Welcome to another edition of “People Pulse.” Always hoping to bring you interesting folks doing even more interesting things in the Orlando and Central Florida area, here is Matt Broffman. I’ve known Matt for about 15 years (give or take a few). Matt and I have always shared and interested in and passion for great content–particularly hyperlocal content–and initially connected through both that and our mutual experiences working for Tribune Interactive. And over the years we’ve continued to stay in touch and catch up in real life from time-to-time. I’ve always been a fan and have continued to follow and admire the cool things he’s done for our great City (you’ll see later). Let’s dig in a little deeper so you can get to know Matt a little more as I do….
Q. First off, what brought you to Orlando, and how long have you lived here?
A. My family moved to Orlando when I was one…so there wasn’t much of a choice there. But growing up here I never thought I’d want to stay here. I went to school out of state and was ready to move to New York or Chicago when a great opportunity at the Orlando Sentinel opened up. I decided I’d take the job with the idea of it being short term and then move. Four years in, the company offered to relocate me to Chicago. I declined. I love Orlando and don’t see myself living anywhere else.
Q. What’s one of your favorite things about living in Central Florida?
Just one? I think most of the things I love about Orlando come back to its diversity and inclusion. We not only have diversity but our community sees our diversity as an asset. I think a lot of that has to do with the openness of our community. An openness to new people, new ideas, new businesses, new policies, new technology and new experiences…that makes us a great place to try new things which makes for a great place to live.
Q. I’ve known you for quite some time now, and I’ve been keeping up with all of the amazing things you do for Central Florida and the City of Orlando. You are the Director of Innovation for the City. Can you tell us a little bit about what this position is, and perhaps one of your most favorite projects you’ve worked on since assuming this role?
A. The title can actually be misleading. Lots of folks think my job is solely to innovate but our city is too big to have only one person innovating. So instead, my job is to help us build a culture of innovation inside city government and within the city more broadly. As part of this, I get to lead a team of talented civic servants who serve as our customer experience team for the City. That means it’s our jobs to not only manage digital platforms that residents interact with but also to make sure that every interaction our residents have with the city is building residents’ trust in government.
Our largest project has been the digital transformation of the City’s website from a website that talks about city government to one that helps you interact with government. But my favorite part has been what we call our Digital Service Academy. It’s a three-day workshop that we’ve conducted for hundreds of city staff where they get an opportunity to empathize with what it’s like for residents to use our services, come up with new ideas on how to improve the service and walk away with a newly designed and tested service ready to go live.
Q. Next, you have a pretty significant personal investment in Orlando Bungalower. Would you be so kind as to share your history with Bungalower?
A. It actually started as a prototype for a consulting project I was working on. At the time I was working with newspaper companies across the country and one of the newspaper execs kept pushing back that a website that didn’t cover crime, traffic, weather or deep politics would be empty and boring. So in between visits, I created Bungalower (based on the bungalow neighborhoods). I was working at Downtown CREDO in College Park and showed it to some other folks there. By the end of the month hundreds of people were on the site. So I stopped arguing with newspaper execs and just built out Bungalower as a business. A couple years in, I decided I wanted to go back and work on digital product (that ended up being at the City) and I found Brendan O’Connor to take over all of the content and editorial planning and now we also have Misty Heath who’s managing all our business development and advertising. And it’s working great!
Q. Are you surprised by the success of Bungalower over the past few years, and how it’s grown to become a real significant voice in the Orlando community?
A. Yes. I actually wasn’t 100% sure Bungalower would work without me. And that’s not because I didn’t think Brendan would do a good job, it’s because at the time there wasn’t a singling local online news website that was able to hire an editor and have the founder step away and have it work. AOL had invested tons of money in this problem and ended up shutting it down…it just wasn’t possible. It turns out the solution wasn’t find a writer who can write about what’s happening in a community the secret was finding someone who’s passionate about their city and who can also write. Brendan has done a great job of capturing Orlando’s essence and community in his work.
Q. Speaking of community, it’s one word I immediately think of when I think of Orlando. What does community mean to you as it relates to this great City of ours?
A. I have to go back to openness. There’s actually a great Walt Disney story that I think captures that. When Walt was looking for a location for his second park, allegedly he was between New Orleans and Orlando. The story goes that he went to New Orleans and everyone he met with had their hand out asking what Disney was going to do for New Orleans. When he arrived in Orlando, everyone had their hand out to shake his hand and ask what they can do to help him achieve his dream. I think that’s the same Orlando that is still here more than 55 years later.
Q. So much has changed in Orlando over the past five years. What has been something you’re most surprised about?
A. I think the most surprising thing is that the rest of the world still doesn’t get how great Orlando really is. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 10 years thinking about Orlando’s brand outside of the hospitality industry and it’s really hard to break through the noise. We lack that authentic identity for Orlando. The best attempts have been “Orlando Doesn’t Suck” t-shirts and the “You don’t know that half of it” campaign but both are defensive and don’t actually describe what we are.
I think we need to recognize that the hospitality industry isn’t something to shy away from but instead something we should embrace. We’re have a strong diversity because of the of people that come to work at our theme parks and hotels. We have great arts and culture because of the number of artists we have in Orlando that work for our theme parks. We are a welcoming community because our hospitality companies are training everyone from the front line to the executives on customer service. We have great local restaurants because of the restaurant expertise that our chain restaurant headquarters brings to Orlando. And oh yeah, that city where 75 million people each year spend their hard earned money to vacation, we get to call home. We get the theme parks, beaches, shopping and all the surrounding experiences 365 days a year. It ends up making an amazing city, we ought to talk about that more.
Q. What are some of your “best kept” secrets for things to do in Orlando and the Central Florida area?
It’s not really a secret, but many people don’t take advantage of the amazing art experiences we have around Orlando. My personal favorite is the Orlando Fringe which is such a great way to experience art that you would never be able to see anywhere else. I’m constantly amazed at how many people have told me they haven’t been to Fringe. Just show up. Buy a button and see a show. Orlando has the longest running Fringe festival and again I think this has a lot to do with how amazing of a place Orlando is for artists to try new works.
Q. What’s one thing you’re always sure to do or share when someone’s visiting from out of town?
A. I’d have to say Lake Eola. It usually somewhere on my agenda for someone who’s visiting. It’s iconic and something visually that’s unique about Orlando.
Q. OK – one of my favorite questions: What are your go-to and just-can’t-live-without food places in town?
A. OK, this time I’m picking two. One would be Market on Magnolia because I’m there almost every day for lunch usually getting a Poke bowl. Two would be SoCo. I’m there less often but every time it’s an amazing experience with awesome food.
Q. What are some of your favorite places in Orlando to be inspired, or just to be motivated?
A. Anywhere out walking around and talking to people. I’m the type of person who can’t walk down a city street or talk to a resident about Orlando and not walk away with a handful of ideas on how we can make Orlando even better or how to repurpose something I just heard about or saw in another part of the city.
Q. What is one thing you personally hope to achieve during the remainder of 2019 and on into 2020?
A. I think continue to figure out where to focus. I’m a big believer in the strategic power of saying no and knowing what impact we’re trying to have before I start doing something. Right now there’s lots of things I can spend my time on both personally and professionally, I’m going to try to take the time to pick the right one.
Big thanks to Matt for taking the time and space to let us get to know him! If you know of someone who would be a great highlight for a future “People Pulse” feature feel free to reach out to us at PulseOfCentralFlorida@mail.com.