For technology behemoths, staying innovative is a constant challenge.
Many of these companies are forming internal groups — often referred to as skunkworks — tasked with researching and building innovative products. The goal is to ensure that new ideas are not stifled by bureaucracy.
HootSuite, Canada’s supremely well-funded startup known for its social media management software, is the latest to launch a skunkworks. Over the past few months, VentureBeat has learned that the company has been quietly building a new team called “Hootsuite Labs.” The Labs employees will be dedicated to new product development and will host the usual cocktail of hackathons, workshops, and design sprints in cities like Vancouver and San Francisco.
Ten or 15 employees have already joined Labs, primarily drawn from the product, engineering, and marketing teams. This team has developed its first product, Hootlet, a Chrome Extension for people to share and schedule content to multiple social networks, anywhere on the Web. One particularly cool feature is a Google Maps integration, which shows tweets from all over the world.
HootSuite Labs is currently looking to hire a few external folks, primarily developers. It is also on the hunt for acquisition opportunities. The team has been tasked with keeping a close eye on startups in the space that are building relevant products.
According to the company’s vice president of partnerships and corporate development, Matt Switzer, HootSuite Labs employees will also work closely with existing customers and liaise with early adopters of the product.
“We are looking to cement a hacker culture at HootSuite, [and] we’re looking for people who can ship code fast and dream up new products,” said Switzer.
Switzer said Labs will function like a “startup within a startup.” HootSuite has grown to 500 employees, but Switzer said the company has managed to retain its focus on agile “startup-like” development.
HootSuite faces some formidable competition from larger companies, like Salesforce and Hubspot. So it’s highly strategic for the company to position itself as the most innovative in the pack.
In March of 2013, the company raised $165 million from Insight Venture Partners, a New York-based venture firm with a substantial stake in Twitter.