Nov. 24, 2021

Ep65: Dan Doctoroff 'Cities, Service, and Cities-as-a-Service'

Dan Doctoroff is the Founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company that works with cities to address key urban problems.

Before founding Sidewalk Labs in 2015, Dan spent 6 years working at Bloomberg L.P. first as President and since 2011 as CEO. He joined that company after leading the post 9/11 recovery of the New York city for 7 years as its Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding.

Prior to working in the Mayor Bloomberg administration, Dan was Managing Partner at Oak Hill Capital Partners and worked as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers.

Dan is a board member of the University of Chicago, World Resource Institute and Human Rights First. He founded Target ALS, an initiative aimed at finding new approaches to treating the illness.

Dan holds a B.A. in government from Harvard College and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.


Transcript

Michael Liebreich:  Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up, it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich, and this is cleaning up. I don't have many mentors or heroes, but my guest today is both. It's Dan Doctoroff, former CEO and President of Bloomberg LP, also former Deputy Mayor of New York City. He is now founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, part of the Alphabet group of companies working on urban innovation. Please welcome Dan Doctoroff to Cleaning Up. So, Dan, welcome to Cleaning Up.

 

Dan Doctoroff:  It's great to be with you. It's been way too long.

 

ML: It has indeed been way too long. Where are you calling in from today?

 

DD: I'm in New York, New York. I'm at home today. In part because my son and daughter in law, I think are about to deliver a baby. But I'm mostly back in the office now.

 

ML: This is very scary, because I think that when we first did business together, we'll get into that because obviously you were running Bloomberg LP at the time of the acquisition of New Energy Finance. My eldest had just been born and your youngest you were going to the last Parent Teacher Association meeting for your youngest, I believe.

 

DD: I think that would have been about right.

 

ML: So let's take that as a starting point. I mean, we first met around, you were running Bloomberg, you'd come out of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, and you were running Bloomberg LP, and you came across this scrappy little startup run by a crazy English fellow called Michael, correct?

 

DD: That is 100% true, both the scrappy part and the crazy part. Now, but we saw something there that we thought would be an incredible fit with Bloomberg. But more importantly, could, with Bloomberg’s resources, be just a massive asset to the world. And so, we were incredibly proud to partner with you. And it's been, I think, pretty remarkable what now Bloomberg New Energy Finance has actually become.

 

ML: I agree with you, it is quite remarkable. And, you know, I look at it now. And obviously, you know, I still have access to it. And I still read the stuff I look at the span, the range, I look at the influence that it has. And I'd like to say, yeah, that was kind of what I had in mind. And I suppose in a way it was, but in a way it's got it's just you know, to see it. You know, concretize like that is still it's just an extraordinary thing, to be honest for me as the founder.

 

DD: Well, that not to overly compliment you. But you did have that vision. But more importantly, you created the foundation, you created the culture of it. And really set it on the trajectory. And it was it was a great company. And it's gone from strength to strength. So, I can only imagine how you feel I'm proud of the fact that Bloomberg actually acquired New Energy Finance.

 

ML: It's a funny thing. You talked about the culture, of course, it was easy for me. And now you'll think I'm blowing smoke, but it was easy for me because I could just, you know, look at Bloomberg and say, okay, they have a culture, it's a bit of a cult, but you know, it's fine to build something, it's a bit of a cult that moves, you know, 50 times the speed of anybody else because of that, and that's okay, because I had this kind of, you know, I did have Bloomberg as a model in mind pretty much from the start, which was, you know, which didn't make it easier, perhaps. And then when Mike originally built, you know, the Bloomberg the mothership.

 

DD: Well, we really did see in New Energy Finance, a lot of similarities. You know, Bloomberg rarely ever made an acquisition. Prior to acquiring New Energy Finance. I think it was actually the biggest acquisition Bloomberg has ever made. Company had grown organically, but we saw this space as so important, not just for our Bloomberg Terminal customers. But as I said, for the world at large, something Mike was really committed to as he was Mayor. But more importantly, you know, lots of acquisitions fail. And the reason they often fail is because the culture of this large company that is acquiring a smaller company, they don't match, and people get frustrated, but because of what you did, in terms of maybe using Bloomberg as a bit of a model, but creating that same sort of attitude that Bloomberg had, I think it made it a lot easier. And by the way, made it easier than it would have been after a charismatic founder actually steps back somewhat. So I think people would all say, it's been a great success all around.

 

ML: Right. And, and it was great. It was great fun kind of working on that, that handover, it's almost like, you know, passing the baton, you know, when we did the transaction, obviously, I think you and I both had hopes that it would work out well, but it was it was fraught with risk. I mean, these things can go wrong, can they not? And I think that both you and I and, and the whole, the whole team, Beth Mazzeo, whom you put in charge of us, we did have to intervene and work pretty hard to make sure that it didn't spiral off at a few different points.

 

DD: Yeah. And I think, look, also, your successor, John Moore did a great job as well, but in part because he was steeped in the values of New Energy Finance, but he also quickly grasped sort of the bigger picture and was able to, to mold Bloomberg New Energy Finance, into something that wasn't inconsistent with the broader Bloomberg, but remain very true to what you had actually built. And that's not an easy thing. And, you know, he did it, I think, with a lot of guidance from you.

 

ML: Well, he certainly did things that I think I probably would have found very hard in terms of that kind of gene splicing two cultures. And one of the things that you did with Beth, was you gave me a lot of latitude. I mean, I think I was the only person at Bloomberg who didn't have to swipe in and didn't have to say who I was meeting and was able to talk to the press. How much pain did I cause you? If you really, if you're honest, in those kind of first few years, you know, did you have to run interference because there was a culture that was kind of like, okay, these people are now Bloomberg and they should, you know, they should toe the line was there not? And everybody else within Bloomberg NEF, pretty much did. But I certainly chafed at that.

 

DD: I think I was smart enough to realize that you've got to give artists the room to maneuver. And I saw you as that, you know, I saw you as incredibly creative, ambitious, and probably not as eager to get into all of the details of managing, but also willing to kind of give that stuff up while still building the business. So I said, I remember some difficult moments here and there. But by and large, it was a very successful transition, given the context of, you know, the fact that most acquisitions of those types don't work as well as you expect.

 

ML: And they really extraordinary thing is, you know, I've now moved on, I still write for Bloomberg NEF, I do that four times a year, I just finished a piece in the run up to COP. But what's really extraordinary, almost freakishly extraordinary is how the global economy has moved on to the patch of this little company. I mean, I started this thing, realising that clean energy would grow. And then you started to say things like, there will be a time when it's not alternative energy. It's not clean energy is just boring energy. And I was like yeah, you know, I'm sure, but you know, everything moved to our patch, didn't it?

 

DD: And I will say, I assumed that that was going to be the case at some point. impossible to predict when or how, but you know what, I believe right from the very beginning was that for our Bloomberg Terminal subscribers, first and foremost, that was sort of the Sun in the Bloomberg solar system, that that data and perspective and analysis that BNEF could provide could be truly critical to them making their decisions. And it took us time to figure out how to give them access to that information for them to realize that it actually mattered for sure to integrate the data into the Bloomberg terminal took several years. But I think we always believed that this was going to be a core part of what the traditional Bloomberg customer would actually need. The other thing, you know, Bloomberg’s model was always to keep providing more and more value to its customers. And that by doing that, you would expand the base of customers. And increasingly, we were seeing that corporates were becoming Bloomberg customers, not just people in, you know, financial markets, like portfolio managers, or traders or salespeople in investment firms, either on the buy side or the sell side. But that by adding more value, more content, more analysis for people to you broaden the range of terminals subscribers, and that obviously has really happened. It's a important source of generating new Bloomberg terminal customers. But the important thing to us also was that this have an impact beyond the terminal. And I think it's clearly obviously at that as well, in so many different ways.

 

ML: It sounds great. We've only got, you know, 45 minutes, I could happily spend 45 minutes rehashing all the reasons why this is the most fantastic deal and company and culture and sort of melding of cultures and so on. It really ought to be a business school case study. There's no…Anyway. But I've moved on. And I now still write but I do other things. But you also moved on from Bloomberg, and you founded Sidewalk Labs. And that's an Alphabet, formerly Google or it's now it's the parent of the Google empire.

 

DD: I like to say we're a sister company of Google. But that's probably a little too much praise.

 

ML: I'll tell you a secret, then I often refer to December 2009, is the time when we did the reverse takeover of Bloomberg. So you have this you have this piece of Alphabet, which you founded I mean, it wasn't the Alphabet founded that and then they came and look for you, or was it what was the foundation of Sidewalk Labs?

 

DD: So it was sort of serendipitous. On one hand, I decided to leave Bloomberg, you know, I was sort of Mike Bloomberg’s steward. And he probably never thought he was going to come back to the company. But as he got out of being mayor, he wasn't satisfied just focusing on philanthropy. And so, he wanted to come back to the company and I didn't really want to go back to being his deputy mayor again, and so incredibly amicably, I'm still on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, I decided to go do something else. And I had been thinking a lot about the role of technology in cities. And you know, it's kind of natural given the fact that Bloomberg was probably the largest technology company in New York. And my prior role before running Bloomberg LP was, you know, Mike Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York and I been watching for a long time, sort of the smart city movement, thought it was disappointing, but believe very strongly, that we were on the cusp of what I would describe as the fourth urban technology revolution. Now, if you think about it, the modern city has been shaped by three big technologies technology revolutions, the first one was in the early 1800s with the steam engine which brought goods and people to cities industrialised them, densified them. The second one was in the late 1800s, which was the electric grid which made cities 24 hours, made them more vertical. Made modern communication possible, et cetera cleaned them, with new sewage systems over time. And the third one was the automobile in the early 20th century, and we obviously had to accommodate physically, spatially, these new vehicles, we had to design new approaches to safety, a whole set of new industries developed in cities, obviously, it made the relationship between the city and the surrounding area very different than it had been. But in reality, when you thought about it, that cities really hadn't changed much from a technology perspective since before World War Two, since the automobile was kind of rolled out into our metropolitan areas, least in developed, developed countries. If you thought about it, the way we got around cities hadn't changed since before World War Two, the way we get our power, electricity really hadn't changed very much the way we construct buildings hasn’t changed very much. And so I thought we were due for a fourth urban technology revolution, obviously, based on a whole set of digital technologies that we use all the time in our personal lives. But and are used in commercial applications, but for the most part haven’t made their way into the physical environment. And so, I've been thinking a lot about this. What I didn't know is that Larry Page, the founder of Google, then CEO of Google, had been thinking a lot about it and had a dream of actually building sort of the most innovative new district or place in the world. And so he actually approached me. And I'd been thinking about this to some extent. And after about a six month courtship, we formed Sidewalk Labs. So that was the origin story.

 

ML: That's great. And then I have a follow up question, which is a sort of an odd one, perhaps, what is Sidewalk Labs? It's a <inaudible> It's not a think tank. And it's not a media company. And it's not a venture capital company.

 

DD: It's kind of all of the above, right? It's, well, I would describe us as an urban innovation company. And I'm not sure there's another urban innovation company. But when we were set up, we were set up to do two things. One is placemaking, like build an innovative place? And the second was the belief was that when you engage in placemaking, when you set ambitious goals, like how do you get to climate positive and an urban development? How can you meaningfully reduce the percentage of people who actually need a car without sacrificing convenience? How do you provide ubiquitous connectivity? How do you leverage technology to create new approaches to social infrastructure? All these questions that when you try and actually do them, you force yourself to confront those questions, you will come up with insights that ultimately can be turned into products and services that make cities more affordable, more sustainable, more inclusive, etc. And so we do two things we actually engage in placemaking. We tried to do it ourselves in Toronto, we talk about that for a couple of years. But we do it on behalf of others as well, developers and cities. And we'll continue I think over time to do things on our own, for our own benefit. But then what we've gotten, I think, pretty good at is taking those insights that we generate by engaging in place to create products. So let me let me give you an example of that. Even before we started working in Toronto, as we were thinking about kind of creating a place we're doing a feasibility study, could you create the most innovative place in the world and make it financially feasible. We had committed Larry Page and I had committed that wherever we built a place, it was going to have to have a population that was representative from a socio economic, racial, etc perspective of the surrounding metropolitan area. And so, we knew we were going to have to deal with things like health care. So we started thinking a lot about health care, how could you meaningfully improve health care in an urban environment? And we developed a concept that leverages the hypothesis that the social determinants of health are just as important as medical care, so food security, housing security, access to transportation in order to get to doctor's appointments, etc. And we combined it with a new model for medical care that combined virtual care, clinic-based care in-home care, and build sort of a data platform. So that would connect all these different providers.

 

ML: And, and that is the origin of City Block presumably?

 

DD: The origin of this company City Block, which I think is one of the hottest healthcare startups in the United States, it's literally gone over the last four years, from two employees, the two co-founders, but we came up with the idea at Sidewalk to roughly 1000 employees, now it's gone from no value, basically, at the most recent financing round to a value of $6 billion. And what it is, is a new model for caring for the hardest to care for in our urban communities. Obviously, there's a massive market, they've made incredible progress in terms of reducing costs, but at the same time improving outcomes. And if we can really scale this thing, it'll be an incredibly successful company.

 

ML: And there, you've got the most recent round was Softbank, was it not, that came in, that was the $6 billion round. And you’ve got some great metrics, things like missed medical appointments down by 15%-20%.

 

DD: Readmissions, the reduction in emergency room visit, reduction in readmissions. The key thing is we're really starting to demonstrate that medical outcomes are better, and we're saving money. And that particularly in the bloated healthcare system that America has, is incredibly important. So look, we haven't we can't declare victory yet by any stretch of the imagination. But we're seeing some really positive, really positive trends. But it's an example of how really engaging in physical environment this case, even as a feasibility study, leads you to sort of the deep thinking and insights that hopefully you can turn into profitable companies.

 

ML: And just to push on the business model question. So, you have retained some share of presumably City Block. I mean, do you do you act at that point, like a normal venture capital company, you've got a portfolio, I mean, the reason I'm probing is I go to your website, you don't even have like, you don't have your portfolio of investments. So, most venture companies, particularly when they have a huge success like that would be pretty proud. And they put the logo there. And they would say, this is what we do. But you focus very much on the insights on the urban innovation, but not really on the kind of venture activities, but you've got a portfolio do you not?

 

DD: We do. And so, there's a number of companies and about six other companies that we have started, again, all arising out of this engagement in place, setting of ambitious goals and to derive insights. So I'll give you another example. We're working in Toronto. So we withdrew from Toronto, unfortunately, we really would have liked to do that project. But we just couldn't get there with the various governments. And but out of it, we developed a whole series of, I think, really important insights. So here's, here's an example. One of the things that we wanted to be able to do was meaningfully reduce the percentage of people who actually needed to own a car and this site in Toronto, by the waterfront, and we want to reduce that one for sustainability reasons, right to just reduce the number of cars. And secondly, from an affordability perspective, you know, the second largest expenditure of any family is on their vehicles. And so we thought we could reduce their spending on vehicles. That might be 4000 Canadian dollars a year by producing a combining a package of mobility services, think of it as you know, a van service that would leave and go to places where people wanted to go. Think of it as sort of Uber subscriptions. Think of it as Zipcar on steroids, if you will, combine with access to public transport, bike share, etc. And we did, we came up with this concept of mobility as a service that for one price per month, you could get this package of services. But we knew the standard of proof in Toronto was going to be incredibly high. And we went to look for data to basically be able to model our approach. And there wasn't any, not just in Toronto, but anywhere. The Metropolitan mobility data models were archaic. They were old, they were largely resulted on hand counts. And they were updated like every five to 10 years. So we created a company now called Replica, which is, I think, the modern urban data company. And we've combined a variety of different data sets, mobile phone data, all anonymized, incredibly privacy sensitive with census data, retail sales data, to get a really dynamic picture of where people are coming from, where they're going. Again, all anonymized, what they do along the way, how they get there. That is really unique. And this company has also really taken off. In fact, Founders Fund just came in for our series B round at I don't think their price has been announced, but at a very, very significant premium. And I'm really excited about that company. But we've done that a bunch of different times, we've also invested. So I'll give you an example of an investment. Something you know, I learned a little bit from BNEF, we started focusing on the waste stream in Toronto, and broke it down into different components of the waste stream looked at sorting, and how inefficient it was said to ourselves. Why can't this be done for at least for certain categories of waste by robotics found out there was a company that was already doing it that was at the very early stages called Amp Robotics. And we invested in them at the basically at the seed stage. And this company is really I think, growing well as well.

 

ML: That's still called… Or is that now called…?

 

DD: No, no, or is a different <inaudible>It's about robotic furniture. So there again, we're focused on affordability from a rent perspective. And we said, Well, alright, if you look at affordable housing, government basically provides all the subsidy for affordable housing. So, you know, what are the other options for creating greater affordability? What is the focus on the way buildings are constructed? And we come back and talk about that because we have an initiative focused on that. The second one is to think about space differently. How can you think about space not just is like square footage, which has sort of all sorts of associations in people's mind, but get more out of the square footage, such that everybody benefits the tenant benefits, the owner benefits et cetera, we can cram more people into cities, density is a good thing from many different perspectives. And what this company did bend, basically as spin out of the MIT Media Lab was use robotics, create robotic furniture. And so if I can make 500 square feet feel like 650 square feet, everybody wins. So, we invested in early stage with IKEA actually in that company. So, we invest in companies where it's consistent with a thesis we have about the future of the urban environment. But what we do most of the time is create companies on our own.

 

ML: I love it. As you said robotic furniture, I had this and then you then you mentioned that it was with IKEA I had this idea that you know that he was going to buy the flat pack from IKEA and it would like you just sit there and watch it would assemble itself, it’d be fantastic

 

DD: Not quite, not quite yet. I think an incredibly powerful idea to rethink space. We call that affordability by design, as opposed to like government subsidy.

 

ML: That's fabulous and the stuff that you talked about with the trying to help people get by without a car that really resonates for me, because I'm the chair of a smart bus company called Zeelo. You know, going into the pandemic, we were trying to get people out of the cars, we're trying to work, essentially, with white collar workers saying, oh, you know, there's this, you know, the climate and, and then there's congestion, you don't really want to sit in your car, why don't you check email, have Wi Fi and sit in the bus instead, and we were making certain progress. And then the lockdown happened. And we lost almost all revenue, I mean, like 90% of the revenue. But what happened, it was one of these things that, from that adversity came the pivot, that is the making of the company. And the insight was that key workers. So very often, minimum wage workers in the UK at least generally don't have cars, but they need to get to their place of work. And a lot of bus services were shut down. And of course, logistics and home delivery companies were going crazy trying to hire people, but they could only hire people that could get to work without a car. And so suddenly, we were able to stand up these bus lines mini bus lines. And we have these huge vehicles. So we could put five people in a 60 seater bus COVID safe, and get people to work so that the system didn't fall over. And you know, the amazing thing is, is this company has grown now, by a factor of eight.

 

DD: Yes, you know, not surprised. I think we have an opportunity today to completely rethink our streets, to raise revenue from the streets in new ways that can support improvements in mass transit, to use the streets more for people rather than cars. And more importantly, to get people off this cars off the streets, in order to enable people to get where they want to go using a company like yours, or Via on steroids, if you will, in much more informal mass transit. But you can't have massive traffic in order to make, to get that to work. And so, what we want to do is we want to find new approaches to charging for streets that are more subtle, more nuanced, perhaps, than even something like congestion pricing. So, I we've developed a really low cost sensor that is used by parking, and it could be parking lots, or it could be on streets.

 

ML: Pebble, is that right?

 

DD: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, we're still kind of figuring it all out, we but we've made enormous progress in terms of getting these things to it is a very low cost, low power. So they last a long time, we think quite stable. And combined with an approach to enforcement, as well as sort of a front end, we think you can create a very powerful combination.

 

ML: I guess I worry with that one, I worry that actually using video, you can actually, you know, you can observe a lot of parking spaces without a physical sensor. But I know, I'm not in that business. But one thing that I do find interesting…

 

DD: Video’s a lot more expensive, actually.

 

ML: Is that right? Okay. So that's a surprise to me. This is very low the interesting thing that it points to something that I, I keep expecting somebody to kind of crack the code on curbside pricing. But you know, the thing that actually is just as disruptive is when that delivery van double parks blocks. It's not a congestion charging issue. It's the fact that all these deliveries and pickups and Uber drop offs and so on. So what are you doing on that one?

 

DD: Well, that is this combination of Pebble I think a front end that enables people to book site, but also you need an enforcement component to it that we will also work on. So that combination, I think is incredibly powerful. And being able to chart reserve the curb, charge for the curb is going to, I think dramatically reduce congestion and seas we there's all sorts of studies that show how much of congestion, at least in major downtown areas is due to circling, double parking. And we're gonna have to find a way to reduce that significantly. And again, if I think if we can do that we can not only raise revenue for cities, but at the same time we can get more cars off the road and make mobility more equitable by using these more efficient formal mass transit systems. So I think the opportunity is critical, but I do think it starts at the curb to some extent.

 

ML: So I got to kind of difficult areas I want to run past you and see how you thought about those. One is, to a lot of people, all of this is sounds like you're just trying to take their cars away. And the other is privacy issues. And, and those two, I mean, certainly in London, at the moment of during the pandemic, a lot of councils instituted low traffic neighborhoods, they created cafes, and pocket parks, and, and so on. And because people were not driving that was accepted. And then when the pandemic when people started to travel again, oh, my goodness, it was the culture wars, it was as though these low traffic neighborhoods were, you know, an assault from Planet Zog on the good, right picking people of whichever, you know, neighborhood and, you know, that, that they demand that the right to drive through, it doesn't matter what neighborhoods you know, even where they don't live, and we've got some very unpleasant polarized and nasty political situation now is, is that inevitable in your view?

 

DD: I think to some extent it is, you know, at the end of the day, making it harder for people to own cars is a highly political issue. I've been through that war myself, right back in 2007. I led something called planYC, I was still in government at the time, was New York’s for that time at least pathbreaking sustainability plan, it was 127 separate initiatives, you know, that were designed to prepare New York for growth, but also reduced carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. One element of that one of the 127, just to show you how all-encompassing this one was to steal a playbook from London, steal the playbook from London, and impose congestion pricing in New York, we found that 5% of New Yorkers actually drove into Manhattan where congestion pricing was going to be imposed. And we had a forecast that said we'd raise a billion dollars a year, which by the way, we could bond and then raise $20 billion a year would all be reinvested back in the mass transit system, literally benefiting the other 95%. At the state level, largely because of the state government at the time was, I think, in part corrupt, that got defeated, costing over the last 14 years or so the city probably $12 billion, or the transit system $12 billion. It got approved, I think in 2019 and should be imposed next year. My point is attitudes are slowly changing. And we're still going to have these fights. But people recognize they want more, they use the streets for people rather than cars. They know the transit system needs revenue, by the way, that's even going to be more true in a post COVID world. And so I think attitudes are changing. And by the way, people are getting somewhat more focused on, you know, carbon emissions and climate change and recognize that, you know, getting more people into cities, getting them around in a more efficient manner really makes sense.

 

ML: Yeah. And well, I lived through the cycle superhighways when I was on the Board of Transport for London. And, you know, there are sort of moments when the ice cracks and things can be done or when the tectonic plates shift. And then that can be decades where it's just impossible to get this stuff. Just one thing on the finance. I suspect you misspoke, because you said that it was 1 billion a year. And you'd have done a 20 year bond annually, but presumably, that's a sink, it would have been a one-off 20 billion or 20 billion.

