Twitter founder stops in C-U seeking employees for Square

Twitter founder stops in C-U seeking employees for Square

URBANA — Twitter founder Jack Dorsey said he knew Twitter hit the big time in 2009 when he watched a presidential speech and saw senators using their phones while the president spoke.

His first reaction was "how rude" — until the St. Louis native got a tweet from his home-state senator, Claire McCaskill. He then realized that some senators were using Twitter to communicate with their constituents.

Now Dorsey, 35, has co-founded a second company, Square Inc., that enables users to accept credit card payments through their iPads, iPhones and Android phones.

The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2010, and Dorsey knew Square hit the big time later that year when his mother reported seeing a merchant using Square in St. Louis.

The feeling was amplified this year when Starbucks signed on as a major user of Square.

On Tuesday, Dorsey visited the University of Illinois campus to help recruit students as employees for fast-growing Square. It was the first of several campus stops, with visits to Michigan and Carnegie-Mellon scheduled in coming days.

Dorsey, who has a slight build, got an enthusiastic response as about 140 students packed a lecture hall in the Digital Computer Lab to hear about Square and, at Dorsey's invitation, provide their own thoughts on where Square might go.

In an interview with The News-Gazette, Dorsey recalled his early interest in dispatching and the influence it had on his eventual creation of Twitter.

Dorsey said he grew up in St. Louis with a love for maps and a police scanner in the house. Consequently, he was interested in programs that would allow him to draw maps indicating where in the city ambulances and police cars were being dispatched.

Those quick, real-time communications between dispatchers and emergency vehicles eventually led to some of the ideas that spawned Twitter.

Dorsey said he had the idea for Twitter in 2001, but didn't send out the first tweet until 2006. The idea for Square, on the other hand, germinated in 2009, and the company was created the next year.

Twitter took longer to develop, he said, because "in 2001, the technology wasn't there. It was ahead of its time."

With Square, he had a demonstrable product, and "capital follows a good idea," said Dorsey, Square's CEO.

Square is already processing more than $6 billion in payments a year and plans to increase its workforce to more than 500 by the end of this year, according to the company.

Dorsey said he believes the biggest impediment to true innovators these days is themselves. They have to get ideas out of their head and onto paper and have confidence in themselves to succeed, he said.

Dorsey tweeted regularly during his visit to Champaign-Urbana, commenting on his plane trip, the abundance of fast-food restaurants here, the presence of Wolfram Research and the volume of music in the Hilton Garden Inn hallways.

Dorsey's Twitter name is @jack. Among his tweeted comments:

— "Packed, tiny flight to Champaign-Urbana" (with accompanying photo of the airplane's narrow aisle).

— "What always strikes me when I return to the Midwest is how the abundance of fast food makes every other option disappear. We can do better."

— "Wow, I didn't know that Wolfram was here. Definitely an early hero of mine."

— "This hotel really gets into its hallway music. The freight train across the street is more subtle."

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