This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade sit down with Michael Shane, the Global Head of Digital Innovation for Bloomberg. They discuss his journey from professional clarinetist to applying for an editorial position on a whim to developing big and small ideas across platforms and divisions at Bloomberg. They then describe Bloomberg’s upcoming collaboration with Postlight Labs on a tool which integrates Bloomberg’s business context with news stories from any outlet.
Paul Ford [Music ramps down] Hi, you’re listening to Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, a digital products studio at 101 5th Avenue in New York City. My name is Paul Ford, I’m the co-founder of Postlight.
Rich Ziade And I’m Rich Ziade, the other co-founder.
PF And we have a very interesting guest today who I should disclaim—
RZ Paul, you do this every time. You do this every time. Let’s talk about who we are.
PF Well, I said we’re a digital products studio which I think a reasonable person could intuit means that we make apps for your phone, or web apps, or platforms.
RZ That’s right.
RZ We build it all. We design—
RZ Strategy to design, to build, to ship.
PF We’ve got product managers, engineers—
RZ Doing it all.
PF — and designers.
RZ Yes, imagine a slideshow showing all the things we can do.
PF Imagine a circle with arrows showing an infinite process.
PF So, that’s what Postlight is. Ok—
RZ That’s Postlight.
PF And if you wanna get in touch with us, you can send us an email at email@example.com, we’ll probably mention that at the end of the show. Today on the show we have Michael Shane. Michael, hello.
Michael Shane Hi.
PF Michael is a client, we should disclaim that immediately [RZ well—]. Literally everything you say—
RZ Client asterisk, Paul. He’s really not a client.
PF This is true, I’ve known Michael for quite some time.
MS That’s true.
PF Frequent podcast guest . . . uh on other podcasts.
MS I don’t know frequent may be an overstatement.
PF Well, you’ve been on Topolsky’s podcast like 500 times.
MS That’s kind— Well, a couple, that’s kind of the extent of my repertoire [PF ok]. Let’s be honest.
PF Oh ok. But you also run podcasts for Bloomberg.
MS That’s one of my babies there, yeah.
PF And! You are working with us on a super secret that we can now talk about.
PF [Sing songy:] So—
RZ I think the— the title gives— gives good context here: he’s the global head of innovation for Bloomberg.
MS Digital innovation. [PF What’s a global—] I can’t innovate everything.
PF Great, so this is—
RZ Global head of of digital innovation for Bloomberg.
PF We love to ask people what do you all day? Like do you wake up in the morning and you’re like, “Ah man, I was gonna eat some cereal but I have some global innovation heading to do”?
MS Well, first of all, I always try to eat a little bit of cereal [PF ok], you gotta get— you gotta get fibre.
PF Yeah, to innovate.
MS You gotta get the processes moving.
RZ Before we get into Michael’s breakfast, maybe we should complete the disclaimer?
RZ That there’s a collaboration happening between Bloomberg and Postlight Labs.
PF That’s right. Postlight Labs is the part of Postlight that does labs-y things.
RZ And we’re gonna talk about that today.
RZ About that collaboration [inaudible] —
PF It might not be today, it might be tonight when people are listening.
RZ Fair. Uh—
PF So many asynchronous medium.
RZ But we’re gonna also talk about Michael here for a second—
MS If you want.
RZ — um more than a second! Cuz he’s got an interesting— it’s a long and winding road to where he is today.
PF Let’s tell people what we’re gonna hear about: we’re gonna hear about Michael, we’re gonna hear about— a little bit about Bloomberg, we’re gonna hear about the cool collaboration we’ve done [RZ Yes] which we are very proud of because it’s really interesting, then we’ll probably talk a little bit more about Postlight for about a minute and tell you—
RZ We’ll compliment ourselves.
PF — tell you to rate us on iTunes.
RZ And tell you to rate us on iTunes.
PF That’s right.
MS I could do that part, if you want.
PF Oh you’re gonna do that part! That’s great.
MS If you want.
PF Yeah. Cuz we don’t have any ads. If you want to, we could say something about Squarespace.
MS [Laughs] Just to make people feel comfortable?
PF [Chuckling] Yeah.
PF God, you know, Rich, sometimes I really get tired of building really big, scalable websites using the full stack technology and design resources [RZ chuckles] here at Postlight.
MS Hey, I have— I have an idea for you.
PF Circlespace! That’s right. It’s like Squarespace but, I don’t know, rounder. Uh so let’s stick to our agenda [MS ok]. Global Head of Innovation at Bloomberg. Now, Bloomberg is over two or three billion employees [MS laughs] last I counted.
MS It’s something like 19 or 20,000.
PF Yes. So if you’re a Global Head of Innovation, that means— first of all, Bloomberg’s everywhere.
MS Bloomberg’s everywhere and it’s a big company so—
PF What does Bloomberg do?
MS Bloomberg primarily makes the Bloomberg Terminal which is a financial technology platform that allows people to get news, data, to communicate, it’s a trading platform. It’s for, you know, uh stock market professionals, currencies, commodities, people who work in those areas.
RZ Massively successful!
PF It’s realistic to say, right? If you are outside of finance, you may have heard of the Bloomberg Terminal. If you work in finance, you’ve absolutely heard of and know something about the Bloomberg Terminal.
RZ Yeah, you’ve probably used it.
PF Yeah and it’s also— it kind of is the social network container of choice for super powerful financial professionals.
MS Yeah, I would say that’s fair.
RZ Then there’s like the rest of world’s view of Bloomberg which is words a person on a screen with words [50,000 words] — words across their head, words above their head.
PF Literally the— you can turn on Bloomberg and the entirety of Anna Karenina is on the screen [RZ chuckles] and there’s somebody telling you—
MS There’s numbers too.
PF Yeah, yeah.
RZ Talking to you about Asian markets.
PF That’s right [MS laughs].
RZ And— and Moby Dick is scrolling across the bottom and up the sides.
PF Bloomberg is— I mean we talk a lot about big companies. Bloomberg is a very big company [MS mm hmm] and it’s— there’s a term: vertically integrated meaning that companies— sort of all the parts of the company uh like if Apple needs new screens, they might go buy a glass company [MS chuckling mm hmm]. Bloomberg is like literally vertically integrated. Like you’re like, “Oh, hey, Radio, you just wrote an article for Bloomberg Businessweek, why don’t you go upstairs or downstairs to the radio station?”
MS Yeah, the media term is multiplatform.
PF Right. But here it’s vertical. Like you’re in a skyscraper and you go up and down.
MS It’s tall.
PF Yeah it’s—
MS I mean I try [stammers] — what people learn actually, new Bloomberg employees often are setting meetings uh we’re centered around the third floors and fifth floors [PF mm hmm] and you can tell if someone’s new cuz they’ll book a meeting with you on like the 15th floor cuz that’s where they can get a room. And then you have to send them an email and be like, “No.”
PF Oh yeah—
MS “I’m not making that commute.”
PF That’s rough.
MS “Lemme help you out with this.”
PF So now ok so we’ve been talking about the Terminal part but there’s—
RZ I think the last thing we should mention is— is Michael Bloomberg. He is the founder of Bloomberg, he was the mayor of New York City for a long time, he thought about running for president and saving us all but decided to pass on that.
PF He has been a [stammers] a animating force in our city [RZ and our country at the same time as PF] and our country.
MS For decades.
PF For decades, right? [MS Yeah] Right? Like whether— where— you know, I’ve gone up and down on him as— as— as he’s done various political things but he is a presence [RZ yes]. And so you’ve got this terminal that is really well used and that ha— is very expensive. That’s a big thing about it like financial people pay well 20— 20,000 dollars a year plus, right? [MS Mm hmm mm hmm mm hmm] To use this thing. And then you have a media organization inside it—
MS Correct. Which is where my work is focused.
RZ And it’s worth noting the dotted line, back to Paul Ford, uh they own Businessweek and Paul Ford wrote the only, single article issue of Businessweek: “What is Code,” which is available on the web, which people should go read—
MS Boy that was fun.
RZ — cuz it was excellent.
RZ And so there is a sort of family tree tie to— to Bloomberg, between Bloomberg and Postlight.
PF Yeah, I’ve—
RZ There’s always been a link there, to some extent.
MS I feel like we really get each other.
PF I think we do. I think we do. This is where I mean the vertically integrated line comes from— uh I was there— they were like, “Hey, you gotta go on Charlie Rose,” [MS yeah laughs] and I [stammers] “Oh god, where do I go?” “You go upstairs!”
MS “Right this way.”
PF Yeah [chuckles] it’s on the sixth floor [MS right]. And um— and you just go into a dark room and Charlie Rose is there and he’s always there.
RZ Ever leave the dark room?
PF It doesn’t matter, really. Not through any exits [RZ yeah]. Yeah, so however that works [MS laughs] you know. Um he’s a time traveller. Uh so the media organization it’s like let’s just try to list the parts. Right? You’ve got Businessweek, you’ve got the news that goes onto the terminal—
MS You’ve got Bloomberg news, you’ve got television, you’ve got radio [PF ok], uh and then you’ve got uh all of digital [PF ok] which is website, apps, email, podcasts, everything.
PF So it is a like— there are hundreds and hundreds of people—
MS The Bloomberg newsroom alone is 24 hundred people [RZ wow!] [PF Ok so—] It’s huge. [PF Oh it’s huge]. It’s one of the biggest news organizations in the world.
PF One of the experiences I remember is that the former editor of Businessweek um Josh Tyrangiel, [MS mm hmm] who was editing me in this— this um entire magazine that I was writing, and a lot of other editors were involved too. I saw him! I was there. I was staying late at Bloomberg to just get this thing done. And he was like, “Hey, I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” and I was like, “Ok, I’ll see ya.” And then he was on a— like a screen, the next day, it was like a video conferencing system, and I was like, “Oh that’s weird, he must be like in some meeting and he just didn’t have time to come downstairs.” Sort of like the— He was in Hong Kong [all chuckle]. He had just like, he had just gone to Hong Kong and then the Bloomberg screen in Hong Kong was exactly the same [RZ right]. It was the most— it was also—
RZ No latency.
PF — it was a baller managerial move which is like you never know where they are.
MS It’s true.
RZ Oh I would’ve been like, “Where’s my little toothpaste?” For like 11 hours.
MS It’s a very global company.
PF I would’ve been like, “Hey guys, I’m going to Hong Kong! [RZ yeah, let’s talk about—] I’m gonna fly on airplane!”
RZ Where’s that Eater article, “Top 20 Places to Have Noodles”?
