Growing A Culture of Problem Solvers with Harper Reed

March 24, 2011

7:14 pm

As CTO of Threadless, Harper Reed helped grow the community-based company that prints designs created and chosen by users from 2 barely functioning servers to over 45 devices. He also helped Threadless produce a revenue of over $20 million. Reed has since moved on from Threadless and is working on his own secret startup.

Harper Reed is a veteran of team building and deeply understands that company culture can make or break a company. How do you build a crazed motivated problem solving team? Are team arguments a positive thing? Is gaming a distraction or one the best bonding exercises for a great team?

Interesting problem solvers like to solve interesting problems outside of work problem solving.

Some key points that Harper shared include:

  1. Pruning – kind of like a bonsai tree. It’s knowing when to remove someone from your community. Hire problem solvers and fire the non-problem solvers, or guide non-problem solvers to be more productive. Take away: don’t be a pussy.
  2. Butt heads constantly – Argue towards truth. Arguing is very important and leads to clarity. Don’t be afraid to butt heads when solving problems.
  3. Love work – Find problem solvers who love solving problems, that one seems like a pretty obvious one but you’d be surprised.
  4. Play Games – Relieve Stress, fun and funny (ex: Call of Duty – killing Nazi Zombies is fun and it’s important for leadership to participate). Facilitate cooperative problem solving  – sometimes problem solvers like to solve problems by shooting Nazi zombies in the face 🙂
  5. Bond together – engage in hobbies (like at 37signals), same for the tech team at Threadless (ex: flying rockets, flying airplanes, flight simulators, etc)

Harper Reed joined us in Chicago last fall to share some insights about this very topic at our Startup Mixology Conference. Side note: Harper’s co-presenter was hit by a car prior to the presentation and all of us at Tech Cocktail hope he’s feeling better! Watch the video (below) as Reed shares how to build a culture of problem solvers.

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Jeff Tong is a social media strategist in Washington DC and has been a long-time contributor at Tech Cocktail. You'll find Jeff at tech events, foodie hangouts, and possibly snorkeling somewhere tropical. Contact Jeff online at @gundamwing4132 or

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