On a mercifully cool summer morning in 2014, I was walking excitedly through SoHo (is there any other way), on my way to my new office and first day at Square. New York’s freshness suggested there had been rain overnight, and Prince Street was a dazzling hodge podge of everybody ambitious enough to get to work before 9am. Cafes exhaled espresso-steam each time their doors opened, and the subway grates answered with their train-blasted gales. I made my way that morning with a hopeful heart—I had drunk the start-up Kool Aid and wanted, more than anything, to be part of a disruptive new team that built exciting technology with a social justice focus—Square was a perfect fit.
Rebel (who needs a) cause
My new opportunity at Square combined the excitement of start-up tech with the soul of a non-profit. I knew I would never be satisfied at a job where I was just punching the clock, and Square—with their mission of Economic Empowerment—was exactly what I was looking for.
During my four years there, I grew to understand that the stories we tell about our work are an essential component of launching products that hold meaning beyond their functionality. Without our customer centric stories, without the why behind each feature, Square was just a payments company. But armed with our mission to democratize the tools that make small businesses flourish, my experience—and my ability to do meaningful, impactful work—was transformed.
When we tell stories, we build solidarity
I learned this lesson in each of the roles I held at Square. As a liaison between Product teams and Customer Support, I was tasked with managing the flow of information between the two groups, delivering only what was relevant to each. The Customer Support team needed to know our software inside and out, so it was imperative that they understood what features were being released, what UX changes were on the horizon, and what functionality might change with each product launch.
Communicating launch information with a team of Customer Support reps was challenging—both because it wasn’t always immediately apparent what information they would need, or how to get a team of 500 to read a five paragraph email. The trick, I learned, was always to include a clear why.
By including meaningful context and keeping our customers front and center, a simple announcement could become a powerful story. I learned that customer-centric storytelling could bring people together as partners and stakeholders.
Stories that transform our work, and our world
When we released a feature for the Cash App that would allow users to keep funds in their app, I was stumped. Simply describing the functionality wasn’t particularly exciting—but as I considered it, I realized that the why made my heart beat faster.
We built the feature to address the needs of a huge, underserved segment of the population: the underbanked. By adding a feature that lets someone store funds, withdraw (or spend) those funds with a debit card, and send funds to friends or family, we were able to offer a meaningful, free service to people who badly needed it. We were helping people who otherwise had tremendous barriers to building a foundation of economic security.
Telling this story—which at its heart is about how customer focused technology can change the world—and communicating the profound social benefit of our product transformed the release into something memorable: a step we took together on our shared path towards Economic Empowerment.
At Function, we see the potential in bringing these stories to life. I’m thrilled at the prospect of uncovering new meaning with every project I take on, and sharing that meaning internally—with my colleagues—and externally, with the world.