Harper Reed was the chief technology officer for President Obama’s 2012 election campaign, charged with overseeing all things digital.
One of the most notable things about Reed’s efforts was his ability to lure top talent from Silicon Valley to join the campaign. The Atlantic wrote back in 2012:
The team had elite and, for tech, senior talent — by which I mean that most of them were in their 30s — from Twitter, Google, Facebook, Craigslist, Quora, and some of Chicago’s own software companies such as Orbitz and Threadless, where Reed had been CTO.
So just how did Reed hire away people from these huge names?
“To be honest it was not hard,” Reed told Business Insider. “When I called people and said, ‘Hey? Do you want to work for the President?’ they usually said yes. I had 2 people say no. One person said no because they were a republican, one person said no because they’re a libertarian.
“We used to do this trick, people would say ‘I’d love to help out, I don’t think I can.’ We’d say ‘Why don’t you just fly out here and check it out.’ Of course they’d be like, ‘Will you pay for my ticket?’ I’d say, ‘Nope.’ We wouldn’t pay for anything because we had no money!
“They’d fly out and we’d always spend like an hour talking to them about the process and telling them how it works. Then they’d spend an afternoon with the team we think they would work well on.
“Almost every single case, they cancelled their return ticket and stayed in Chicago. Could you imagine going somewhere for a day and thinking, ‘I guess I’ll stay for 6 months’? This happened over and over again.”
Reed says in most cases people were taking giant pay cuts. The key to getting people to quit high-paying, high-flying roles to come and work long hours on a gruelling campaign was the message — the idea that these people could be making a difference if they joined.
Reed says that applies to recruiting for whatever you’re doing. If you can convince people that what they will be doing will make the world a better place, they’re more likely to join.
He says: “I believe this is the same for a startup and the same as being acquired by PayPal. When you have a good vision and a very large capability of impact, that’s very powerful.”
(After the 2012 campaign, Reed co-founded mobile payments company Modest, which was acquired by PayPal for an undisclosed sum earlier this year. He’s now head of commerce at Braintree, a subsidiary of PayPal.)
But while there’s crossover to general hiring, Reed admits that the 2012 campaign was something special. He says: “I don’t know if I’ll ever work in a place again that inspires that much excitement within the organisation.
“The thing is you can’t even compare it to a company. It’s not even like these explosive high-growth companies that everyone wants to work for. It’s not like an Uber or an Airbnb.
“In the cases of a company, usually the reason you work so hard is for some sort of monetary reward at the end. But in this there was no money, the motivations were idealistic — you’re working for the candidate, the president.
“Some people really wanted to meet the president, some people just wanted to be part of it, some people it was important for them that the President would choose the right Supreme Court Justices — the motivations were all over the board. But every single person was willing to give 100%. Everyone just gave it their all.”