Capriotti’s is a fast-casual restaurant chain founded in Delaware in 1976. In 2004, Ashley Morris and Jason Smylie became franchisees of the business in Las Vegas. Four years later, they would lead an investment team to take over the company. Morris was installed as CEO and Smylie as CIO. Smylie would add the role as CMO a bit later. They have more than doubled the number of restaurants and revenue in the interim between then and now.
In the process, Smylie has become incredibly influential in the CIO/CMO communities, as he has accrued roughly 25,000 Twitter followers. In this interview with CIO Insight contributor, Peter High, Smylie talks about the growth of Capriotti’s, his career path and how he has developed his personal brand online.
CIO Insight: Could you please describe Capriotti’s business, and the role of technology in the company?
Jason Smylie: Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop is a fast-casual chain based in Las Vegas. We pride ourselves on having really good sandwiches that are often described as “life-changing.” Technology has three roles in our company. One: Efficiency. Making it easier and less costly to run our day-to-day business. Two: Growth. Helping drive frequency and spend among our customers. Three: Transformation. Making sure we’re relevant in a rapidly evolving marketplace.
CIO Insight: You were part of a team that acquired Capriotti’s. Can you describe how that idea occurred to you?
Jason Smylie: My best friend Ashley and I were huge fans of the food in college. We invested in a few Capriotti’s franchises after getting established in our careers. The shops were doing so well and we were so passionate about the business that we started to wonder what we were doing spending a majority of our time in our day jobs. Our initial plan was to build out a territory and be franchisees, but the founders of Capriotti’s weren’t on board for selling a large area development agreement. After a brief period of frustration, Ashley called me up after he had an epiphany, “Why not make an offer to buy the whole company?” The offer was entertained, and a month later we had the company in escrow and began feverishly raising the capital to close the deal.
CIO Insight: You are both the chief information officer and chief marketing officer of Capriotti’s. How do you divide your time between these sets of responsibilities?
Jason Smylie: There’s no clear cut division. These days most marketing projects have such overlap with IT that it just makes sense to have someone strategically overseeing both departments.
CIO Insight: Do you manage two distinct teams, or are there others who have a foot in both functions?
Jason Smylie: I have two distinct teams, but some of the marketing team are basically honorary members of the IT department. They work hand in hand with IT on our online ordering and mobile rewards app almost every day.
CIO Insight: What advantages are there in having a single executive overseeing both functions?
Jason Smylie: We’re now at a point where “digital marketing” is simply “marketing” and IT has its hand in nearly every marketing initiative. Having a single executive overseeing both functions prevents silos, improves communication and keeps the strategic objective of an initiative always in focus.
CIO Insight: You are among the most social CIOs, with roughly 24,000 followers. How have you accrued such a large following?
Jason Smylie: I’ve been on Twitter for about six years and have simply tried to engage with people that are vocal about Capriotti’s and other topics that capture my interest. Putting our brand name in my profile probably helps. I think people enjoy interacting with the people behind the brands they love and not just a faceless logo.
CIO Insight: How do you use social media personally and professionally?
Jason Smylie: There’s no clearcut line between professional and personal use. In a single day I may post about Capriotti’s, industry news or a cute picture of one of my kids. I closely follow a lot of thought leaders on topics that are related to business, performance, technology and philosophy. Even though I don’t manage Capriotti’s social media accounts anymore, I still find myself habitually monitoring the brand and engaging with fans regularly even if they haven’t directed anything at me. I spend most of my social media time on Twitter and Instagram. I’ll hop on Facebook mainly to keep in touch with family and more distant friends, but find it to be generally a time-suck.
CIO Insight: What technology trends particularly excite you?
Jason Smylie: I’m really interested to see how 3D printing, IoT, nanotechnology, autonomous cars and artificial intelligence completely transform our world in the next decade. It is an incredible time to be alive.
Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, has just been released by Wiley Press/Jossey-Bass. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh