Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter (when your Twitter username is @jack you know you were in early!) and Square, spoke last week at the University of Waterloo and I had the real privilege of being in attendance. Jack spent most of his talk giving his own story with an emphasis on curiosity, innovation, simplicity and how Square is doing everything they can to make commerce easy. Twitter has facilitated so much good stuff in my life and Square is the kind of innovative company which really intrigues me. Jack Dorsey was there right from the beginning with both companies so you can be sure he has some good stuff to say.
Jack Dorsey may not be someone who has much to say directly to my job or my stage of life (only one of us is said to have a net worth of more than a BILLION dollars) but anytime there’s an opportunity to hear an expert and innovator of his calibre, you go. Never stop learning!
Before the event even started I was impressed with the significant simplicity of the stage. LED panels above and below a rear projection screen with printed banners on either side. Very effective for communicating lots of information to a sure-to-be multitasking audience.
Want to skip the recap of the talk?
Scroll down for my big three takeaways from this event!
Quick highlights of Jack’s talk:
- When you’re telling story, start at the beginning. Jack started with a great story of how his parents met which set the stage for Jack to have something to live up to as he grew up. I got the sense that him being the son of rule-breaking entrepreneurs gave him a bit of a kick in the butt as a kid.
- Jack told many stories of his own curiosity growing up in St. Louis and his passion for discovery. As a dad, this really encouraged me to grow and nurture this in my own kids. His stories of sailing, exploring and a general desire to figure out how the world works rekindled some long-lost passions in my own heart.
- As a teenager, Jack was drawn to punk/hacker culture because of the shared openness and the opportunity for anyone to “get on stage.” This core belief that anyone can participate was really a beautiful foreshadowing of the global open community which has been formed through Twitter.
- Jack’s next season of life is filled with great stories of risk taking, opportunities jumped at, successes and failures. How many people do you know, when a friend suggests they should get a massage, will decide to register for massage school, getting certified after 1,000 hours of classes? Another great example of deep curiosity leading to exploration and discovery. Obviously so important for entrepreneurs and creatives.
- While living in San Francisco and working for a podast directory service called Odeo, Jack discovered that he disliked podcasts as much as the rest of the staff. Not a direct quote but Jack’s encouragement was something like, If you aren’t building tools for yourselves it’s hard to get passionate. This is an overlapping principle for anyone involved in any kind of creative work.
- Jack told a great story of having a brainwave related to a Twitter-type service back in 2000 but it was too soon. He had the right technology but it wasn’t the right time and he didn’t have the right team.
- Stop there for a second and consider that. Right idea, wrong time. Or maybe not the right technology. Or the wrong team. For an idea to become innovation and eventually a success it requires those three: TIME, TECHNOLOGY, TEAM. Got some application for that? Me too!
- Twitter began as an idea among some staff at Odeo. It wasn’t its own company but really a side project with a huge focus on listening to users and adapting the product to user innovation.
- As a Twitter early adopter (My @chrisfromcanada Twitter account is user 5 million and something, tweeting since February 2007) I remember how hashtags and retweets were organic developments by the user base which became integrated as Twitter features very early.
- Jack had a great quote about passion and dedication, something like When you have passion and want to see it in the world you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. I’ve lived this and seen it to be true. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see the dream you are living actually happen?
- From there, the remainder of Jack’s talk was focused on his new company, Square, a revolutionary payment system which exists to make commerce easy. (More on this later.)
- If Square is new to you, it’s essentially a credit card reader which can be plugged into the headphone jack of an iPhone or iPad allowing for a social transfer from buyer to seller whether you are in a brick & mortar store, run a virtual business or sell a product on the road. Truly, it is brilliant and will revolutionize how small and large companies interact with their customers and vice versa.
- The thing which has stuck in my head about Square is how they got to the place of the actual interaction between credit card and device. The magnetic strip on the back of your credit card is essentially the same as a cassette tape and can be “heard” by the headphone jack in your phone. This audio signal can then be converted to digital data and sent securely to the banks. Brilliant.
- Jack’s quote about this was something like Focus on integration for the sake of simplicity. He spent some time lamenting the current state of credit card terminals and the actual transaction process between seller and buyer. Square is out to bring this back to a very social exchange, to make commerce easy.
- How do you get people to adopt and adapt to new technology? Create wow experiences and people will want to participate. Are you looking to get more people engaged with what you are doing? Wow experiences will drive this desire to participate.
- From there, Jack talked about the Golden Gate Bridge (fitting, since Square is based in San Francisco). The bridge has a FUNCTION and it also has a DESIGN.
- The FUNCTION of the bridge is to get you from point A to point B and to never fall down. The bridge must allow you to get from here to there and always stay up.
- The DESIGN of the bridge means the experience of going from point A to B is a memorable experience, such that you completely forget about the function provided by the bridge.
- Square has a very similar FUNCTION and DESIGN.
- The FUNCTION of Square is to allow commerce to happen by getting money from point A to point B and a product in the opposite direction. Square must also always stay up and never fail.
- The DESIGN of Square means that the experience must allow for the function to happen as part of a beautiful, memorable experience. Square is about commerce, not simply a payment.
- Here Jack took a good chunk of time to talk about Square’s mission to make commerce easy and how commerce is more than a payment. Commerce is a relational transaction between buyer and seller and needs to be recaptured as such. We have become so much about the function of a payment that we have lost the design of a relational interaction. Square is out to turn this around.
- Not only what is important but how it is built is also important. Function and design work together.
- Square’s mission is make commerce easy but their vision is much deeper. The vision of Square is to give time back. When Jack brought this point to the crowd, there was a palpable exhalation where people immediately connected with desire to use products and services which are beautiful, simple, innovative and give time back for the things we want to give our lives to.
So.. major takeaways for me? As I’ve been discussing and thinking about this event for the past few days there are really three main points that are sticking in my head:
1. Curiosity leads to discovery leads to innovation
This needs to be cultivated in the life of every creative and I need to intentionally carve out time – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly – where I can be childishly curious and encouraging others to do the same.
2. Passion gives purpose
Any kind of work or life based on simply checking a box or implementing a system separate from passion will fade very quickly. Passionate pursuit of our work will drive our best work.
3. Vision requires mission
Square’s vision to give time back is good and noble but disconnected from the ability to make commerce easy it is simply a pipe dream. Dream big and then figure out how to get from here to there.
Wherever you are in life, there’s a takeaway here for you. If you work in a church, like I do, or are involved in any other kind of creative work, are an entrepreneur or just trying to figure out how to engage more with your customers, Jack has some great stuff to say in this talk.
What are you curious about that’s been pushed to side because you’re just to buys? Schedule some time for curiosity and discovery.
What were you passionate about which has maybe run dry a bit because of details and routine? Spend some time being reminded WHY you do what you do.
What vision is being pushed forward because of your mission? Commit to dreaming about what might happen if you’re successful.
If you’re interested in reading what others had to say about this event, here are a couple of links:
- Search the #uwaterloojack hashtag on twitter and instagram
- Sunny Trochaniak was at the event and did a quick write-up
- Communitech was part of bringing the event to Waterloo and posted a recap
- You can also watch the whole event on Livestream