Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

4 posts from March 2018

25 March 2018

Jack Dorsey talks Square, cryptocurrencies and the future of the economy

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, founder of social enterprise STEMettes with Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of payments firm Square at the British Library
Photo: Square.


What do chinchillas, Kendrick Lamar, machine learning and cryptocurrencies have in common?

We found out that and more when Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of payments firm Square got together with the brilliant Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, founder of social enterprise STEMettes for an evening of empowering conversations at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre.

Jack, who was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri is a self-taught coder, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of another tech giant that will for now remain unnamed, but let’s just say for him there is only one social network, and it doesn’t start with F.

For the benefit of everyone who wasn’t as lucky as us, we have compiled the highlights of a fascinating, in-depth discussion about things as big as the future of the economy and as intimate as the personal journey of an established entrepreneur from a childhood fascination with maps to the lasting impact of disrupting more than one industry, on a global scale.


Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and Jack Dorsey conducting an inspiring entrepreneurs event held up the Business & IP Centre at the British Library
Jack Dorsey on Square: Our purpose is to build simple tools that empower and enable people to participate in the economy. Photo: British Library.

Anne-Marie Imafidon: Jack, can you tell us what is Square?

Jack Dorsey: Like many companies, Square started with one simple idea and we found the purpose by watching people use it. For us, it began with a piece of glass art that Jim [McKelvey, co-founder of Square, who is also a glass artist] made and tried to sell but couldn’t because he didn’t accept credit cards. So we tried to solve his problem!

What we had in common is we both knew nothing about credit cards, we knew nothing about building hardware, we were both in credit card debt and we both came from St. Louis, Missouri.

What we did know is a thing or two about software, we were both comfortable with taking risks and we were willing to learn or do whatever it takes to make it work. That to me is what entrepreneurship is.

We gave ourselves a month and built a prototype around magnetic stripe technology that plugged into a cell phone jack. Then we started showing it to people and asked if they would use it. Initially a lot of the responses were negative.

But we continued to persist and so noticed the real purpose of what we built was not to accept credit cards, but help individuals make a sale. If they could make a sale and accept a credit card, they could participate in the economy. The economy at the time in the US was moving away from cash and towards plastic: merchants who accepted plastic could sell; those who didn’t were losing more and more. And both groups were treated unfairly by the financial institutions.

Once we built up from the prototype to something we could actually scale, we really focused on what we could do to help our customers achieve their potential and grow. Because if they grow, we grow. This, I think, is an amazing business model: when you have perfect alignment of incentives with your customers.

We then looked at other things to help our customers reach their goals and we eventually managed to build an ecosystem of financial services around that. Not just in the US, but also in Australia, Japan, Canada and the UK.

One more dimension was recently added to our company and we are now providing individuals financial services through an application called Cash. We have seen people use it as their bank account. What we managed to do is serve people who have been excluded by the banks and financial institutions, but we partnered with those very institutions to do so. We don’t want to replace banks, we want to make what they have more accessible.

A word that really represents Square is “access”. We believe that we can provide more access to more people and do so in a fair, simple, transparent and fast way.


Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and Jack Dorsey in discussion at an inspiring entrepreneurs event held up the Business & IP Centre at the British Library
Back in black: Jack and Anne-Marie in matching outfits. Great minds think alike? Photo: Square.

AMI: How has machine learning, AI and other recent technological developments transformed what Square does and provides as a business?

JD: The easy part was building the reader, the hard part was to overcome the exclusionary nature of the whole industry. In the US, there was one tool to vet identity and authenticity: a credit check. Now, it’s common knowledge that a lot of entrepreneurs don’t have great credit history. Even we were denied a merchant account in the first place!

What we found was that only about 30% of merchants who applied to accept credit card payments made it through. The whole system was exclusionary, based on lack of trust.

To tackle that problem, we had to change our mind set. Our point of departure became trust and the will to include as many people as we can. Also, a credit check seemed like a terrible indicator of one’s ability to accept credit cards, so we used the latest advancements in technology to get more and better data. By doing those two things, the number of Square users who could start processing payments went from 30% to 99%.

We believe that we can provide more access to more people and do so in a fair, simple, transparent and fast way.

One of our fastest growing services in the US is Instant Deposit. Typically, when merchants accept a credit card payment they don’t get access to that money for a week, or at best 2-3 days later. Because of so many ongoing business needs, we realised early on the importance of speeding that process up. And we decided to deliver money to businesses the next business day, something that was a big risk for us: banks would not pay us until several days later.

