Why CIOs Should Look to Startups

Red Robin CIO Chris Laping meets with venture capitalists to seek out his next source of cloud-enabled competitive advantage.

There are two types of people at a startup technology vendor -- the promise-makers and the promise-keepers.

Chris Laping has little appetite for the cold-calling salespeople who fall into the first category. Yet as senior vice president of business transformation and CIO for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, he's hungry for the next source of advantage in a hyper-competitive industry -- whether it's a menu change, a new market or an emerging technology.

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When Laping got the opportunity to meet with well-known venture capital firms and the CEOs of their portfolio companies -- the promise-keepers -- he leapt at it. "As a CIO, I want to pull back the curtain and understand what innovations they can bring to our business," he says.

Last summer, Laping flew to Silicon Valley for one of Trace3's venture capital CIO briefings, meeting with firms Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock Partners. Having shared Red Robin's business needs with the firms' partners, Laping met with seven or eight companies for 30 minutes each. It was like speed dating, he says, but with startups.

"If it's a bust, at least you haven't wasted much time." Those conversations were "more real, more tangible and more valuable," he says, because he was talking to company leaders, not lackeys.

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