University News

Square CEO touts venture as digital bridge

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey discusses entrepreneurship, receives mixed response

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2014

Using a video camera attached to a robot in San Francisco, Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter and the mobile payment company Square, took the audience at his Salomon 101 lecture yesterday on a tour of the headquarters of Square, where he serves as CEO.

“What’re you doing?” Dorsey asked a pair of employees sitting in a booth.

“Working,” they said.

“Are you seriously doing this?” a security engineer asked.

The improvised tour set the tone for Dorsey’s talk, the first Brown Lecture Board event of the semester. He spent much of his talk — entitled “Town Square with Jack” — discussing the virtues of Square, opening the floor early for questions in an approach reminiscent of the company’s weekly town hall meetings.

All the rooms in Square’s vast headquarters are named for public squares, emphasizing the floor plan’s open, glass-paneled, modern aesthetic. The headquarters also boast a coffee shop that uses Square’s payment system.

“We want to make sure we’re building a company that tests the products we make so we experience our customers’ pain and joy,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey compared the company to the Golden Gate Bridge, which not only allows people to travel from point A to point B, but is also a beautiful landmark. As a developer of payment tools, Square aims to similarly connect the world of commerce. Dorsey projected the tagline “Make commerce easy” over a picture of the bridge.

“A good tool not only does its job — it gives people joy,” Dorsey said.

In response to a question about whether young college graduates should join an existing company or found a startup, Dorsey said, “Entrepreneurship does not mean you start a company. It’s an attitude. It means that you take a risk.”

Twitter began as a project at an existing company and later spun off, Dorsey said.

Another student raised concerns that early adopters of Twitter who have had time to build a follower base have an unfair advantage over newer members of the site.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on how many followers you have when in fact it’s really about the content,” Dorsey said. “Great content will spread.”

Dorsey pointed to the story of a Twitter user who posted a picture of an airplane’s emergency landing on the Hudson River in January 2009. Despite the user’s small following, the picture was picked up for international news reports of “the Miracle on the Hudson.”

Dorsey introduced three Brown students who will become software engineers at Square after graduation: Hari Narayanan ’14, Katherine Ng ’14 and Jackson Owens ’14. For each student, he read a biography listing quirky interests and reasons for joining Square.

The lecture elicited mixed feedback from students.

Michael Arnold ’15 said he enjoyed the lecture, especially the use of a robot to give a tour of Square headquarters. He added that he appreciated the extra time allotted for student questions.

David Liu ’17 took issue with Dorsey’s use of the bridge metaphor.  “You don’t need two bridges to connect the same space,” Liu said. “You only need one bridge — the better bridge.”

The lecture was a “PR pitch,” said Kayla Rosen ’14. “As the founder of two of the most dominant technology companies in San Francisco,” Dorsey should have addressed the tensions between San Francisco residents and the technology industry, Rosen said.

Wilson Cusack ’16 said he attended both the lecture and an event with Dorsey at CareerLAB. As a computer science concentrator, Cusack is interested in working at Square in the future, he said, adding that he appreciated the “philosophical approach” of the lecture.

  • Entrepreneur

    Dorsey spoke at RISD last year and it sounds like a very similar if not the same speech. The bridge metaphor as printed appears to have gotten completely hacked and lost all the original meaning and significance.

    The point is this: great technology works so well that it becomes adopted and integrated so seamlessly into everyday life that people take it for granted. It’s not used because its the latest tech, it’s used because it has deep-rooted and meaningful purpose.

    Any historically significant and well appreciated bridge has been used by millions of commuters over hundreds of millions of journeys and yet few if any people stop and say “Hey look I’m using this great piece of technology” (like you’d expect someone using Google Glass may say).

  • angry comment section regular

    “Entrepreneurship does not mean you start a company. It’s an attitude. It means that you take a risk.”

    insufferable

  • johnlonergan

    Why is Square located in San Francisco and not Providence?

    Why did Google get 10 desks from Stanford, and Stanford received stock worth over $500 million in return?

    Why isn’t Brown at the forefront of these new trends?

    Christina Paxson, are you listening? Jerome Vascellaro, are you there? Todd Andrews, is anyone home?