October 20, 2013

Square CEO Dorsey keeps climbing

The Twitter co-founder says ‘we don’t feel we’re at even 1 percent.’

By Peter Delevett
San Jose Mercury News

SAN FRANCISCO — Jack Dorsey may shy from being called the Steve Jobs of his generation, but there’s no question he’s on one hell of a hot streak.

click image to enlarge

Square’s CEO Jack Dorsey and Global Facilities Manager Maja Henderson are shown at the company’s new headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. The mobile-payments startup boasting $340 million in venture capital is just down the street from Twitter Inc.

Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group

Square, the mobile-payments startup that’s landed $340 million in venture capital, just moved into sprawling new offices in San Francisco after doubling its head count in less than a year. The new digs sit – coincidentally, Dorsey insists – a block from those of Twitter Inc., which he co-founded in 2006 and whose looming IPO figures to make Dorsey his second billion dollars in the past 13 months.

In an interview, the 36-year-old declined to say much about Twitter, citing federal “quiet period” rules that precede an initial public offering of stock. But asked how it felt to have invented two products whose users number into the hundreds of millions worldwide, the notoriously buttoned-up hacker allowed himself a moment of introspection.

“If you’re climbing on the mountain, it doesn’t look that massive to you,” he said from the glass-and-wood accented headquarters into which CEO Dorsey and most of Square’s 600 other employees recently moved.

Twitter made news of its own earlier this month with its long-rumored IPO filing, which revealed the microblogging service has more than 200 million active monthly users. Square, meanwhile, claims to process $15 billion annually in credit card transactions – not including a deal cut last year to handle all of Starbucks’ card payments.

But, said Dorsey, “we don’t feel we’re at even 1 percent of our potential with either company.”

Dorsey, a bachelor who grew up in a blue-collar St. Louis family, owns 5 percent of Twitter and a reported one-third of Square. Each of those holdings is worth at least $1 billion, according to the estimated valuations of both companies.

To his admirers, though, Dorsey’s accomplishments aren’t measured in dollars, but in influence and vision.

The parallels to Apple’s Inc. co-founder are obvious: Both men were forced out of startups they launched, only to return and help lead them to new heights. Both men, after being ousted, started second companies that became powerhouses in their own rights – Pixar, in Jobs’ case.

And both men became famous for a relentless focus on simple, elegant design: Even the pillars that support the new office’s ceiling have been rounded to resemble Square’s namesake plastic reader, which lets anyone accept credit cards via smartphone or tablet.

One way in which Dorsey differs from his role model: “He doesn’t lose his temper,” said Maja Henderson, who was Dorsey’s executive assistant in Square’s early days and now rides herd on the company’s design and construction efforts. Those include the 150,000-square-foot headquarters, where employees avail themselves of perks such as in-house chiropractic care and unlimited vacation.

Henderson acknowledged that few “Squares” take much time off, although she said Dorsey “has gotten a lot better” about breaking away from work after a stretch in which he split 80 hours each week between Twitter and Square.

The Twitter creation myth has various versions, but the fundamental story is that Dorsey was working at a San Francisco podcasting startup, Odeo, in 2006 when he and several others cooked up a 140-character instant messaging system for mobile phones. Twitter spun out of Odeo with Dorsey as CEO, only to see a shake-up when co-founder and investor Evan Williams moved him aside amid much mutual finger-pointing.

Williams, in turn, was replaced in 2010 by Chief Operating Officer Dick Costolo, who brought Dorsey back in a product development role. Costolo said then that “having the inventor in the room” helped solve arguments about what the service should be.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)