Thursday, December 23, 2021



The book "The Innovation Stack" by Jim McKelvey is story about Square and it lays down crucial insights into the subject of entrepreneurship and ingenious thinking. I happened to read the book over the weekend and sharing of my top 3 learnings (along with a book review sketchnote) here-

1. Advent of a "Perfect Problem":
Square is an US based financial services and digital payments company. In 2009, Jim McKelvey was a glassblowing artist and lost a sale because he couldn't accept American Express cards. He further delved deeper into the problem and realized that credit card companies weren't fair to small merchants. Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty of accepting credit card payments. With no expertise or experience in the world of payments, they approached the problem of credit cards with a new perspective, questioning the industry's assumptions. Their innovation enabled small merchants to accept credit card payments on their mobile phones. Jim defined perfect problem as an unsolved problem that you have an incessant drive to solve. A perfect problem has a solution, but not a solution that exists yet. If a particular problem is one that you can solve, then it is a perfect problem for you.

2. Understanding "Innovation Stack" concept:
Whenever you attempt something truly new, you're likely to encounter a series of unfamiliar problems. In fact, one solution to one problem often leads to another problem - or a handful of them. This problem-solution-problem chain produces a set of interlocking inventions called as innovation stack. Innovation stacks aren’t planned out; they evolve over time as a business tries to survive. 
In building Square, they solved the problems like low pricing model, cheap hardware, well-designed device etc. While solving each problem, it led to other bunch of problems which needed addressing. Solving entire gamut of problems led them to a stack that became very hard for competitors to break into- thereby adding resilience into their business model.

3. Innovate the Pitch process:
During it's early days, innovating the pitch process allowed Jim and team to capture investor's interests. I quite liked the fact that they included a slide in the pitch deck called as “140 reasons Square will fail”. Presenting their authentic, vulnerable self helped them create a positive reputation with the investors.

Overall, a refreshing read that touches upon various aspects of intrapreneurship including (but not limited to) applying first principles thinking.

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