Jack Dorsey, chair of Twitter and CEO of Square, doled out advice to aspiring Columbia entrepreneurs in Roone Arledge Auditorium on Monday.
The event, which was organized by the Center for Career Education, Columbia Entrepreneurship, and the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization, was the kickoff event of Startup Week, presented by Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs.
In his younger years, Dorsey worked a variety of jobs unrelated to the world of startups and the Internet. He once served as a tour guide in a haunted fried chicken restaurant, and then had a job dispatching couriers, taxis, and emergency services online in Oakland, Calif., and later in New York City. These experiences found him tracing all different types of movement in the city—except those of the people, he said. He found himself asking questions such as, “What are people doing? Where are they going?”—questions that led to the invention of Twitter.
Despite his current fame, Dorsey, who many just call “Jack” due to his Twitter handle, attributed Twitter’s success to the people who use it.
“A lot of people see Twitter as this idea that these guys came up with. It’s actually something that showed and improved the power of building a platform. Building a platform with significant constraint inspired people to build their own products on top of it,” Dorsey said.
“The ‘at’ symbol—it’s something we didn’t think of. It’s a behavior we saw and made easier by programming it into the service. The hashtag that no one in the company thought of, we made it easier. The retweet. All these systems weren’t created or invented by us, but by people using the system,” he said.
Dorsey also discussed Square, a program that enables smartphones and tablets to accept credit cards and is used by merchants such as Joe Coffee on campus. The app has been appealing to more independent restaurants recently, he said. Dorsey said that Square developers are “planning on tripling their presence in New York,” which will include opening new offices in SoHo and recruiting heavily from Columbia.
The lack of prominent women involved in technology is a major issue, Dorsey said. The entrepreneur emphasized the importance of diversity in technology and said that the presence of women is “really important, as they give different perspectives. There are just not enough women in tech.”
Dorsey said he makes it a point for his companies to encourage women in technology, noting that women lead 50 percent of the businesses with which Square partners.
Dorsey also gave out advice to Columbia students hoping to make it as entrepreneurs. He focused his comments around his motto, the Steve McQueen quote, “When I believe in something, I fight like hell for it.”
In addition to broader ideas, Dorsey discussed practical, everyday techniques he uses to keep himself organized as he deals with a hectic schedule. Practices such as creating daily notes of “Do’s and Don’ts” on a smart phone can help students stay on top of tasks as they look to expand their businesses, he said.
One question that students were particularly keen to hear Dorsey answer had to do with balancing an academic life and working on a venture at the same time. Dorsey, who has dropped out of three different universities—the Missouri University of Science and Technology, New York University, and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising—responded by saying that there is not one right answer or key to success.
“Everyone learns differently. Some people thrive in a university atmosphere and some people don’t. I was learning more outside of my university than inside it. It’s the type of person that you are,” he said.
Students generally seemed excited by Dorsey’s talk and felt satisfied as they came away from the question-and-answer session with the entrepreneur.
Mohamad Tuffaha, SEAS ’17, said that he thought the event was informative and commented that he will “definitely join the CORE.”
Meric Atesalp, SEAS ’17, however, said he wanted to learn more about how to build the popularity of a product like Twitter and that Dorsey could have spoken more specifically about how to build suffessful companies.
Even with the entrepreneurial focus of the event, students from all backgrounds came to see Dorsey and seemed to enjoy the speaker.
Lottie Galliano, CC ’14 and an art history and archaeology major, said that despite not “considering herself a tech entrepreneur,” she found the event interesting.