Jack Dorsey: Double Down
Jack Dorsey's twin innovations -- Twitter and Square -- are completely reshaping the ways in which people communicate with each other, interact with their banks and pay for their purchases.
Ten years ago, tweeting was the exclusive domain of the birds. Five years ago, no one considered a mobile phone a viable replacement for a traditional point-of-sale terminal. But Jack Dorsey had a vision for both.
A little more than three years after cofounding the popular social network Twitter, Dorsey went on to create Square, a new mobile payments system that's caught the attention of small-business owners and traditional payments providers alike. He splits his time working on both ventures.
Built on the concept of communicating within a 140-character limit, Twitter has proved flexible enough to connect people, promote businesses, provide customer service, break news and even mobilize social change. Since its introduction in March 2006, the platform has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity.
Among the qualities Dorsey brought the world through Twitter is the inherent sense that everyone -- individuals, customers, businesses and employees -- has a voice. In addition to giving people who engage in the space the sense that their voices are being heard, in creating Twitter, Dorsey also helped banks and other businesses monitor customer sentiment, respond to questions and concerns, and proactively manage the brand.
"As companies grow beyond their original intent, the muddied organizational structure makes it more difficult for both customers and employees to feel appreciated, wanted or heard," says Rebecca Schlachter, director of analytics and modeling at New York-based market research firm AMI-Partners. "Everybody wants to feel important -- social media makes it possible."
Square, Dorsey's other buzz-worthy venture, has brought pretty much anyone with a mobile phone, including businesses, the ability to accept credit card payments. Since its introduction in late 2009, the start-up has been among the companies outside the banking industry that are at the forefront of the mobile payments space.
"Square has provided us with three key learnings," says Brett King, author of "Bank 2.0: How Customer Behavior and Loyalty Will Change the Future of Financial Services." "First, when you make onboarding simple, you can build new merchant relationships very quickly. Second, the current receipt and credit card statement is woefully out of date. Last, you don't need plastic or a POS terminal at all in reality."
Keeping It Simple
Twitter and Square can be seen as two disparate innovations: one in communications and the other in payments. But if there is a theme to Dorsey's two most-substantial creations, it is around the idea of simplicity. "Interactions are rapidly changing in the payments space and Square is showing us new ways to think about context and how to enable merchants without expensive POS infrastructure," King adds. "Perhaps the phone is the future of the POS itself."
Those interactions might just be changing the foundation of transactions themselves; Dorsey doesn't see Square as simply changing the medium for making and accepting payments. "There are ways of going about [web payment systems] that are focused on the payment mechanics (i.e., Google). But we don't think that's the right way to focus on it," Dorsey told Fortune in a recent interview. "We think there are ways to bring that human experience to everyone."
Dorsey has influenced the payments industry as much as he's impacted the way individuals interact online and how they make payments. In a sure sign of that influence, some of the traditional point-of-sale and payments vendors have put new emphasis on the mobile card readers that they sell, which are similar to those deployed free by Square. Some have gone so far as to produce videos and other communications in an attempt to discredit Square or point out the vulnerabilities in the way Dorsey's company enables payments.
"The truth is, the biggest threat was that Square made us realize a traditional POS terminal was not an essential part of the value chain," King explains. In that sense, the disruptive nature of what Dorsey began is making everyone rethink how they conduct transactions.