Visionary and tech industry veteran: Meet Hootsuite’s Senior Vice President of Product and Technology
Ryan shares his vision for Hootsuite’s product, a 5-year prediction for the industry — and 3 key traits he looks for when hiring a new team member.
Tell us about yourself and your role at Hootsuite.
I’m the Senior Vice President of Product and Technology, and have one of the best jobs in the world! I am responsible for leading our incredible product management, user experience, software development, production operations, and security teams as well as ultimately defining the underlying product and technology strategies that constitute Hootsuite’s dynamic product portfolio.
This job is a perfect blend of everything I love to do: building world-class marketing technology products, and technically innovating with the latest and greatest cloud technologies, patterns, and practices.
What brought you to Hootsuite?
This is actually an interesting story. I had an amazing leadership job at Sitecore, which is one of the world’s leaders in digital experience platforms. I had been there for almost five and a half years and seen the company go from single-to-multi-product, from on-premise to cloud, and go through the process of a sale for $1.1B USD to EQT in a record-setting transaction in 2016. And Sitecore is continuing to prosper and do very well in the market. Hence, I wasn’t proactively seeking a new opportunity.
In the back of my mind, I had established an extremely high bar for what my next job would look like. I honestly didn’t think I would find it. First, it had to be in the marketing technology space but in a hotter segment than DXPs, which pretty much leaves social.
Second, it had to be with a market-leading company in high-growth mode that is committed to innovation and continued growth and Hootsuite fits this bill perfectly.
Third, I fell in love with the people and the culture throughout the interview process. And it has been even better actually being here for my first month!
Lastly, as a Canadian, I am also extremely proud to be once again working for a Canadian company and helping grow the technology sector inside of Canada. Vancouver is one absolute favourite cities in Canada as my mother’s family is from Richmond, British Columbia and I have taken three out of the last four vacations in BC.
“…passion, curiosity, and respect. Based on my experience, the healthiest, happiest, and highest performing teams are comprised of individuals that are strong and well-balanced in all three key traits.”
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
I’ve been leading software product teams all over the world for over 20 years now. I’ve had the benefit of having worked for very large companies (Microsoft), small companies (Cactus, Ascentium), startups (CommerceServer.net), and medium sized/high growth companies (Hootsuite and Sitecore). And I’ve done it across many geographies and cultures including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Ukraine, Malaysia, India, Australia, and China (and I unfortunately have the frequent flier miles to prove it.)
Across these varied journeys, one key lesson emerges — context matters! When making decisions or making changes, you have to consider the complete picture that includes both the business circumstances, organizational history, culture, and the people involved. Failing to keep all three in balance can often result in a lot of proverbial “gear grinding” and frustration in addition to hindered progress.
Where do you see the greatest area of opportunity for Hootsuite?
Social is at the forefront of digital marketing today, above virtually all other categories of marketing technology priorities for CMOs. It is positioned to grow even bigger as it takes over more traditional means of brand: customer interactions, such as call centres or e-mail queues.
Hootsuite is already the leader in social media management and the company is positioned to be at the absolute forefront of what is going to be one of the hottest topics in marketing technology for the next decade and beyond.
What excites you most about what is next for Product at Hootsuite?
The product is the heart and soul of Hootsuite; it is what our customers use all day, every day. Given the aforementioned market opportunity, at Hootsuite we have the opportunity to not only impact the lives of millions of digital marketers — but to affect millions of brand-customer interactions.
Working in product at Hootsuite is an absolutely amazing opportunity to be at the intersection of amazing digital marketing innovation as well as have the opportunity to work with the latest and greatest cloud technologies.
What’s the most important trait someone on your team needs to have?
I’m going to cheat and answer with a balance of three key traits: passion, curiosity, and respect. Based on my experience, the healthiest, happiest, and highest performing teams are comprised of individuals that are strong and well-balanced in all three key traits. Having a diverse and balanced team helps to eliminate other challenges that one sees from time-to-time, such as “brilliant jerks” or a lack of passion to innovate.
