Jack Dorsey: The Idea for Square | Summary and Q&A

February 15, 2011
Stanford eCorner
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Jack Dorsey: The Idea for Square

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In this video, the speaker shares the story of how he and his colleague came up with the idea for Square, a credit card reader that plugs into mobile devices. They saw an opportunity in the market during the recession and leveraged their skills to build a prototype in just a month.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was happening in the market when the speaker stepped into the chairman role of Twitter?

The market was going through a recession, causing financial obstructions and management teams to leave. This created a window of opportunity for new ideas and companies to emerge.

Q: How did the speaker reconnect with his first boss, Jim McKelvey?

The speaker visited his family during Christmas and reconnected with Jim McKelvey, who is a glass artist. They got to talking and started discussing potential collaborations.

Q: What frustration did Jim experience that led to the idea behind Square?

Jim lost a sale of a $2000 glass piece because the customer could only pay with a credit card, which he couldn't accept. This sparked the idea of finding a way to accept credit card payments using mobile devices.

Q: How did the speaker and Jim decide to explore this idea further?

After the frustrating incident, Jim called the speaker who was also using an iPhone. They questioned why they couldn't accept credit card payments on their general purpose computers and decided to work together on building a solution.

Q: What was the plan they came up with to develop the Square prototype?

They decided that Jim would focus on building the hardware for the credit card reader while the speaker would develop the server software. They hired one additional programmer and aimed to have a prototype ready within a month.

Q: What does Square do and how does it work?

Square is a credit card reader that plugs into the audio jack of mobile devices. By writing software for the reader, users can swipe cards, generate electronic receipts, and send them via email or other means.

Q: How quickly were they able to build the hardware and software for Square?

They were able to build a basic prototype, which included both the hardware and software, within a month. The process was relatively easy and straightforward for them.

Q: How did the speaker utilize the prototype of Square to generate income?

The speaker went to angel investors and venture capitalists and charged them a fee ranging from $5 to $50 to demonstrate his new idea. He was able to make $600 from this approach, which he found to be awesome.

Q: What is the potential impact of Square in the payments industry?

Square revolutionized the payments industry by allowing small businesses and individuals to easily accept credit card payments using their mobile devices. It made collecting payments more accessible and convenient for many people.

Q: What key lessons can be learned from the story of Square's creation?

The story of Square teaches us the importance of seizing opportunities during difficult times, the power of collaboration with talented individuals, and the potential for innovative solutions to address common frustrations in the market.


The speaker's story highlights how a combination of market conditions, creative thinking, and collaboration can lead to the creation of groundbreaking solutions. By recognizing the opening in the payments industry during a recession, the speaker and his colleague were able to develop a prototype for Square in a remarkably short timeframe. This serves as a reminder of how challenges can present opportunities for innovative ideas and entrepreneurship.

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