Adam was invited by our friends at Square to interview Jack Dorsey as part of their annual developer conference called Square Unboxed. Jack Dorsey is one of the most prolific CEOs out there — he’s a hacker turned CEO and is often working at the very edge of what’s to come (at scale). Jack is focused on what the future has to offer, he’s considered an innovator by many. He’s also a Bitcoin maximalist and has positioned himself and Block long on Bitcoin.
What you’re about to hear is the fireside chat Adam had with Jack at Square Unboxed 2022. Jack and Adam discuss the vision Square has for the developer platform and why it’s so central to the company’s strategy.
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I'm here with Jack Dorsey. Jack, this is your conference, you need no introduction, of course… Before we go into all the details of the announcements of this conference, and obviously the name change from Square to Block and this bigger vision that you're implementing and doing, can we talk a bit about you? The reason why I think I wanna do this is because this is a developer conference, you are - in your own words, you said you're a hacker turned CEO. I watched the Lex Fridman podcast you were on, and I love that podcast and your appearance on there… But what does it mean to be a hacker-turned-CEO today?
You know, when I was 14, I was a legitimate hacker. I just loved tinkering with computers, and I found BBS'es, and I found the internet through those BBS'es… It was the only way I really learned in the early days, was trying to find ways into these systems… And then seeing the source code for a while, because all the source code of the early internet was open… And it still is. Most of the internet runs on open source software, so I have so much gratitude for the people that chose, usually as their side things, to build software for the public, and in public. And I was really into punk rock at the time as well, and one of the interesting things around punk rock is, you know, someone gets up there, first time, with a band, and they're absolutely terrible… And then you see them the next month and they get a little bit better, and you see them two months after that and they're really good, and then they get great… And just being able to create in public and make your mistakes in public - I saw the same sort of attitude and approach on the internet, in open source software, where you're a terrible programmer, and you put something out there, and you get feedback, and it's usually super-negative feedback, and angry people behind keyboards… But it gets you into a better state. It helps you learn, and you learn from others just by watching their work, and watching what they're doing, and what mistakes they're making.
The other thing of hacker to me means you do whatever it takes to make it work. I was not an engineer. I was never an engineer. I just don't have the skill for that. Engineer being someone who actually can make something work, but also it be stable and scalable, and be failsafe. I learned enough to make the thing work, barely work, and it would probably fall down at some point… So I wrote all the original code for Square back then, and it was quickly replaced by people who could actually make it scale… Although I thought mine was pretty good, in this case.
Yeah, you're doing some cool stuff in the public too, especially with Spiral. We'll talk about some of the stuff that you're doing in the open, the Bitcoin wallet of course, mining Bitcoin, the hardware aspects… But this aspect of embracing open source software, embracing really the public aspect of getting that feedback loop which I think is pretty interesting. So feel free to pepper that in as we get closer to it, but I know that you mine Bitcoin; do you do anything developery today? Like, if you're hacking today, how would you describe a hack that you might do? Not so much today specifically, but today in terms of a timeframe.
[07:54] Yeah, just on that point - I think it's really important as companies get more successful that they give back to what they've taken so much from. And open source was that for us. So we're doing a lot with open source, because we've been successful because of it, and we need to give back. But today I'm learning how to program Rust…
And that's literally today, but also over the past few months. I love the language, I think it's incredible… Its compiler is amazing, because it points out so many errors that you would have not otherwise seen until you run it… Some weird occurrence happens, and then you come into contact with it… So it's an amazingly well-designed language, and it's a joy to write stuff in it.
Pro-Rust, alright. What kind of things are you hacking on with Rust? Anything in particular?
Just basic stuff… I really love low-latency real-time systems, so I'm trying to get more into that… But obviously, there's a lot of Bitcoin and the broader crypto ecosystem that's written in Rust… So it's very good at real-time low-latency system-level work, and that's kind of what I'm fascinated by. Not that it would be useful at all, but it's a great challenge for me.
