Jack Dorsey is “The James Franco of the Internet”
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and product chief at Twitter, didn’t have much of anything going on today, so he dropped in on D9.
All kidding aside, the seemingly superhuman Dorsey took questions from AllThingsD‘s Kara Swisher; we liveblogged their conversation here.
Kara: Want to tell me about your IPO?
Dorsey: Which one?
Kara: You seem to be the James Franco of the Internet at this point.
2:11 pm: Dorsey: At Square I’m CEO, and we have 100 employees, including COO Keith Rabois, who has seen everything in the payments industry. At Twitter we have 500 employees, and I focus on the product, the original vision of the service.
It’s not that different from running a company and raising a family simultaneously, Dorsey says.
My apartment is across the street from Square, which is two blocks away from Twitter. I spend about 8-10 hours a day at both companies. I don’t sleep much, but it’s enough.
2:14 pm: Kara: What happened with you leaving Twitter?
Dorsey: Founders always put the company first. We have three co-founders at Twitter: Ev, Biz, me. And at the time it made the most sense for Ev and Biz to be in control. We as a team decided that, and we put the company first.
Kara: Did you want to leave?
Dorsey: I never really left. I was chairman. And at the time the whole financial world was collapsing, so there was no better time to start a company.
Dorsey talks about his childhood love for maps and cities. He started programming so he could build maps. His parents had a police scanner so he would plug that data into his program to visualize police cars moving around the city.
2:18 pm: He’s still speaking reverentially: “Switches, branches and semaphores all come from trains.”
Now the story of Square, mostly stuff that’s been told before. It came from a desire to help artists process payments themselves. Within two months they built a prototype that worked. Dorsey found angel investor Ron Conway and took his AmEx Black and charged him $500.
Kara: Did you take more money from him?
Dorsey: Yes. But I give all my demo donations to charity: water.
The original plan was to use the headphone jack because every mobile device has one. Dorsey was up in Muir Beach and saw squirrels transporting and storing acorns, so he thought the company would be called Squirrel. He took the idea to show to Apple. But in the cafeteria before his meeting with Scott Forstall the point-of-sale system was called Squirrel Systems (a company in Canada). So he went down the dictionary to find other words that start with “sq.”
Kara: Yesterday Eric Schmidt pushed Square aside, saying it was just a little device.
Dorsey: It’s much more than that. The device gets people in the door, because credit cards aren’t going away. They’ll only go away when we figure out another format to carry identity. The receipt ties together the buyer and the seller, and you can put so much on it: Maps, links to Facebook and Twitter, etc.
2:26 pm: Anything that comes over the counter, the merchant should be able to accept. Because if they can’t, they lose that sale. So we decided we need to make that point-of-sale device. And it needed to be beautiful.
Dorsey continues his sermon: If you look at Starbucks or Virgin America or the Apple Store, they focus on the experience. The space and experience is more important than the payments.
Kara: What about Google?
Dorsey: It validates what we’re doing. Things are really broken for both payers and merchants. There are ways that focus on the payment mechanics–tapping and moving your phone around–and the data. But we’re not focusing on that. We want to bring that Starbucks human experience to every merchant around the country.
2:30 pm: Kara hits the security problem. Dorsey says, “The thing is, never before have people been able to accept credit cards so easily. So this is a new horizon, this is a new era.”
Kara: So, Twitter. What is your role there? Do you walk in and say, “Photos, it must be done!” and then leave to go to Square?
Dorsey: I wish it were that easy. I’m focused on design and I’m focused on growth. “One of my passions and one of the things I think I’m really good at is making something really approachable to the point of bringing it around in your pocket.”
Twitter has the potential to take the entire world and fit it in your pocket, and not just the global world–your world, says Dorsey.
Dorsey: The only way to bring this technology around the world is to build a business.
Kara: How does the product evolve?
2:34 pm: Dorsey: We need to take the friction out of it. So today, photos–so much easier to do that from Twitter.com so we built that. And we are making it so much easier to see those photos by getting people relevant information immediately. “We can consistently delight the world with all the information we can bring them.”
Kara: Does that vision leave room for other developers?
Dorsey: Absolutely. I’ve been a developer since age 14. As Dick said earlier, we need to encourage people to think really big. There’s tons of data, there’s tons of interest, and there’s millions and millions of people on it. This is a massive canvas, and we need to do better and shepherding people to think bigger.
Kara: But I’m sure Yfrog is not thrilled about what you announced today.
Dorsey: There’s still tons of room for innovation.
Kara: So what will you focus on?
Dorsey: I think a lot of what we do with instantaneous discoveries is a big thing for us. We want to make sure everything can get to a mainstream audience immediately.
Kara: Not as many fail whales recently, huh?
Dorsey: The team has been amazing at keeping the service up. What we’re doing is unprecedented. That aspect of real-time is real, on any device. It’s a massive, massive scaling issue.
Kara: So: a business or a movement?
Dorsey: Both. And I’m very involved in both. I talk throughout the company about legal to monetization to developer, asking clarifying questions that I hope move us in the right direction.
2:39 pm: Kara: Did you ever think about merging Twitter and Square?
Dorsey: We work together. Twitter’s good at promotions and discovery, and Square is good at the transaction.
Kara: Do you see Twitter being sold?
Dorsey: I see it as an independent company.
Kara: Do you have an IPO death stare for me?
Dorsey: I think Andrew [Mason] did it better. Right now we are focused on pacing the product, later it may be pacing the IPO.
2:42 pm: Audience question from Shervin Pishevar about Tunisia and the Arab Spring. Twitter and Facebook policies are almost more important than some government policies. How do you view your impact on the world?
Dorsey: Our main responsibility is to keep the service up and available to everyone to enable the conversation. The most amazing thing to me in Iran, Moldova, Egypt, was [Twitter] carried information and showed that these are real people. The world could see and support that message, and make the choice themselves. As a technology company, our mission and our goal is to make sure that always exists.
Twitter is about how people use it, continued: “My mom cares that I tweeted a picture of my breakfast. She’s knows I’m eating and I’m safe.”
People ask what is Twitter, and we ask what is Twitter. And we don’t have an answer, and that’s okay. Twitter is the world, it reflects the world, and it’s different things to different people at different times and we need to embrace that. It does present a messaging and marketing challenge, but that’s what it is.
Answer to audience question about SMS: A lot of what Twitter is today is because of and inspired by SMS. The 140-character constraint, so we could degrade gracefully to the lowest common denominator. And it keeps people in the moment. When you constrain the canvas size, people aren’t afraid.
On what carriers can do better: “Be comfortable being a utility, be comfortable with what you are.”