PF Yeah, exactly. “Anyone been to Hong Kong where I’m also going? What are some cool [others laugh] things to do?” Um but no, Josh is just sort of like, “Oh bye.”
MS Yeah, but he underplays everything, that’s his move. He’s very suave.
PF It’s a tremendous move for a manager. I have no ability to emulate it.
MS Oh I could never do that.
PF No. You know what we wanna do is talk through how one becomes a Global Head of Innovation?
PF Ok? So I’m guessing you went to some college.
MS I do have a college education.
PF Where did you go?
MS I went to the Cleveland Institute of Music.
MS In Cleveland, Ohio.
RZ To invent instruments.
PF Right, so that’s not really a technology or innovation place?
MS No, not at all. I’ve always been a nerd though [PF ok]. I mean when I was on uh you know like Windows ‘95 using AOL, I was making like Star Wars fan websites. Typing the HTML into my little, into Notepad.
PF Ok so this was a subtext but you were—
MS Nerd is an important subtext.
PF What did you study musically?
MS All— all day.
PF Really? So all day?
MS All day.
PF Any advice for aspiring clarinetists out there?
MS Learn how to breathe properly.
RZ Well profess— did it become professional for you?
MS It did become professional, uh I was in— after I finished my undergrad, I stayed in Cleveland for a while cuz I had some opportunities to play in the Cleveland Orchestra. Um—
PF That’s a pretty serious orchestra.
RZ That’s a world renowned orchestra.
MS Yeah it’s—
MS It was an amazing experience and I was really fortunate to— to be there at the right time and to be prepared to not screw up. So that was incredible. Got to do a couple of international tours, play with incredible musicians and conductors, it was amazing. Um but eventually that work dried up.
PF Any favorite pieces from that era?
MS [Sucks teeth] I mean so many. Uh Ballard’s Second Symphony [PF mm hmm], Brahms’ First Symphony uh was incredible, Prokofiev Fifth Symphony: incredible. Uh some really interesting modern stuff by Louis Andriessen [PF mm hmm], that was pretty crazy. Uh got to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Miami! That— I mean—
RZ Miami doesn’t know beyond Beethoven’s Fifth symphony [MS laughs], let’s face it.
PF That’s probably true.
MS Yeah, you gotta know your audience.
RZ Miami had to like tell the Ibiza [MS laughs] DJs to chill for the night. So they could play Beethoven’s Fifth.
PF Did people wear a tux with shorts in Miami? [RZ and MS laugh boisterously] Alright, alright, so you are a actual uh world travelling um very serious clarinetist. That’s a— you know—
RZ And when you say work dries up, I don’t— isn’t it a job? Aren’t you an employee?
MS Well so, at the time uh I was playing on sort of like a freelance contract basis [RZ got it] cuz the clarinet section was down a person [RZ ok] uh—
PF So you’re like an adjunct?
MS Yeah, basically, and look: I alm— it was um an incredible experience, I almost got the job that was open, but I didn’t get it. It happens. There’s just like one opening in an orchestra in every couple decades.
PF Yeah, there’s very little shame in that world—
MS No, it was—
PF — to not getting the like—
MS It was an incredible experience.
MS So then uh when that work dried up, I figured, “Ok, I’ll go get master’s degree,” because in music uh classical music—
PF You just— just keep going.
MS You keep going to school until you get a job.
PF Yup. Yup.
MS And I knew that I wanted to come to New York and work with a specific person, uh his name is Alan Kay [PF mm hmm]. Great guy, tremendous clarinet player. And I went and did my master’s at Stony Brook which is out on Long Island [PF sure] cuz they have a great program and great faculty for, you know, half the price of Juilliard, or whatever it is [PF right]. Uh and as that was winding down, I was gonna move into New York City from Long Island and uh work for Apple and help them open the Grand Central store cuz I’d worked for Apple part-time in Cleveland when I was an undergrad. And they were getting ready to open this store and I needed the job—
PF But this is the part of Apple that puts things on shelves.
MS Yeah, this is retail [PF ok], you know, selling and all that kind of stuff [PF right]. And I had that all lined up, ready to go, I was gonna move into the city, I was gonna freelance, I was gonna take auditions, and then one day I was sitting in front of my computer and this tweet rolled by from Josh Topolsky uh and it was like, “I’m doing this new thing and I need an assistant!” And for some reason, I have no idea why, I was like, “Oh! That could be interesting. You know he does the kind— he does things that I’m interested based on my background. I like the stuff he does. I like technology. I like gadgets. I’m into that stuff.”
PF So where is— Joshua Topolsky, at this point, is starting The Verge?
PF K. So Josh Topolsky is an editor, entrepreneur, he likes to create new media products.
MS I think officially he’s a media mogul now.
PF Yeah that’s probably true.
MS Yeah he’s leveled up.
PF He was supposed to be on this podcast but he’s cancelled.
MS He’s very difficult to pin down.
PF [Exhales audibly] But he likes to ask other people, namely me, to be on his podcast [RZ hint hint!] with like 45 minutes notice [MS laughs boisterously]. “Hey, Paul, where are you right now? Whatcha doin’? How you doin’? You wanna come by and be on a podcast? Hey, hey.” [MS laughs] So anyways, that’s— that’s Josh Topolsky. Uh so ok so you were just sitting there, literally your clarinet’s in one hand, and your mouse is in the other.
