They Might Be Giants

From Google to startups like Square, a look at seven would-be mobile titans

Jack Dorsey
Founder and CEO

“Life happens at intersections,” said Jack Dorsey at a tech event last fall. “It’s important to recognize what’s happening in that intersection and determine what to do in it.”

With that metaphor, the 36-year-old tech star—who launched Twitter six years ago and Square in 2009—added another layer to his Zen-like public image. But in the logistical sense, the quote also aptly describes the mobile marketing industry that Dorsey has become surprisingly important to.

What a run. Just a few years ago, Dorsey was simply a budding Internet player. Now, with Twitter taking in hundreds of millions of dollars in mobile ads and Square gaining steam in mobile payments, Dorsey heads two formidable companies that enable a meet-up between marketing and commerce.

“I think he must have a clone,” says Mike Wehrs, CEO of Scanbuy. “You got to give the guy a lot of credit. Creating one of those companies is a one-in-a-million shot. To make two is incredibly rare.” Wehrs adds, “If I had to pick one company that’s going to affect mobile marketing the most, I’d probably go with Square. It’s allowing regular people and small businesses to accept payments on the fly.”

While Square has no shortage of rivals—among them, Google Wallet, Intuit’s QuickBooks, PayPal Here and LevelUp—the dapper Dorsey seems to inspire confidence in the larger business community.

American Banker, the 177-year-old granddaddy of daily financial newspapers, named the St. Louis native 2012’s Entrepreneur of the Year and valued Square at $3.25 billion.

The startup has raised $341 million from such notable funds as Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Sequoia Capital. And a who’s who of tech players has invested, including Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.

Starbucks has also jumped on the Square bandwagon, having invested $25 million and introducing it in its stores nationwide. In announcing the deal, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz illustrated his confidence in Square’s technology this way: “Once Jack and I sat down, it was very obvious to me.”

Then there’s Twitter, which turned social media and the business of news reporting upside down. Sixty percent of Twitter’s approximately 200 million active users employ the microblogging service via mobile devices. During this year’s Super Bowl game, tweets about the event totaled 21.4 million, many of them by way of the smartphones of football fans at parties and pubs.

Oreos created enormous buzz after creating a clever ad around the Super Bowl blackout that utilized Twitter’s new mobile app, Vine. According to, Dorsey was instrumental in acquiring the app, even as his colleagues were unsure about the deal.

One might say they were at an intersection—and Dorsey decided which move to make.

“He’s quite a force to be reckoned with,” Wehrs says. “He’s a tremendous entrepreneur and operator.” —C.H.



Adweek Blog Network