I think it's so important to tinker. You've gotta remain curious. And if you get stagnant – I mean, it would be semi-easy for someone like you to be where you're at in terms of what you've achieved in your life and what you lead to sort of just lean back a little bit, but I think being curious is always important to progress and grow, and just still innovate, really. You see the edge of things, and you're not letting go.
Yup, a hundred percent. That's what I do.
Well, the theme of this conference is This New World. And it could be sort of framed in a couple ways. Obviously, this new world in terms of what happened in the last couple of years, but also this new world in terms of this name change, Square turned Block, Square being the synonymous name for your sellers platform, and everything you're doing there… This was announced back in December, the name of Block etc. The site is obviously super-beautiful. I love the site. When it first came out, I was like "What is this, block.xyz?" It was really cool.
TBD, Spiral, Tidal, Cash App… You've got a lot of things happening, but share the bigger picture of what happened with the behind-the-scenes of this name change. Sure, people see in December this new name, these new desires for Square… Now it's Block… But help me understand when this journey began and why Block exists today, and what you plan to do.
Yeah. It really began – like, at the start of the company we made a conscious choice not to name our company after anything having to do with payments or finance. So we wanted to word a name that allowed us flexibility and didn't keep us into the payments world. We didn't really know why, we had no plans or intentions about expanding beyond what we originally started with, which was just a credit card reader that plugged into the phone.
But little by little, as we saw people use it, we realized we weren't building a credit card reader, we were building a way for people to make a sale. And then we stepped back and said "Well, a credit card reader is one way to make a sale, but it's not the only one. There's many ways for someone to make a sale." So that led us to build a register to help people organize their information around their business and make better decisions, which would grow their sales and make more sales. It allowed us to get to Square Capital, which allowed us to lend people money to build up their business. $5,000 for a few new salon chairs could double or triple your business, just with that small loan which no bank was doing, under $25,000. And it allowed us to build something like Cash App, that was more focused on individuals instead of sellers.
[11:50] And that was the moment, especially as Cash App got bigger and bigger in terms of scale, that we realized "Oh, there might be something here." We're not just building an ecosystem for sellers, but we're building an ecosystem of ecosystems. And what I mean by that is the seller business has always been about what are all the tools that we can build for a seller to help them make the sale and make more sales? And how do they positively reinforce one another? Utilizing the register, using the register in payments allows you access to get a Square Capital loan, for instance. Using the developer platform allows you to build other functionality on top, or give functionality for a small business or a larger-sized business.
So we were really excited about that idea of building this ecosystem. Now we had two ecosystems at scale, and so we asked why not add others? We found another one called Tidal, which is a music streaming service which to a lot of people felt like a very weird thing to do, a financial company buying a music streaming service… But if you look at what an artist has to go through to start their career or grow their career, it's not all that dissimilar from a small business. So we're focused on the artist's problem, not the streaming aspect.
And then we started a new business, a new ecosystem called TBD, which in terms of developer platform for people to build Bitcoin exchanges all around the world.
So when we got to those four, we're like – you know, sellers know Square as Square. They don't consider Cash App to be part of that. Cash App doesn't consider Square at all. In fact, most of the Cash App customers don't even know that Square exists. So we needed a new name, we needed to give the Square name to Square, to the seller business, and therefore we needed a new name. We went through a lot of names, some terrible, some amazing, and we ended up at Block, because there's a reference to the Square shape. It's just as boring as the name Square; we wanted a boring name originally, because we didn't wanna be in front of our customers; we wanted to be invisible, we wanted to be behind them, we wanted to be under them.
It's a reference to a block, like a neighborhood block, where we find our sellers. Block party for Tidal, blockchain for all the Bitcoin stuff we're doing… So the name just works. It's simple, and boring, and we can work to make it cool. But it's never meant to be a consumer-facing brand. It's only for our recruiting efforts, our investors, and a way to reference this thing that contains all these companies inside of it.