MS I mean that— it could’ve been in the middle of a practice session, that is entirely possible [PF mm hmm] um—
PF Cuz you just kind of always play clarinet if you’re doing that, right?
MS Yeah, pretty much non-stop.
PF What was you— what was it gonna be? Like what were you gonna be as a clarinetist?
RZ I imagine teaching.
MS Well, there’s teaching, there’s a fair amount of freelance work, although it’s very difficult to break into, Broadway, obviously—
PF Oh cuz house orchestras are still a thing.
PF Ok. Sure.
MS For some shows. Uh and then really you travel the country taking auditions for orchestras that are on the brink of folding, hoping you get that job and you can have it for six months, before the orchestra goes out of business.
PF See that’s—
RZ That’s a rough scene.
PF — keep going broke, keep going broke, keep going—
MS So now you can see why after having this tremendous experience in Cleveland, I was on the one hand excited but also kind of satisfied. [PF Right] And I saw this Topolsky rolling through my Twitter feed with an opportunity to join his little— his new media startup at the ground level. I was like, “Oh! Ok. Nothing to lose. Let’s see what happens.”
PF Interesting so you— you were like, “Ok, I’ve had the orchestra experience. I know what that’s like.”
MS I’d— I’d been to the top of the mountain.
PF Ok so it’s time to— let’s just send Topolosky an email.
MS You never know. So I see this Tweet and I send him an email and it was an incredibly short, borderline snarky cover letter, cuz I didn’t know Josh at all at this point [PF right] but for reason I had this intuition that that would appeal to him [PF ok]. Little did I know how right I was. Uh and so—
PF So he’s like, “Get this kid in here!”
MS Basically, yeah. But long story short: brought me in and actually The Verge office used to be right around from this office that we’re sitting in right now [PF ok]. Uh so very nostalgic, every time I come visit you guys. Long story short: I got the job to be Josh’s editorial assistant at The Verge basically right when it was starting up.
PF Great! So you are— Josh is a human tornado. I don’t think there’s any reason not say that [MS fair] and so you are the assistant to a human tornado.
MS Yeah. You know from my friends there were a lots of Devil Wears Prada jokes. It was a bit of stretch but it was—
PF That’s a little— I mean he’s a— he’s basically a human being you can talk to.
MS Absolutely [PF laughs].
RZ He moves fast.
PF He moves very fast.
MS Yeah, he moves fast but, you know, it was the very beginning of a startup and I think that 2011, that time, this group of people. Again, I was really lucky: right people, right time, right place, right project.
PF And you got to see it right up close.
MS And I got to see it right up close. It was sort of—
PF Cuz The Verge worked. It was a media property and it worked.
RZ It became a monster.
MS Oh! It’s amazing what happened. And I, again, am insanely lucky to have been apart of it for the first three years.
PF And you should know too, you were also— you were part of a larger media org. It was uh—
MS Well, when, you know, when it began it was just us and SB Nation but it grew very quickly after that and so my entire education around how to work across different teams in a digital organization: product, finance, engineering, marketing, dev, sales. All of that was at The Verge.
PF So you’re at this company called Vox [MS correct], there’s a thing called SB Nation that’s basically like an aggregation of lots of sports fan blogs.
MS Yeah, basically.
PF And— but also has some really novel stuff. Like it was just—
MS Massive community.
PF And it was smart about like using animated GIFs well and following up on stories, some good tech.
PF And then The Verge shows up as like a new kind of technology site [MS yes]. So you get like these sort of deep, in-depth stories along with like “Check out the HTC50349 Update.”
MS Yeah, and you know, when we started it was very gadget heavy [PF mm hmm]. Although the first week the site launched, there was a, you know, long— a longform feature about jet packs.
PF Alright so you’re at The Verge, things happen—
MS Amazing things happen.
PF Amazing things happen um and then you end up at Bloomberg.
PF K [RZ snickers]. What were you doing when you first—
RZ Job description, yeah.
MS So when I got to Bloomberg I came with Topolsky. We came in to sort of overhaul digital there, uh and give everything there a fresh start. This was a little, you know, uh two and a half years ago or so. And when I came in uh we were based in the newsroom. So I started out as a managing editor for digital, uh working for Josh. And for the first two years I was there, it was really all about rebuilding and in some cases building the capability to execute at a really high level, in terms of a digital— a digitally focused newsroom, digital— uh prioritizing digital products. It was hiring more and the right people. It was structuring. It was long term strategy. It was everything. Uh sort of trying to take some of the— the process that we’d learned at The Verge for how to win on the internet doing journalism and scale it up to an organization that was, you know, more than a hundred times the size or something like that.
PF And that’s kind of when Bloomberg’s website got weird.
RZ And fun.
PF It got fun.
