Jim McKelvey: Square’s Co-Founder Takes Us on his Entrepreneurial Journey

Jim McKelvey is the co-founder of Square – the mobile payment app that solves the problem of affordable credit card processing for millions of businesses, service providers and on-the-road retailers and artists. And solving problems is at the heart of what Jim McKelvey does. 

In fact, Jim is not just the co-founder of Square, he’s also the inspiration behind the idea. You see, Jim is an accomplished hand-blown-glass artist. Several years ago, he had a buyer for one of his unique glass pieces, but realized he didn’t have a way for his customer to pay with a credit card. 

Thus, Square was born.

Transforming the Consumer Culture

There’s a good chance that you’ve used Square at some point in your purchasing history – it’s used at 800,000 merchant locations, including Starbucks, Apple stores, select Whole Foods, and likely your local juice bar, nail salon and even your church bookstore.

How does a product transform the payment options of large and small businesses as well as the consumer culture in just a few short years? You might say it’s the purpose behind the problem – and the problem solver. And you can expect to hear more about both at this year’s Leadercast Live, where Jim will be a featured speaker. (And yes, we rely on Square payment processing for Live’s resources, books, T-shirts, and even lunch!)

Originally, Square was just that — a small, shiny, 3D plastic square with a slot for a mag stripe reader that you could attach to your smartphone to swipe a credit card. It first began showing up at artists’ festivals, farmer’s markets and solo service providers, before larger retailers saw the promise in flexibility and processing savings. Today, the app is fully integrated with iPads and tablets to create a mobile cash register, sans the cash. Jim and his co-founder, Jack Dorsey (who is also the CEO and co-founder of Twitter), have grown Square to an estimated value of $6 billion, with more than 600 employees.

Social Entrepreneurship

Jim exudes the kind of leadership style that is steeped in ethics and integrity. Early on, while expanding the company, Jim wanted to open a Square office in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. He knew that he could bring new tech jobs to the city, but he found it was a challenge to hire employees with the skills he needed, without poaching the workforce of other start-ups in the area. That wasn’t part of his values. So he closed the office in St. Louis and moved all of his new employees to the Square offices in San Francisco, where the pool of skilled tech employees is much larger. 

But that’s not where the story ends. Jim realized that the lack of skilled tech workers in non-techy cities was yet another problem to be solved. In 2015, he created LaunchCode (based primarily in — you guessed it — St. Louis), a nonprofit that trains people who have unconventional tech-biz qualifications to excel in programming, and then places them in jobs for which they would otherwise not have been considered. So far, LaunchCode has placed employees in more than 500 companies nationwide.

A Problem-Solving Purpose

Jim’s professional life is a testament to the power of his purpose: solving problems to improve the lives of others. Each venture in his portfolio of businesses serves a unique purpose, because each one is a solution to a unique problem. His inspiring stories of learning from failure, putting his vision into action and building high-performing teams are sure to ignite your purpose at Leadercast Live. 

Join us in Atlanta on May 5, 2017! We’re counting down the days until Jim and our other distinguished speakers take the stage. If you can’t make it to the Live event, then join your community and attend a host site simulcast near you. 

In the meantime, take the next 100 days before the event to up your leadership game. Sign up for Leadercast Now to receive weekly videos that specifically address the leadership challenges you face everyday.


Natalie Dupuis

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