Yeah. One of the things you said in the announcement for it I think is really interesting… You said Block is the new name, but our purpose of economic empowerment remains the same. You said "No matter how we grow or change, we will continue–" and this is the point I wanna take on… "We will continue to build tools to help increase access to the economy." And that's obviously where you began with Square, with sellers, and this realization going from the original hardware to the platform, and all the software, and all the data science behind things… I think that's really interesting, that vision process, because as you had said, all the thing you're doing will be on the Square brand. And that actually kind of hindered Square, because it's like – I was a Cash App user, I've been a Cash App user since 2013, and I talked to other Cash App users, I paid florists, I pay my masseuse… I pay a lot of different people. I pay my housekeeper, I pay my babysitter, all through Cash App. But they don't know that it's Square. And it's interesting how this name changed allowed you to zoom out further, but still kind of anchor into that core point of increasing access to the economy. Can you speak to that?
[15:55] Yeah, so our purpose is economic empowerment, which as you said, is a way of saying "How do we build tools to allow people to participate in the economy more, or better?" In the early days of Square it was just like "I need to accept credit cards, and my bank is not allowing me to." They didn't have the infrastructure to do that, or they chose not to. So we enabled millions of businesses who otherwise couldn't get a credit card – an acceptance account to get one. And that was purely access. The same thing was true for Cash App, which is access to fast, speedy, simple financial rails to send money peer-to-peer. But then we started holding balances for people, so they could effectively get a savings account with Cash App, or a checking account.
We issued Visa credit cards for them that works at ATMs, so they can get extra paper cash, rather than buy and sell Bitcoin… All these things go towards that purpose. And that's where we decided - you know, we have these four business units now, and each one of them effectively has a CEO, and each one of them can do whatever they want in terms of the culture, the values, the operating principles… But the one thing they must align around is our purpose. Are they serving more access to the economy? Are they serving more economic empowerment? And that's why Tidal made sense for us, is because if we get this right, then we're empowering economically artists, which has been the biggest issue for artists, and musicians specifically. The label takes so much from them; they're not making a lot of money from a stream, they're making money from merchandise, and touring… They don't have a lot of options to make that part easy. That part is hard. And that's the part that we made easy with Square, for eCommerce sites, and in-person, and services, like touring, and ticketing, and whatnot… To give them all that infrastructure, for any artist, whether they be very small, or very large, and to put it into one download, and to have an API associated with it. The point of this conference is, I think, pretty incredible.
I agree. I wanna speak to the evolution, I suppose, of Square. Let's zoom into Square itself, since we've got – Square is the primary brand that was there before this rename, and obviously all these changes you've just described… But there was an evolution that took place. You began, as you said before, this hacker mentality; all the early code for Square was written by you, and obviously replaced over time, because - you know, you hire better people, smarter people than you. But there's an evolution that took place; you started with this hardware device, and you had this idea to sort of just accept payments, but then something else happens. Something else happened that it wasn't just simply about "Oh, help this seller accept credit cards." Then it was helping them get access to it. But now it's a platform, and it's a full-fledged platform, with open source APIs, and tons and tons of developers, and tons of partners being a part of this… So far was talked about lots of different things happen around this implementation of this platform for folks, but help me understand what Square is today and how it's evolved from this initial idea of a hardware device that you hacked together for an iOS device, or the 3.5-inch jack, or the 3.5 jack.
We resisted building an API and a platform for a long time, mainly due to my experience with Twitter. With that service we released the API day one. And there was a lot of benefit to it, but all of our downtime was because of that API. People are just doing unexpected, crazy things, as you would expect them to do with an open API.
[19:50] We should have had more constraints and controls over that, but we just didn't know what we didn't know… And with Square I knew more of that, and now we're moving money around… So people doing crazy, unexpected things could come at a different cost.
So we wanted to be very thoughtful about how we thought about a platform and how we built it out. It wasn't until we hired Alysa, who runs Square a that we felt comfortable really going for it. And the reason why is because she had experience building that at Microsoft, and Amazon, and I'm sure made a bunch of mistakes there, and all those mistakes will not be repeated; we can make new mistakes now.
So we took that experience, and then she did something really cool, which was everything that we build that's front-facing to our customers should use the exact same API that we're giving to external developers as well. So the register uses the same API and platform that any third-party developer can. It really simplified how we thought about building, generally, and it made us slower for a little bit, but then the gains compound and make us much faster… But it put us on a level playing field with our developers as well, which I think is really important. A lot of companies tend to do that.
