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Posted on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 7:30 a.m.

Twitter, Square co-founder Jack Dorsey: Mentors foster innovation

By Ben Freed

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.


Jack Dorsey told Michigan students if they have an idea, "get it on paper, get it in code, make sure you get it out."

Ben Freed |

Dorsey spent most of his address describing the new and unique payment system that allows him to walk around San Fransisco without carrying a wallet. He said eventually he believes people in every city will be able to open and close tabs at restaurants and stores simply by walking in and out with their smartphones on.

Dorsey was in town following his appearance at the Techonomy conference in Detroit on Wednesday. Before his talk with the students, talked with him about Southeast Michigan’s economy, his own risk taking, and where he plans to take Square in the future. 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. 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).


The square card reader plugs into a user's smartphone

Photo courtesy of Square So where is that talent going, how much of it is staying, how much is leaving for the coasts?

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. 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. 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. 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.

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

It's not a square system at ERC, it's FLOCK. Completely different and absolutely nothing to do with Square. Square accepts credit card payments. If you noticed, they actually have a credit card machine at ERC. Flock on the other hand is an electronic (or whatever you want to call it) punch card. That iPad "thing" that hasn't been fixed in however long shows you how many drinks you've bought (punches on your virtual card). Nothing more, nothing less.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

Now hold on there...... I was in the ERC on Main St. above Haffner's and their Square device was broken....and HAD been broken for a while. When I inquired about it from the staff they said it worked for about week then broke, and they couldn't get anyone to come out to fix it....and that was months ago. They didn't have nice things to say about Square... Now this is just hearsay....but this is exactly what I was told by the STAFF at the establishment.

Peter Baker

Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

And what exactly does any of that have to do with the point of this article?


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Well the "device" that was pointed to and I was told was broken was an iPad. So really it could have just been that the iPad broke and they didn't have anyone to fix THAT...which isn't the responsibility of Square. That's why I said this was hearsay...the counter employees might not have been aware of the whole situation themselves.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

If their reader broke (which is the only device Square provides) they can get a replacement for free either direct from Square or else from a retailer (they pay $10 but then get a $10 credit to their account).