Techbeat Q&A: Twitter, Square co-founder Jack Dorsey: Mentors foster innovation
Jack Dorsey knows how to found a successful company, and he is sharing his philosophy of aggressive risk taking with the Midwest on a mini-tour of the region.
The Twitter co-founder was in Ann Arbor Thursday evening to talk to University of Michigan engineering students about his newest endeavor, a mobile credit payment application and device called Square. There are already plenty of companies in Ann Arbor using the system, including Mark’s Carts vendors off Washington Street behind Downtown Home and Garden and Iorio's Gelateria on East William Street.
Ben Freed | AnnArbor.com
Dorsey was in town following his appearance at the Techonomy conference in Detroit on Wednesday. Before his talk with the students, AnnArbor.com talked with him about Southeast Michigan’s economy, his own risk taking, and where he plans to take Square in the future.
AnnArbor.com: Good to see you in Michigan, do you come to the Midwest often?
Dorsey: I’m from St. Louis, from the Midwest, so this is all very familiar too me.
AnnArbor.com: So what changes have you seen in the past few years in the Midwest in relation to the knowledge sector of the economy?
Dorsey: I think there’s more appetite for risk now, which is definitely the first start. We actually find a significant amount of our designers form the Midwest. It’s an odd thing but we do and they’re amazing and they’re really young.
They’re from places like Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, all around Ohio, and a lot of our engineers are from the Midwest as well.
I’m seeing more and more talent come out from the Midwest as opposed to five years ago when it was only the West Coast and in some cases the East Coast and the schools located out there. The really interesting people are really in the middle. We have lots of people from the Midwest in both companies (Twitter and Square).
Photo courtesy of Square
Dorsey: I guess it’s kind of mixed. People go all over, they go to the schools here and then they go to companies in the Midwest and on the West Coast. I don’t think there’s a general rule or general focus I’ve seen.
AnnArbor.com: Southeast Michigan has a budding start-up economy, what words of advice do you have for the region coming from the Bay Area?
Dorsey: What’s made San Fransisco and the Bay Area work so well is a culture of mentorship.
In order to take risk you need support. We get support in the fact that I can walk up to pretty much any entrepreneur in the Bay and talk to them about the problems I see and they’ll tell me about the problems they see. That emboldens one to take more and bigger risks and to continue.
If you don’t have that support network then it’s going to be really challenging. So take New York. It’s is more of an empire-building city. Once you’re at the top of the empire or in the middle of the empire, you don’t really touch the ground any more and you don’t really talk to anyone who’s just coming up. That’s just kind of the attitude.
It makes it really difficult to do anything interesting there because of that. And that’s why traditionally a lot of companies were not started in New York, though I think that’s also changing.
But for the local leaders here, be they in universities or in companies, just spend 30 min with someone who wants to start a company or take a company a different way or wants to join a start up company to support that.
And for the parents of students to also appreciate their kid’s appetite for risk and to support that instead of convincing them to go to a well-known name, because a lot of the well-known names aren’t doing very well right now. And they have to re-invent themselves is a lot.
Support is a big one, and anything we can do to support these kids and anyone who wants to start or change something or take on risk can do it, and they can feel good about it.
AnnArbor.com: When did you start taking those kinds of risks in your own life?
Dorsey: When I was still in school, but I kinda went my own way early on in terms of just building stuff I wanted to see instead of just waiting for something to happen. It’s always just been a part of my life.
AnnArbor.com: With Twitter having achieved so much of its success internationally and in the developing world, do you have similar plans for Square?
Dorsey: We have a little bit of a different challenge with Square than with Twitter because Twitter didn’t have any regulatory aspects to go through.
Now we have to work with the local banks and the local equivalent of the Federal Reserve and make sure that we have strong identities so people aren’t stealing money. We have a lot more work to do on the ground, but we are definitely going to be expanding outside of the United States.