Hip to be Square, By Erin Graham

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                  Zach Brock '07 has grown along with the company and its product!

 

A little over two years ago, we talked to Zach about working at Square in the Bay Area.  We checked in again with him recently to learn the 'the pond is growing...'. 

 

One of the allures of working at a start-up is the Big Fish in a Little Pond scenario: With a small staff racing to get a new idea out there, nobody is stuck doing just grunt work and everyone's voice counts. So what happens when the Little Pond grows to the size of a lake?

 

It's a growth challenge that every start-up wants to face, and one that Zach Brock '07 is smoothly navigating at the center of his company's success. After graduating from Olin, Zach was excited to start his career at small companies. He'd tried his hand at large companies through an internship, but found his experience about as inspiring as a Dilbert cartoon. "Start-ups are great places to work closely with people, get hugely involved and be given big opportunities to get better--very quickly," he says.

 

That's what drew him to Olin to begin with, way back in those early days. "Candidates Weekend sold me--there were so many interesting people who were into technology but doing lots of hands-on activities together," he says. "Seeing how close everyone was to each other and their professors made it feel an approachable community, and it really was."

 

In 2010, Brock joined the then-fledgling San Francisco tech company Square, which develops tools for businesses to accept credit card transactions anywhere, anytime. When he joined as a programming engineer, the company was at the tail end of trying to find a way to grow its product into a viable business. He was one of 20 people; now there are more than 800!   

 

"I started as an engineer expecting to deal with technical problems for scaling up a product," he says. "I found that dealing with scaling up a company is as big of a challenge. It's fascinating to watch from the inside."

 

Being in the midst of what he calls a hyper-growth phase means that "everyone has to flex in interesting, different directions and step up to take charge of things. People who joined us a few months ago are already leading teams."

 

Brock himself has stepped up into a managerial role, managing 12 people on an international team to bring Square around the world, starting with Canada and Japan. He credits his comfort with his leadership position partly to his Olin SCOPE project -  building a car that drives itself--an effort that hinged on teamwork, relationship building and project management.

 

"In hiring new grads, I notice they aren't all as prepared to work on teams and tolerate the many ways work gets done," he says. "Nobody put them in groups or let them figure out how to do projects without defined parameters--which is what Olin is all about."

 

Brock's experience at Olin was much like the story of any start-up: all about growth and change. "At a new company you need to be OK not knowing how things are going to turn out," he says. "I was one of the first Olin students and none of us had a clue what the college was going to be like; we didn't even have a curriculum!   It taught me to adopt the attitude that if I'm pointed in right direction, it'll turn out OK."

 

Square's evolution--it now has millions of small businesses as clients and manages transactions in the billions of dollars--has Brock pondering about the temporary nature of successful start-ups. "When you're one of a few people, you can have a big impact on a company-wide scale, deciding everything from design to architecture," he says. "The upside of growth is that as the company scales up, you can have a big impact on the world."

 

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Life in a Start-up