 

DD: Yeah.

 

ML: Lots of capital investment in the correct spot. Okay. Okay, good. So I just wanted to just because not everybody following the show is a finance expert…

 

DD: I appreciate that.

 

ML: That privacy issue because you know, you a lot everything you're talking about is digital, plus or minus. And so there's the other sort of culture war  is oh, you know, they tried to put a chip in us with a vaccine and, and they're trying to follow us everywhere and they're trying to interfere and the robot in my apartment is going to be is listening and in fact, we know that our speakers are listening, televisions are listening now you're going to have a curbside that's listening or tracking your movements. You know, we did some stuff when I was on the board of Transport for London where we were tracking people through the metro’s through the Tube system. Amazingly, people choose the most extraordinary sets of journeys, you have no idea why, that's what they do. logic would say they don't they do. But all of that data and we have to anonymize and go through all sorts of protocols. How do you reassure people? Do you just expect them to kind of become comfortable with being tracked? How do you deal with it?

 

DD: I don't expect that at all. In fact, this was the most contentious issue we face in our project up in Toronto, we eventually worked our way through it. And I really think the answer is government must get its act together. And government and through a transparent, reasonably democratic process must be responsible for approving applications that use personally identifiable information, particularly by the way what we're talking about in public space. And we came up with an agreed ultimately with the various governments in Toronto, the various advocates on an approach, not saying everyone was totally on board with it, but they actually would have vested control in sort of a Data Trust that would have been managed by government, I think we're going to have to go there. And it's the only it's the only way that people are ever going to have confidence.

 

ML: But let me let me challenge you a little bit. Because you know, the sorts of things that go wrong, it's not just that somebody says, okay, here's a file of everywhere Michael's being mean, who knows, it could be little things like, for instance, charging, you know, a transport network operator, and Uber or Lyft, or whoever, Zeelo could charge more for people who are in a vulnerable situation, because they know that you really need the transport. So they could say, right, we're going to up the prices. Or they could say, right, we're going to make sure that the vehicles always circulate in the affluent area, so they get a better service because they're more profitable. And those algorithms will be deep, deep, deep in the servers of those companies. <inaudible> And now how to get into that level of detail and regulate?

 

DD: I'm not sure that's as much a privacy issue as it is a policy issue. But the reality is government's going to have to catch up and deal with these policy and privacy issues. You know, what we had proposed is you had to literally for every application of the use of data, personally identifiable information data in public space had to go through this trust, make an application, that trust, which would be controlled by government would have to approve it would have the ability over time to actually monitor it. I said, that's on the privacy side, I think that is and you had to justify in terms of the application, why what you're doing A) did not use personally identifiable information, or if you did minimize it. So, lots of things like cameras, you can, you know, if you're looking for metadata, you're looking for aggregate data, you can eliminate the personally identifiable information at the camera itself. So, you know, and then you had to make the case that it was worth the benefit. So like I said, I'm not saying we completely cracked the code, but I do think it's going to go in that direction. We're just not used to regulating data.

 

ML: And what about sort of facial recognition? Are you going stay completely clear?

 

DD: We are staying away from that. The case we always use was we want traffic lights, that are more responsive, for example, to pedestrians. Let's just talk about pedestrians for the moment. So there's a an old man crossing the street, he's going slowly. Okay, we know we have the technology to manage the traffic light more effectively to make sure that guy stays safe. We don't need to know who he is. We just need to know he's moving slowly. And we need to be able to adjust the traffic light, the ability and that we'll use a sensor or a camera to see that. But we can eliminate all of that data about the individual at the camera itself. And so I think, look, there's no black and white here. That's why you go through this cost benefit analysis. But a principle is to not use personally identifiable information, unless it's absolutely necessary. And then if it's absolutely necessary, you still have to prove that the benefit of using that data. And it's not us that making that decision or you know, the manufacturers of these services or products, but it’s got to be government because they're the only ones and it has to incur in the public domain.

 

ML: So that's a fantastic segue to the final questions I'd like to ask you. Because while I was working, while I was still CEO of BloombergNEF as it now is or NEF at the time, I had this opportunity to join the board of Transport for London. And the reason I jumped to that as a segue is that one of the first things we dealt with, one of the first things that I dealt with, was the traffic light sequencing, where you know, at the time, I had three young children, and, and the lights would go green to cross for six seconds. Try doing that with a toddler and two kids and two babies or infants in a stroller. And so I kind of waged a campaign to try and get those timings changed. And there was all sorts of reasons why it couldn't be done, and it could be done and so on. But when I came to you and said Dan, you know, I know you want me to focus on building this business, integrating the team, all the stuff we talked about at the beginning of this, this conversation, but I got an opportunity to serve on the Board of Transport for London, you said you've got to do it. Without even thinking you said you got to do it. Why is public service for business people so core to you? How come that was such an easy decision? And in fact, you know, is it the same logic as the reason why you went into government yourself as deputy mayor?

 

DD: Absolutely. You know, look, the most important thing for me is having positive impact on for me, New York is probably number one, but society more broadly, that's how I kind of evaluate my life, you know, did I make a contribution or not. And the reality is, you know, with very rare exceptions, if you're in the right circumstance, in government, you can have an incredible impact. And, you know, when I look back on my career, as proud as I am of what I'm doing now, as proud as I was, being at Bloomberg, the six years I spent in government in New York City, it was, by the way, the six years right after 9/11. And I was responsible for sort of the physical and financial recovery of the city were to me, still the ones that I look back on with the greatest pride, because the impact was so great. And I think in my time in government, made something like 289 separate initiatives, everything from, you know, building Hudson Yards to rebuilding the World Trade Centre site, saving the Highline, the regeneration of Brooklyn, and Queens Waterfront. But also things like hybrid taxis and a million trees. And, you know, that's impact. And so that's what I was. And I thought you in particular, as someone who is really an idea person who would bring, you know, even more innovation, I think Transport for London, you know, had been a leader, actually within sort of the transit authorities, but could use somebody with your perspective. And I thought for you personally, it'd be a real opportunity to use all the skills that you've developed to make a positive contribution.

 

ML: It's interesting, because I had, like yourself, I had six great years on the board of Transport for London. I eventually got rotated off by… I got on there when it was Boris Johnson, I was rotated off by Sadiq Khan,  actually it's very upsetting because I had begged to stay on when he came in as mayor, because I had become convinced by the data because that was another big theme of the Mayor Bloomberg’s mayoralty, that data matters. I'd become convinced by the data that London streets were unsafe London has actually got the least safe surface transport of any major city in Europe, which doesn't, you know, make a big noise about for obvious reasons, and I wanted to stay on and try and fix that. And instead, I got kind of nobbled by management and removed by Sadiq. And of course, we've had some terrible safety. You know, we've had tram crashes, we've had excess deaths during the COVID you know, pandemic.

 

DD: Same things happened in New York.

 

ML: It's a bittersweet pleasure for me the, the memory of my time on the board. I think I did have impact, but it

 

DD: There may be other opportunities.

 

ML: Well, you know, I, you probably know that there was at one point, speculation about whether I should stand for mayor. Who knows?

 

DD: do remember that.

 

ML: Meanwhile, I have to let you get on with your day, I've got plenty to do. I'm preparing for major series of events that I'm co-hosting at COP 26. I understand you will not be there. Otherwise, you would have been very welcome to participate in what I'm doing. But I really thank you for the time that you've spent with us here on Cleaning Up.

 

DD: It's great to be with you. And hopefully we'll have the opportunity to get together in person sometime soon.

 

ML: Nothing would give me more pleasure. And maybe we'll even do some do some business together. What is it we have to do well, whilst doing good, but find a way of doing that on the same beat together that we great.

 

DD: If you've got any great ideas for a product or service, I'd love to hear them.

 

ML: Okay, that's the deal. Great talking to you, Dan.

 

DD:  You too.

