Jack Dorsey — CEO of both Twitter and Square — hopes that bitcoin will one day be the internet’s native currency.
Dorsey made this statement during an interview with Elizabeth Stark of Lightning Labs at a fireside chat today at the Consensus 2018 conference in New York.
Dorsey revealed that grew up in St. Louis, MI in what he described as a “huge hacker community” and that the ethos he saw growing up helped shape him into the innovative CEO of two major tech corporations that he is today.
A major supporter of Bitcoin, Dorsey admitted that he didn’t understand the full implications of Satoshi Nakomoto’s white paper when he first read it but was nevertheless fascinated by what he did see in it.
Later, he co-founded Square, a payment processing financial service, with Jim McKelvey, a glassblower and former employer of Dorsey’s. They developed Square as a credit card processing service, but Dorsey says the credit card aspect of things is incidental, saying the goal was to help merchants make a sale and accept payment in any way they could.
“What we were doing was not building a credit reader[…] it was helping him make a sale,” he said, adding:
“Any payment that comes across the counter a seller should be able to accept. They should only consider making the sale, not the currency used to make the sale.”
What Changed Between 2014 – 2017?
Dorsey said the main thing that changed for him was that community participation in Bitcoin increased. “It felt electric,” he said.
During a Cash App hack week in January 2018, Dorsey set a goal to build a system where using the cash cart on Apple Pay he could go across the street and buy a cappuccino in the cafe in the Twitter building using Bitcoin. He enlisted the help of his engineer Mike Brock on the Tuesday of the event, with only a few days left.
They ran into a deployment issue and missed the Friday goal, but achieved the goal on Tuesday the following week. After that they dedicated Brock to building Bitcoin within Square Cash, saying the feeling of solving the issue was “amazing.”
Dorsey moved the project away from being a simple payment device and more into buying and selling.
“We felt the buying and selling interface that existed at the time wasn’t simple enough and it didn’t really provide access to people in a way that we thought it could,” he said.
Stark cracked a joke that the Cash app was “the real Bitcoin Cash” which didn’t quite land, before bringing the conversation to how and why Dorsey applied his expertise to the Square Cash app, the P2P payment application for mobile phones.
“Square is good at speed and simplicity. We wanted it to be as simple as a cash app today, but ultimately wanted it to be fast,” he said. “We wanted to make sending money as easy as talking.”
Initially, they worked with the idea of sending money via email also during a hacking event, and while it worked, they concluded that email was not the way to go, which is why they created the app, along with a Visa-branded debit card to go along with it. Dorsey discussed the implications for having banking alternatives in the modern world and what it meant for financial freedom.
“What we’re seeing now is people are using it as their bank account,” he said.
In some cases, people are using the app as their only bank account, and while providing financial services to the unbanked wasn’t a stated goal of the project, the team leaned into it when they saw the potential ramifications of their and similar projects on the financial space.
Dorsey admits that the 2017 adoption of Bitcoin was a contentious move within the company, but spoke of his personal beliefs on the matter and why he was so determined to see it through, interrupted twice by applause from the audience. He said he believes that the world will have a global currency and that the hopes that currency will be bitcoin.
“It’s going to happen – and so, as a company and also as individuals we need to learn how to help make that happen. The biggest thing I worry about as a company is there’s so much amazingness in the openness of the community and I want to make sure from a corporate standpoint that nothing ever threatens that, and what can we do to help the community to help the open source nature of the work?”
Dorsey stated categorically that he felt no government or corporate body should by definition own Bitcoin or any other decentralized cryptocurrency, acknowledging that Square was a centralized company profiting from the decentralized technology. He said the goal was to continue to enable people to transact freely between each other, and invited the community to “call us out” on any perceived wrongdoings or missteps that were not in the best interests of the cryptocurrency space.
Dorsey foresees a decentralized workforce in the cards for both Square and Twitter, saying the mega offices that they currently have for both companies are a “thing of the past” and that people are starting to work where they feel most creative.
Could Square Become Obsolete?
Stark questioned whether, like Bitcoin, Square may not be the ultimate solution in terms of P2P payment and cryptocurrency services, to which Dorsey candidly responded,”I actually don’t know.”
He stated that it was indeed possible that Square would act as stepping stone for future projects, but felt that what they were doing was an important step in the current climate. Dorsey said he resisted giving grand predictions over five or 10 years, saying the main thing was to have the patience to wait and adapt to circumstances as they come with an open mind, saying:
“The internet deserves a native currency. It will have a native currency. I don’t know if it will be Bitcoin or not,” he said. “I hope it will be bitcoin.”