What do you do when you want to make something happen? You figure out what technology can make it possible. We built that technology and decided to take it one step further by making the payment instant: any time a credit card is taken, you hit a button and that money goes to your account so you can use it.

Today, Square are launching Instant Deposit in the UK.

It seems quite simple and obvious, and it feels like everyone should have that access, but in fact they don’t because of older approaches in the industry that have not been questioned. Well, we challenged those, took a risk and made it work because we believed it was worth it!

 Card transaction being conducted with the relevant new wireless technologies

Square’s Instant Deposit service will help UK businesses tackle cash flow. Sellers can now get the money they’ve made into their account in minutes, 24/7. Credit: Square.

AMI: You said you don’t want to replace banks and that you’re relying on their infrastructure. What then do you think is their role in the future?

JD: I am a great admirer of Clayton Christensen’s theory of innovative disruption, set out in his book Jobs to be Done. And so, the way I would like to think about banks is not based on the definition, but on what they are needed for, what their job is. Ultimately, they exist to help people achieve a dream they have.

I do believe that if banks focus on what they are needed for, on what their job is, they will have a significant role in the future. For example, if I need to store my money securely, how can technology today enable a bank to do that for me in a secure, innovative and creative way? If you ask that question, the answer starts sounding a lot like blockchain.

I don’t want to replace banks, because I want to do my job: which is to help people make a sale. We could have stopped at helping people accept credit cards. But we realised that was the wrong job. The right one is making small businesses grow. That revelation broadened the field for us, it meant that as a company we don’t just serve a particular need: we can now go anywhere.


AMI: We have a whole fintech industry that is booming, with London being a global hub. Is there something other than Square that you find exciting in terms of fintech and the way technology is being used to solve problems that banks have ignored over time: like digital currency and blockchain?

JD: There’s a real opportunity to enable more people to participate in the economy and to guide them to financial health. People aren’t always going to choose that, but we need to make sure they have all the tools to make an informed decision: just like they would with biological health.

We will all benefit from levelling the playing field. With more participation come more creative ideas.

Blockchain and digital currency is something I’m really excited and optimistic about. To me, the Bitcoin Whitepaper is one of the seminal works in computer science in the last 20 years. However regardless of what you think about Bitcoin and its manifestation today, there’s amazing technology within the blockchain. If you look at the history of computing, all power comes from decentralisation. It removes single points of failure, increases reliability and trust. This technology can be applied to more than just financial transactions and payments, and I think we’re just seeing the start of what possibilities lie ahead.

Personally, I believe that the internet wants and deserves its own currency that is global, that is free, that is electronic, that is convenient, that is as decentralised as the internet is. And I believe that will be Bitcoin.

Due to its smaller surface area, it is less prone to attack. It’s been through a lot and it also has a brand: everyone’s heard of it! At the moment, Bitcoin is mostly seen as a digital asset you can buy and keep as an investment. I don’t think that’s how it’s always going to be used: I believe in its power as an actual currency for the world and the internet. I think it is extremely liberating.

 Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and Jack Dorsey in discussion at an inspiring entrepreneurs event held up the Business & IP Centre at the British Library

Blockchain and digital currency, anyone? Credit: British Library.


AMI: As a serial entrepreneur, how do you evaluate ideas and decide what to build, but also what failures have you had that you’ve learned from in that process?

JD: I never wanted to grow up to be an entrepreneur, to program, to build a company and certainly not to be a CEO.

As a kid I was fascinated by cities and how they work. I wanted to be able to visualize them, so I was obsessed with maps. When my dad got a computer, I realised I can use it to draw a map: but I had to learn how to do that first. St. Louis [where Jack grew up] had a thriving hacker culture at the time which in general is very open to knowledge-sharing, and so I taught myself to program with the sole purpose of being able to design a map.

When I finally drew one, I became fascinated with the movements of police cars and ambulances I heard on the radio frequencies. By plotting them on my map I could actually see them. And it turned out there is a whole industry around that called dispatch. So I was soon hired by the biggest dispatch company in the world: but only after I found and flagged security flaws in their servers. I then started my own dispatch company, which failed and so I went back to contracting. I did that for years until I started Twitter.

And in a way, Twitter is also based on that same idea behind dispatch: showing where you are, what you are doing and by extension, what you are thinking.