 

ML: So it was Dan Doctoroff, founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs and also former president and CEO of Bloomberg LP, so he's the man who put the Bloomberg into Bloomberg NEF. My guest next week is one of the world's great experts on energy policy, International Affairs and the US China relationship. It's David Sandalow, former acting under Secretary of Energy under the Obama administration, and now Fellow at the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia University. Please join me this time next week for conversation with David Sandalow.

Michael Liebreich:  Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up, it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich, and this is cleaning up. I don't have many mentors or heroes, but my guest today is both. It's Dan Doctoroff, former CEO and President of Bloomberg LP, also former Deputy Mayor of New York City. He is now founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, part of the Alphabet group of companies working on urban innovation. Please welcome Dan Doctoroff to Cleaning Up. So, Dan, welcome to Cleaning Up.

 

Dan Doctoroff:  It's great to be with you. It's been way too long.

 

ML: It has indeed been way too long. Where are you calling in from today?

 

DD: I'm in New York, New York. I'm at home today. In part because my son and daughter in law, I think are about to deliver a baby. But I'm mostly back in the office now.

 

ML: This is very scary, because I think that when we first did business together, we'll get into that because obviously you were running Bloomberg LP at the time of the acquisition of New Energy Finance. My eldest had just been born and your youngest you were going to the last Parent Teacher Association meeting for your youngest, I believe.

 

DD: I think that would have been about right.

 

ML: So let's take that as a starting point. I mean, we first met around, you were running Bloomberg, you'd come out of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, and you were running Bloomberg LP, and you came across this scrappy little startup run by a crazy English fellow called Michael, correct?

 

DD: That is 100% true, both the scrappy part and the crazy part. Now, but we saw something there that we thought would be an incredible fit with Bloomberg. But more importantly, could, with Bloomberg’s resources, be just a massive asset to the world. And so, we were incredibly proud to partner with you. And it's been, I think, pretty remarkable what now Bloomberg New Energy Finance has actually become.

 

ML: I agree with you, it is quite remarkable. And, you know, I look at it now. And obviously, you know, I still have access to it. And I still read the stuff I look at the span, the range, I look at the influence that it has. And I'd like to say, yeah, that was kind of what I had in mind. And I suppose in a way it was, but in a way it's got it's just you know, to see it. You know, concretize like that is still it's just an extraordinary thing, to be honest for me as the founder.

 

DD: Well, that not to overly compliment you. But you did have that vision. But more importantly, you created the foundation, you created the culture of it. And really set it on the trajectory. And it was it was a great company. And it's gone from strength to strength. So, I can only imagine how you feel I'm proud of the fact that Bloomberg actually acquired New Energy Finance.

 

ML: It's a funny thing. You talked about the culture, of course, it was easy for me. And now you'll think I'm blowing smoke, but it was easy for me because I could just, you know, look at Bloomberg and say, okay, they have a culture, it's a bit of a cult, but you know, it's fine to build something, it's a bit of a cult that moves, you know, 50 times the speed of anybody else because of that, and that's okay, because I had this kind of, you know, I did have Bloomberg as a model in mind pretty much from the start, which was, you know, which didn't make it easier, perhaps. And then when Mike originally built, you know, the Bloomberg the mothership.

 

DD: Well, we really did see in New Energy Finance, a lot of similarities. You know, Bloomberg rarely ever made an acquisition. Prior to acquiring New Energy Finance. I think it was actually the biggest acquisition Bloomberg has ever made. Company had grown organically, but we saw this space as so important, not just for our Bloomberg Terminal customers. But as I said, for the world at large, something Mike was really committed to as he was Mayor. But more importantly, you know, lots of acquisitions fail. And the reason they often fail is because the culture of this large company that is acquiring a smaller company, they don't match, and people get frustrated, but because of what you did, in terms of maybe using Bloomberg as a bit of a model, but creating that same sort of attitude that Bloomberg had, I think it made it a lot easier. And by the way, made it easier than it would have been after a charismatic founder actually steps back somewhat. So I think people would all say, it's been a great success all around.

 

ML: Right. And, and it was great. It was great fun kind of working on that, that handover, it's almost like, you know, passing the baton, you know, when we did the transaction, obviously, I think you and I both had hopes that it would work out well, but it was it was fraught with risk. I mean, these things can go wrong, can they not? And I think that both you and I and, and the whole, the whole team, Beth Mazzeo, whom you put in charge of us, we did have to intervene and work pretty hard to make sure that it didn't spiral off at a few different points.

 

DD: Yeah. And I think, look, also, your successor, John Moore did a great job as well, but in part because he was steeped in the values of New Energy Finance, but he also quickly grasped sort of the bigger picture and was able to, to mold Bloomberg New Energy Finance, into something that wasn't inconsistent with the broader Bloomberg, but remain very true to what you had actually built. And that's not an easy thing. And, you know, he did it, I think, with a lot of guidance from you.

 

ML: Well, he certainly did things that I think I probably would have found very hard in terms of that kind of gene splicing two cultures. And one of the things that you did with Beth, was you gave me a lot of latitude. I mean, I think I was the only person at Bloomberg who didn't have to swipe in and didn't have to say who I was meeting and was able to talk to the press. How much pain did I cause you? If you really, if you're honest, in those kind of first few years, you know, did you have to run interference because there was a culture that was kind of like, okay, these people are now Bloomberg and they should, you know, they should toe the line was there not? And everybody else within Bloomberg NEF, pretty much did. But I certainly chafed at that.

 

DD: I think I was smart enough to realize that you've got to give artists the room to maneuver. And I saw you as that, you know, I saw you as incredibly creative, ambitious, and probably not as eager to get into all of the details of managing, but also willing to kind of give that stuff up while still building the business. So I said, I remember some difficult moments here and there. But by and large, it was a very successful transition, given the context of, you know, the fact that most acquisitions of those types don't work as well as you expect.

 

ML: And they really extraordinary thing is, you know, I've now moved on, I still write for Bloomberg NEF, I do that four times a year, I just finished a piece in the run up to COP. But what's really extraordinary, almost freakishly extraordinary is how the global economy has moved on to the patch of this little company. I mean, I started this thing, realising that clean energy would grow. And then you started to say things like, there will be a time when it's not alternative energy. It's not clean energy is just boring energy. And I was like yeah, you know, I'm sure, but you know, everything moved to our patch, didn't it?

 

DD: And I will say, I assumed that that was going to be the case at some point. impossible to predict when or how, but you know what, I believe right from the very beginning was that for our Bloomberg Terminal subscribers, first and foremost, that was sort of the Sun in the Bloomberg solar system, that that data and perspective and analysis that BNEF could provide could be truly critical to them making their decisions. And it took us time to figure out how to give them access to that information for them to realize that it actually mattered for sure to integrate the data into the Bloomberg terminal took several years. But I think we always believed that this was going to be a core part of what the traditional Bloomberg customer would actually need. The other thing, you know, Bloomberg’s model was always to keep providing more and more value to its customers. And that by doing that, you would expand the base of customers. And increasingly, we were seeing that corporates were becoming Bloomberg customers, not just people in, you know, financial markets, like portfolio managers, or traders or salespeople in investment firms, either on the buy side or the sell side. But that by adding more value, more content, more analysis for people to you broaden the range of terminals subscribers, and that obviously has really happened. It's a important source of generating new Bloomberg terminal customers. But the important thing to us also was that this have an impact beyond the terminal. And I think it's clearly obviously at that as well, in so many different ways.

 

ML: It sounds great. We've only got, you know, 45 minutes, I could happily spend 45 minutes rehashing all the reasons why this is the most fantastic deal and company and culture and sort of melding of cultures and so on. It really ought to be a business school case study. There's no…Anyway. But I've moved on. And I now still write but I do other things. But you also moved on from Bloomberg, and you founded Sidewalk Labs. And that's an Alphabet, formerly Google or it's now it's the parent of the Google empire.

 

DD: I like to say we're a sister company of Google. But that's probably a little too much praise.

