It was a sunny September morning in Washington Square Park. I was meeting Jack Dorsey to get a look at his new project. I had no idea what it was going to be, but I imagined it would have something to do with social media, given the last three years he spent at Twitter. We had met for the first time a little over two years earlier at a dinner at a vegan restaurant. The menu choice was Biz Stone's. Fred Wilson had invited me along. I was winding up my startup and hadn't yet joined First Round, so I was just trying to meet a bunch of smart people to see where I could help.
What always struck me about Jack was that, for a big idea guy, he didn't have the usual mania. He's calm, collected and extremely thoughtful in his approach. He didn't try to convince me his idea was big. He already knew it with a quiet confidence--not that the founder of Twitter needs to convince anyone of anything.
Jack pays attention to a lot of people that most people don't--cab drivers, street vendors. Perhaps that's why he seems to be a sure bet for being only the second tech entrepreneur with two billion dollar exits. He builds things for normal people, even if they're not always the first users.
Jack talked of street vendors and Craigslist cash purchases and I didn't know where he was going with it. Then, he told me of the hardware hurdles of building around various devices. That's when he took an early Square out of his pocket and held it between his fingers--like Morpheus and the battery.
The audio jack. Brilliant. Universal. Cheap. It was so ridiculously simple, and that's when I realized what Jack does, maybe better than anyone else:
He distills huge, impactful ideas into to almost mindnumbingly simple products.
It's the science of reduction. Anyone can come up with features. Few people can identify the one simple thing that something needs to do in order to make a big impact.
Think about Square and Twitter. Neither was a particularly complicated product to launch, and the list of yhings they didn't do was much longer than the feature list.
Both require a lot of work on the backend at scale--to counter fraud or spam or just to make using the services fast--but very little technical barrier existed to getting them up and running.
In a world of lean startups, we too often mistake MVP for Minimum Viable Problem instead of Minimum Viable Product. Just because you're trying to get something simple running on the cheap doesn't mean you need to attack only small problems. Jack has proved that twice now.
I couldn't be more excited about Square's new partnership with Starbucks. It's been very cool to be around early for Jack's successes--from watching Twitter blow up at SXSW in 2007 to being dollars number 476 and 477 swiped on Square. I hope entrepreneurs take a lesson from his product insight: Small can be huge.