So that was a critical insight, and I think that was one of the reasons our platform has been as successful as it has, is because this principle of we're going to use what we're giving out to other people as well. And if we feel the pain, they're gonna feel the pain, and they can't feel pain. So we make sure that we're building in such a way that we don't feel the pain either.
Yeah, it really changed our company, and gave us an opportunity for our customers to build on top of us, to build alongside of us, and then also create a developer ecosystem that's doing it for business, small businesses, larger businesses, but allows us to fit into whatever arcane system that exists, or anything that people want to build, that we will never build, because it's too specific, too niche, but really meaningful to that particular person or that organization.
Can you speak – I mean, I'm obviously a developer myself, I've got a heart for developers, my company is totally focused on media that is for software developers. So our audience, when you say "Who's your audience?", it's software developers. So given that, and we're at this conference, Square Unboxed 2022, it's for developers, you've got sellers here too, I'm sure, you've got partners here, you've got the larger ecosystem, but it's focused on software developers. And this is where I was really captured by this vision of Square… And I think there's some folks who may have a misconception or an incorrect assumption of what Square is, but this platform for developers to build upon. Help me understand what the opportunity is for developers. Because I've been speaking to folks behind the scenes - Shannon Skipper and others - about this, and it's like, well, this is a place for developers to come and build apps for millions of sellers globally. And as you roll out to Japan and other markets, the opportunity only gets greater. And as Bitcoin maybe becomes an internet-native currency, and as it gets integrated with Cash App Pay etc. that's happening now, this is an interesting space to be in. Help me understand the opportunity, specifically for developers.
We learned a lot from the solar platform, such that Cash App is going to do something similar. And TBD is entirely a platform. That's its only reason to be and to exist. So we're definitely on the track, and we wanna make sure that we're building more and more platform-type things forever more. Everything that we do in the future should have platform elements.
We're building a Bitcoin wallet and a Bitcoin miner - we're building it so that it's open source; all the code will be available, and the hardware design will be available. Everything about it will be completely open for any developer to use. They don't need to build on top of it, they can just steal all the code and the idea and just build whatever they want.
Yeah, that's by design. Again, giving back to the community. We'll compete on our build quality, we'll compete on our experience, we'll compete on services like security. We wanted to find that lane and then stick to it, but everything else should be usable by everyone. And that I think is the opportunity, is we wanna open as much as possible. And again, we don't know what we don't know, and the more open you are, and the less constraint you have on what can be built, the more surprising and unexpectedly great things can happen. And that benefits the whole ecosystem.
[28:22] This goes back – in the seller case, certainly everything built by developers on the platform benefits sellers and benefits Square and Block. In the Bitcoin world, in the Bitcoin miners space, if someone just takes a design, takes the code and builds their own thing - it benefits the Bitcoin ecosystem. It doesn't benefit Block directly, but over time, because the Bitcoin ecosystem is stronger and better, then Block is stronger and better. So that's just the mindset. This platform that we're discussing today started it all.
Okay. So in terms of some key API announcements, you've got a lot of fun stuff happening at this conference today. You've got Cash App Pay, which is GA for developers… I believe it's in the U.S. only. You've got Afterpay, which is in GA for developers; that's U.S. and Australia, because it originated in Australia, it makes sense. You've got your bookings API, you've got your checkout API… Of these particular APIs, obviously they extend the platform, they enable more to happen… Is there any one in particular that you're just personally excited about, or play the hand in, or there's any excitement around there for you?
This is gonna sound like a non-answer, so I apologize for that… But the reason I think we're successful as a company is because we're not focused on any one thing. It's the in-between that matters. It's the connection between all these things that matters, and the breadth of our offering that matters.
We compete with registrars, and payment providers, and lenders, but the fact that we have it all in one app is what sets us apart and makes us unique. It makes us a little bit slower, because we have to manage all the complexity, instead of a seller hooking all these things together and having that complexity. So we've taken that complexity on. But it makes us a lot more deliberate, and I think it makes us a lot more resilient.