My life has always been about understanding what I don’t know so I can learn and take the next step, and about being open to mistakes along the way. I think that’s the definition of entrepreneurship: you do whatever it takes to make it work! You work hard, and eventually you figure it out.

One of the creative things that we did at Square when we were first pitching investors was to show them a working product. The second thing we did after getting them excited was to enumerate all the ways in which our business could fail.

  1. We know nothing about the credit card industry;
  2. We’re in credit card debt;
  3. We don’t know how to build hardware.

Do whatever it takes to bring your idea into the world. This is what I enjoy and love and get inspired by: building tools to empower people to make them bigger than themselves. That’s the story of Square, and of Twitter as well.

Square employees Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018 at their HQ in San Francisco, California
Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018 at Square HQ in San Francisco, California. Photo: Square.


AMI: Risk is important for entrepreneurs. Were you comfortable with it from the very beginning or is this something you’ve built over time?

No, I wasn’t. But I always learned best when I put myself in very uncomfortable situations. I had a speech impediment which really inhibited me from socialising: no one understood what I was saying and that made me very shy. I decided to change that and at a time when I could not imagine something more terrifying than getting in front of people and talking, I forced myself and signed up to a speech and debate class. These classes were like torture… But I embraced them and learned how to do it.

Being comfortable with risk is a mindset, and it’s not necessarily one where you think about risk itself, but about identifying and overcoming what makes you uncomfortable.


AMI: As a leader in the technology industry, you’re able to set an example and have the power to change the world. For an industry that’s quite new, tech unfortunately amplifies what we also find in the wider society: lack of minority and female representation. What have you done to tackle that?

JD: The majority of our company, Square, reports to only three women. You need to really push that diversity at every level so people are empowered to see what they can achieve.

The only way we are going to build a business of relevance is to have diversity of perspective and background: if we want to serve the world, we have to be the world.

Be open to all backgrounds, enable career development and growth: don’t just rely on the system to train people, invest in them and their ambition. Have leadership that people aspire to be. Give back to the community: it was hugely important for me to have a presence in St. Louis, where I’m from, when we could afford to do that. We now have around 400 people working there.

Reaching out to programmes that identify problems and address them, like STEMettes or Girls Who Code in the US, is another thing that is extremely important. They build confidence and empower people through experiences: one little spark and click can change things.

Anne Marie, founder of STEMettes conducting a group workshop
Anne-Marie, founder of STEMettes, an organisation that seeks to introduce girls and young women to careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Photo: Robert Ormerod for The New York Times.

Do you think it’s possible to replicate the success of the Silicon Valley ecosystem here in London?

JD: First and foremost, Silicon Valley works because of a particular set of occurrences that are very unique to that area. If we spend too much time to try and replicate that, we can miss the opportunities in the environment and culture that make London great.

What I love about the tech scene here and find unique about London for example is that some of the best machine and deep learning people are here.

The ecosystem develops in the same way open source does: by exchanging knowledge and sharing what you are working on. Now that may or may not resonate with others, but it will move things forward. My advice is to look more deeply at yourself instead of Silicon Valley and be open, in constant conversation.

  Business & IP Centre events attendees attending an inspiring entrepreneurs event

Jack went on to answer other questions from the public, and even a few about Twitter. Well, that and horse-sized ducks (yes, this actually happened). If you want to see the full video, which by now no doubt you will, down below is the recording of the event.

Ewa Domaradzka, Commercial Marketing Manager 

12 March 2018

Building a Soulful Business with Motherhood Reconstructed

With International Women's Day and Mother's Day all falling within the last week, we've been thinking about women in business a lot.  Over 55% of the Business & IP Centre's users are women, and we are incredibly proud to have supported so many female entrepreneurs to start, protect and grow their businesses in diverse sectors.

On March 12th we're continuing our season of events focussed on women in business with a very special event in partnership with Motherhood Reconstructed and Jessica Huie (MBE, PR Guru, serial entrepreneur and now published author!) entitled How To Build a Soulful Business.

We spoke to Tamu Thomas from Motherhood Reconstructed and asked her to tell us some more about the event. 


'How to Build a Soulful Business' is a panel discussion with industry experts that aims to facilitate a conversation enabling women to bring dreams or vision to life by combining strategy with intuitive growth. It is an event for women looking for a way to develop tools that will assist them to create business success without the boorish rhetoric that is often associated with entrepreneurship.