MS Oh yeah! I think it was January 2015 we re-launched the website, uh and from there we were sort of off to the races doing all kinds of stuff, um so pressing fast forward a little bit: basically after about two years being based in the newsroom, we’d achieved a lot and then team there is incredible and is just executing at a really high level, doing— I mean just the other day they released this incredible feature uh about the big turnaround at Domino’s [PF mm hmm]. And the experience on the web is just playful, and mind blowing, and fun, and obviously the journalism is really fantastic. So after about two years, it became clear that my next— the next place where I could really help at Bloomberg was to move beyond the newsroom cuz I think they’re— they’re just really firing on all cylinders. Uh and sort of shift over to the business and product side a little bit. Uh and so now my work is detached from the news cycle [PF ok] and I’m more focused on long term product strategy development uh business development. And my job at Bloomberg, specifically, is to sort of pull up out of the road map, I don’t live sprint to sprint, uh and to look further out, uh and look for interesting ways for us to basically grow our audience, make the audience love us more, uh and help us make more money. Uh and I do that by doing cool, fun projects with folks like you that we can then learn from and implement in-house. I do it by collaborating with our adtech to do crazy stuff no one’s ever done before, uh I like for new potential partners that— maybe the tech they’re working on isn’t even gonna be ready for six months or more but I wanna start talking to them now. Uh I talk to our friends on the west coast at Bloomberg Beta which is Bloomberg’s venture capital arm, on a regular basis. So I’m always looking for new ways for us to be better. Uh the difference is I’m sort of detached from the product cycle and when I find something that I think needs to come in-house, and that we need to start executing on, then I have to pull it in, I have to get with everybody, collaborate with everybody, we have to get it in a road map. It’s a really interesting, super horizontal, broad, crazy job. It’s a lot of fun.
PF Alright so that’s a very abstract job. How do you make sure that you have something to show? So people don’t sit down at the next budget meeting and go, “What the hell is Shane doing?”
MS [Laughs] So I try to always have a good mix of short term wins, or things that have the potential for short term wins, and long term projects cooking, right? Because I care deeply about augmented reality and what it’s gonna mean for business and for storytelling. Uh I care a lot about uh machine learning, computer vision, and where those are going, with regard to uh how you can tell stories, how you can learn about the information that you have, the assets that you have, and how you can make money. Those are long term potential, right?
PF Mm hmm.
MS But I also do— I also focus a lot on short term things that I think are gonna impact our business uh immediately. Uh one example being the project we’ve been working on which, on the grand scheme of things, I think of as a relatively quick turnaround project, especially given what the product is capable of.
PF Let’s talk about the thing we do together.
RZ Well [stammers] 30 seconds on how it hap— Like we had a big event where we unveiled Postlight Labs [MS yeah] [PF right] and some experiments that we built and Michael, I don’t know if you dropped us a note or—
MS I think you guys maybe pinged my boss—
RZ Oh we know your boss!
MS And he was like, “Michael, check this out!”
RZ We know your boss, that’s right.
MS And I was like, “Oh yeah.”
PF Yeah, that’s true. That’s— that’s sales, man. We went up there and we were like, “Hey, Scott, we just want you to know we’re around, we’re doing some stuff.”
PF And then he was like, “Ok, cool.” He was playing it cool.
RZ Yeah, no agenda. Saying, “Hi.”
PF No agenda.
RZ Yeah. And then you’d I think pinged us and said, “Yeah, I do innovation stuff and you’re the lab, so let’s chat.” And then—
PF Tell— Who’s your boss and what’s his title?
MS My boss is Scott Havens, he’s the Global Head of All Digital for Bloomberg.
MS So he’s in charge of the whole business and product side, so his partners are editorial leadership and sales leadership, uh and I work for Scott, who’s awesome.
PF Good. I wanted just— I mean I like to give people a sense of like how it all works [MS yeah]. So ok so you got in touch you said, “Let’s do something.”
MS Yeah, “Let’s see if there’s a thing to do. [PF Ok] There might be a thing.”
RZ We spent about two weeks just exploring what we could build together.
PF I wasn’t part of those.
MS Yeah we got up to like ten or 15 ideas on paper [RZ yeah, which was fun] that were all, they were real. And they ran the gamut from, “Oh we could do this in two weeks,” to, “This would take a year.”
PF Yeah there was one that was like, “Let’s completely reboo— reboot all security.”
MS [Laughs] It was something like that, yeah.
PF And then there was one that was like, you know, “When you type in ‘a’, it plays a little note.” I mean it was like there were very tiny ideas and very big ideas.
MS Right. And to be clear, again, my— my sort of rubric that I was working from was always audience, how much does the audience love us? And money. [PF Right] Those are the three things that we were sort of looking at as we uh—
RZ You could apply that to life—
MS — put the things together.
RZ — as well, Michael.
MS Yeah, I mean I try not to focus on the the money too much [RZ chuckles].
PF Our point of view is: what we can do with Bloomberg data and Postlight . . . to do something really, really interesting?
MS Right. What we were really looking for is what are the things that Bloomberg brings to the table that are unique and valuable and what does Postlight have that’s unique and valuable? And then if we smush those things together, what does that pie smell like? And let’s make that thing.
PF So let’s talk about the smelly pie we made.
RZ The codename for the product is Lens.
MS Right. Well the first codename was Hot Dog cuz I was really hungry during that meeting [RZ yeah] but then obviously for the—
RZ An incredibly corny codename—
MS We needed a more professional name.
RZ — was Hot Dog.
PF Bloomberg wasn’t really into that codename, right? [RZ chuckles.]
MS You know? Yeah. We— they wanted something a little bit more—
PF Certain things a big company just can’t handle.
MS Hot dogs.
RZ Uh ok so I’m gonna say elevator pitch . . .
RZ And then you go. And you’re gonna summarize what Bloomberg Lens is. Ok. Go!
