Twitter co-founder CEO Jack Dorsey has never been particularly passionate about computers, and in fact confirmed on that social media platform that he doesn’t use either a laptop or a tablet despite running two public companies.
But it was the humble PC that set him about solving problems that ultimately would lead to the emergence of the now-ubiquitous short messaging service used almost daily in the making of U.S. policy under President Donald Trump.
Mr. Dorsey also is CEO of payments and point-of-sale platform Square Inc., which he co-founded in 2009. That role was the focus of his comments at the HOPE Global Forum Friday in downtown Atlanta, a gathering of heavy-hitting speakers focused on financial literacy and inclusion.
Neither Twitter nor Square would likely exist had Mr. Dorsey’s father not brought home a computer from his office when Jack was 14.
The St. Louis native was fascinated by maps and cities, and he wanted to learn how to create and manipulate a map using this new tool, so he started programming with the aid of the local hacker community.
Asked by Operation HOPE founder and CEO John Hope Bryant when he became passionate about computers, Mr. Dorsey — clad in a black hoodie and beanie — said he still wasn’t. It was their utility that amazed him; he never wanted to be an engineer.
“It was the best and most tangible and fastest way for me to understand how to solve problems. Programming is just a mental model of asking essential questions, being able to identify problems into smaller parts, go after each of the smaller parts and be able to create a solution around them,” Mr. Dorsey said.
The model applies to creating companies too, he added.
“When you extract that beyond computing and computers and technology, everything that we are doing in the world is identifying problems and then coming up with creative solutions we hope resonate with our audience.”
Based on his love of cities, the self-taught programmer’s first project was a taxi-dispatch application. He later created a status-sharing app that would become Twitter, a phenomenon largely credited (or blamed) with shaping social discourse in 140-character increments.
Throughout the journey, he has focused on the “why” of each business rather than the mechanics of what it’s doing: That mindset has influenced Square, which started with the intention of helping small merchants accept credit cards.
When trying to recruit a flower seller to use an early prototype, he realized that the company’s potential was much broader.
“(She) wasn’t trying to accept a credit card; she was trying to make a sale,” Mr. Dorsey said, noting that she had been denied processing services by a bank because of her own credit score.
Square has built a suite of products around this focus on enabling the sale — from its point-of-sale terminals to software for online scheduling, invoicing and payroll. The Square Cash app enables peers and businesses to transfer cash or purchase and use bitcoin that can be spent via an attached Visa debit card. Square Capital makes small, instant loans to companies that find it hard to gain traditional financing from banks. For those that use Square’s payment terminals, a loan can be repaid from increased transaction fees.
“We approached it from the mindset of, how do we remove the burden of process? How do we remove the burden of these institutions so that we’re’ refocusing on customers needs — and the customer need is, ‘How do I sell this bottle of water, how do I sell this coffee?’”
Mr. Dorsey won applause from the crowd when he said Square had abandoned credit scores as a way to approve merchants to use its card-processing services.
But the controversial executive isn’t content just to empower small businesses transacting in the U.S. He’s just embarked on a new open-source effort, Square Crypto, educated the public on bitcoin and made it easier to use, with the goal of improving financial access worldwide.
“I haven’t seen any other technology that points to a truly global future, which points to a native currency for the Internet, which means a currency for the world. Currency is communication, it is conversation, and it does enable meaningful things to happen,” Mr. Dorsey said.
“Watching and unrestricting those flows to any part of the world so that any individual on the planet, independent of where they’re from, can access and participate in the same way — that is what this technology is enabling. I want to do whatever is possible to make that happen as quickly as possible to where we can see it in my lifetime.”
His comments in Atlanta, a major fintech hub, came days after Facebook said it would launch its own digital currency known as GlobalCoin by 2020. Facebook counts 2.4 billion users globally and owns both Instagram (1 billion users) and WhatsApp (1.6 billion), compared to Twitter’s approximately 330 million.
Operation HOPE’s annual forum in Atlanta often touches on global themes and welcomes guest from high-level government agencies and corporations.
This year’s eclectic gathering of speakers included Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, U.S. Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting, UPS CEO David Abney, rapper T.I., Ghanaian Ambassador Barfuor Adjei-Bawuah, author Deepak Chopra, Focus Brands President Kat Cole, Ambassador Andrew Young, “Hillbilly Elegy” bestselling author and investor J.D. Vance, as well as many more.