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Nerd Breakfast With Bloomberg: Media Mogul Opens R&D Lab in SF

The billionaire media mogul show rolls into town. Instant rimshots galore: Ba-dum-bump!

Daniel Schwartzbaum

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a little late to his own geek party this morning at WeWork in the South of Market area of San Francisco.

But when he got to the event at the hipster co-working office space — where his goal was to mix and mingle with a group of local entrepreneurs, such as Dropbox’s Drew Houston and Eventbrite’s Julia Hartz — Bloomberg started in with a charm initiative designed to show how interested he was in making nice with the digerati here.

What he was really there to talk about was a new R&D office set to open in San Francisco for Bloomberg LP to attract software developers. While the company has long had a killer-view HQ for its media unit on the Embarcadero, most of its technical staff has been located in New York. The new facility will house up to 100 engineers.

So, to attract those geeks, it was time for a little Bloomberg soft-shoe.

“I like this city, I have come here a lot. I had a girlfriend over in Marin, but I can’t remember her name,” he said with the smoothness of a man who has been playing the epic character of Michael Bloomberg for 72 years now.

Then it was on to talking about a visit he made to Stanford University and Silicon Valley: “I noticed every guy down there is dating a woman named Siri.”

Instant rimshot: Ba-dum-bump!

Soon it was onto some of his favorite movies (“Blazing Saddles” and “Slapshot”) and a short history of his career that ended in becoming a billionaire information and media mogul and later three-time mayor of New York.

Bloomberg said he is now spending five to six hours a day at Bloomberg LP, which he founded more than three decades ago after being fired from an investment banking job.

That firing still clearly resonated with him and he mentioned it a lot, asking the group gathered around a long, perfectly distressed wood table about that ethos of reinvention ever present in the tech scene here.

“You have lots of failures in your life, but you gotta convince yourself that tomorrow is the best day,” observed Bloomberg. “Being fired turned out fine.”

The conversation pretty much meandered all over the place, centering on the typical how-you-do-a-startup-in-SF questions, including the difficulty of talent recruitment, steep housing costs and how expensive office space is.

Dropbox’s Houston said he wanted to locate his cloud-storage company here because “it’s the center of the action and I have tons of friends here.”

TaskRabbit’s Leah Busque started her logistics and delivery company in Boston, but moved to San Francisco after she could not secure funding there. It was a snap here, with the larger ecosystem and interlocked community.

Eventbrite’s Hartz has 280 employees in San Francisco, noting that the shift of tech startups moving to the city has been swift, dramatic and expensive.

“I signed a lease last year that made me want to throw up,” she said. “Only a short time before, it was a ghost town, so it is a race for space.”

The desire to do business in San Francisco now and the challenges of doing that were close to the former New York mayor’s heart.

With his patented smirk and wink, Bloomberg said, “I had dinner with [San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee] last night and he said everything was fine.”

It went on like that for about an hour, one of those time-to-learn-and-process gatherings that techies love. Except, unlike the usual earnestness, it had the added bonus of Bloomberg’s constant patter, which wove in his love of golf and learning Spanish.

“I’d live in San Francisco, if you get rid of the fog,” he teased about one of the city’s most charming qualities. (By the way, Mike, we’d live in New York, if you’d get rid of the adorable traffic and delicious scent of rotting garbage!)

And, as he was leaving, Bloomberg laid on the compliments.

“I envy all of you,” he said, as he readied to depart to see his new Bloomberg beachhead of 20,000 square feet nearby. “Not your age, I was your age.”

Here’s Bloomberg’s blog post on the new San Francisco offices, in which he also throws some big hugs to tech icon Reid Hoffman and his new book:

Bloomberg Forms Alliance With Bay Area Tech Community

I’ve always believed that talent attracts capital far more effectively than capital attracts talent — and that’s why I’m in San Francisco today to help Bloomberg LP, the tech company I founded 33 years ago, open a new R&D office for software developers.

The Bay Area is home to the world’s largest concentration of digital talent, creativity, and expertise. Bloomberg has offices in 192 locations around the world, including San Francisco. But the vast majority of our developers work in New York City. We’re proud of our New York roots, and during my years as the city’s mayor, our administration helped spur major growth in the tech industry. In fact, our growth rate was about twice as large as it was in Silicon Valley and Boston.

But Bloomberg is a global company, and as we have grown over the past decade and expanded our ambitions, our tech needs have grown, too. To remain on the cutting-edge, we need to be able to hire the most talented developers from Silicon Valley and its surroundings — and be part of the R&D conversation happening in the community there. The new office we’re opening, which shares a building with Yelp, will eventually employ nearly 100 developers who will help further our core mission: Providing the most reliable up-to-the-second news and information on markets and the people and events that move them.

We have always been a company that values developers, and they have been critical to our most disruptive innovations. Before the internet existed, we were connecting people to vast quantities of digital financial data. And before email had become common, we created the world’s first social network, an instant-messaging system that allowed our clients to communicate with one-another in real time.

Our instant-messaging system is a great example of what LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Hoffman, calls “network intelligence,” in a new book he’s written with Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh called, “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.” The book is a quick read — at only 155 pages, it’s faster than watching the Wolf of Wall Street, and only slightly more expensive. (I’m sure Leonardo DiCaprio is angling to play Reid in the movie version.)

The book contains stories and lessons that can benefit organizations of every stripe, not only private companies but also nonprofits and governments. In fact, a number of stories mirror Bloomberg’s experience, like the story of John Lasseter. In mid-1980s, he was fired by Disney for proposing that the company move into computer-generated animation. Two decades later, Disney purchased the company Lasseter helped build — Pixar — for $7 billion. Firing Lasseter was an expensive mistake, but it’s the kind of mistake that companies make all too often. And some never recover.

The Wall Street firm where I spent the first 15 years of my career wasn’t too interested in my idea for computerizing financial data. Getting fired in 1981 not only gave me the opportunity to start my own company, it taught me an invaluable lesson that remains a vital part of Bloomberg’s culture: Great ideas can come from within organizations, and it’s up to managers to encourage them — and take them seriously. Too often senior managers think they know best, especially in organizations that are riding high. It’s a common organizational flaw that can be costly or even deadly.

“The Alliance” examines different strategies for combatting this kind of complacency and creating environments where innovation flourishes. As the authors explain, the implied social contract that once existed between large companies and their workers has been replaced by something that — though less secure — can be more rewarding and fulfilling. But that’s true only if employers understand how to maximize their most valuable asset — people — by building a culture where trust and teamwork are prized, where empowerment and innovation go hand-in-hand, and where opportunities for professional growth are everyday occurrences.

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs and managers in Silicon Valley and New York City understand these dynamics, but none have made them as easy to grasp as Reid and his co-authors. Their book deserves a big audience — just don’t wait for the movie version. And if you are a developer in the Bay Area who wants to work for a company that embraces the lessons in their book, send us your resume — we’re hiring.

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