 

ML: I'll tell you a secret, then I often refer to December 2009, is the time when we did the reverse takeover of Bloomberg. So you have this you have this piece of Alphabet, which you founded I mean, it wasn't the Alphabet founded that and then they came and look for you, or was it what was the foundation of Sidewalk Labs?

 

DD: So it was sort of serendipitous. On one hand, I decided to leave Bloomberg, you know, I was sort of Mike Bloomberg’s steward. And he probably never thought he was going to come back to the company. But as he got out of being mayor, he wasn't satisfied just focusing on philanthropy. And so, he wanted to come back to the company and I didn't really want to go back to being his deputy mayor again, and so incredibly amicably, I'm still on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, I decided to go do something else. And I had been thinking a lot about the role of technology in cities. And you know, it's kind of natural given the fact that Bloomberg was probably the largest technology company in New York. And my prior role before running Bloomberg LP was, you know, Mike Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York and I been watching for a long time, sort of the smart city movement, thought it was disappointing, but believe very strongly, that we were on the cusp of what I would describe as the fourth urban technology revolution. Now, if you think about it, the modern city has been shaped by three big technologies technology revolutions, the first one was in the early 1800s with the steam engine which brought goods and people to cities industrialised them, densified them. The second one was in the late 1800s, which was the electric grid which made cities 24 hours, made them more vertical. Made modern communication possible, et cetera cleaned them, with new sewage systems over time. And the third one was the automobile in the early 20th century, and we obviously had to accommodate physically, spatially, these new vehicles, we had to design new approaches to safety, a whole set of new industries developed in cities, obviously, it made the relationship between the city and the surrounding area very different than it had been. But in reality, when you thought about it, that cities really hadn't changed much from a technology perspective since before World War Two, since the automobile was kind of rolled out into our metropolitan areas, least in developed, developed countries. If you thought about it, the way we got around cities hadn't changed since before World War Two, the way we get our power, electricity really hadn't changed very much the way we construct buildings hasn’t changed very much. And so I thought we were due for a fourth urban technology revolution, obviously, based on a whole set of digital technologies that we use all the time in our personal lives. But and are used in commercial applications, but for the most part haven’t made their way into the physical environment. And so, I've been thinking a lot about this. What I didn't know is that Larry Page, the founder of Google, then CEO of Google, had been thinking a lot about it and had a dream of actually building sort of the most innovative new district or place in the world. And so he actually approached me. And I'd been thinking about this to some extent. And after about a six month courtship, we formed Sidewalk Labs. So that was the origin story.

 

ML: That's great. And then I have a follow up question, which is a sort of an odd one, perhaps, what is Sidewalk Labs? It's a <inaudible> It's not a think tank. And it's not a media company. And it's not a venture capital company.

 

DD: It's kind of all of the above, right? It's, well, I would describe us as an urban innovation company. And I'm not sure there's another urban innovation company. But when we were set up, we were set up to do two things. One is placemaking, like build an innovative place? And the second was the belief was that when you engage in placemaking, when you set ambitious goals, like how do you get to climate positive and an urban development? How can you meaningfully reduce the percentage of people who actually need a car without sacrificing convenience? How do you provide ubiquitous connectivity? How do you leverage technology to create new approaches to social infrastructure? All these questions that when you try and actually do them, you force yourself to confront those questions, you will come up with insights that ultimately can be turned into products and services that make cities more affordable, more sustainable, more inclusive, etc. And so we do two things we actually engage in placemaking. We tried to do it ourselves in Toronto, we talk about that for a couple of years. But we do it on behalf of others as well, developers and cities. And we'll continue I think over time to do things on our own, for our own benefit. But then what we've gotten, I think, pretty good at is taking those insights that we generate by engaging in place to create products. So let me let me give you an example of that. Even before we started working in Toronto, as we were thinking about kind of creating a place we're doing a feasibility study, could you create the most innovative place in the world and make it financially feasible. We had committed Larry Page and I had committed that wherever we built a place, it was going to have to have a population that was representative from a socio economic, racial, etc perspective of the surrounding metropolitan area. And so, we knew we were going to have to deal with things like health care. So we started thinking a lot about health care, how could you meaningfully improve health care in an urban environment? And we developed a concept that leverages the hypothesis that the social determinants of health are just as important as medical care, so food security, housing security, access to transportation in order to get to doctor's appointments, etc. And we combined it with a new model for medical care that combined virtual care, clinic-based care in-home care, and build sort of a data platform. So that would connect all these different providers.

 

ML: And, and that is the origin of City Block presumably?

 

DD: The origin of this company City Block, which I think is one of the hottest healthcare startups in the United States, it's literally gone over the last four years, from two employees, the two co-founders, but we came up with the idea at Sidewalk to roughly 1000 employees, now it's gone from no value, basically, at the most recent financing round to a value of $6 billion. And what it is, is a new model for caring for the hardest to care for in our urban communities. Obviously, there's a massive market, they've made incredible progress in terms of reducing costs, but at the same time improving outcomes. And if we can really scale this thing, it'll be an incredibly successful company.

 

ML: And there, you've got the most recent round was Softbank, was it not, that came in, that was the $6 billion round. And you’ve got some great metrics, things like missed medical appointments down by 15%-20%.

 

DD: Readmissions, the reduction in emergency room visit, reduction in readmissions. The key thing is we're really starting to demonstrate that medical outcomes are better, and we're saving money. And that particularly in the bloated healthcare system that America has, is incredibly important. So look, we haven't we can't declare victory yet by any stretch of the imagination. But we're seeing some really positive, really positive trends. But it's an example of how really engaging in physical environment this case, even as a feasibility study, leads you to sort of the deep thinking and insights that hopefully you can turn into profitable companies.

 

ML: And just to push on the business model question. So, you have retained some share of presumably City Block. I mean, do you do you act at that point, like a normal venture capital company, you've got a portfolio, I mean, the reason I'm probing is I go to your website, you don't even have like, you don't have your portfolio of investments. So, most venture companies, particularly when they have a huge success like that would be pretty proud. And they put the logo there. And they would say, this is what we do. But you focus very much on the insights on the urban innovation, but not really on the kind of venture activities, but you've got a portfolio do you not?

 

DD: We do. And so, there's a number of companies and about six other companies that we have started, again, all arising out of this engagement in place, setting of ambitious goals and to derive insights. So I'll give you another example. We're working in Toronto. So we withdrew from Toronto, unfortunately, we really would have liked to do that project. But we just couldn't get there with the various governments. And but out of it, we developed a whole series of, I think, really important insights. So here's, here's an example. One of the things that we wanted to be able to do was meaningfully reduce the percentage of people who actually needed to own a car and this site in Toronto, by the waterfront, and we want to reduce that one for sustainability reasons, right to just reduce the number of cars. And secondly, from an affordability perspective, you know, the second largest expenditure of any family is on their vehicles. And so we thought we could reduce their spending on vehicles. That might be 4000 Canadian dollars a year by producing a combining a package of mobility services, think of it as you know, a van service that would leave and go to places where people wanted to go. Think of it as sort of Uber subscriptions. Think of it as Zipcar on steroids, if you will, combine with access to public transport, bike share, etc. And we did, we came up with this concept of mobility as a service that for one price per month, you could get this package of services. But we knew the standard of proof in Toronto was going to be incredibly high. And we went to look for data to basically be able to model our approach. And there wasn't any, not just in Toronto, but anywhere. The Metropolitan mobility data models were archaic. They were old, they were largely resulted on hand counts. And they were updated like every five to 10 years. So we created a company now called Replica, which is, I think, the modern urban data company. And we've combined a variety of different data sets, mobile phone data, all anonymized, incredibly privacy sensitive with census data, retail sales data, to get a really dynamic picture of where people are coming from, where they're going. Again, all anonymized, what they do along the way, how they get there. That is really unique. And this company has also really taken off. In fact, Founders Fund just came in for our series B round at I don't think their price has been announced, but at a very, very significant premium. And I'm really excited about that company. But we've done that a bunch of different times, we've also invested. So I'll give you an example of an investment. Something you know, I learned a little bit from BNEF, we started focusing on the waste stream in Toronto, and broke it down into different components of the waste stream looked at sorting, and how inefficient it was said to ourselves. Why can't this be done for at least for certain categories of waste by robotics found out there was a company that was already doing it that was at the very early stages called Amp Robotics. And we invested in them at the basically at the seed stage. And this company is really I think, growing well as well.