MS So it’s 2017, people read all of the internet, they get their news from many different sources, but we at Bloomberg believe that if you’re reading about things that are happening in business, uh and you don’t have Bloomberg within arms reach, you’re missing out. So we created a product that can uh read news article, parse them, pull out the names of publicly traded companies, and then match them against news and data to give you extra context. If you do it in Chrome, you get a side by side. If you do it on iOS vis a vis uh Share Sheet action row, you get it in a handy dandy modul and it’s all without ever leaving the article you’re reading because we respect other publishers and we love what they’re doing, and it’s just about making everything more edifying for everyone. Period.
PF And, Rich, we added a little extra Postlight magic to this.
MS Oh yeah. We should get to that.
RZ Yeah we will get— which is actually fi— it’s [stammers] worth it to talk about the bar that we think about at Poslight Labs [MS mm hmm]. And the bar that we wanted to meet also in this collaboration. Uh before we get into that, I just wanna highlight what you just described [MS ok] from a— from a very typical sort of laptop on my lap perspective which is oftentimes I’m reading an article and I decide, “Ok, well who is this congressman?” [MS Right, right] “He’s kinda weird—”
MS “What is this company?”
RZ “Who is this?” Yeah, “What’s going on?”
PF I mean this is the miracle of Wikipedia, right? [MS Right] Is that everything is kind of semantically the same way and you see a link and it’s like, you know, “John Smith was the fourth governor of Ohio.” And you’re like, “Oh well actually I’m curious about that.” Click. Tab opens up. There’s another John Smith page.
MS And before you know it, you have 30 dozen tabs, [PF right, right] it’s a problem.
RZ So people are doing this. People are doing this manually because the web’s right there in front of them and they can do it all of the time. So we built a tool that kind of makes it a lot more seamless.
MS I mean really the idea is, yeah, if you’re reading about business, this should keep— you can cut down on your tabs.
PF It’s a little financial Wikipedia over to the right, using Bloomberg data.
MS Yeah. Yeah.
RZ So we’re about two-thirds of the way into this project, maybe even further along.
MS I feel like we’re further.
RZ We are further along. Four-fifths of the way along.
MS That’s fair, yeah.
RZ And then we all kinda looked at each other and said, “Can we dial this up?” You know the bar I think for Labs is we want people to say, “Woah.” Uh even momentarily. We want people to kind of say, “Wow, these guys are doing some interesting things. They’re riskier, they’re harder problems [MS yup], and they’re a little more compelling.” [MS Yeah] And so you know the team’s done an amazing job delivering company information in a really beautiful kind of seamless kind of experience where it just sort of sits alongside the thing you’re reading. Really, really nice.
PF And we should point out, too, like on the Postlight side, we used our framework, Mercury, which does a lot of like it’ll extract the meaning from a webpage, it’s client-side, it’ll figure all sorts of stuff out, and then we extract that infor— we extract information about companies from the webpage [RZ from that page]. And then we go talk to Bloomberg, get all this sort of beautiful, well-organized Bloomberg data.
MS We just have some sweet, sweet API endpoints that are just ready to rock.
PF Right, right. I mean Bloomberg has just like the best corporate information possible. And it’s not just like that— that stock price chart, [MS no] like it’s a little extra.
MS Well one of our priorities was like, look, hardcore finance people are— they can get, you know, really clearly delineated technical finance information all over the place. We wanted this to be a little bit more human, a little bit more civilian in nature, but still . . . sophisticated.
RZ So what else is interesting, you know, a company, in legal parlance, is a— a fictional person.
PF Yeah, and that’s worked out great for the republic [others laugh].
RZ That you can hide behind [laughs].
PF That’s fantastic.
MS “On the next episode . . .”
PF [Chuckles] Yeah.
RZ Well it turns out what’s equally, if not more, interesting than fictional people—
PF It’s really hard not to go down this path. Really hard not to talk about—
MS You wanna hold my hand?
PF I know. I wanna talk about how companies are people.
MS Just squeeze my hand.
PF No, no, let’s just go on—
RZ Ok this is from a legal perspective.
PF Let’s talk about our product [RZ alright] and not the inequities in the—
RZ Well it turns out what’s more interesting than companies . . . are people. People have stories. Uh almost everybody that’s notable in the world uh whether it be, you know, a Spanish football player to a state councilwoman, they’ve been documented. There’s a good chance [PF right] they’ve been documented and is there a way, as I’m reading about the actors in that article, to quickly, very quickly, scan the people in that story?
MS And also, my favorite business stories always involve incredible characters [RZ oh!]. Companies are made up of people and I think it became really clear to us that company data was essential [RZ yeah] but it could even cooler, ever more edifying, even more useful if we could also tell you about some of the people [RZ oh absolutely!] that are in there. Right?
RZ I became obsessed with that— what’s her name? Holmes? Elizabeth Holmes?
MS Oh Theranos!
PF Theranos. Yeah.
RZ She’s got crazy eyes. The company’s a scam. Her eyes look like the bottoms of shot glasses [MS chuckles] and I just wanted to read about her, all the time.
MS It’s an incredible story.
PF Yeah, it was an incredible business story.
RZ And she had that black turtleneck cuz she’s obsessed with Steve Jobs, and it turns out her whole thing was a scam, and now Walgreens is suing them or something. There’s something about someone that’s able to pull one over— it’s just I could read about that all day long.
