“Failure Was Not an Option.” Harper Reed Talks About the Obama 2012 Re-election Campaign

Ryan Thorpe

January 30, 2013 · 9 minutes read

Uncategorized

Last night, we kicked off the first Technori Pitch of 2013. With a packed house of over 550 attendees, we kicked the evening off with a keynote presentation from Harper Reed, the CTO of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. Prior to that gig, he served as the CTO of Chicago-based clothing company Threadless—one of the first successful crowdsourcing companies. While he was at the company between 2005-2009, he helped increase revenue by about tenfold.

Reed began his presentation by talking about the extensive process of building Obama’s re-election team. He hired 40 engineers in total, rounding out a technology staff of 120 people. The kicker? Reed and his team only had 18 months to create re-election magic. And, one of the most challenging parts of the gig was that “failure was not an option. We needed to win,” Reed says.

Some of the key factors he attributes the re-election win were: (1) the emphasis placed on user experience, (2) the carryover knowledge from the team that worked on the 2008  campaign, (3) the tech team’s use of what Reed calls “game days”—they spent the entire month of October practicing what to do if something failed, so that they’d be fully prepared in case something actually did, and (4) a ton of A/B testing.

You’re probably also wondering how on earth Reed recruited 40 engineers so quickly. You can’t even find one for your startup, right? Well, he went to a ton of tech events throughout Chicago. He recruited heavily within his own network (personal connections accounted for about half of his team). And then he began emailing and calling up just about any engineer that he thought was doing something cool. They didn’t all get back to him—so he hustled and kept reaching out until they did. Of course, he had the job description on his side. Most of the people he asked to join his team said one of two things: “Yes” or “Wrong team.”

Reed did have a great takeaway for hiring stellar engineers: make sure your product is so good that people are compelled to work with you. Your hiring pitch needs to be on point. You have to be ready to give a great answer to the question, “Why should I spend my life working for you?”

Harper capped off the keynote with the following takeaways for the audience:

1.) Do not underestimate the importance of building a great team. The innovation lies within the people who are doing the work.

2.) It is very hard to hire minorities and women into engineering—we all need to work together to get more women and non-asian minorities into tech positions. We have to start having a dialogue about it, and making a concerted effort to seek out talented minorities.

3.) Politics doesn’t like change. Enough said.

4.) Chicago is a great place for execution. Reed put it best: “If you’re thinking of moving out to the Valley, go ahead. We’ll he hear building great, big businesses.” Boom.

5.) You can always work harder. There were points during the campaign where Reed felt like he was in “this singularity of working forever.” But, he noted, “You can always push yourself. You can always work harder. You can always get over that hump if you push through it hard enough.”

6.) Manage your outbox. Don’t wait for people to reach out to you. Make the effort to reach out to other people, especially those you want to become closer to, learn more about, or reduce tension with. Reed said that he made an effort to do this, and it created space for conversations to take place that created a ton of clarity, honesty, and in the end, a much closer re-election team.

As for his next move? Reed says, “I’m not really sure, but if you find out, let me know.”

The night continued with pitches from five new Chicago-based startups:

Better Weekdays

Like a lot of companies in Chicago, Better Weekdays is seeking top talent to join their team. Specifically, they are looking for an experienced front-end developer that not only has the tech skills, but is also a cultural fit whose interests line up with the vision of the organization. Not an easy task.

Have you ever struggled with finding the perfect employees for your company?

Sure, you can throw up a job posting. But how confident are you that the right candidate will somehow find your post? You can try branching out and going to career fairs, but there is so much noise and plenty of other companies competing for the same type of talent. Recruiting agencies can sometimes fill the void, however, the upfront cost is hard to justify for startups.

Finding great employees is a common problem—and one that led Better Weekdays to develop a platform that matches job seekers from Top 50 universities with companies, not just based on skills and potential, but also cultural fit.

Their product, JobScript, is a tool built on the idea that when people secure a job that aligns with their motivations, abilities, and personalities (MAP), they are much more likely to be productive employees that stay for the long haul. The unique technology pinpoints candidates who thrive in particular environments and syncs them up with potential employers that will benefit from their motivations, abilities, and personalities.

The platform is completely free for universities. To generate revenue, they have implemented a subscription-based model, where companies pay different rates depending on their size. Their beta launched a few days ago and they are focused on developing a top tier talent pool for organizations to pull from.

Review Trackers

A company’s online reputation can be just as important as the quality of the product or service they are offering. Of all the searches online, about 43% of those are local. On top of that, 64% of consumers seek reviews before making a purchase decision. There are a variety of channels to choose from—Yelp, Google, Open Table, Four Square, Trip Advisor—and just one negative review can lead to a 5-9% loss of revenue. To say the least, consumer reviews can have a very positive or negative impact on your business.

