Square, Inc. is an American financial services, merchant services aggregator, and mobile payment company based in San Francisco, California. The company markets software and hardware payments products and has expanded into small business services. The company was founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey and launched its first app and service in 2010. It has been traded as a public company on the New York Stock Exchange since November 2015 with the ticker symbol SQ.
The original inspiration for Square occurred to Jack Dorsey in 2009 when Jim McKelvey (a friend of Dorsey) was unable to complete a $2,000 sale of his glass faucets and fittings because he could not accept credit cards.
Co-founders Dorsey—who also co-founded Twitter—and McKelvey began developing the company out of a small office in St. Louis.
The name “Square” derives from the company’s square-shaped card readers.
In October 2020, Square put approximately 1% of their total assets ($50 million) in bitcoin, citing “potential to be a more ubiquitous currency in the future” as their main reasoning.
The Square Reader was the firm’s first product. It accepts credit card payments by connecting to a mobile device’s audio jack. The original version consisted of a simple read head directly wired to a 3.5 mm audio jack, through which unencrypted, analog card information was fed to smartphones for amplification and digitization.
In April 2012, rival payment company Verifone claimed that the Square system at the time was insecure and that a reasonably skilled programmer could write a replacement app which could use the Square device to skim a credit card and return its details, because of the lack of encryption. VeriFone posted a demonstration video and sample skimming app to its web site. Dorsey called VeriFone’s claims “neither fair nor accurate”, noting that all card data can also be compromised by visually examining the card and that even if there were a compromise, card issuers offered fraud protection.
Square now uses strong encryption on its devices, and neither card numbers, nor magnetic stripe data, nor security codes are stored on Square client devices. The current technology is Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI) compliant and Verisign certified.
In July 2014, ahead of the October 2015 EMV liability shift, the firm announced a card reader that would accept chip cards and contactless cards to supplement the standard Reader’s support of traditional magnetic stripe card transactions. In June 2015, Apple announced Square would release a new Reader capable of also accepting Apple Pay and other contactless payments. In August 2018, Square released a version of its magstripe reader with a Lightning connector, allowing it to be used on iPhones without a headphone jack.
In June 2013, the firm unveiled Square Stand, which turns the Apple iPad into a more complete point-of-sale system. In 2015, Square launched a bluetooth-connected reader that works for Android and iOS devices to accept chip and contactless payments through their platform. In October 2017, a standalone point-of-sale system, Square Register, was announced for small to medium-sized businesses. It consists of a merchant tablet and a customer tablet, with a built-in swipe, chip, and tap reader. In October 2018, the company introduced a self-contained Terminal product that features a display, prints receipts, and accepts chip, swipe, and contactless payments.
In December 2012, Square began allowing merchants to issue virtual gift cards; a QR code is scanned from the customer’s smartphone to use the funds. Physical gift cards were added in the service in 2014.
In 2014, Square launched Square Capital, which offers business financing to merchants using Square.
In 2014, an online booking tool was added to the firm’s offerings, allowing small businesses to accept appointments on their website. The service only accepts scheduled appointments based on a service provider’s availability, and does not accept restaurant reservations.
In 2015, the firm launched Square Payroll, a tool for small business owners to process payroll for their employees. The product, available in all 50 states + DC, automatically handles a business’s withholdings, payroll payments, and tax filings.
In 2018, Square began allowing merchants to develop custom interfaces for the platform, via an application programming interface.
After receiving approval in 2020 from the FDIC and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions, the company announced plans to launch small business-focused Square Financial Services in 2021, based in Salt Lake City.
Launched in October 2013, Cash App (formerly Square Cash) allows person-to-person money transfer via the app or website. In March 2015, the firm introduced Square Cash for businesses, which includes the ability for individuals, organizations, and business owners to use a unique username, known as a $cashtag, to send and receive money. In January 2018, the app expanded to allow users to buy and sell bitcoin. The company issues a debit card to be used with the account. Cash App is currently testing new features to allow users to borrow up to $200.
Caviar restaurant delivery service
On August 4, 2014, Square announced the acquisition of Caviar, a startup that delivers meals from high-end restaurants. Caviar uses a fleet of couriers to provide delivery for popular restaurants who do not otherwise deliver. Caviar is currently available in 18 markets in the U.S. Users can order via the company’s iOS or Android app, or on Caviar’s website. In 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed against Square, claiming the company falsely represented that the 18% gratuity charge on each order would be given to the drivers while the drivers did not receive any part of it. In 2018, Square agreed on giving $2.2 million to settle the lawsuit while denying the claims against them.
Caviar eventually replaced Square Order, an app which allowed users to make purchases in advance and pick them up at a predetermined time. In March 2015, Square announced that it was shutting down Square Order . In 2018, Caviar took a step into corporate catering by acquiring Zesty, a San Francisco-based catering platform.
In 2018, the firm launched a subscription service for restaurants. In addition to processing payments, the system can track table locations, tip splitting, and menus. The system directly integrates with the Square-owned online food-ordering service Caviar, with plans to include other similar services in the future.
On August 1, 2019, it was announced that DoorDash would acquire the food delivery app Caviar from Square.
Square received angel investments from Marissa Mayer, Kevin Rose, Biz Stone, Dennis Crowley, Shawn Fanning, MC Hammer, and Esther Dyson. Since then, it has raised several additional rounds of funding:
- Series A funding from Khosla Ventures
- Series B funding from Sequoia Capital
- Series C funding from Kleiner Perkins
- Series D funding from Citi Ventures, Rizvi Traverse Management, and Starbucks
- Series E funding from Goldman Sachs, Rizvi Traverse Management, and GIC Private Limited
The company’s valuation in October 2014 was $6 billion.
