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Twitter Founder Inspires Students

02/22/2013

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey explains to RISD students that "there is an important intersection between art and technology."

Jack Dorsey, the self-made billionaire who has banked a fortune developing the microblogging site Twitter and the mobile payment system Square, has a piece of advice for future entrepreneurs: keep it simple.

During a recent visit to RISD,  the global technology visionary told a crowd of students, professors and info-hungry techies gathered in the RISD Auditorium that the road to innovation isn’t always smooth or direct. “So often there is unnecessary complexity in the [business] world,” he said. “There’s no purpose, no value, no discipline. It’s confusing for the consumer.”

However, Dorsey was quick to explain that if entrepreneurs tune out the distractions and remain true to their original vision, their ideas will come to fruition and might eventually grace the cover of Fortune. In short, he says the most impactful ideas are well-designed ideas – a concept that resonates deeply with the RISD community.

Dorsey came to campus as part of RISD’s Entrepreneurship Mindshare, a Career Center series that connects students with accomplished alumni, business mentors and thought leaders. The opportunity allows artists and designers to make professional connections, learn about financial literacy and develop marketing strategies. Previous speakers include a wide range of accomplished artrepreneurial (art meets entrepreneurship) leaders such as Joe Gebbia 05 ID/GD, cofounder of the popular alternative lodging site Airbnb, and Allan Tear, managing partner and cofounder of start-up incubator Betaspring.

Mindshare is just one of many artrepreneurial initiatives the Career Center is spearheading, according to Director Greg Victory. Thanks to its partnership with Behance, students, alumni and faculty also have access to RISD Portfolios, a flexible online platform that allows students and alumni to share their work with potential clients and recruiters worldwide. This year the Career Center launched Beyond RISD, a visiting lecture series designed to highlight the varied paths alumni choose in order to create satisfying careers and lives. It also manages a Kickstarter page highlighting RISD-generated projects and was instrumental in establishing a similar community on Etsy.

Beyond the clear value of online tools like these for RISD artrepreneurs, “there is an important intersection between art and technology,” Dorsey noted during his visit, adding that he wishes he had attended RISD when pursuing his own higher education. “Focus on the output,” he told students. “But remember to focus on the craft and the process – that’s where the magic is.”

And Dorsey clearly knows what he’s talking about. Now estimated to have a net worth of more than $3 billion, he not only created two influential high-tech services but is revolutionizing global communication and economic practices in the process.

Twitter, an innovation that has taken off beyond what Dorsey imagined, enables users to send and receive text-based messages of up to 140 characters. Since it was created in 2006, it has enabled people to share news and information about everything going on in the world – whether it’s an update from war-torn Egypt, a protest planned against a repressive regime or a report on the family cat's breakfast. Even President Barack Obama has hosted a Twitter Town Hall to field questions from his constituents.

Dorsey initially developed Square as an easy, portable means for small businesses to charge credit cards with the help of a small device that plugs into their mobile phones. In 2010 RISD was the first college campus to incorporate the application into its payment system. And Square continues to be on the move; Dorsey recently expanded it into major markets, with Starbucks about to incorporate the system, too. 

“I just wanted to create things that didn’t exist in the world yet,” Dorsey told the audience. “And when I believe in something, I fight like hell for it. So many times we must have faith that the technology will catch up with our ideas.”

According to Victory, Dorsey’s visit and the many other Career Center initiatives merely support the artrepreneurial spirit already found in studios across campus. “RISD students are wired to think critically and ask deeper questions,” he explains. “And that kind of thinking leads to solutions that go beyond the classroom and results in significant world changes.” –Abigail Crocker

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tags: digital, entrepreneurship, innovation, STEAM

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The men in this 1903 portrait class were serious about the business at hand.