“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.”—Lincoln
Every single one of us on this planet has an opportunity to make a positive impact in this world, and I’m proud and humbled by the millions of people who chose to use Twitter and Square daily to do exactly that.
Our single greatest innovation however, was recognizing that they could do a better job innovating than us.
They, and they alone, turned two simple ideas, telling your story in 140 characters, or accepting credit cards, into a global movement of individual empowerment. And that’s an innovation to be proud of.
1. A person who uses or operates something, esp. a computer or other machine.
2. A person who takes illegal drugs; a drug user.
During a Square Board meeting, our newest Director Howard Schultz, pulled me aside and asked a simple question.
“Why do you all call your customers ‘users’?”
“I don’t know. We’ve always called them that.”
It wasn’t something I’ve thought about for some time. The term “user” made its appearance in computing at the dawn of shared terminals (multiple people sharing time slices of one computing resource). It was solidified in hacker culture as a person who wasn’t technical or creative, someone who just used resources and wasn’t able to make or produce anything (often called a “luser”). And finally, it was made concrete by Internet companies whose business models depended on two discrete classes of usage, a paying customer (often purchasing ads) and a non-paying consumer (subsidized by viewing the ads). Along the way only a few criticized the term, calling it abstract at best, and derogatory at worst.
It’s time for our industry and discipline to reconsider the word “user.” We speak about “user-centric design”, “user benefit”, “user experience”, “active users”, and even “usernames.” While the intent is to consider people first, the result is a massive abstraction away from real problems people feel on a daily basis. An abstraction away from simply building something you would love to see in the world, and the hope that others desire the same.
At Square we’re removing the term “users” from our vocabulary, replacing it with “customers”, and the more specific “buyers”, and “sellers.” The word customer, given its history, immediately sets a high bar on the level of service we must provide, or risk losing their attention or business. Below is a letter I sent the team after that Board meeting explaining why. It’s a start (we’re not done yet).
To everyone in the technology industry: I encourage you to reconsider the word “user” and what you call the people who love what you’ve created, starting with yourselves.
I was reminded of something today which has always bothered me, which I have since taken for granted.
The entire technology industry uses the word “user” to describe its customers. While it might be convenient, “users” is a rather passive and abstract word. No one wants to be thought of as a “user” (or “consumer” for that matter). I certainly don’t. And I wouldn’t consider my mom a “user” either, she’s my mom. The word “user” abstracts the actual individual. This may seem like a small and insignificant detail that doesn’t matter, but the vernacular and words we use here at Square set a very strong and subtle tone for everything we do. So let’s now part ways with our industry and rethink this.
The word “customer” is a much more active and bolder word. It’s honest and direct. It immediately suggests a relationship we must deliver on. And our customers think of their customers in the same way.
We have two types of customers: sellers and buyers. So when we need to be more specific, we’ll use one of those two words.
The other thing that has surfaced in a number of my 1:1s is that we have become a bit abstract and distanced from our customers. Simply: we don’t talk about them enough. So, we’re going to do two things.
First, I’m going to work with the support team to surface top issues at every Town Square instead of just CS inquiries per transaction percentages. And on our information radiators. We must feel our customer’s issues every day.
Second, all of our work is in service of our customers. Period. Therefore, we better damn well mention them in every conversation, review, meeting, goal, etc. I expect all of you to make certain our customers are always the first and only focus of all our efforts. If there is an egregious absence of this focus anywhere in the company, tell me and we will correct. If I ever say the word “user” again, immediately charge me $140.
From this moment forward, let’s stop distancing ourselves from the people that choose our products over our competitors. We don’t have users, we have customers we earn. They deserve our utmost respect, focus, and service. Because that’s who we are.
There was a great profile in the New York Times about Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, which mentioned my work at the company. It’s not a common arrangement, so I’d like to clarify a few points.
In Spring of 2011, Dick asked me to take an operational role overseeing product, design, and brand. Our shared goal was to get those organizations back under him as soon as possible, simply because it was the right thing to do for the company. We moved all of my reports back under him in January of this year after leadership was firmly in place. This allowed me to focus on refining our brand and logo, to work more with Dick and the leadership team on our direction forward, and ultimately return the majority of my time to Square, where I’m CEO. I’m back to going to Twitter on Tuesday afternoons, something I started before taking the interim operational role.
We haven’t talked about this publicly because it’s not what people using Twitter every day care about.
I’m fortunate in life to be a part of two foundational and mission-driven organizations, and I’m always going to fight like hell to make them thrive. And they are! Now back to our work.
me:we're going to work with jeremy to deploy tomorrow. but we have a good start. people are using it. it's on my machine, but broken currently. our current progress is on the trac wiki.
me:still waiting on the sms integration. i'll do that next week when florian is out of the loop.
tonystubblebine:are you going to want a companion next week?
me:i don't think i'll need one, but if anyone has free cycles they want to spare, that would be great. we'll have most of the rails stuff in place though.
tonystubblebine:what are the hurdles on the sms side?
me:just getting the random temp short code from simplewire. then being able to get something listening at sms.odeo.com/post to the xhtml that comes over. we have the ruby libraries in place and ready to go for both sending and receiving.
tonystubblebine:what's the hold up on the random temp short code?
me:uh, seems to be the application process. noah is handling that. i'll have to check the current status with him.
