A textbook example of what is disruptive, and what isn’t:
- Google Wallet installs new credit card readers at Walgreens
- Square sells new credit card readers at Walgreens
Which could change the world?
Just in case my love letter last November didn’t make it abundantly clear, I’ll reiterate: I love Square. We’re not investors, but I wish we were. I love both the business and the product. And if that level of admiration makes this post biased, then color me conflicted.
Apparently well aware of my tweets and posts, the company brought me in to show me the latest thing they’ve been working on. It’s the evolution of their Card Case product to morph it into a more central part of their overall strategy. It’s technically called “Pay with Square”, but when installed, the new app simply reads “Square”.
That’s telling. Square, the card reader (now appropriately called “Square Card Reader”), has been the way most people think of the product and company. But that’s limiting because it’s so focused on merchants. It’s a great business, and an important one — but if Square is truly going to revolutionize payments, they need to get the consumers fully on board.
Enter Pay with Square. Using Card Case has been nothing short of magical. It’s one of those experiences that when it happens, you wonder how the hell they did it — and also why the hell it hasn’t been done like that before?
But there’s a flipside. Because the experience is so magical — so natural — it almost seems as if something is wrong when it happens. It simply can’t be that easy. You can’t possibly pay for something simply by saying your name and doing nothing else, right? The most common reactions I’ve seen to Card Case in public are “now what?” and “that’s it?”
That’s Square’s biggest barrier to entry with Pay with Square: they need to convince people that they don’t need to put up with the nonsense they’ve been doing for decades. You don’t have to swipe a card. You don’t have to sign anything. You pay by having your smartphone on you. And your payment is verified by your name (and face).
With Pay with Square, Square is ditching the wallet metaphor (of Card Case) and simplifying things to just be a list of venues of interest that are close by. At first, I was a bit surprised by this change because I liked the design and the card metaphor (which is still sort of in place). But this actually makes a lot more sense. Don’t cater to the baggage of the past, replace the past.
I’ve been using Pay with Square this past weekend and it’s great. The transition from Card Case is seamless because it’s essentially the same thing, just reworked in an attempt to take it more mainstream.
To that end, Square also put in quite a bit of work to make Pay with Square work on Android as well. Because Android doesn’t have the same geofencing capabilities native to their SDK like iOS does, this was undoubtedly a huge pain in the ass. Square essentially had to build the technology from the ground up to make their Android app work in the same way that the iOS one does.
Thanks to this work, Square has managed to do the seemingly impossible: make Google Wallet look even worse. While Google is wasting time (and apparently employees) trying to move from a credit card swipe to a tap-to-pay by way of NFC, Square has been busy building the future. A tap is a bit more simple than a swipe, I suppose. But screw that. You should be able to pay by doing nothing at all.
As you may be able to tell from my posts on our portfolio company Highlight, I love the idea of mobile apps that work without the user have to do anything. Highlight alerts you as you move around. Pay with Square allows you to pay for things by walking into the place you wish to buy something.
The next trick is signing up more vendors to accept Pay with Square. Luckily, products like Square Register are complimentary. They just need iPad adoption to keep growing at the pace it has been. And it will.
And Square needs to convince people that the ability to pay without doing a thing isn’t actually magic, it’s just one of those things that should have always been done this way that technology now allows for. It’s a more natural way of doing payments that just happens to seem like magic because of the baggage we all carry.
It’s technology at its best.
More about Pay with Square on Techmeme.
While I was still at TechCrunch, I would often get asked what startup excited me the most. That’s a massive question. There are a ton. But for the past year and a half, one was always at the forefront of my mind: Square.
Now that I’m a VC, the question is flipped: terms aside, what company would I love to invest in? The answer is the same. Square.
Of course, they don’t exactly need my money — they’re now at the stage where behemoths like Visa are doing strategic investments. And they’re closing $100 million rounds at billion-plus valuations. But I think back to May 2009, when Mike and I were working together to break the news about Jack Dorsey’s new project, then codenamed Squirrel. If only we had the CrunchFund back then…
Of course, at that point, the idea was still more of an intriguing, but somewhat crazy-sounding dream. It wasn’t until Square launched seven months later that it became apparent that this could really be a massive disruptor. And they haven’t disappointed.