We will be holding space for women to use their intentions to create new a pathway to achieve goals.  How many times have you heard phrases such as, “You just have to push through” or “Get your hustle on?” in dialogue about business?  The space we are creating will lean towards “What does success feel like?” and “What steps do you need to take to cultivate and sustain this feeling?”

This subject matter means a lot to me as I have spent many years stuck in a cycle of drowning out my inner voice, forcing myself in to what ‘they’ said I ‘should’ be doing.  Barging, bumping, forcing my way, doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results.  We know what Albert Einstein said about that, but here it is in case you don’t:

 “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein.

Tamu Thomas
Tamu Thomas (photo by Nyssa Paige)

After doing some work with one of the panellists and really taking some time to reflect rather than analyse, I realised that my behaviour, my constant going against myself and prioritising the noise of others was rooted in a lack of trust. A lack of trust in myself. Once this lack of trust moved into my consciousness I was able to delve further and realise that I was unable to trust myself because I didn’t feel safe. Imagine that, an adult woman unable to make herself feel safe?  If we don’t feel safe we are stuck in a state of fight or flight because we are frightened!

These conditions make it impossible to thrive.  Surprisingly this realisation was the most positive and illuminating experience I have had since becoming a mother.  I didn’t berate myself, I didn’t think I was foolish, I had a name, an understanding of what was going on underneath the veil of busyness and hustle. 

Taking time to deeply connect with myself and really feel what was going on was one of the most emotionally disruptive experiences I have had. It was like a rebirth and rather than fall into a pattern of gruff negative self-talk, I was overcome with compassion for myself and a sense of relief that I had shifted into a position where I could actually do something to support myself utilising the tools and suggestions from my work with one of the women on the panel for this event.  I had got to a place where I could combine things like my intuition, affirmations, desire mapping and journaling with business acumen. I was ready to leap. Ready to leap back into entrepreneurship but this time with a crystallised sense of purpose, clear intentions and faith in myself.

The beauty of this panel is that these women have been there, done that and are in the position to share practical tips, suggestions and actions based on their experience and qualifications that demystify nebulous terms like “finding my purpose” and “being intentional”. These women are able plant seeds that can help any woman shift from dreaming to doing, from wistfully thinking to inspired action with tools to sustain motivation even in those tricky moments when things feel like they are about to spiral downwards.  Strategies that can be applied regardless of where you are, bring you back to your why and the feeling you want to permeate through you and your business.

We recognise that some women may believe the story they have told themselves about not being entrepreneur material or that they cannot afford to move away from a guaranteed monthly salary. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and the world would not function if everyone worked for themselves, but fear should not be a barrier.  If you have a business or a business idea we implore you to come along and try something new. 

Ready to leap? Click here to join us.

05 March 2018

Pall Mall Barbers: where a century-old tradition meets modernity

A picture of the Pall Mall Barbers, a barbershop business based in Central London

Pall Mall Barbers is one of the oldest and most respected barbershop businesses in Central London. The first barbershop location opened in 1896 at No 27 on Whitcomb Street, the upstairs of which was also home to the famous British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Funnily enough, he was known for his fine trench work and even finer moustache, a firm believer that "an emphatic moustache can redeem an intractable countenance". We couldn't agree more, Sir Mortimer.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler
Sir Mortimer Wheeler's emphatic moustache


Barbers in London have operated from this address for more than 100 years: 120 as of 2016 to be precise, when Pall Mall Barbers Trafalgar Square celebrated this admirable anniversary. They have become synonymous with the style of traditional men’s barbershops, offering services such as wet-shaves and beard grooming. With five locations in London and a sixth underway (as of March 2018), the business is also expanding to New York City with a barbershop in Manhattan due to open in May 2018. We caught up with Pall Mall Barbers’ owner, Richard Marshall, to see how he has developed his business skills through the Innovating for Growth Programme and taken one of the oldest barbers in London to the next level.


Hi Richard, what were you doing before you worked at Pall Mall Barbers?

After struggling a little in school, my dad suggested I go into a trade as I may be more suited to it. So, at the age of 12, I started working in a barbershop. I started out sweeping floors and making tea, but I eventually honed my hairdressing and interpersonal skills enough that I moved to London at 21 and worked in Mayfair for eight years. I had eventually saved up enough money to purchase Pall Mall Barbers – at the time we knew it had been around a while, but it definitely didn’t have the aura or branding of a barbers that was 120 years old.

A customer being serviced by one of Pall Mall Barbers's trained barber


What steps did you take to get it started?

