Jim McKelvey has now started close to a dozen different for-profit and nonprofit ventures, including Square. Now he’s tackling the problems we face on the internet every day, with the backing of Peter Thiel as an investor.
On the Dealmakers Show, McKelvey shared an immense amount of insights on being an entrepreneur versus just a business person, solving perfect problems, being attacked by giant competitors like Amazon, and the innovation stack. Plus, hiring Jack Dorsey, and what he looks for in successful team members.
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If You Don’t Fix It, Who Is Going To Do It?
Jim McKelvey was born and grew up in St. Louis. However, his idyllic youth was tragically torn apart when his mother committed suicide.
It was a huge wake-up call to the problems in the world. A driving force to get out there, take action, and solve them for others.
He realized that if he didn’t step up to fix things, no one else was going to do it. So, he just began fixing things, and he hasn’t stopped yet.
That started with creating a new textbook for his university as a freshman. It displaced the professor’s book and was professionally published by a national publishing house that requested a follow-up book.
By the time he was a sophomore, he already had two published books. That gave him some credibility and translated into getting invited onto various teams. Where he found he had a knack for helping to elevate groups and make them more effective. Even if he wasn’t the most qualified on the team.
Fast forward to today, and he has started a dozen different ventures.
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The Innovation Stack
Many of us have all heard the famous quote about good artists copying the ideas of others. However, the inspiration for Jim McKelvey’s most recent book ‘The Innovation Stack’ is all about doing new things that haven’t been done before.
Looking back on many of his ventures, and encountering a battle with Amazon, who wanted to take over their industry, McKelvey says that he realized that many of his mistakes were around just copying other people or existing solutions, rather than tackling things that were brand-new. And doing things differently.
He says this is really where the line is between business people and true entrepreneurs. Most just end up creating a better mousetrap. A slight improvement on something which has already been invented. Then spending the bulk of their time leading a business to just make incremental improvements on that.
Like the original iPhone versus the endless string of annual releases of updates to that.
Jim McKelvey was involved in starting Square. Then Amazon decided they wanted to take the space. They have a strong playbook. They copy your product, sell it for 30% less than you, wield their brand name, and just steamroll you out of business. It’s a strategy that works just about 100% of the time.
Jim says that there really wasn’t a precedent for surviving and winning in that. There was nothing to copy. Yet, when they did survive, he found other case studies through history that it is those that truly do things differently, that emerge as leaders. The great category winners and market dominators.
His big passion today is to inspire and encourage others not to limit their lives to just copying, and making micro improvements, but to take on new things and solve problems no one has before.
Creating A $48B Company
Jim first met Jack Dorsey through a local coffee shop. Jack’s mother owned the shop where Jim would go get chocolate-covered espresso beans to fuel his team to pull all-nighters.
That turned into bringing Jack on as an intern. Then years later, when Jim lost a sale at his glass studio due to not being able to take a credit card, they launched Square together. A company now worth close to $50B.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Jim McKelvey was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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The Traits Of A Successful Entrepreneur
Jim has now worked with many entrepreneurs, invested in them, and built many teams. So, what does he look for, and believe makes the difference between those that make it and are successful versus the rest?
He says that those just looking to get rich and famous probably won’t make it. Creating things and building startups is hard. They’ll eventually bail and find an easier way to just make money.
He looks for those that deeply care about solving problems personally. Personal motivation.
He says he does not look for experience. When the Wright brothers created the plane, there were no pilot training courses or certifications. They had to be the first to do something that had never been done before.
Jim McKelvey’s latest venture Invisibly is all about taking control of your own data and its monetization, as well as enjoying a more seamless experience on the internet, without the hassles of paywalls.
They share their revenue with their users and make it easier and more intuitive to get the content you want, without interruptions.
Peter Thiel, famous for his book Zero To One, is one of their investors.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- When the first version of your product is too good
- Solving perfect problems
- How Invisibly works
- Landing investors like Peter Thiel