NEXT Berlin – Here be Dragons

“Failure was not an option – the fate of the world is at your hands.”

That was Harper Reed,  CTO of the successful Obama reelection campaign, at the NEXT Berlin Conference on April 23, 2013 at the Berliner Congress Center.  The conference was packed with dynamic speakers and offered amazing networking opportunities.  The crowd, 30% of whom came from outside of Germany, chatted and even danced during the Tuesday night reception (after watching Bayer Munich triumph over Barcelona). I’ve been to handful of networking events since I arrived in Berlin, and this was by far the most productive.  There were a lot of decision makers present, and they were eager to hire new employees and freelancers.

Thanks to NEXT and the Berlin Geekettes for the invitation to attend!

The highlight of the conference, for me, was Harper Reed. He was funny, engaging, and his presentation was packed with interesting take-aways.  Reed’s earlier venture, Threadless, pioneered the art of crowdsourcing. After realizing that he had accomplished his goals there, Harper went on a vision quest, complete with spirit animals, until the Obama team came knocking.

The campaign knew that leveraging technology and big data was key to winning in 2012, and hired forty engineers and one hundred and twenty technical staff compared to the four engineers and twenty tech staffers that they had in 2008.

They built a data platform called Narwhal, then deployed two hundred products including mobile and social apps. The focus was on user experience through analyzing analytics.  One entire month was spent testing failure.  Everything that could possibly go wrong was tested. Other key points of Reed’s talk included how to build a great team starts by pruning; you can’t be afraid to fire people. One of my favorite quotes was, “When hiring you have to sell yourself and I’m not talking about free fritos or whatever, or foosball, or any bullshit like that, but we are trying to solve the world’s problem and here is how you can help us.”

You can check out Harper’s entire presentation here.