Meet A Minnesota CTO: Matt Christianson, Crelow



Matt ChristiansonThank you Andcor Companies for underwriting the Meet a Minnesota CTO series, where we get up close and personal with Minnesota’s chief techies.


Matt Christianson is the CTO of Northeast Minneapolis commercial real estate platform Crelow.

How long have you been working in technology for and what is your technical background?

I’ve been working in technology the last 20 years. I started off in print production in 1992 and helped start the “Interactive” department at Periscope in 1995 writing basic HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Perl. We built U.S. Bank’s first website and sites for other large clients like Arctic Cat. Since then I’ve concentrated specifically on web-based apps on the JVM.

In the past 7 years I’ve been working with a few different startups around the Minneapolis area. Namely, Redbick Health and Bloom Health. Before that I was an independent consultant working with some of the larger IT companies around town. I also was part of the team that built’s first e-commerce website back in 2000.

What are you focused on right now?

Right now I’m focused on our startup, Crelow. Crelow is a web-based application that helps tenants find office space. We launched exactly one year ago in Minneapolis/St. Paul and have since grown to 5 other major markets and plan to roll out many more in the near future. My focus right now is on scalability and stability within the application as the user base grows along with some cool new features. I still spend 80% of my day actually writing code, which I really enjoy.

What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?

Our main tech stack is Groovy/Grails, PostgreSQL/PostGIS and AngularJS. We utilize the AWS platform for hosting, deployment and scalability. We use continuous integration tools with unit, integration, and functional testing to ensure quality. Some other buzzwords I can add to the list are Bower, Grunt, Gradle, Geb, Spock, Redis, Node.js, Google Maps, Chef, and Python.

How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?

We started out using Agile methodologies with two-week sprints and releasing new functionality with an ever-evolving business plan like any new startup. As of late, we’ve moved to more of a kanban-style methodology so that the business can more easily influence priorities even late in the development lifecycle. With a small team such as ours, we have great internal communication so everyone is aware of these priorities and makes good decisions based on what is important.

What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?

Currently we have two developers including myself, along with a full-time manual QA tester who knows the commercial real estate industry very well. We have a Project Manager/Business Analyst, a part-time UI/UX Designer and a Product Manager. Along with those roles, our two co-founders are heavily involved with planning and provide expertise in the field of commercial real estate, as well as marketing. We have a dotted-line reporting structure but I’m happy to say we all concentrate more on impressing our customers than impressing our boss.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?

It is definitely a tough time to find good, talented people, but we’ve been lucky enough to build a great core team. There are certain people who are drawn to startups, and we are drawn to work with them. The entrepreneurial spirit and do-whatever-it-takes attitude, along with the creativity involved, makes it fun and challenging to work in our environment. We also try hard to celebrate our successes and give recognition to all involved. We try to stay on top of the newest tools and technologies that help build a better product faster. We don’t have a PTO policy (take it if you need it) and we share a lot of freedom and responsibility. Our great benefits package includes a bottomless snack bar stocked with food and beer in the fridge for after big releases, and a strict casual dress policy.

How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?

I really enjoy learning new technologies that make mine and everyone else’s lives easier. I’ve waited in lines overnight for the latest iPhone five times including 12 hours for the first one nine years ago. It’s fun to dig in and learn about the latest languages or frameworks and play around. I follow various different blogs and feeds and spend most of my commute time catching up each day. On vacation my family jokes that they don’t understand why I would choose to read a book about Ratpack rather than a novel or anything else. It helps me take naps if nothing else.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

The ability for someone to have an idea and how fast and easily that idea can become a reality with the tools and technologies available today. It used to take months or years of planning and a huge team to build a fully functional website or product. Also, the ease and opportunities to reach so many customers through social media and other channels offers huge potential for success. The open-source model is very important in this success in that anyone can contribute to building these tools to make it easier for those with the ideas.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Technology is great for ease of communication but things can get lost when you get away from face-to-face or even telephone conversations. It’s hard to show emotion in a text or an email without exclamation points, or emojis or even CAPS. I really want to experience and understand the non-verbal cues that the person has during a conversation and you don’t get that through text. I think those cues are critical to making better decisions. There’s a whole other side to someone’s message that could be the opposite of what you assume without those cues. That’s why we’ve always built Crelow using in-house people, working on site and face-to-face. I feel the same way in my personal life. As a family we make it a point to unplug and be together as often as possible.

What are you into outside of technology?

My family. My wife and I have two young kids who are very active. I coach my son in four different sports so along with my daughter’s activities we are busy every night of the week. On the weekends we like to go up to the cabin with our extended family to relax and get away. I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon so I’m excited. My favorite toy is my Big Green Egg and I love to BBQ year round.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

I feel that the Silicon Prairie of the midwest is growing tremendously. We’re seeing that at Crelow in the number of companies seeking office space here. With Minnesota’s large healthcare and retail corporations there is a ton of opportunity. Many of these larger companies are adopting some of the methodologies and latest technologies similar to those being used in the startup community. With a larger pool of good, experienced resources, it makes it very enticing for all companies and new startups.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some very fun startups and have found the cultures and people in Minnesota make it fun to live and work here. It has been especially rewarding to build something from scratch and have it become so successful. I can’t wait to see where Crelow goes in the future!


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