Matt Curtis, Founder
As founder of Smart City Policy Group which he set up a year ago, Curtis works with governments and companies to formulate regulations for emerging technology and the sharing economy. At the Phocuswright Conference 2018, Matt an executive roundtable on travel and the future of cities.
In a series of interviews with executives participating at the event in Los Angeles in November, PhocusWire finds out what makes them tick...
On a scale of one to ten, how lucky are you?
On the “Luck Scale” of life I’m at a 10. I Believe anyone should say 10. I’m here, I’m breathing, I’ve had a great life and I continue to love living in a world where we can travel freely and easily and enjoy the great adventures of everyday life. Mostly I’m at the top of the “Luck Scale” because I’m married to a spectacular person and we have an amazing little kid who wows us all the time. In work I feel incredibly lucky. Smart City Policy Group is doing work with local governments on travel and emerging technology regulations around the world and we’re planning summits in the middle-east, Europe and the United States.
Smart City Policy Group
What was your childhood aspiration?
I always wanted to be a guy who could get things done. As a young man I would watch my Irish grandfathers make things happen for their industries in the northeast. One was the head of the Mine Workers union in the area and the other was very active in local politics and with the area businesses. Both always knew a guy, and both always knew how to get things done at City Hall and would help their friends with problems. Eventually I became fascinated with local governments and the challenges of Mayors. And, when I was in middle school, I knew that I wanted to help both City Hall and the people who had difficulty dealing with City Hall. Today when I’m on a call with the Mayor of Santa Fe, or City staff in Toronto, I feel like I made it to the place I aspired.
Who is the person you most admire within the industry and why?
I think that Roger Dow, president and CEO of the US Travel Association, has a challenging job every day. He has to balance a multi-tiered level of politics across the country, and within his organization, and he does it all with a level of ease that inspires confidence.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
To sit on the Vacation Rental Management Association board of directors you actually have to run a campaign against others. I won a seat on this international body when I was running against a longtime active member of the industry. I believe the victory was a ratification of my work to study and promote effective regulations of short-term rentals. I have since won a second term on the board and continue to receive accolades for this work on local and state regulations in destinations around the world.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what industry/company would you like to be part of and why?
If I wasn’t running my own business, where I work on local and state regulations of the travel and emerging technology industries, I would want to do the same job working somewhere else. I love the travel and emerging technology industries and I love working with local and state governments around the world.
Tell us about your favorite vacation?
My favorite vacation was actually my Honeymoon. We rented an apartment in a tiny, off-the-beaten-path, town in the south of France and just soaked it up. Occasionally we would take short day trips to nearby towns to enjoy their markets or to swim in nearby rivers. Most of our time was spent enjoying great walks, great wine and great food. And, if you think I’m going to tell you the name of our town, you’re nuts!
What would you tell your 20-year old self?
I would tell my 20-year old self to stay just as assertive, but to identify exactly what I want much earlier. I had a champion-level of chutzpah in my youth, just like I do now, but I did not have a clear compass of how to channel that enthusiasm. I would shake that 20-year old and say, “Go into travel, now. See the world and get paid to do it”.
What do you consider to be the most important invention in the digital world in the last 20 years?
The most important invention in the digital world in the last 20 years is 5G. And, that’s until 6G, 7G, and 8G. The fact that we’re able to quickly and easily use our phones to access opportunities to book rooms, unlock bikes, rent scooters, and our ability in the near future to rent low-flying electric jets, is awesome…in the biggest sense of the word. We are able to do more with 5G, which will create more, and inspire more.
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What’s your must-have app?
My must-have app changes day to day. And, there are certainly apps that I use, and desperately need everyday like Google Calendar. But, the app that I’m using more lately, and loving every adventure that comes with it, is Turo. The concept of Car Share is an incredible addition to the array of options for folks to get around. And, all of these options will help change the face of cities as people will be able to choose transit, walking and other modes of transportation.
What's your one travel hack that everyone should know?
I carry a toothbrush and toothpaste with me everywhere. There’s a lot of things you can do without for a day, but not a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Tell us something you dislike about your role in the company?
I am a small business owner at Smart City Policy Group. I like the freedom, fun, and ability to make things happen. I don’t like doing receipts.
If you could teach everyone in your company one concept, what concept would have the most positive impact?
Be assertive. I get more from everyday life by picking up the phone and finding someone to say “Yes” rather than what many do, which is to assume they’ll hear “No”. If I hear “No” I’ll typically hang up the phone, politely, and find someone else who will say “Yes”.
Describe your desk and working environment?
My office is the intersection of the life of a guy who worked in politics and now works in travel and emerging technologies. I have a lot of photos of the old Irish political bosses my grandfathers worked with, and many of the mayors I’ve worked with around the world. My favorite photo, a picture of my good pal and the long-time Mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, sits on my desk. He and I had good times and good talks. Also on my desk are a lot of notes from people asking for help with problems. I try to respond to those quickly. I envy the paperless people who have systems for every step of their day and conduct much of their business via email. But, I’m a relationship guy and that means a lot of phone calls and a lot of notes from those calls.
What's the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn't learn from your resume alone?
My parents often spoke of my ability to stumble into mafia activities happening around me. My mom retells one story of me in 1975 when, at three years old, I kept walking into the back room of Bufalino Family underboss “Guv” Guarnieri’s legitimate operation where the boss, Russell Bufalino, Guarnieri, and a group of others were engaged in a series discussion. Eventually an irritated Bufalino carried me out of the room and into the store and handed me to my mother saying, “Lady, either you take care of your kid or we’re going to”. Immediately afterwards the meeting broke up.
Weeks later Jimmy Hoffa disappeared and for the next forty years my mom would say that I was the reason the group rushed their decision!
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