Obama campaign hires Chicago technologist to be ‘force multiplier’

Chicago Tribune

Well-known Chicago technologist Harper Reed has joined the Obama 2012 campaign as chief technology officer, the campaign confirmed Wednesday.

The former CTO of clothing company Threadless joined the campaign in late April and will focus on helping field operators improve voter contact.

“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.

Reed, whom the campaign declined to make available for an interview, left Threadless in 2009. He spent several months helping Texas-based Rackspace, a website-hosting company. As for the remainder of 2010, Reed wrote on his blog that he did his “best to avoid deliverables and not have a day to day job,” so he could spend time learning about “startups, venture capital and the business of business.”

“Harper is not the guy you’d typically imagine inviting to a board meeting, but we always did and he was very impressive,” said Nick Rosa, managing director of venture capital firm Sandbox Industries, where Reed recently served as an adviser. “If you heard him talk and speak, you’d think he was a suit, but he’s not. He takes pride in being different.”

Reed is hard to miss in a room. His hipster look includes an often-changing and often-wild hair style — from a mohawk to a flipped-up front like Jim Carrey’s in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” He wears thick, rectangular glasses and gauge earrings, which make the wearer’s lobes expand. On his blog, he declares himself “probably the coolest guy ever.”

Last year, he launched, which compiles Chicago transit system delays;, which tracks terms as they appear online in real time via a chat window; and, an app that simplifies the Foursquare check-in process via Google Latitude. In a blog post, he described them as “weekend projects.”

He also “got addicted to personal informatics.” Relying on his cellphone, a scale and a device called a Fitbit, Reed “manically” tracked his sleep, steps, location and weight, among other things, during 2010.

Reed reports on his blog, for instance, that on the nights he activated his Fitbit, he slept 7.1 hours and went to bed at 2:18 a.m. on average. He tweeted an average of 12 times per day. He recorded a record 21,423 steps on Aug. 9, which he attributed to dancing at a Lollapalooza after-party. And he spent 88 days, or 23.84 percent of the year, traveling outside Chicago.

Reed also posts his up-to-date location and past “waypoints” on the Web. A large portion of his waypoints are clustered around the Obama campaign’s headquarters overlooking Millennium Park.