HootSuite's Radical New Business Model

Last Updated Apr 1, 2011 7:18 PM EDT

I thought that HootSuite, the popular social media dashboard for groups, had a pretty good thing going. And then, on Friday, I received two emails from CEO Ryan Holmes that had me scratching my head. It seemed that the company was about to head in a whole new direction. The later email, which I happened to open first, said this:
The prior email entitled HootSuite Pivot was sent to you in error. It was intended to be sent only to our Board, Investors and Advisors and is highly confidential. Please delete and ignore. Thanks for using HootSuite, and have a great day!
Ryan Holmes
HootSuite - Social Media Dashboard
Of course, I went immediately to the first "highly confidential" email and opened it in anticipation of some juicy news. Delete and ignore? You've got to be kidding! I'm a reporter, after all. Here's that email:
Board, Investors and Friends, Things have been going really well at HootSuite for the last while, but after watching the massive growth of Zynga and the likes, I've been thinking a lot about if we are in the right business? Building on top of third party platforms can be challenging, and the team and I want a change. I know that this will come as a surprise, but as of today we're pivoting business models with the launch of Happy Owls (screenshot and link to private beta below). This game is really addictive and I think we stand a great shot of making an even bigger splash in a really fun market. As always I appreciate your support, and please keep confidential until our public announcement on Monday. Ryan Holmes, CEO HootSuite - Social Media Dashboard http://hootsuite.com/happy-owls
Zynga is the maker of the wildly popular (and highly annoying, IMHO) Facebook games Farmville and Mafia Wars. Was HootSuite really entering the casual games market? I clicked on the private beta link and checked it out. HootSuite's "Happy Owls" looked like a cheap rip-off of Rovio's Angry Birds, but since I've been stuck on level 5-11 of that damn game for weeks, I went ahead and clicked on the Happy Owls App Store link. Besides, the features looked awfully intriguing:
  • Addictive owl-launching action
  • Share scores with friends and team members
  • Over 48 levels of fowl play
  • Boss mode button to pretend you're actually working
  • Analytics tools in-dash to track total hours of play, average flight time and aggregated Owl scores
The joke was on me, of course, since it turned out to be an April Fools prank! Hats off to HootSuite. They made me laugh, they put the company on my radar screen in a lighthearted and very clever way, and they didn't even try to sell me anything. It's back to Angry Birds for me, but I'll have Happy Owls on my mind for a while.

What's the last thing you did to surprise and delight your customers without trying to sell them a thing?

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