Jim McKelvey: ‘Just go ahead and build it’

Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of Square, is someone who can definitely sport the title of a serial entrepreneur. After starting seven companies — five of which he still owns — over the past 20 years, McKelvey has the insight to inspire entrepreneurs to strive for more than mediocre. As the last speaker of the morning

Jim McKelvey drew on experiences as a businessman and glassblower in his speech at Big Omaha 2012. 

Jim McKelvey, the co-founder of Square, is someone who can definitely sport the title of a serial entrepreneur. After starting seven companies — five of which he still owns — over the past 20 years, McKelvey has the insight to inspire entrepreneurs to strive for more than mediocre.

As the last speaker of the morning session today at Big Omaha 2012, McKelvey took the stage at KANEKO to tell stories of business and glassblowing, both of which revealed lessons that attendees can leave with.

Strive for more than mediocre

“I wanted to do something and do it well,” McKelvey said. After McKelvey’s mother died, he realized that though she had seen him succeed in many of his early career projects, she hadn’t seen him really excel at something. This life changing event is what sparked the business success attributed to McKelvey today. 

Don’t ask permission

“If you can’t be persuasive to get people to believe your crazy idea, you can just go ahead and build it,” McKelvey said. He realized quickly in his career that you don’t need to have the trust of others to build something. This philosophy extends beyond software and relates to a variety of products in many industries including biology, construction and transportation.

Keep your message simple

“We’re in a business with people who just lie,” McKelvey said of the financial industry. After noticing that “misrepresentation” had become a check mark on a form to close a bank account, he realized that there was a very simple solution to a common problem consumers were dealing with. With Square, “there’s no small print: that’s it. The message travels.”

Solve problems

While trying to sell glass bathroom faucets, McKelvey lost sales due to his inability to accept certain forms of credit card payments. After the loss of a sale, he realized that this was a problem he could solve not just for himself but also for other small businesses and individuals. Thus, the partnership between McKelvey and Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, was formed. “I think if we had started Square without a real problem at its core,” McKelvey said, “we would not have had the trajectory that we did.”

McKelvey, a St Louis native, spoke about the ability of entrepreneurs from places other than coasts to make an impact. “This entrepreneurial energy that we have in the Midwest doesn’t have to go out to the coasts to get fed and watered,” he said. Applause from attendees proved that he isn’t alone in that thought.

For real-time coverage of Big Omaha on Thursday and Friday, including a live stream of all 14 speakers, visit siliconprairienews.com/live.

 

Credits: Photo by Malone & Company / Big Omaha


Silicon Prairie News’ coverage of Big Omaha 2012 is presented by CoSentry. For more than a decade, CoSentry has provided startups, web-based enterprises and larger organizations a safe, secure, affordable network of computing and data storage facilities.

Learn more about CoSentry at cosentry.com.

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