So, it would be smart for businesses to consistently monitor all of the different channels for reviews to better engage with customers, and to take the positive and negative feedback to provide them with better offerings. It sounds easy, but imagine all the time, effort, energy, and manpower it takes to do this. It’s one thing if you’re a small, local shop, but imagine the headache a national chain with thousands of locations would experience.

This is where ReviewTrackers comes into play. They have created an application that centralizes your company’s reviews in one convenient spot. It will save you enormous amounts of time by aggregating all of the necessary information, and even provides real-time updates when consumers post new reviews.

Their platform is an SaaS model, with a monthly fee of $34. They just recently launched their next generation product and closed a seed round of funding. The product is taking off, with daily signups from new customers every day.

Sign up for their free 30-day trial and experience what the noise is all about.

GoldenReviews

Let’s say you want to try and find a new restaurant in your area with tons of positive reviews. Pretty much all it takes is a short query into your favorite search engine. This philosophy applies to a plethora of other search attempts.

However, let’s imagine you are doing research to find reviews and customer feedback for senior care or nursing facilities. This proves to be far more puzzling than finding a new lunch spot. Why?  Because the market for reviews for these types of services is almost non-existent. There are approximately 100,000 different services and only 50,000 documented reviews. That means .5 reviews per location—an abysmal ratio—especially considering that the average restaurant receives 45+ reviews.

To solve this problem, GoldenReviews has built a platform to document user feedback and provide senior care and nursing facilities with the ability to manage their reputations. The mission isn’t just providing a channel for consumer reviews; it’s focused on enhancing the service offerings and on-site care that patients are receiving. In the U.S. right now, there are 75 million baby boomers—about 25% of the total population. This demographic is entering the age in which they are going to need the types of services highlighted above. Without adequate information available, the quality of life for them in the future will be far from ideal. So, help GoldenReviews with their mission by spreading the word.

CNC

A lot of us made New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of 2013. A lot of us have already failed with our resolutions. The same situation happens to a vast majority of businesses. During Q1 of this year, there are tons of new initiatives in place and different strategies implemented to move things in a positive direction. However, according to Harvard Business Review, 90% of all business strategies fail at the execution level.

A major reason for this is transparency and real-time feedback on where you are in terms of progress and success for specific strategic initiatives.

To alleviate this, CNC has created a suite of cloud solutions that delivers real-time product and service solutions for the formation, alignment, and execution of specific strategies. Essentially, it is a GPS for your business. The real-time information will help you course correct you if you get lost.

Here is a quick look at some of their tools:

  • Strategic Alignment Questionnaire™ – Use this simple and cost effective solution to provide a quick synopsis on where the company currently stands.
  • Strategy Execution Scorecard™ – Utilizes data in real-time to match up vision + strategy with company initiatives, which is all measured in dollars and percentages.
  • On-Demand Consulting Services – Remove hurdles in your path to success and build on results based around CNC’s diagnostic methods.

SeatSync

If there is one common thread amongst people, it is that we enjoy live entertainment. This is especially true in Chicago. Venture off to the United Center and you know exactly what they mean by the Madness House on Madison. Chicago Bears fan? These guys are. Aside from sports, we have some of the most renowned concert venues in the country with talent from all over the world coming in to the city to perform.

The problem with the huge demand to experience these live events is that it is often nearly impossible to get tickets from the box office, or elsewhere at face value. This leads us to explore options such as Craigslist, StubHub, TicketMaster, and the list goes on.

Sure, we can achieve our desired result and secure tickets through these channels, but there are a lot of bumps in the road. Go the StubHub route and you are going to get charged an extra 25% in service fees; you may even have to pay to get tickets shipped via FedEx. You can search through the Craigslists postings, but finding a reliable seller close by is a tough feat.

The secondary ticket market is a $15 billion a year industry and needs some disruptive technology to change the way services are offered. Enter: SeatSync.

SeatSync has created a mobile application—available on iOS + Android—to buy and sell tickets in a local ticket marketplace. Sellers can post tickets on the application, and people in demand within close proximity have the opportunity to purchase those tickets directly from the seller, free of charge (for now).

The process is pretty seamless. Once you connect with a seller, the purchase is finalized and the chat feature within the app allows you to connect with him or her, and meet at your convenience. And with the geo-location feature built in, you can find and pick up a ticket from a seller who is closest to your office or the venue. There is even a user rating system in place to ensure that you are doing business with credible people.

In the future, SeatSync will be rolling out more robust search functionality and in-app credit payment processing. For now, download their mobile app for you iPhone or Android device.

1 Comment

  1. The problem of finding top notch engineers (and retaining them) for a cash and resource strapped startup trying to prove a risky business idea in a sea of competition is inordinately more difficult than doing the same for a well funded, populist election campaign for the incumbent President of the United States. I hardly think it would be difficult to find competent, liberal, idealistic, 20- and 30- something engineers intent on expanding their social network and world view by working on the President’s technology team. Sorry, but come on. It’s like asking a baseball player if he wants to play for the Yankees.

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