I’m a big fan of hard work paying off. When I first started at Pall Mall Barbers I was working seven days a week, living and breathing the store and giving 100% to everything we did. It was a real labour of love, and I put everything I had into it. I really feel like what I put in I got out of it, and I’m proud of that. Success comes down to hard work and determination, and willing to make the sacrifices needed to make the most out of your business.


What has been the business’s biggest achievement so far?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing – my biggest achievement is having the feeling that every day, we do great work and that the best is yet to come for us. A lot of the achievements Pall Mall Barbers have had - such as opening five new locations, with more to come. But there is one achievement that has gone beyond any expectation I had in my life: opening our first barbershop outside of London in New York City on 5th Avenue in the prestigious Rockefeller Center!

The Rockefeller Center in New York
The Rockefeller Center in New York

There is a beautiful symmetry to our New York store being right in the heart of the city, as our original Trafalgar Square barbershop is also located next to an important landmark, right at the heart of London – where our stores are in locations inspired by the Monopoly board. Finding a store available in this incredible location was like serendipity, it makes perfect sense for the beginning of our international expansion. 

I’m not in this business to build achievements – I’m in it as the hard work fuels my heart and soul, and the feeling of personal accomplishment that comes from earning the success we’ve had. I’m never satisfied by looking back on what we’ve built, I’m far more excited thinking about what’s next for us.


How has the Innovating for Growth programme helped you?

I have a very specific way of learning, I like to have a problem and work it out rather than diving headfirst into a book. Innovating for Growth was very reassuring in that aspect – I was able to learn in my own way and met some great people. The networking aspect was key for our journey, as I suddenly found that there were a lot of people in the same boat that I was. Being able to discuss issues that they’d found while building their businesses was great for tackling similar issues I’d have down the road.  All in all, I would definitely recommend it for any business wanting to move to the next level.


What one piece of advice would you give to any business owners struggling to take their business to the next level?

If you’re looking to grow your business, it takes research, planning and action. The most important thing though is self-belief – if you understand yourself, you’ll understand your business. Good business is not about being clever, it’s about making great decisions.


Ewa Domaradzka, Commercial Marketing Manager  


Apply now for over £10,000 worth of business advice!

Are you an ambitious business owner, looking to scale-up, like Pall Mall Barbers? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Covering everything from intellectual property to reaching new markets and branding, we'll guide you through every step of the process.

Find out more and apply now 



The programme is supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the British Library.


02 March 2018

A fashionable way to start your business

Image of London Fashion Week (LFW) logoLondon Fashion Week has just finished for another year and is more international than ever, with over 50% of the designers born outside of the UK. The week is a great opportunity to show off their collections to global retailers, as well as getting coverage in the mainstream media and fashion press. In addition to helping new designers with their start-up businesses the show organisers offer British Fashion Council's programme with a range of business advice and seminars.

The fashion industry in the UK currently contributes a staggering £66 billion to our economy. With London Fashion Week adding £30 million to London every year.

Perhaps not surprisingly fashion is one of the most popular topics to research within the Business & IP Centre. And we have a great deal of valuable information and advice available. Have a look at our Fashion Industry Guide to get a flavour.

Image of Mintel LogoFor example our Mintel report UK Design Fashion 2017 shows that men spend more on designer clothes than women, because although men shop less, they buy higher value brands. Also 56% of men agreed that wearing designer fashion makes them feel more confident, compared to 49% of women.

The report says that casual clothing and footwear are now the products that drive the designer market. This is a result of a move to less formal wear than in the past for visits to restaurants and trips to the theatre.

Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 years dominate expenditure in every category of designer fashion, from underwear to shoes. This is due to the importance of social media, where celebrities can influence young people to emulate their lifestyles. Just look at how celebrities crowd the front rows of the top fashion shows.

Image of IBIS World LogoThe IBIS World retail clothing report also covers the rising importance of social media and how it is expected to boost demand for fashion. The new breed of social media celebrities have a significant influence on their followers.

Instagram has become the key social media platform for fashion. “With more than 200 million on Instagram connected to fashion accounts all over the world, Instagram has become a global destination
for people to experience this stylish industry unlike anywhere else.”

As well as market research and related fashion information in the Centre, we also run regular workshops and offer one to one advice clinics via our partner Fashion Angel.

Don’t forget, we are here to help realise your fashion dream!

Seema Rampersad and guest blogger Polly James