Jim McKelvey, an American computer science engineer and entrepreneur is the co-founder of Square, a mobile payments company.
During his maiden visit to Nigeria, the world-acclaimed businessman was a guest speaker at Tech Plus Conference & Expo facilitated by MTN Nigeria and a host of other companies.
In a media chat, he spoke with newsmen on how entrepreneurs can smell opportunity and how they can be more innovative
What is your impression about Tech Plus Conference & Expo?
This is a catalyst for change and improvement. We have a community of people that are supporting one another in the aspect of technological advancement so for Nigeria to build a similar community will be important and this is a good start.
What should be the focus of a young entrepreneur seeking opportunities in technology?
It’s a big question. Your question is being particular about young entrepreneurs in Nigeria. I don’t know much about the young in Nigeria but in United States for instance, a 20-year-old have been raised with a lot of praise given the background. There is a lot of positive reinforcement through school and some of these people can start a company with immediate success. One of the important things as a young entrepreneur seeking to maximise opportunities in technology in Nigeria or any other part of the world is to learn not to accept defeat at the early stage. When I see a lot of people do that, they seem to focus on the current state: the unsuccessful state of technology. Most products that are innovative and are really world changing are meant for the future, built for something to come. They never worked like a big deal at the beginning. For instance, in the United States, everyone thought Square was going to fail. When we started people thought we would not get there. They dismissing the idea but It turned out that all these companies turned tremendously successful in spite of the fact it didn’t look like anything form the beginning. One of the things to remember as an entrepreneur is that you are not going to get feedback early.
Making reference to your success story, what is required to be a successful entrepreneur?
The most critical thing is stubbornness, plain perseverance. Most of the time as an entrepreneur you are dealing with things that are not working. As a matter of fact, this is what you do as an engineer. Nobody hires an engineer if the device works. If it works perfectly, you need the marketing department or a sales team. You deal with problems and that is your everyday role: you think of what’s working today, what’s going on, what’s going wrong and what can go wrong. That is the psychology you have to get used to. Most people need a positive reinforcement and audience or feedback but you are not going to get a lot of that when you started. That comes later. So what I would advise any young entrepreneur is to persevere with or without necessarily getting encouraging feedback.
When you started Square, what were the opportunities you looked out for to carve a niche and maximise profit?
As a matter of fact, the way I got into the business with Jack was very funny because Jack worked for me at another company about 15 years ago. We had history of working together. We both worked at his home town. He came back to his home town San Francisco, and we got talking. We had a lot of time in my hands. We decided to start a business together but we didn’t have an idea of the business. Unfortunately, we went back to California and spend about three weeks thinking about businesses we could start.
We started other couple of businesses and they have been successful. Nobody knows what the future would be. All the business ideas worked based on the idea Jack and I had as teenager; we wanted to solve a particular problem. I had a glass studio and I was trying to sell a particular piece of glass and I couldn’t take the sales because we didn’t have a busy pad so I couldn’t process it. I lost that sale. I thought a hi-phone should be able to fix the problem. If you listen to my talk today you would understand my bias for technology. I expect it to do what I want it to do and when it doesn’t I get angry. So I was angry. We had a problem in hand and I called on Jack to fix the problem. I knew there was a problem but we didn’t have an idea of how big the problem was. Nobody knew how big the problem because it is subjected to nature innovation. You don’t know how big an innovation would be if it is truly innovative because there is no comparism. How would you know how big facebook would be? How would you know how big twitter would be? They didn’t do it because there was no way to tell. Likewise when we started Square, we knew the market existed: we had millions of businesses in the United States. I think the trick is we found a problem and we thought of providing solution.