 

ML: That's still called… Or is that now called…?

 

DD: No, no, or is a different <inaudible>It's about robotic furniture. So there again, we're focused on affordability from a rent perspective. And we said, Well, alright, if you look at affordable housing, government basically provides all the subsidy for affordable housing. So, you know, what are the other options for creating greater affordability? What is the focus on the way buildings are constructed? And we come back and talk about that because we have an initiative focused on that. The second one is to think about space differently. How can you think about space not just is like square footage, which has sort of all sorts of associations in people's mind, but get more out of the square footage, such that everybody benefits the tenant benefits, the owner benefits et cetera, we can cram more people into cities, density is a good thing from many different perspectives. And what this company did bend, basically as spin out of the MIT Media Lab was use robotics, create robotic furniture. And so if I can make 500 square feet feel like 650 square feet, everybody wins. So, we invested in early stage with IKEA actually in that company. So, we invest in companies where it's consistent with a thesis we have about the future of the urban environment. But what we do most of the time is create companies on our own.

 

ML: I love it. As you said robotic furniture, I had this and then you then you mentioned that it was with IKEA I had this idea that you know that he was going to buy the flat pack from IKEA and it would like you just sit there and watch it would assemble itself, it’d be fantastic

 

DD: Not quite, not quite yet. I think an incredibly powerful idea to rethink space. We call that affordability by design, as opposed to like government subsidy.

 

ML: That's fabulous and the stuff that you talked about with the trying to help people get by without a car that really resonates for me, because I'm the chair of a smart bus company called Zeelo. You know, going into the pandemic, we were trying to get people out of the cars, we're trying to work, essentially, with white collar workers saying, oh, you know, there's this, you know, the climate and, and then there's congestion, you don't really want to sit in your car, why don't you check email, have Wi Fi and sit in the bus instead, and we were making certain progress. And then the lockdown happened. And we lost almost all revenue, I mean, like 90% of the revenue. But what happened, it was one of these things that, from that adversity came the pivot, that is the making of the company. And the insight was that key workers. So very often, minimum wage workers in the UK at least generally don't have cars, but they need to get to their place of work. And a lot of bus services were shut down. And of course, logistics and home delivery companies were going crazy trying to hire people, but they could only hire people that could get to work without a car. And so suddenly, we were able to stand up these bus lines mini bus lines. And we have these huge vehicles. So we could put five people in a 60 seater bus COVID safe, and get people to work so that the system didn't fall over. And you know, the amazing thing is, is this company has grown now, by a factor of eight.

 

DD: Yes, you know, not surprised. I think we have an opportunity today to completely rethink our streets, to raise revenue from the streets in new ways that can support improvements in mass transit, to use the streets more for people rather than cars. And more importantly, to get people off this cars off the streets, in order to enable people to get where they want to go using a company like yours, or Via on steroids, if you will, in much more informal mass transit. But you can't have massive traffic in order to make, to get that to work. And so, what we want to do is we want to find new approaches to charging for streets that are more subtle, more nuanced, perhaps, than even something like congestion pricing. So, I we've developed a really low cost sensor that is used by parking, and it could be parking lots, or it could be on streets.

 

ML: Pebble, is that right?

 

DD: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, we're still kind of figuring it all out, we but we've made enormous progress in terms of getting these things to it is a very low cost, low power. So they last a long time, we think quite stable. And combined with an approach to enforcement, as well as sort of a front end, we think you can create a very powerful combination.

 

ML: I guess I worry with that one, I worry that actually using video, you can actually, you know, you can observe a lot of parking spaces without a physical sensor. But I know, I'm not in that business. But one thing that I do find interesting…

 

DD: Video’s a lot more expensive, actually.

 

ML: Is that right? Okay. So that's a surprise to me. This is very low the interesting thing that it points to something that I, I keep expecting somebody to kind of crack the code on curbside pricing. But you know, the thing that actually is just as disruptive is when that delivery van double parks blocks. It's not a congestion charging issue. It's the fact that all these deliveries and pickups and Uber drop offs and so on. So what are you doing on that one?

 

DD: Well, that is this combination of Pebble I think a front end that enables people to book site, but also you need an enforcement component to it that we will also work on. So that combination, I think is incredibly powerful. And being able to chart reserve the curb, charge for the curb is going to, I think dramatically reduce congestion and seas we there's all sorts of studies that show how much of congestion, at least in major downtown areas is due to circling, double parking. And we're gonna have to find a way to reduce that significantly. And again, if I think if we can do that we can not only raise revenue for cities, but at the same time we can get more cars off the road and make mobility more equitable by using these more efficient formal mass transit systems. So I think the opportunity is critical, but I do think it starts at the curb to some extent.

 

ML: So I got to kind of difficult areas I want to run past you and see how you thought about those. One is, to a lot of people, all of this is sounds like you're just trying to take their cars away. And the other is privacy issues. And, and those two, I mean, certainly in London, at the moment of during the pandemic, a lot of councils instituted low traffic neighborhoods, they created cafes, and pocket parks, and, and so on. And because people were not driving that was accepted. And then when the pandemic when people started to travel again, oh, my goodness, it was the culture wars, it was as though these low traffic neighborhoods were, you know, an assault from Planet Zog on the good, right picking people of whichever, you know, neighborhood and, you know, that, that they demand that the right to drive through, it doesn't matter what neighborhoods you know, even where they don't live, and we've got some very unpleasant polarized and nasty political situation now is, is that inevitable in your view?

 

DD: I think to some extent it is, you know, at the end of the day, making it harder for people to own cars is a highly political issue. I've been through that war myself, right back in 2007. I led something called planYC, I was still in government at the time, was New York’s for that time at least pathbreaking sustainability plan, it was 127 separate initiatives, you know, that were designed to prepare New York for growth, but also reduced carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. One element of that one of the 127, just to show you how all-encompassing this one was to steal a playbook from London, steal the playbook from London, and impose congestion pricing in New York, we found that 5% of New Yorkers actually drove into Manhattan where congestion pricing was going to be imposed. And we had a forecast that said we'd raise a billion dollars a year, which by the way, we could bond and then raise $20 billion a year would all be reinvested back in the mass transit system, literally benefiting the other 95%. At the state level, largely because of the state government at the time was, I think, in part corrupt, that got defeated, costing over the last 14 years or so the city probably $12 billion, or the transit system $12 billion. It got approved, I think in 2019 and should be imposed next year. My point is attitudes are slowly changing. And we're still going to have these fights. But people recognize they want more, they use the streets for people rather than cars. They know the transit system needs revenue, by the way, that's even going to be more true in a post COVID world. And so I think attitudes are changing. And by the way, people are getting somewhat more focused on, you know, carbon emissions and climate change and recognize that, you know, getting more people into cities, getting them around in a more efficient manner really makes sense.

 

ML: Yeah. And well, I lived through the cycle superhighways when I was on the Board of Transport for London. And, you know, there are sort of moments when the ice cracks and things can be done or when the tectonic plates shift. And then that can be decades where it's just impossible to get this stuff. Just one thing on the finance. I suspect you misspoke, because you said that it was 1 billion a year. And you'd have done a 20 year bond annually, but presumably, that's a sink, it would have been a one-off 20 billion or 20 billion.

 

DD: Yeah.

 

ML: Lots of capital investment in the correct spot. Okay. Okay, good. So I just wanted to just because not everybody following the show is a finance expert…

 

DD: I appreciate that.