PF I’m like that with Larry Ellison, literally any Larry Ellison story about the founder [RZ he’s incredible] of Oracle [MS chuckles]. Like, he is just like a lizard king.
RZ Do you know about the little boat that chases his yacht?
PF There is a little boat that chases Larry Ellison’s yacht to pick up the basketballs that come off the basketball court—
RZ On his yacht.
PF There’s another thing is that he had [RZ oh my god] an enormous like many ton boulder installed for his shower . . . It’s just lots of— and he wears— he wears robes.
RZ I could read about that man— like that kind of stor— like that— that—
PF Where it just keeps unfolding and you realize there’s this like deep human pathology that [RZ yeah] originates so many other human events.
MS Well and as the story unfolds, normally you have to open more tabs.
PF God. And that is exhausting.
RZ Good. Bring us back!
MS Bringing us back.
RZ Bring us back, Michael!
RZ So, we built a tool that’ll peer into the thing that you’re reading [MS yup], pull up the interesting people—
MS And company data.
RZ — and companies [MS yeah], and allow you to dive into them if you like uh in your web browser, without having to open a bunch of tabs [MS correct] and on your phone, if you’re reading an article, you pull up the little share sheet [MS yup] and you’re able to pull up, again, the same sort of background information about those people—
MS Just iOS. Just iOS for now.
RZ Just iOS for now. Tell me, Michael, how much will this cost?
MS Absolutely nothing.
PF Oh my god!
RZ Goodness gracious.
MS Think of the value!
RZ Yeah. And it’s worth— just as an asterisk, this is a lab experiment [MS yeah]. Um it’s not perfect, but it’s really cool. Um and I— as I was [PF well and you’ll never—] testing it, I was finding it useful.
PF This thing will never be perfect. That’s— people should—
RZ This is a hard problem.
PF Yeah you—
MS Well, I think any product that does something that’s sufficiently exciting cannot be perfect.
PF Right. Like in the way that Google search is not perfect [MS right], right? Like you can only get so much meaning out of a page—
RZ Sinead O’Connor!
PF That’s different.
RZ Not perfect.
PF And she’s not perfect, no.
RZ For different reasons.
PF Different reasons.
PF Peter Gabriel.
RZ [Chuckles] Peter Gab—
PF Not perfect for different reasons.
PF Um but [others chuckling] uh Van Morrison!
MS Where are we going?!? [Laughs.]
RZ Deeply imperfect person.
PF Deeply imperfect.
MS However, Rush: perfect.
RZ Can we— can we just go on tangent here?
PF Nooo. We. Can’t. This’ll be the second time on the podcast we’ve talked about Rush.
MS You started talking about musicians. I had to mention Rush.
RZ Michael, are you a Rush fan?
MS It’s my favorite band in the world.
PF Oh god—
RZ Clarinet expert! Favorite band: Rush!
MS Well, of course, I’m a classically trained musician. What can I do?
PF I’ve really enjoyed this conversation—
RZ By the way, on mobile, the Bloomberg app, it’ll be built into— you don’t have to go get a new app [MS yeah exactly]. If you’ve got the Bloomberg app, you can install it.
PF So wait—
MS You can get Bloomberg— the new product by installing Bloomberg for Chrome into your Chrome internet web browser. Or if you’re a Bloomberg app user, or you download the Bloomberg app, it’ll be a new feature of the app, we’re gonna walk you through how to turn it on. It’s basically, you know, a new Share Sheet action. If you’re listening to this podcast, it’s probably really easy for you, you know exactly what to do. Uh and then it’s always there. Anytime you’re reading anything in a webview, so not just in Safari, right? On your iPhone. But anytime you’re reading anything in a webview in any app, anything that has a Share Sheet, you could tap it, tap the action icon for uh Bloomberg and then your loaded with all this interesting extra information.
RZ Except for Facebook.
PF Who is— who is the user? You’re talking about all this stuff, “I— am I— I’m a stay-at-home dad [MS mm hmm] and I um I have an interest in fine wine. [MS Yeah] Ok. Is this for me?”
MS If you’re interested in fine wine—
RZ Well we’re assuming you have other interests.
PF “Ok, I like to read the news. I do like to stay updated.”
RZ Ok, alright.
MS I mean, you know, I wouldn’t build something that I didn’t think could be useful to a high number of people, almost everyone, but, you know, using custom installed Share Sheet actions is uh not something that I would say everyone using iPhones does.
PF [Crosstalk with RZ] Alright, let’s say I use a Chrome web browser.
RZ Let’s go to a specific example: [MS yeah] there’s a big senate hearing happening.
PF Ok, I am interested in that.
RZ Ok, you’re interested in that, and the truth is we oftentimes kind of get to know the actors in the senate hearing when it happens. Like there’s the row of senators who are kind of leaned over and angry, and then there’s the person at that desk, and they cycle through a handful of people. And oftentimes, you may recognize one or two people but very often you don’t know all those people [MS right] and if there’s an article about that hearing, and you hit this button, it’s gonna give you a nice list of all the different people that were in that hearing.
PF Ok. Ok.
RZ The senators involved that are quoted, the person that’s getting interviewed.
PF So it’s a Wikipedia effect for every page.
