The first few months of 2016 were a little busy. In fact, they were more than busy — I was pretty much overwhelmed putting together Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, in the event he chose to run.
We didn’t just have to do all the blocking and tackling required of any campaign — getting on the ballot, making ads, polling, holding events, building a team, and so on. Being an Independent and working outside of the traditional political system meant we also had to run the whole thing differently than anyone had run a presidential campaign before. We knew that running a conventional campaign would have resulted in a conventional outcome: Defeat. No Independent has ever won the presidency. And we knew that Mike’s credibility as one of the country’s great innovators and entrepreneurs was one of our surest ways to differentiate him from everyone else.
Democrats can count on support — and bodies — from unions. Republicans can typically count on support — and bodies — from evangelicals. We weren’t going to have either. And we didn’t have an existing network of state and local party chapters to draw from. So we needed a supply of already-vetted independent contractors who could knock on doors, make calls, hand out lit, and do all of the other work that comes with every campaign. Where can you find that? The sharing economy.
So that February, I took a trip to San Francisco. I had the usual array of meetings with VCs and startups and tech reporters on my schedule, but there was one group of meetings at the top of my list. The first was with Travis Kalanick, then the CEO of Uber.
“If I’m willing to pay for a ride for every American to and from the polls on Election Day, would you put a Bloomberg button on the app?”
He thought about it for a moment. Adding a Bloomberg option next to the UberX or Uber Black options on the menu could mean hundreds of millions in revenue on one day, and if any political candidate could actually afford it, it was Mike. It also could mean helping elect someone whom Travis — and most of Silicon Valley — venerated as a godfather of tech.
“Would that mean they have to vote for your guy?”
“This is America. They can vote for whoever they want. But if they’re an Uber customer and they select the Bloomberg button, there’s a pretty good chance they’re with us. I already confirmed you can do this with Trevor Potter, our election counsel. He used to run the Federal Election Commission.”
“So he knows.”
“What if I want to offer campaign work to your drivers?”
“They’re independent contractors. They can do whatever they want.”
“But if I wanted a list of, say, drivers with a rating of 4.8 or higher in a dozen specific states, you could either give that to me or forward them an email?”
There was our grassroots team.
Any successful campaign requires pioneering new ideas. Obama became the king of online fundraising. Trump turned Twitter into the most effective form of communicating with voters.
I then met with Ron Conway, a prolific and heavily connected venture capitalist in San Francisco. Ron was an early investor in Airbnb and a host of other sharing-economy companies. He didn’t see why Airbnb hosts couldn’t choose to install Bloomberg yard signs or why DoorDash delivery people couldn’t slip campaign literature under people’s doors in between food runs, should they choose to opt in.