University News

Twitter, Square co-founder talks innovation at RISD

Dorsey emphasizes the importance of ‘artistry’ and ‘engineering’ in business endeavors

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Entrepreneurship does not mean the desire to start a company but rather considering the world and creating the tools you think it needs, said Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, during his talk, “Square: Designing Commerce to Feel Amazing,” Friday at the Rhode Island School of Design.

“An idea that can change the course of the company can come from anyone,” Dorsey said. Square’s offices are open to one another  so that staff members can hear each other working and build on co-workers’ ideas, he said. Notes from staff meetings are sent to everyone in the company.

Dorsey co-founded the company that became Twitter in 2006 and started Square — an application that makes it easier for small businesses to take credit cards — in 2010. In his talk, he discussed the value of technology and innovation as he reflected on his experience with these companies.

Technology should make daily tasks faster so people can focus on what matters, Dorsey said. “Giving people simple tools so that they can craft their own destinies” was the philosophy that inspired Square, he said.

Square operates on the iPhone or iPad — which Dorsey said most small business owners already have or know how to use — and has one standard rate, instead of varying rates based on each credit card company. This allows merchants to take all credit cards without unneeded hassle, Dorsey said. The Apple compatibility and standard rate make running a business easier, he said.

Dorsey pointed to the Golden Gate Bridge as the source of his inspiration — it is sturdy enough that people can focus on their destination without worrying it will collapse, he said, but it is also beautiful. Artistry and engineering are both key, and “what’s really important is the intersection of the two,” he said.

He also discussed his title as a “founder” of Square and Twitter. Despite the popular conception that the founders of a company are the individuals who start it, companies have “multiple founding moments” as they innovate and expand, he said. The invention of the hashtag and the word “tweet” are founding moments of Twitter but were developed by people outside the company, he added.

He likened this attitude to the history of the United States — though people consider President Washington the founding father of America, when President Lincoln abolished slavery, he created a new founding moment for the country, he said.

Dorsey spoke to a packed audience evenly distributed between students, graduate students and adults, including many RISD and Brown students and some locals. The lecture was lively, and Dorsey appeared comfortable in his black jeans and sweater.

An audience member kicked off the question-and-answer session with a question about the brand of Dorsey’s jeans. “Earnest Sewn,” he answered.