McKelvey shares his thoughts on Square and St. Louis' tech sector | St. Louis Public Radio

McKelvey shares his thoughts on Square and St. Louis' tech sector

Dec 29, 2015

It has been a big year for an emerging technology company with St. Louis roots.

Square went public on the New York Stock Exchange a few weeks ago. It also opened a St. Louis office, which is expected to employ more than 200 in five years.

The San Franscisco-headquartered company also has U.S. locations in Atlanta and New York City. Its international offices are in Canada, Australia and Japan.

St. Louis-natives Jim McKelvey and Jack Dorsey launched the company after McKelvey's glass-blowing business lost a sale. A customer didn't have enough money on-hand and McKelvey didn't have a way to accept a credit card payment.

The two entrepreneurs came up with a system to allow mobile payments through a smartphone.

Square was founded in 2009 and its first card readers were produced a year later. The company also helps with inventory tracking, invoicing and financial and marketing services.

St. Louis Public Radio recently spoke McKelvey about Square's growth, the state of the mobile-payment sector and importance of maintaining a St. Louis connection.

On the appeal of St. Louis

McKelvey says opening a St. Louis office was "mostly a talent play." The company needed a larger pool to draw from; and St. Louis, with a burgeoning tech sector, made sense. He also points to the geographic location and the concentration of financial services companies in St. Louis along with industry accelerators like SixThirty. He says that expertise is very important to a mobile-payment company like Square.

On the St. Louis office

Square wanted to bring on 40 employees soon after announcing the operation in September, and McKelvey says that initial hiring goal has been met. He says the overall target remains 200 workers in the next five year. McKelvey is also talking about expansion for the office, but is not providing specific numbers.

On growing the region's tech sector

It's one of the big reasons McKelvey started LaunchCode, a nonprofit training initiative for people wanting to get into the technology industry. He regards it as an effort to "raise everybody's boat." Before, area companies would raid other employers for workers because of a limited talent pool. Now, St. Louis has a growing talent base, which is helping to develop an ecosystem of vibrant, high-tech companies.

On mobile payment competition

McKelvey says Square is helping introduce more merchants to the technology. He says the company is not stealing customers from other competitors, but is "growing the pie for everybody." He also says high-profile technologies like Apple Pay are complimentary. Square has an equipment partnership with Apple. "They're on the pay side. We're on the receive side. You need both sides in order for the transaction to work."