How the CEO of Hootsuite Spun His Back Pain Into a Successful New Business

How the CEO of Hootsuite Spun His Back Pain Into a Successful New Business

Ryan Holmes is the CEO and founder of Hootsuite, a social media management dashboard that helps business owners grow and engage their audience. And like many successful entrepreneurs, he's addicted to solving problems.

We sat down with Ryan to find out how hurting his back was the catalyst for starting Oristand, a company that builds stand-up desks entirely from cardboard. 

In this interview, you'll...

  • Find out how solving your own problem can also be a great first step towards starting a business
  • Discover why the best solution to any problem is often the simplest one
  • Learn what key ingredient helped Oristand go viral at launch

Check out the full interview below:

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Speaker 1: "They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that's true in business, when an entrepreneur solves a problem in their own life and they realize, hey, other people have the same probably and boom, a new product is born. Well this is one of those stories. Necessity led to the creation of a desk made of cardboard, which might sound odd. That's not even the strangest part. Have a listen."

Speaker 2: "This is the story about how a guy with a bad back launched a company to help him at work. Then how that guy got great advice from the CEO of a billion dollar company. Then how the guy's new small business actually ended up helping the billion dollar company. Let's start at the start. Ryan has a bad back."

Ryan: "I helped a friend with with house site, moving some rocks around. I hopped on a plane. Got up after the plane ride and had tingling sensation down the back of my legs, and I thought, "Uh oh, something's not quite right here." The doctor said I need to do 3 things. I needed to get a lot of rest. Start doing some yoga. Work on your flexibility. Then the third thing he said is get a stand up desk. I went online and did a look at the desk that were out there. They were all north of $1000. $2000 for a stand up desk. I thought to myself, there's no way I'm going to spend $2000 on a stand up desk. I just can't justify. I hacked together what would be the 1.0 version of Oristand. It was a bucket with some yellow pages and I put my laptop on top of that. That was the initial version."

Speaker 2: "Pretty soon, Ryan's coworkers at his day job started to notice his DIY stand up desk."

Ryan: "People in the office started trying to kind of cobble together their own similar model to kind of emulate what I was doing. We saw a few buckets popping up."

Speaker 2: "The next iteration of Ryan's stand up desk was an Ikea hack."

Ryan: "It takes a couple of pieces of Ikea furniture and ends up being about a $40 price point. It takes time to put together. I think it's a good solution, but I think we can do better."

Speaker 2: "I think you know where this is going. Another version of the stand up desk was developed."

Ryan: "I talked to my friends, Steve, and he's a very talented designer. I said I wanted to make a cardboard stand up desk. I wanted it to be foldable, collapsible."

Speaker 2: "That's right. Ryan's stand up desk is made entirely out of cardboard."

Ryan: "Cardboard is a fantastic material. It is environmental. It's inexpensive. The material itself is super strong. We can put monitors on top of it. We can put our iMac on top of it and it holds that weight. This just makes a ton of sense."

Speaker 2: "Before it's set up, the Oristand kind of looks like an unassembled moving box. It's totally flat. When you start putting it together, you get to witness some serious, next level origami."

Speaker 3: "Let's put it together. Let's see how long this takes."

Ryan: "All right, so here we go. Pull out your stopwatch. I'm lifting up the cardboard. I'm standing it on the table. I am pressing down the edges. So that was, 3 seconds? Something like that? What you see in front of you looks like 2 steps. The reasoning for this is it allows you to have a monitor at one height and a keyboard at another height."

Speaker 2: "The Oristand standing desk is a really brilliant example of, sometimes the best solution is the easiest solution. A guy has bad back. Doctor says to use a standing desk. He thinks they're too expensive so he starts a company to make cardboard desks for $25. The crazy thing is, Oristand isn't even Ryan's full time job."

Ryan: "For me, it's been a side of the desk, desk project. I think that there's probably a lot of entrepreneur that are working on their day jobs and then have their passion project that they work on at night. This project took 3, maybe 4 years. Honestly, had I been doing this full time, it probably would have been a lot quicker."

