Innovation from Square’s Jim McKelvey

Plus, telling stories with UX

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Innovation as a competitive advantage

July 27, 2020

Special guest: Jim McKelvey (Co-founder of Square and Founder of Invisibly)

Beyond the business bio: Jim is an accomplished glassblowing artist.

Square in 10 words or fewer: Point of sale devices and financial platforms.

Fast facts about Square: Founded in 2009. More than 64 million businesses use Square technology. Revenue (2019) of $4.7 billion USD.

At Jim’s glassblowing studio, he lost a sale because he couldn’t accept a customer’s credit card. Frustrated by the costs and hassles of processing payments, McKelvey teamed up his friend Jack Dorsey (the co-founder of Twitter) to launch Square.

Straight talk from Jim

“There are two categories of unsolved problems. The first is unsolved and unsolvable — like teleportation. Right now, we just don’t have the tech to do that. And then there’s this whole range of unsolved, but solvable problems. And I call those perfect problems because they represent the potential of humanity.”

“We need to de-glorify the process of entrepreneurship and get the hero worship out of it. There’s this story we tell ourselves that entrepreneurs are incredibly diligent or intelligent or gifted. I can tell you that there’s nothing special about the people who end up building these multibillion-dollar companies, but there’s a process that’s special.”

“I believe outsiders have a natural advantage if they’re trying to do something new. The human urge to copy something that works is overwhelming. If you have expertise in an industry, that expertise will act as this gravitational force, pulling you into what the industry has already decided is possible.”

Telling Stories with UX

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Does your company’s website tell a story? Does your app take the user on a journey?

We all know that humans love entertaining tales, but we don’t always recognize the power of well-told stories. Compared to a simple list of facts, narrative structures help people remember information with greater accuracy. Plus, cognitive scientists have demonstrated that stories deepen a person’s emotional connection with the storyteller.

Given the importance of telling good stories, we shouldn’t be surprised that tech companies are devoting more and more attention to text. Consider, for example, the development of microcopy (the short pieces of text used on menus, error messages, etc.). You’ve probably noticed a shift away from stock phrases like “We can’t find the page you’re looking for,” in favour of witty expressions that convey the tone of a brand — like this great example from Pixar Animation Studios:

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Crafting the right text for the right situation requires talent. Many tech companies — like Netflix, Google, and Spotify — have started hiring “UX Writers.” Of course, the idea of using effective text for a website or app is not new. But instead of traditional copywriting that aims for conversion, UX writers work on guiding the user through the product in a smooth and enjoyable manner.

In theory, UX writers could improve the product design process, by highlighting ways that text can shape the user experience. In practice, though, adding UX writers to the mix of UX designers, UI designers, and marketing copywriters could lead to confusing redundancies and omissions.

What’s the solution for dealing with this possible problem? The answer is clear: hire a brilliant product manager. Alas, if only product management was so simple…

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Good news from Insiders

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We are happy to share some good news from TechTO Insiders:

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