We approach the platform in the same way - if you use any one of these parts, they can be exciting, but if they positively reinforce one another, then it's real. So what I'm most excited about is we continue to build out things as a potential to positively reinforce another aspect to the platform, or the API, or the broader ecosystem. Afterpay is a good example. This is exactly in between Square and Cash App. Exactly in between. And it's the best way for us to show we intend to connect these ecosystems together. That's the power. There are competitors that have all the seller tools we have, potentially, but they don't have Cash App. They don't have any consumer focus. And the competitors that have a Cash App type thing, they don't have any of the seller side. And then we get into music, and nobody has that. So that's the exciting bit for me, is just how these things work together, rather than the individual parts.
I love that you're able to give these companies and their CEOs really that room to do what they need to do, provided that one adherence that you mentioned… But the platform that you're building enables them all to be connected. As you'd mentioned, Afterpay sort of sits in between Square and Cash App, and in many ways kind of caters to that Cash App consumer who maybe is less excited about using a credit card and more excited about using their own cash, or Bitcoin, or the credit card you give… Or I guess it's not really a credit card, it's more of a – they use the credit card system, but it's not a credit card itself. It's just simply a cash card. It enables all those things to connect. That's really, I think – you know, I asked you the question earlier about developers… I think that's what's beautiful, because if you choose this platform - and we're gonna get into SoFi and what's happening there. This is a larger implementation for a seller… What happens for developers is now they've got all these interconnected abilities really, between Cash App, Afterpay, Square the platform, Tidal, TBD, Spiral… All these fun things you're doing. It's really astounding.
[32:35] I've gotta ask you more questions; I'm not even sure where to go, because there's just so much we could cover… Given that, in terms of Cash App, in terms of Afterpay, why did that acquisition make sense for you? How did that click for you? Because when that acquisition came out, a lot of folks were like "Why? That's interesting, but why?" Help us understand the why to that.
I mean, the other thing I'm really proud of is this is not a strategy that came from me. It came from Alysa who runs the seller business, and Brian, who runs the Cash App. They worked together, because – I'd been pushing them for some time to push the ecosystem together and find the connections between the two, because we know they're there. They might start off as very small, but it came out of that push where they've found an obvious connection that was large, and that was Afterpay.
And we met with the entrepreneurs [unintelligible 00:33:34.26] and just loved their values and what they're trying to do in the world, and how much humility they have, and what they care about, and it just felt like a fit. It felt like one thing, so we made it one thing, even though it was a very large thing to do, the biggest thing we've ever done, and extremely risky… But I trusted Brian and Alysa because they did the work, and they showed why this connection makes sense, and why it's the future, and why it's really important for each one of the businesses, but more importantly for our business, Block. The majority of my time right now is focused on the smaller things, like Tidal, and the Bitcoin stuff, and…
Small for now.
Yeah, small for now. And I had that same relationship with Square and Cash App, where before I was in every product review, and now I have no idea what they're doing. I hear about it usually when the world hears about it, and it's awesome. I just love it.
I think it's really interesting, because my experience with Square as the person who switched the card or pays a merchant has generally been florists, barbers, my masseuse… You know, those types of folks which - they're smaller, they have your point of sale, they have the hardware there on that front… But SoFi Stadium is a different kind of seller for you to approach. You were invited to the RFP as a Dark Horse candidate, which I think is super-interesting, essentially saying you're not gonna win… And you do win. And SoFi Stadium is a massive stadium, it's all high-tech, from the engineering of the architecture itself, up to integrating Square. But this RFP - you got invited to it as a Dark Horse candidate… Can you speak to just what that means, to attract the invitation of and win that kind of seller.
From the dawn of the company, maybe a year or two years in, we were wanting to be in stadiums, but we didn't have an API back then. And this is what we did for a few things, a lot of custom work that we had to build, and it took away from everything else that we were doing… And it was the API and the platform that really enabled us to even consider being in that RFP process.
