An ice cream maker, a newspaper publisher, food trucks, pop-up shops, and numerous farmers’ market vendors are among the thousands of small businesses in Detroit using mobile apps invented by Jack Dorsey—namely Twitter and Square—to win customers, manage sales, and save time. In fact, Square has already helped to power $174 million in transactions for 5,500 Detroit businesses, the company claims. And at Techonomy Detroit this week Dorsey said entrepreneurs can expect more developments targeted to their businesses from him in the future.
“The most important thing that we want to do with our mission, building our services and the software, is finding ways to develop products that are so intuitive and so easy that they actually give time back to the entrepreneurs that are using them to focus on what’s more meaningful,” said the Square CEO in the panel discussion “Turbo Charging Detroit’s Techonomy.”
Twitter, where Dorsey is Chairman, has been valued at $10 billion, but he hasn’t lost touch with the day-to-day plight of small business managers. “The typical point of sale system, the typical credit card terminal, is just a nightmare,” he said. “It’s a maze of all these functions that you have to learn. You have to hire people to help you figure it out.”
Dorsey said he wants to build software “that you understand how to use as soon as you open it up.” Eliminating the pain of learning how to use technology, he said, gives “time back to the sellers to focus on building their business, to invent new flavors.”
Scott Moloney, founder of Treat Dreams, a Michigan-based maker of more than 750 ice cream flavors, Catherine Kelly, publisher of The Michigan Citizen, a progressive African American weekly newspaper, and Alex Southern, founder of the entrepreneurs’ community group Grow Detroit, joined Dorsey for the conversation with Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick.
Kelly and Moloney expressed typical small business owners’ confusion about where to focus their limited time when it comes to social media.
Said Moloney, “We have a food truck, we have a store that changes flavors every week. I have never tweeted anything. I engage through Facebook, but I know that’s static. So my question is, is there another Facebook, or will Facebook be here another 20 years? My 13‑year‑old daughter is on Instagram now. I’m not sure what’s that all about. Should I? As a parent, I should. As a business owner, I don’t know.”
Kelly acknowledged she is also unsure about committing time to mobile or web efforts: “Running such a lean, challenged business right now, how many resources should I [dedicate to] something where there really isn’t a model yet to monetize it?”
Dorsey’s take? Meet your customers where they are.
That’s the logic, after all, that led to the Square device being developed for a phone instead of a computer. Dorsey said his team recognized that small business owners “weren’t wanting to take their computers out to the art fair or the farmer’s market, or with them while they were doing their flight instruction or piano teaching or whatnot, but they did have their phone … a commodity device, and people already know how to use it.” That insight narrowed his developers’ focus. Dorsey said he decided, “We will build the simplest thing we can for the phone, which meets where our customers are, meets where the sellers are, and meets where we see this interesting intersection.”
His advice to Kelly and Moloney: Go mobile. “I do believe people are consuming more content and interacting more out of their pocket, and I don’t think that’s a trend that goes away,” Dorsey said.