How do you see the industry changing in the next 5 years?
The marketing technology industry is going to continue its crazy pace of hyper-evolution. Digital experience platforms will mature and commoditize to accommodate the Web and Mobile presences of brands. More traditional means of customer contact, such as call centres, CRM, and e-mail will shrink in usage.
Taking its place will be social, which will result in the principal means of customers interacting with brands. I know in my own life I see more of the brands I care about on social than I do through more traditional means these days. I have been a very frequent flier of United Airlines, and I see far more of them on Instagram or Facebook than I do except when I’m buying a ticket or actually on a plane. And who would want to pick up a phone when you could iMessage or WhatsApp instead? With my busy schedule, picking up the phone is an inconvenience as it literally requires blocking a slot off on the calendar that I’d rather put towards customers or the team. And in the event of a customer service crisis, a brand is held accountable via social — which has never happened with more traditional means of contact. And in that case, the consumer significantly benefits.
What this is going to do is create an innovation “arms race” between the social networks themselves and for social technology players to help brands most effectively manage their presences. As with most categories, social technology will likely end up in an oligopoly with a handful of dominant players as has occurred in most other categories such as CRM, content and commerce platforms. With its size, history, and position of market leadership, Hootsuite is very well positioned to be at the absolute forefront of the social technology space.
“Everyone should have a clear development plan with training, stretch assignments, etc. that help them realize their potential and career aspirations.”
How do you build and develop your team of talent to ensure everyone is at their best?
To ensure that everyone is at their best and have an inclusive, diverse workplace where people can have fun over the long-term, a couple of key elements need to be in place. First and foremost, there has to be clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Second, there has to be a very clear mission. From there, I believe in having very clear expectations for progression both within a given role as well as clear steps for someone to transition to another role as part of their career development.
Everyone should have a clear development plan with training, stretch assignments, etc. that help them realize their potential and career aspirations. This requires a significant investment in people, but it absolutely pays huge dividends over time. This is especially true in high growth environments where the needs are ever-expanding.
What does company culture mean to you?
I view company culture as a blend of the company’s mission and purpose, values, people, and success metrics. Those elements together combine to create the culture of daily life within the organization. In my 20+ year career in the technology industry, Hootsuite has one of the clearest (and aspirational) missions and corporate values combined with an amazingly talented workforce and ever-maturing success metrics.
So far, I’ve found the culture to be amazing and I am having a blast each and every day. When I joined Hootsuite, I was worried that I had over-hyped my own mental expectations; instead, I have had them pleasantly exceeded each and every day.
How would you define your leadership style?
I believe in creating teams where people can achieve their personal and professional goals while achieving amazing business results — and having a lot of fun at the same time. To make this happen, I believe in the concept of empowered accountability coupled with clear support from me as a leader. It is my job as an executive to ensure that expectations, roles, and responsibilities are crystal clear. This just eliminates ambiguity and chaos.
Next, I am here to help in any capacity that is required. That can be serving as a sounding board, unblocking something cross-organizationally, or helping to facilitate collaboration.
Third, I am here to help develop the careers of each and everyone in my team. This is often a mix of mentorship, creating stretch assignments, ensuring access to training, or whatever else is required to help my team achieve their career aspirations.
What do you do when you’re not in the office?
First, I have a lovely wife who is a senior software engineering executive for another high growth technology company. She manages a global team spanning four countries with her anchor point being in the United Kingdom. So yes, we have been living in separate countries for several years which makes things a bit complicated but does make for some interesting travel meetups. I am extremely proud and supportive of her!
We have two dachshunds, whom I adore and truly enjoy spoiling. For hobbies, I am an enthusiast of architecture and landscape photography and classic British cars. I am also a voracious reader. I tend to mix up keeping up with my social feeds, world news, technology and industry news, business best practices, and novels (a mix of mysteries, historical fiction, and drama/suspense).