Meet A Minnesota CTO: Scott Olson, App Data Room

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Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 12.43.23 PMThank you Andcor Companies for underwriting the Meet a Minnesota CTO series, where we get up close and personal with Minnesota’s chief techies.

Scott Olson is the CTO of Minneapolis-based App Data Room, an enterprise mobile sales enablement platform for field sales reps.

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

My first professional job out of college was at a ringtone startup in 2004 called MIDIRingtones. We produced ringtones and developed apps for flip phones, back in the RAZR and Sidekick days of mobile phones.

Before that, I studied Computer Engineering with a focus on Embedded Systems at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I have always had a love of technology, from Number Munchers to programming in BASIC, so software engineering was a natural path.

What are you focused on right now?

App Data Room is an enterprise mobile sales enablement platform that gives field sales reps easy access to make branded presentations right on their tablets and smartphones. We operate primarily in the enterprise space, with large global companies who have hundreds to tens of thousands of sales reps.

I got involved with App Data Room when it was a product inside of an agency called Meditech Communications. Back then, the product had a couple of dozen clients and a few hundred users, but nobody was focusing on growing it full-time. In early 2013, Orrin Broberg, Jeff Cronk and I spun it out as a stand-alone company and have since grown it to over 100 clients and 50,000 users in the field. My focus is on building the team and keeping the product simple and intuitive while meeting the needs of today’s global enterprises.

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

We have native apps across all platforms, so we write code in Objective-C / Swift, Java, and C# on the client side and our back end is based on PHP and javascript. We have as many languages as we have developers, so it forces us to branch out.

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

We have a relentless focus on delighting our customers on both the business and technical side. We are fortunate enough to work with amazing clients who participate in the conversation and help us shape our roadmap. This makes it easy to align the technical objectives with the business objectives.

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

My team currently has six developers and a pretty loose organization and management structure. The glue that holds us together and keeps us focused is our fabulous Project Manager, Stuart Loecker. Before Stuart, we ran on walls of post-its and specs were written on bar napkins.

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How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?

Our company has an incredible culture of success. We have intentionally surrounded ourselves with the best and brightest individuals who all come together to make something greater than the sum of the parts. This passion shows when we bring someone in to visit our office, and they end up wanting to work with us. It isn’t about ping pong tables and beer for us; it’s about having fun doing our actual jobs and helping each other along the way. Our location on the green line next to the University of Minnesota has allowed us to recruit students in their final semester or year of school and mentor them as they finish college, and ultimately hire them if it is a good fit.

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

I might be old-school, but I like to talk to people and ask them about how they are using technology in their lives or businesses. Of course, I also spend time reading publications and listening to podcasts, but I am equally interested in the business side of things as the tech.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

The rise of the app stores has broken down the barriers software companies used to face when trying to distribute their products. Now that we can create a piece of software and instantly publish it to hundreds of millions of potential customers for very little cash outlay, we have entered a sort of golden age where problems are being solved at an increasingly fast rate, and by increasingly elegant solutions.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Technology’s promise of bringing people closer together has morphed into the ability to self-select your audience and social circles. We no longer have to be considerate of differing viewpoints when voicing our thoughts, because we can choose an audience for those ideas that already agrees with us. This has moved people further away from each other instead of bringing us closer together. The skill set of having conversations with people of varying backgrounds and viewpoints is fading, which I think is a real concern.

What are you into outside of technology?

My favorite place to be is outside with my family, either hiking, biking, at the beach or at the cabin.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

We have such an active community here of talented folks, but I see a lot of great ideas and companies die on the vine between the MVP stage and meaningful traction and revenue. I think we have a big gap in the seed stage startup founder and investor community. I am hopeful that people will continue to reinvest after they see success here, and push the risk envelope a little bit and be willing to invest in pre-revenue startups, and founders will also be ready to jump in knowing there is a possibility of early stage funding out there.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for continuing to cover the tech industry and shining a light on the folks making things happen here!

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Comments

  • Dave Mao

    Nice interview, Scott! 100% echo your thoughts on the dangers of technology allowing us to filter out diverse viewpoints. 110% echo your thoughts on the seed-stage gap.

    • Scott Olson

      Thanks Dave, and thanks for working to fill that gap!

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