On November 19, 2015, Square had its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange with an initial valuation of $2.9 billion, down by more than half from its last valuation in October 2014 at $6 billion. Although the firm was yet to make a profit as of 2015 and had lost $420 million since 2012, it had decreased its losses from 44% of revenues to 16% in the six months leading up to its IPO.
For the fiscal year 2018, Square reported losses of US$38 million, with an annual revenue of US$3.299 billion, an increase of 49.0% over the previous fiscal cycle. Square’s shares traded at over $75 per share, and its market capitalization was valued at US$32 billion in November 2018. As of July 2020, the shares traded at over $130 giving it a market cap of more than $55bn.
Square was co-founded by Twitter creator Jack Dorsey. Dorsey also serves as chief executive officer and Amrita Ahuja serves as chief financial officer.
Square’s office is in San Francisco. The firm has more than 3,000 employees.
Square has been available in the United States since 2010 and the company launched in Canada at the end of 2012.
In May 2013, the firm announced that its mobile payments service was available in Japan after agreeing to a partnership with Sumitomo Mitsui Card Corporation. The fee for transactions would be 3.25% in Japan. It launched in the UK in 2017.
In March 2020, Square started operating remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May of the same year, Square announced that some of its workers (product, development, etc.) who can operate remotely, would be able to choose to work from home permanently.
As of March 2013, Square provided its magnetic stripe card readers to users for free. Square charges $99 for Square Stand and $29 for its chip-based Square Reader. The Square app is also freely downloadable from the App Store and the Google Play Store.
Square charges a fee of 2.6% plus $0.10 on every electronically scanned credit card transaction or 3.50% plus $0.15 per manually-entered transaction. There are no monthly fees or set-up costs. The firm claims that its costs are, on average, lower than the costs charged by conventional credit card processors. Swiped payments are deposited directly into a user’s bank account within 1-2 business days. In some instances, Square may withhold payments to its users pending issues related to chargebacks. The firm also generates revenue from selling other services to businesses, including subscription-based products such as Customer Engagement, Square Payroll, and Square Register. For example, with Square Payroll, Square charges sellers a monthly fee of $20 plus $5 for each employee paid.
At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in May 2011, Square announced the release of two new apps, Square Card Case (later rebranded as Square Wallet) and Square Register. Square Wallet, before it was removed from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in 2014, allowed customers to set up a tab and pay for their order by providing their name (or a barcode) using a stored credit, debit, or gift card.
In August 2012, Starbucks announced it would use Square to process transactions with customers who pay via debit or credit card. In February 2014, Whole Foods Market announced it would use Square Register in select stores’ sandwich counters, pizzerias and coffee, juice, wine and beer bars.
In June 2013, the firm launched Square Market, which allows sellers to create a free online storefront with online payment processing functionality. In March 2014, the firm announced it will start allowing sellers to accept bitcoin on their own storefronts through Square Market. The seller will take no risk on bitcoin value fluctuations.
In August 2014, Square secured an investment from Victory Park Capital, an asset management firm, to extend “hundreds of millions of dollars” to small businesses via Square Capital. In May 2015, Square secured additional outside investments for Square Capital, with Victory Park Capital tripling its initial investment. In its 2016 third-quarter earnings report, Square reported that it had loaned $1 billion to companies through Square Capital since the program’s inception. In October 2015, Square Inc. filed an IPO to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares were priced at $9 on November 18, 2015, and on November 19, 2015, Square officially began trading.
On April 19, 2018, Square announced that it had acquired Zesty, a food delivery service that caters to corporate offices.
On April 26, 2018, Square announced that it would acquire Weebly, a website-building service, for $365 million.
As of May 2019, Square announced that it had acquired Eloquent Labs, an artificial intelligence startup helping improve the customer service experience.
As of February 2020, Square announced that it had acquired Dessa, a Toronto-based deep learning company.
In November 2020, Square announced it was acquiring Credit Karma Tax, a free do-it-yourself tax-filing service, for $50 million and would make it a part of its Cash App unit.
In the media
Business Insider praised the product for its “ease of use, simplicity and elegance”. Business Insider favorably compared Jack Dorsey with Steve Jobs for what they called his “entrepreneurial vision and charisma”. The Next Web praised Square’s website, squareup.com, for its design and aesthetic appeal. The product was also showcased at Apple’s iPad 2 event. GigaOM called the product a disruptive innovation.
In May 2013, Square announced it would no longer allow firearms-related transactions to be performed using its devices or software. The company amended its terms of service for retailers to ban sales of “firearms, firearm parts or hardware, and ammunition; or … weapons and other devices designed to cause physical injury”. The company denied that this move was related to the increased debate over gun control.
In June 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that Square inadvertently sends transaction receipts to the wrong email address, leading to adverse consequences such as outing one woman’s impending divorce.
A Canadian food truck which sold Cuban coffee faced a loss of C$14,000 because transactions were processed through a Canadian subsidiary of Chase Manhattan Bank, contracted by Square to handle its Canadian accounts. As the parent company is governed by US laws, the bank would have been subject with charges of trafficking in prohibited Cuban goods if it had processed the fund transactions.
Square is known to arbitrarily freeze or hold 20-30% of the funds of its merchants, which leaves them unable to withdraw all their funds. Its justification for this is to prevent chargebacks from merchants deemed high risk, which its merchants have disputed based on their chargeback history.
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