Jim McKelvey Transcript

Jim McKelvey is the co-founder of Square and the author of a brand new book, The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time. Square was founded in response to a problem Jim had in his glassblowing business. He ended up losing a big sale because he couldn’t take an American Express card. So he set out to solve that problem along with his former intern, Jack Dorsey.

Jim says true entrepreneurs solve problems that haven’t been solved before, they don’t just start a business, they do something that has never been done before. And that is what he and Jack did, they solved a problem in a way that no one else had ever thought of before. They even were able to beat out Amazon when the company tried to copy the setup Square had.

The reason behind how they beat Amazon, Jim says, “In Square’s case, I outlined about 14 things that we were doing absolutely differently from everybody else, 14 separate things and we were probably doing some more subtle stuff on top of that and each of those 14 things influenced each of the other 14 things so it was very complicated but imagine the difficulty of trying to copy 14 things at once and what I do is I just… You need to just fall back to math, you say “Well what are the odds of copying one thing successful?” Well, let’s say it’s 8 out of 10. Four out of five times you’re gonna get it right. You’re gonna try to copy something that’s been done before, you’re a company like Amazon, you got a lot of smart people, a lot of money, you got an 80% chance of nailing it. Okay, great, so that’s one thing. Do two things, that’s 80 squared or 80% squared so now you’ve got a 64% chance and you keep adding and adding. Now you’re down to the point where the odds of actually going in and successfully copying all of these things which are necessary for the company to succeed is very slim and even a company like Amazon couldn’t do it.”

When it comes to true entrepreneurship Jim doesn’t believe is starting with a product or a service. He says it all starts with a problem that needs to be solved. “So if you say somebody has an idea for a thing, I’m not particularly interested but I am very interested in a problem that somebody tries to solve. If somebody says to me, “Hey, I have invented this widget.” I don’t care. If somebody says to me “Jim, I’ve got this problem and I am annoyed by this thing and here’s how I plan to eliminate that problem.” That’s fascinating because the elimination of problems, the solution to an existing problem is super fascinating because that’s what moves the world forward.”

And Jim shares that innovation cannot happen without failure. So we shouldn’t be afraid to fail. He says, “I see people who I know are capable of doing great things disqualifying themselves. It’s not even that they’re failing, it’s that they’re not trying because they sit there and their whole life, they’ve been conditioned to get this guarantee before they do anything and then you come to the situation where by definition, there are no guarantees. It is impossible to have a guarantee that something that has never been tried before will work. Then the answer is, “Well, don’t ever try” but that’s insane, right? But we’ve become so conditioned for this that I figured we needed a way to, first of all, discuss it in a way that allowed people to argue with me. So read the book, use my definitions and then get in my face.”

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How to get your team to innovate
Why we’ve been defining the word entrepreneur the wrong way
How Square was created and how they took on and beat Amazon
Whether or not you should follow your passion
How to deal with failure
Jim’s view on whether or not you can buy happiness

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