MS Essentially, yeah. If there’s a big merger happening, you know, you hear that Apple is buying some other company, right? And let’s pretend for the sake of this example, the company is a publicly traded company. And you see the article, sure you know what Apple is but what is this company? Why are they buying them? Uh what’s— how much is this other company worth? What do they make? What business are they in?
RZ What’s the backstory?
MS Who were their executives? [PF Sure] That’s the kind of information you can get with one tap now instead of Wikipedia.
PF Alright so it’s a product in development—
RZ That we’re share with the world.
PF Which, you know, we’re putting it out.
RZ Yeah. That’s right.
PF So it’s coming out soon, right?
RZ And you’ll get it for Google Chrome, the Google Chrome browser, at the Chrome web store. You just add it on. It’s Bloomberg for Google Chrome. And then if you have the Bloomberg iOS app, it’ll just come down in an update.
MS And if you don’t have that app, please go download it.
RZ For iOS.
MS For iOS.
PF And then you’re smarter and more connected about all the things in the world and all the companies . . . that are publicly traded.
RZ You’re smarter. You’re just smarter.
MS You have more power!
PF Ok. I’m better connected to the universe.
RZ And a hat tip to uh the amazing team, teams, at Postlight and Bloomberg for making this happen. This was a cool project [MS yup], this was a hard project that had some twists and turns but from design to engineering, they killed it.
MS I mean relative to the size and the ambition and the technological complexity [RZ yeah], I think we were able to move incredible fast [PF mm hmm] uh—
PF No, I felt Bloomberg really reacted well to little Postlight.
MS And Postlight made stuff really fast.
PF Yeah. There wasn’t this like— a lot of times you get worried, you’re like, “Oh man, dinosaur and we’re a little, tiny mammal. They’re either gonna step on us or they’re gonna be—”
RZ Not notice us.
PF We’re gonna have to wait for them to go extinct, yeah.
MS No, but look: this is— this is why my job exists at Bloomberg and part of my job is to— you know the teams at Bloomberg involved in making this real [PF mm hmm] run the gamut from design, marketing, engineering, engineering teams that we don’t even technically control cuz we’re talking about, you know, some API controls.
MS Sales, right? Because this is a sponsorable product. And so part of my job is to get all of these people moving and working. Frankly, to make it easy for a shop like Postlight to work with us. As easy as possible, we’re still a big place.
PF It was pretty easy to work with you guys [MS um and—]. We work with a lot of big companies, it wasn’t that stressful.
MS That’s good to hear.
RZ Fun project.
PF So we’re gonna throw an event!
RZ Throw a party, yo!
PF Alright, so April 20th, is that the day?
PF Alright so people come by, meet Michael Shane.
MS Yell at me, hug me, whatever you want.
PF There’s a cheese plate, almost always, some beer, some nice drinks, we try to make it pleasant for everybody.
RZ It’s really cool. It’s— our events are always fun.
PF So, Michael, thank you. Are you headed back up to Bloomberg?
MS I gotta go uptown, gotta do work.
PF Gonna stop at the sixth floor? Get two or three pounds of oatmeal?
RZ You get some gummy bears while you’re up there?
MS Look: we don’t have gummy bears, we have lots of other things though. You guys, you’re welcome anytime. You know, you’re in the family. At noon, we have soup.
PF [Snickers] People don’t know.
RZ We should mention to people who don’t know: the lobby is essentially a big, kids’ candy store.
PF Yeah have you ever seen— but a lot of healthy options.
MS There’s healthy options: fruit, fresh fruit.
PF Have you ever seen like an episode of Star— Star Trek where they have like a high school for high school for Star Trek students?
MS Yeah, it’s like that.
PF That’s what the sixth floor of the Bloomberg Tower looks. Like you go in there and like— it’s really easy to imagine Star Trek teenagers falling in love on the sixth floor of the Bloomberg Tower.
MS It happens all the time.
PF So and you know what— at lunch you get soup?
MS That’s the thing. Everyday at noon. Here’s the thing: in addition to Bloomberg being uh a world class financial data technology product and media company, uh it’s also the most well capitalized soup kitchen in the world.
PF It’s fantastic.
MS It’s lovely.
PF It’s got nice [RZ chuckles] aquariums too. So look: Michael Shane.
PF Thank you.
MS Thank you.
RZ This was fun.
PF So thank you, everyone for listening to this exciting sponsored advertisement brought to you by [chuckling] [MS laughs] Bloomberg and Postlight.
RZ Fine print.
MS And— and Circlespace!
PF And Circlespace, the amazing rounded edges website builder that anyone can use. [Music fades in] I’m Paul Ford, I’m joined here by Michael Shane and my co-founder, Richard Ziade. Uh Postlight is a digital products studio at 101 5th Avenue in New York City and you can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You know, Michael, what should people rate us on iTunes?
MS [In deeper voic:] Five stars, baby.
PF Ah. That’s the right number of stars.
RZ Hells yeah. Hells yeah. And, you know, while you’re there: rate the Bloomberg app five stars.
MS Rate the Bloomberg app five stars.
PF Good idea. Alright. So, I’m gonna get outta here before Pro Tools crashes again [MS laughs]. We’re about to— we’re about to have a meeting and then Michael’s gonna head up town.
RZ Take care, guys.
RZ Have a good week.
MS Later! [Music ramps up, plays for eight seconds, then fades out to end.]