Jack Dorsey brings Square show to Australia as Twitter growth hunt continues
Twitter turns ten, are investors turning off?
The co-founder and CEO of two of the world’s biggest tech players, Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey has touched down for his first visit to Australia, aiming to shore up relations with local banks, get the inside story on emerging Australian businesses and ponder crucial questions about investor demand for growth in his two companies.
Dorsey has flown to Australia principally to press the flesh with customers of mobile payments disrupter Square, following the recent launch of its flagship device Square Reader. But will also use his time downunder to visit the local office of Twitter and discuss the environment for emerging technology companies with government.
Square launched its device, which plugs into a smartphone or tablet to let small businesses accept card payments for all transactions, almost six years after it first launched in the US. The local launch however didn’t go a smoothly as hoped when the country’s largest bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, initially blocked its use, citing concerns about the security of pins on smartphones.
Speaking to The Australian Financial Review shortly after arriving in the country, Dorsey says Square is prepared to put in the hard yards to establish itself and win the highly competitive Australian market, despite a range of rivals, which includes some of the major banks.
Jack Dorsey The co-founder and CEO of two of the world’s biggest tech companies, Twitter and Square is on an Australian mission. Paul Jeffers
CBA itself recently claimed a world first by adding Aussie cloud-based cash register Kounta on its own Albert mobile sales tablet. Dorsey says that being later to the Australian market will have little bearing on its long term performance.
Winning in financial services
He says that while CBA blocking Square was disappointing, he was encouraged that it was quickly lifted, and that banks would need to work with companies like Square closely as the industry evolved and new alternatives emerged.
“I think there is still a market to be won here. We have learned time and time again that it is not important to be the first, it is important to be the best,” Dorsey says.
Jack Dorsey tests out Melbourne’s coffee scene at Square customer Black Velvet Espresso. Paul Jeffers
“If you think back to a company like Apple, the iPod certainly wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it was the best and it won out. We believe the best experience is really a cohesive experience, which ties in one ecosystem of services for sellers.”
While Square is pitched as a financial services disruptor Dorsey is very keen to position the company as a partner to entrenched industry giants, taking a percentage of payments that banks’ services would never have reached without them.
It is a strategy that has resonated with investors, since the company listed in one of the most watched IPOs of 2015. The stock has bounced back from a slump at the start of the year to sit well above its listing price at $US15.13, giving it a market value of $US5.18 billion.
However, despite a continued buoyancy in the Australian market for tech listings, there has not been a single US tech IPO in the first quarter of 2016.
“I’m not really sure why there have been no IPOs, we focused on doing the right thing for our company and I never really considered what it would mean for others, and I think our timing was pretty spot on,” Dorsey says.
As a public company CEO Dorsey has faced tough questions about ongoing growth potential both at Square and particularly Twitter, where active monthly user number growth has stalled around the 320 million mark.
When it listed investors bought into the idea that Twitter could eventually grow as big as Facebook, which boasts more than 1 billion daily users, and Dorsey returned as CEO to replace Dick Costolo principally to address the problem.
Since going public similar concerns have emerged about Square’s ability to retain its rapid growth rates, but Dorsey says he approaches the situation from the same standpoint at both companies.
“The only thing we can really control is what we are building, if people value it then they want to buy it and we grow,” he says. “If they don’t then we need to have better answers, so that is my focus.”
At Twitter Dorsey made an interesting move last week to add more attractive content to draw in users, by acquiring rights to stream live NFL games on Thursday nights. He says the left field move could herald the start of a global push into live sports coverage.
He reasons that everyone watches sport on TV or at a ground and then Tweets about it, so bringing the experience together on one screen could be a very attractive proposition.
“Twitter is 10 years old now, and for 10 years we have seen this massively great experience when people watch a game with Twitter,” Dorsey says.
“We want to do it everywhere with sports like soccer. Latin American football is really big on Twitter, a lot of the players are on Twitter and we have a lot of fans on Twitter. Every game around the world has pretty heavy tweeting, so we want to make sure we can provide a great experience everywhere.”
Capacity to lead
When Dorsey returned as Twitter chief many questioned his capacity to run two companies at once, particularly as Twitter was seen as a turnaround job. The man himself says there is no problem, and that his leadership style works in both organisations.
“I only know one way to lead a company … they are two very different companies, but my leadership style is similar across both,” he says.
“I think they both serve fundamental human activities so they both have similar potential and my job is to make sure that they both meet that potential … I am really proud that we are building companies that are serving people in a way that is meaningful and necessary.”
How long he can sustain it is a matter for Dorsey and his respective boards, but at 39 he still theoretically has plenty of miles left in the tank.
He has spoken recently about his capacity for working 18-hour days and says he has never yet considered a day when he will step back from the day-to-day business world.
“I love what I do and have really great people that I work with and that makes me really happy and gives me a lot of energy to continue to do what I love doing,” he says.
“Meeting with Square users tonight is another exciting thing as I get to see people getting value from what we do … I don’t have any specific time in mind of when that stops because I am loving what I am doing.”