johnson’s idea that “social media management will become as ubiquitous as email,” include: The company website is the top destination for CEO communications; corporate video is fast becoming the new normal for CEO; LinkedIn was the most popular social network for top executives in 2014; newcomer CEOs are quicker to take up social; and women executives are raising their voices through social.

In other words, startups better get serious about social media right now — or get serious about slow growth and perhaps even an early grave.

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2. The “urgent” cannot trump the “important”

“Make sure the urgent doesn’t trump the important, especially in the early stage. You can get so focussed on fire fighting and the fires of the day that you miss the bigger things,” Johnson said. Keeping the mission front and foremost on a daily basis is all-important for achieving hyper growth as a startup.

Hootsuite’s growth has been so out of this world, in fact, that a similar startup that launched around the same time ended up having an accumulative user base a few years later equal to what Hootsuite saw in a single week. While Johnson did not name the company, he did say that he had sat down with the CEO and saw the data first hand.

“That blew my mind,” Johnson said.

However, playing devil’s advocate in a 2013 article on, Richard Branson, the billionaire Founder of Virgin Group, argued that “In general, there is too much importance being placed on [mission] statements.”

“Make it unique to your company, make it memorable, keep it real and, just for fun, imagine it on the bottom of a coat of arms. If we had to put ours on a coat of arms, Virgin’s would probably say something like, “Ipsum sine timore, consector,” which very loosely translated from the Latin means, “Screw it, let’s do it!”” Branson quipped.


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3. What keeps me up at night? Talent, competition, company purpose

“Talent’s number one; I think you should have the best people. And keeping in front of the competition,” Johnson said. Finally he added company purpose, which drives the long-term vision and growth.

Money, he argues, is necessary but not in and of itself enough of a motivator for most of the great startup founders in history. It’s always the bigger picture, the vision, and the goal of making an impact and leaving behind a better situation than the one you found.

As the late and great Steve Jobs reminded us all, “My favourite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

“People want to feel like what they’re doing is transformational… You have to bring in people who want to make a difference,” Johnson concluded.

e27 hosts monthly meetups where seasoned founders and tech experts share their tricks of the trade. Learn more about Founders Drinks here!