October 22, 2013

Brand Genius: Jack Dorsey


I was in a Bank of America a week ago and came across Fortune magazine’s 40 under 40 issue. I began flipping through the pages and stumbled across Jack Dorsey; I recognized the name, but only as the co-founder of Twitter. What I learned reading the article, and doing more research on Dorsey for this post, far surpassed my initial impression (he started Square, too?!?!).


So, similar to our “Brands We Love” posts, we’ve talked internally about focusing on key influencers and brand leaders who are making waves in our industry. Dorsey will be our first post profiling such an individual.


There is something innately fascinating about someone like Jack Dorsey – a college dropout who soaks up information like his life depends on it. Someone inherently curious, who has built a life for himself that revolves around invention, innovation and seeing the world as something to evolve, to make better. Learning about him, you find yourself a little envious, but then realize that he has harnessed what he excels at and shared it with the world. It’s remarkable.


A St. Louis native, Jack Dorsey had an affinity for studying maps and spending time in railway yards as a kid. He taught himself basic computer programming and by the time he was a teenager, he had developed a program that graphically simulated the movements of the vehicles on a police scanner.


He studied at the University of Missouri, but a job took him to New York where he enrolled and eventually dropped out of NYU. He bounced around – working at (and leaving or being fired from) two different start-ups and eventually ended up back in St. Louis feeling like a failure. But, his time home allowed him to study varied interests, from botanical illustration to massage therapy.


In 2005, San Francisco became the impetus for Dorsey’s creativity. Through a job at Odeo, a directory and search website for syndicated audio and video, Dorsey was able to partner with colleagues to brainstorm new computer programs. Odeo’s popular “hackathons” which allowed its programmers to work on anything they wanted, eventually gave way to the development of Twitter. A poster on the Y Combinator blog once commented that Twitter was “more of a discovery than an invention” and because of that reality, its precise origins are convoluted. That said, Dorsey was instrumental in its creation and success, along with a team of highly intelligent programmers and developers.


The fledgling Twitter needed to build buzz and awareness, so Dorsey and company used the South by Southwest festival to do just that. Twitter named six attendees who were enthusiastic tweets its “ambassadors,” and posted their messages on plasma screens in the lobby of the conference center. The stunt was insanely successful and paved the way for continued growth.


The beauty of Twitter is how much its basic interface lends itself to all sorts of purposes – uses unforeseen by Dorsey and its designers. And, every step of the way, Twitter has embraced its own evolutions, including retweeting, the @-reply and hastags.


“I believe fundamentally that the next Gloria Steinem, the next Ghandi, the next Martin Luther King – they’re out there and they’re actually using Twitter today. And our job is to insure that people find them.” -Jack Dorsey


Twitter’s beginnings were bumpy, and the management structure was innately flawed. Eventually, Dorsey left the company (he still retains the chairman title, but it’s somewhat ceremonial in nature) and began searching for a new problem to solve.


Genius struck when Jim McKelvey, a longtime friend of Dorsey’s, complained that he failed to sell a piece of glasswork to an overseas buyer because of credit card payment issues. Dorsey began to think of money as “commerce, which is conversation.” Together, they assembled a team; Dorsey focused on the software and McKelvey, the hardware. Soon, they had a prototype and were approaching investors…and Square was born.


Just four years after Square’s technology breakthrough (using the iPhone’s audio jack, rather than its patented dock connector to attach to phones), the company has been valued at $3.25 billion and IPO rumors are swirling. Dorsey has been able to shape Square into a company that he’s proud of, and one that is profiting off of his experience.


At 36, Jack Dorsey is strategically building his personal brand on a colorful Twitter and Square foundation. He’s thoughtful, deliberate and open-minded. He continues to act unconventionally – at a recent talk at Y Combinator’s annual startup school, Dorsey read from some of his favorite books and played music for the audience. And, in some ways, he’s a bit of an enigma – mentioning a possible run for mayor of New York and also enjoys riding the bus to work to be able to observe people’s interactions with technology and apps (via phones, tablets, etc.).


With so many accomplishments already in his repertoire, Dorsey still has immense potential ahead of him and it will be interesting to see is brand develop further with each new venture. Stay tuned, branding nerds!


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“Jack Dorsey: The pride of St. Louis,” Fortune magazine, http://goo.gl/CGPVOS

“Jack Dorsey holds impromptu art and lifestyle symposium,” CNET.com, http://goo.gl/CUwWvI

“Two-Hit Wonder,” The New Yorker, http://goo.gl/5qB7qd

“20 Things About Jack Dorsey,” All Things D, http://goo.gl/fAUG8

“The Many Sides of Jack Dorsey,” WIRED, http://goo.gl/4vY6E


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