[36:11] I think I could be wrong that the Warriors Stadium in San Francisco came slightly earlier than SoFi, the Chase Center… But in both cases I think one of the key winning differentiators was the platform. This is a huge, massively-scaled operation. Hardware is failing all the time, networks are going down, backend software and legacy software is failing all the time, and has massive amounts of redundancy… So these are the things that we could not build alone for any customer or any client. It had to be a function of how good and flexible the platform was… And it really comes down to that word, flexibility. I think we're the most flexible, and I think that's why we won. I think it's all due to what we've done with the platform.
Obviously, we left out Spiral from the deeper conversation. We touched on the open source nature of it, the Bitcoin wallet, the hardware to mine, all that stuff… But it began at Square Crypto. And obviously, I did some research in terms of where it began, for this, and you had said "What's the biggest thing we could do for the Bitcoin community?" and one of your co-partners, Mike, had said "Hire five open source developers and just let them do fun stuff." Can you talk about the inception of Square Crypto and how that's evolved in Spiral and what you're doing there?
Yeah. That's exactly where it was - Mike and I were having dinner; he runs TBD now, by the way. Mike Brock. And he was the one I – Bitcoin in Cash App started as a Hack Week project with me and Mike. So we were both building it. So he's kind of been my partner all along the way on the Bitcoin side of things… And I asked him, what's the greatest thing we can do for the community to give back? Because I just kept feeling we're not giving back enough.
And he said "Just hire five Bitcoin engineers and let them do whatever they want. Don't give them Square equity, give them Bitcoin. Give them no direction whatsoever, and see what happens." And I texted Amrita, our CFO, and said "Let's spare five million dollars a year for this thing that we just decided to do." And she's like "Okay." And we kicked off a hiring process to find a lead. That person was Steve Lee.
We didn't even wanna say "All of you need to work on one project, or you can all work on different projects." We wanted that to be up to them. So Steve hired four other people, and assembled the team, and then they all went to an off-site to kick things off, and they decided that they wanted to work together on one project… And they wanted to work on a lightning development kit to make lightning easy for wallet developers. And they wanted to do it in Rust. They built it in two years.
And again, they told me all this, I'm like "Great. Amazing", and we introduced them to the broader company, and - great, amazing. We didn't expect anything from it. And then two years later, as Cash App is launching its Lightning feature, it's using LDK, it's using what they've done.
[39:47] So if you're ever in a state where you can fund open source developers, not just around Bitcoin, but anything, you might get something back that's extremely valuable to your company. It would have taken Cash App so much longer if LDK did not exist. And again, they weren't building that for Square's interest, they were building it for wallet developers that were not Cash App. Because Cash App had no interest at that time of using Lightning. I'm really proud of that. It just happened, and we didn't force it to happen. It just happened.
I think you're an innovator, and I think that what you've done so far and what you've enabled with the teams you've hired, and you've given just flexibility to do fun things, do whatever you want, and something actually comes out of it - it's pretty admirable, and quite an accomplishment.
I'm really excited about what happens in this space… I saw a tweet from you to Cardi B. She said something like "Is Bitcoin going to take over the dollar?" You said "Yes, it will." Is Bitcoin to replace the U.S. dollar? Is that something you expect?
I don't think there'll ever be a replacement for any of these things, but I do think there will be one that's more dominant, and I think there's a very strong potential that the U.S. dollar loses its global singular reserve currency status. And there may be a second one in the Chinese yuan. And there might be a third one in Bitcoin. And I think that's a net positive. I'm obviously rooting for Bitcoin because of the properties behind it, because it's transparent, because no company or individual controls it, because no government controls it, because it's resilient, it's secure, it's never been hacked, it's never gone down… That's what I want out of my money. But I want the transparency, I want it to be owned by the people as well. So having a world reserve currency that is owned by the people and developed in the way that Bitcoin is developed I think is very, very powerful, and I think it would be ideal for everyone on the planet not to be controlled by the dominance of any one government's currency.
But I do think that we're moving away from a time when there's one, and there will probably be many, and then maybe one will become dominant.
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