 

ML: That privacy issue because you know, you a lot everything you're talking about is digital, plus or minus. And so there's the other sort of culture war  is oh, you know, they tried to put a chip in us with a vaccine and, and they're trying to follow us everywhere and they're trying to interfere and the robot in my apartment is going to be is listening and in fact, we know that our speakers are listening, televisions are listening now you're going to have a curbside that's listening or tracking your movements. You know, we did some stuff when I was on the board of Transport for London where we were tracking people through the metro’s through the Tube system. Amazingly, people choose the most extraordinary sets of journeys, you have no idea why, that's what they do. logic would say they don't they do. But all of that data and we have to anonymize and go through all sorts of protocols. How do you reassure people? Do you just expect them to kind of become comfortable with being tracked? How do you deal with it?

 

DD: I don't expect that at all. In fact, this was the most contentious issue we face in our project up in Toronto, we eventually worked our way through it. And I really think the answer is government must get its act together. And government and through a transparent, reasonably democratic process must be responsible for approving applications that use personally identifiable information, particularly by the way what we're talking about in public space. And we came up with an agreed ultimately with the various governments in Toronto, the various advocates on an approach, not saying everyone was totally on board with it, but they actually would have vested control in sort of a Data Trust that would have been managed by government, I think we're going to have to go there. And it's the only it's the only way that people are ever going to have confidence.

 

ML: But let me let me challenge you a little bit. Because you know, the sorts of things that go wrong, it's not just that somebody says, okay, here's a file of everywhere Michael's being mean, who knows, it could be little things like, for instance, charging, you know, a transport network operator, and Uber or Lyft, or whoever, Zeelo could charge more for people who are in a vulnerable situation, because they know that you really need the transport. So they could say, right, we're going to up the prices. Or they could say, right, we're going to make sure that the vehicles always circulate in the affluent area, so they get a better service because they're more profitable. And those algorithms will be deep, deep, deep in the servers of those companies. <inaudible> And now how to get into that level of detail and regulate?

 

DD: I'm not sure that's as much a privacy issue as it is a policy issue. But the reality is government's going to have to catch up and deal with these policy and privacy issues. You know, what we had proposed is you had to literally for every application of the use of data, personally identifiable information data in public space had to go through this trust, make an application, that trust, which would be controlled by government would have to approve it would have the ability over time to actually monitor it. I said, that's on the privacy side, I think that is and you had to justify in terms of the application, why what you're doing A) did not use personally identifiable information, or if you did minimize it. So, lots of things like cameras, you can, you know, if you're looking for metadata, you're looking for aggregate data, you can eliminate the personally identifiable information at the camera itself. So, you know, and then you had to make the case that it was worth the benefit. So like I said, I'm not saying we completely cracked the code, but I do think it's going to go in that direction. We're just not used to regulating data.

 

ML: And what about sort of facial recognition? Are you going stay completely clear?

 

DD: We are staying away from that. The case we always use was we want traffic lights, that are more responsive, for example, to pedestrians. Let's just talk about pedestrians for the moment. So there's a an old man crossing the street, he's going slowly. Okay, we know we have the technology to manage the traffic light more effectively to make sure that guy stays safe. We don't need to know who he is. We just need to know he's moving slowly. And we need to be able to adjust the traffic light, the ability and that we'll use a sensor or a camera to see that. But we can eliminate all of that data about the individual at the camera itself. And so I think, look, there's no black and white here. That's why you go through this cost benefit analysis. But a principle is to not use personally identifiable information, unless it's absolutely necessary. And then if it's absolutely necessary, you still have to prove that the benefit of using that data. And it's not us that making that decision or you know, the manufacturers of these services or products, but it’s got to be government because they're the only ones and it has to incur in the public domain.

 

ML: So that's a fantastic segue to the final questions I'd like to ask you. Because while I was working, while I was still CEO of BloombergNEF as it now is or NEF at the time, I had this opportunity to join the board of Transport for London. And the reason I jumped to that as a segue is that one of the first things we dealt with, one of the first things that I dealt with, was the traffic light sequencing, where you know, at the time, I had three young children, and, and the lights would go green to cross for six seconds. Try doing that with a toddler and two kids and two babies or infants in a stroller. And so I kind of waged a campaign to try and get those timings changed. And there was all sorts of reasons why it couldn't be done, and it could be done and so on. But when I came to you and said Dan, you know, I know you want me to focus on building this business, integrating the team, all the stuff we talked about at the beginning of this, this conversation, but I got an opportunity to serve on the Board of Transport for London, you said you've got to do it. Without even thinking you said you got to do it. Why is public service for business people so core to you? How come that was such an easy decision? And in fact, you know, is it the same logic as the reason why you went into government yourself as deputy mayor?

 

DD: Absolutely. You know, look, the most important thing for me is having positive impact on for me, New York is probably number one, but society more broadly, that's how I kind of evaluate my life, you know, did I make a contribution or not. And the reality is, you know, with very rare exceptions, if you're in the right circumstance, in government, you can have an incredible impact. And, you know, when I look back on my career, as proud as I am of what I'm doing now, as proud as I was, being at Bloomberg, the six years I spent in government in New York City, it was, by the way, the six years right after 9/11. And I was responsible for sort of the physical and financial recovery of the city were to me, still the ones that I look back on with the greatest pride, because the impact was so great. And I think in my time in government, made something like 289 separate initiatives, everything from, you know, building Hudson Yards to rebuilding the World Trade Centre site, saving the Highline, the regeneration of Brooklyn, and Queens Waterfront. But also things like hybrid taxis and a million trees. And, you know, that's impact. And so that's what I was. And I thought you in particular, as someone who is really an idea person who would bring, you know, even more innovation, I think Transport for London, you know, had been a leader, actually within sort of the transit authorities, but could use somebody with your perspective. And I thought for you personally, it'd be a real opportunity to use all the skills that you've developed to make a positive contribution.

 

ML: It's interesting, because I had, like yourself, I had six great years on the board of Transport for London. I eventually got rotated off by… I got on there when it was Boris Johnson, I was rotated off by Sadiq Khan,  actually it's very upsetting because I had begged to stay on when he came in as mayor, because I had become convinced by the data because that was another big theme of the Mayor Bloomberg’s mayoralty, that data matters. I'd become convinced by the data that London streets were unsafe London has actually got the least safe surface transport of any major city in Europe, which doesn't, you know, make a big noise about for obvious reasons, and I wanted to stay on and try and fix that. And instead, I got kind of nobbled by management and removed by Sadiq. And of course, we've had some terrible safety. You know, we've had tram crashes, we've had excess deaths during the COVID you know, pandemic.

 

DD: Same things happened in New York.

 

ML: It's a bittersweet pleasure for me the, the memory of my time on the board. I think I did have impact, but it

 

DD: There may be other opportunities.

 

ML: Well, you know, I, you probably know that there was at one point, speculation about whether I should stand for mayor. Who knows?

 

DD: do remember that.

 

ML: Meanwhile, I have to let you get on with your day, I've got plenty to do. I'm preparing for major series of events that I'm co-hosting at COP 26. I understand you will not be there. Otherwise, you would have been very welcome to participate in what I'm doing. But I really thank you for the time that you've spent with us here on Cleaning Up.

 

DD: It's great to be with you. And hopefully we'll have the opportunity to get together in person sometime soon.

 

ML: Nothing would give me more pleasure. And maybe we'll even do some do some business together. What is it we have to do well, whilst doing good, but find a way of doing that on the same beat together that we great.

 

DD: If you've got any great ideas for a product or service, I'd love to hear them.

 

ML: Okay, that's the deal. Great talking to you, Dan.

 

DD:  You too.

 

ML: So it was Dan Doctoroff, founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs and also former president and CEO of Bloomberg LP, so he's the man who put the Bloomberg into Bloomberg NEF. My guest next week is one of the world's great experts on energy policy, International Affairs and the US China relationship. It's David Sandalow, former acting under Secretary of Energy under the Obama administration, and now Fellow at the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia University. Please join me this time next week for conversation with David Sandalow.