Date: Tuesday, March 13, 2006
Subject: twttr work
To: Noah Glass
registering by giving mobile # and confirming with PIN
Basic tests for that exists and passes. Could you check the view for
it, Jack? Thanks!
registration through email invite with PIN
login with an existing mobile # by entering PIN
user can update status
user can invite friends by inputing phone #s
user can get status for friends and self
user paginates through status timeline in 12 hour increments
user can allow site to remember their login information (convenience)
user can see all public updates
user can choose to receive status change notifications via Email for
user can get statistics about followers and pings
user can see status marked as public
user gets rotating sms hints that admins input
user can view status updates of friend’s friends with correct
permissions (marked public or user knows phone #)
user can see own history or friend’s history individually
user can choose to receive status change notifications via Email for
user can change phone #, name, and PIN
user can delete account
SMS only registration
registration through SMS invite with PIN
user can get help
user can protect their updates with an optional secret word, by
default, updates are global
user can choose to receive status change notifications via SMS for
possibly re-send lost PIN for registration (SMS is flakey)
“My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”—Steve Jobs
“In certain cases my weaknesses are that I’m too idealistic. Realize that sometimes best is the enemy of better. Sometimes I go for “best” when I should go for “better,” and end up going nowhere or backwards. I’m not always wise enough to know when to go for the best and when to just go for better. Sometimes I’m blinded by “what could be” versus “what is possible,” doing things incrementally versus doing them in one fell swoop. Balancing the ideal and the practical is something I still must pay attention to.”—Steve Jobs
“Smart specifically studied how such people made their most difficult decision in judging whether to give money to an entrepreneur or not. You would think that this would be whether the entrepreneur’s idea is actually a good one. But finding an idea is apparently not all that hard. Finding an entrepreneur who can execute a good idea is a different matter entirely. One needs a person who can take an idea from proposal to reality, work the long hours, build a team, handle the pressures and setbacks, manage technical and people problems alike, and stick with the effort for years on end without getting distracted or going insane. Such people are rare and extremely hard to spot.”—Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto
"Expect the unexpected, and whenever possible, be the unexpected."
Those words are from Lynda Barry’s novel “Cruddy.” I’ve carried them with me for some time. There’s a lot in my life I wasn’t expecting.
One is the realization that I stood at this pulpit and delivered a reading for my own graduation…15 years ago. Unexpectedly, I’m old.
When I was young my mom would drag my brother and I to Famous Barr and shop for bags and purses on what seemed like a weekly basis. For my mom, it was about finding the perfect bag (and using my grandmother’s employee discount), and a joy. For me, it was a fate worse than the most painful death I could imagine and was spent sprawling out on the floor until various salespeople barked that I was blocking potential sales.
My parents always loved living in the city. The first time I remember falling in love was when I fell in love with the city. I loved it so much I became obsessed with drawings of cities: maps. I would constantly get lost in them, discovering street names, secret places, and entirely new sections of the city yet to be walked by me. I found joy in staring at a map of a city and wondering about the life occurring within it. I had to do something about it. At 15 I taught myself how to program and draw a map on the screen. I learned how to draw dots and make them move within the borders of the map. To me, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. But my dots had no meaning. Through a fledging connection to the Internet provided by Wash U, I found a public database of bike couriers, ambulances, and fire trucks constantly broadcasting where they were, and most interestingly, what they were doing. I found meaning for my dots. I found a beautiful, living picture of the metropolis I loved. I also found a new obsession with finding the perfect courier bag.
Unexpectedly, that early fascination with bags and maps and couriers and the constant desire to know what the people in the maps were doing, became Twitter. Thanks, mom. And thanks to the people here at Bishop DuBourg for the encouragement and strength to explore.
When I was sitting in this Cathedral 15 years ago, I stressed over answering the questions “what’s next and where should I go?”. Frustratingly, my graduation gift, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, never answered that last question.
Unexpectedly, after what has felt like an epic journey, my maps did. I simply followed what I loved, discovered and learned from one surprising realization to the next, and worked hard and patiently to share what I expected to see in the world.
As you leave this Cathedral tonight, expect to work hard, to enable others work, to be patient, to discover and follow your true love, and 15 years from now, to stand at a pulpit and share everything you weren’t expecting. Congratulations, and thank you.
“I feel like somebody just punched me in the stomach and knocked all my wind out. I’m only 30 years old and I want to have a chance to continue creating things. I know I’ve got at least one more great computer in me. And Apple is not going to give me a chance to do that.”—Steve Jobs