Speaker 2: "It's an awesome entrepreneurship story. There's one more great twist. You see, Ryan had a slightly unfair advantage starting Oristand. He got a lot of help from the CEO of the billion dollar social media tech company, Hootsuite. That's because Ryan is not just the founder of Oristand, Ryan is the CEO of Hootsuite. That's his day job."

Ryan: "I'm Ryan Holmes. I'm the CEO of Hootsuite, and cofounder of a company called Oristand."

Speaker 2: "Now knowing this, I'm guessing your first question is this. Why would a full time technology CEO start a new business building cardboard desks."

Ryan: "It's been a real pleasure to be able to create a startup again. Entrepreneur are fascinated by solving problems. In some ways, I get a real kick out of, people say, "Oh, that's such a great idea. I wish I had that idea." Or "I had that idea forever and you stole that idea from me. It was a great one." Just solving problems for people is fantastic."

Speaker 2: "Here's another interesting twist. It seems pretty obviously how Ryan's Hootsuite experience could help Oristand, but what's surprising is how Oristand is also helping Ryan run Hootsuite."

Ryan: "I've been a serial entrepreneur my whole life. I started my first business in high school. It was a paintball company. I did a restaurant for a couple of years. It's been interesting launching out Oristand again, to be able to think about, again, some of the problems that you face as a small business owner. We've got over 13 million customers around the world. A lot of them are small businesses. Just resonating with some of the pain they may face. There's been some good hurdles along the way that we've had to face. They've actually helped me think about the shape of Hootsuite and how we can better help our customers."

Speaker 2: "Now that we know the full story behind this new small business, we realized we had an amazing opportunity to ask a hugely successful entrepreneur about how he's using his experience running Hootsuite to start a brand new company like Oristand. We decided to pick his brain. This is how Ryan approached pricing for a $25 stand up desk."

Ryan: "It's funny. With Oristand, we are, at the high level, competing with thousand dollar desks. At the bottom end, we're competing with cardboard boxes. I just talked to a number of friends, contacts, colleagues, and asked them what do they feel like. $15, $20, $20, $30, and I think we got a good feedback from that."

Speaker 2: "As the CEO of one of the world's biggest social media software companies, we wanted to know how Ryan used social media to market his new small business."

Ryan: "I love marketing. I tell you, this is the most exciting time to be launching, a hard good business. The thing that is so interesting about social, from my perspective, is that if you create good content, the rest kind of takes care of itself. That's what we saw with the launch of Ori. We saw a very viral launch and I attribute that completely to social media and the content we created."

Speaker 2: "Finally, it's clear that Ryan knows how to build a great software service, but what were his challenges in starting a company that manufactured a physical product?"

Ryan: "It is unlike a software company. A software company you have infinity units you can get to people. As long as your servers hold up, you're fine. The manufacturing and distribution's so ... We didn't really know how much demand there was going to be for this product. We did a pre-run of a few thousand units and, okay, we'll see where this goes. That lasted about a day. Not even. We were then asking our manufacturing partners to start spin up the presses, we need to get more product out the door. This is fantastic."

Speaker 2: "Talking to Ryan, you can really see him lighting up when he talks about his new business. This is a guy who clearly loves being an entrepreneur."

Ryan: "Whether you're Steve Jobs, or somebody creating a cardboard stand up desk, there's nothing more exciting than the day that you lift up the curtain and show the world what you're doing. That is an amazing rush for entrepreneurs. It is probably one of the most intoxicating and potentially addictive feelings that anybody can have. It's probably why you see so many serial entrepreneurs."

Speaker 2: "Not only is Oristand turning into a successful small business that's helping shape Ryan's thinking about his big business, but he also solved the original probably that inspired the Oristand. Yes, the cardboard stand up desk fixed his bad back."


Show notes:

About TGIM: TGIM is a podcast for people who can’t wait for the week to start. In each episode we’ll be bringing you inspirational stories about entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles, built incredible businesses, and are now living the life they want.