Media Coverage of Dent Speaker Harper Reed Focuses on Startup Approach, Relentless Focus, and Signature Style

It’s usually prominent women who contend with constant media commentary on their appearance in addition to their professional accomplishments, but President Obama’s campaign CTO and Dent 2013 speaker Harper Reed is a notable exception. It’s no wonder; with his tousled hair, copious ear jewelry and graphic tee shirts, Reed looks more the part of a startup technology wizard than a superstar of the political world.

But political superstar he is. Recent coverage has credited him with handing the election to Obama with a “vote-garnering machine that is smooth, unobtrusive and ruthlessly efficient” and made mention of the green hair he sported during a long-ago election when, as an underclassman at Denver’s Greeley Central High School, he was elected student council president.

Here’s an overview of what the media has said about Reed since he joined the President’s campaign nearly two years ago:

If there was any doubt the Obama re-election campaign was going to storm into new digital territory in the upcoming race, it was erased by today’s announcement that it is appointing uber-hipster and tech rebel Harper Reed as the organization’s chief technology officer.

What’s most notable about the appointment is Reed’s position is not “head of social media” or “head of digital strategy.” It’s CTO. As in: Go find us the most radical technology out there to turbo-charge this campaign, and build whatever the hell else doesn’t already exist.

“Tech Pioneer Harper Reed Becomes Obama Campaign CTO,” E.B. Boyd, June 2011

“I am here to make sure technology is a successful force multiplier within the campaign,” Reed said in a statement emailed to the Tribune via a campaign spokeswoman. “This is a campaign, unlike a startup where technology drives. What we do here is empower.”

The Internet is expected to be as critical to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign as it was in 2008. Obama launched the 2012 bid in late April with a flurry of digital blasts, which included a mass email and text message, Twitter posts, a YouTube video, and an app that links supporters and their Facebook friends to his campaign Web site with a question: “Are you in?” The New York Times reported.

Reed, 33, will be working with two veterans of the 2008 campaign, Chief Digital Strategist Joe Rospars and Chief Integration and Innovation Officer Michael Slaby. Slaby left a top post at Edelman’s Chicago office to rejoin the campaign; while Rospars has remained involved at Blue State Digital, the online advocacy and fundraising agency he co-founded, while working on the campaign.

“Chicago technologist Harper Reed joins President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign,” Melissa Harris, June 2011

“We have all these engineers here who were part of startups, and almost all of them competed against some giant behemoth,” said Harper Reed, the campaign’s chief technology officer, who recruited based on who he’d want for any startup.

Reed was formerly CTO of Threadless, a Chicago-based T- shirt company whose business model relies on crowdsourcing to design and sell its products. The privately held company lets artists submit designs for a public vote. Reed said the company’s revenue increased 10-fold from when he started with Threadless in 2005 to when he left in 2009.

Unshaven, with black plastic-rimmed glasses and stretched earlobes adorned with metal hoop earrings, Reed, 33, is emblematic of a hipster style coexisting with the traditional. Staffers joke that facial hair is required.

“Obama campaign out to win ‘data arms race’,” Julianna Goldman, December 2011

The CTO for Obama for America looks the part – he is the model of a hipster tech freak, with multiple piercings, spacers and a scraggly beard. With a background in crowd-sourcing and cloud-computing, his appointment gives a significant clue to what the Obama team hopes to achieve in 2012. He is an innovator to his bones, with a passion for open source technology that will encourage engagement with voters.

Expect him to come up with some cool new tricks this election cycle.

“The digital wizards behind Obama’s tech-heavy re-election strategy,” Ed Pilkington, February 2012

The Obama supporters who showed up on your doorstep just past dawn or the politically tinged Facebook message from an out-of-state friend you hardly speak with probably came as result of behind-the-scenes work led, in part, by Harper Reed.

He helped build the system that filtered data from a wide array of sources — digital and in paper form — so that the right volunteer knocked on the right door, at the right time, with the right message.

“Greeley’s Harper Reed the technology mastermind behind Obama’s win,” Andy Vuong, January 2013

Many reasons can be given for why Barack Obama won the 2012 US presidential election. Aside from policies and image, there were young voters, women voters, immigrant voters and campaign funding.

Then there was data. Lots of it. Data mined so specifically by Obama’s team that local campaign organisers could hand pick an Iran-Iraq War veteran from its list of volunteers to personally knock on the door of a fellow veteran and explain with a personal touch just why the President was a better bet than Mitt Romney for the next four years.

That kind of detail helped Barack Obama win the vote but data and tech were also the election’s big winners. Obama’s campaign invested heavily in a 100-strong tech team of 30-somethings lured from companies like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Craigslist to effectively digitise their voter drive.

The team’s chief technology officer was Harper Reed, a 34-year-old former hacker who once launched a website selling plots of land on the sun for $4.95. His previous real world experience had been as CTO for Threadless, a crowd-sourcing T-shirt company based in Chicago.

“I don’t think that the campaign won because of technology,” Reed told IT Pro. “It was a group effort. Everyone worked together. But we could have lost because of technology. We could have screwed it up.”

“All the President’s Nerds,” Matthew Hall, February 2013


As chief technology officer for President Obama‘s reelection effort, Harper Reed oversaw the development of projects such as Narwhal, an intricate platform that linked the campaign’s myriad databases and allowed officials to plot strategy with new precision.

The heady and exhausting 19-month gig convinced Reed, former technology officer for the online T-shirt retailer Threadless, that he should launch his own venture.

“When you go from building T-shirts to software for a presidential campaign used by a cast of millions, it’s pretty easy to think, ‘OK, we can build something pretty big,'” Reed said.

He and his business partner, Dylan Richard, the campaign’s former director of engineering, now are “looking to do something large” with their new business software start-up, he said.

“Former Obama campaign staffers parlay innovations into start-ups,” Matea Gold, February 2013