How Afterpay could fulfill Jack Dorsey’s digital-wallet dream

Square has struggled for years to reach consumers, including an embarrassing failure with Starbucks. The Afterpay deal is its second chance.

Square CEO Jack Dorsey and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

Square CEO Jack Dorsey greets then-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in 2012.

Photo: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At first glance, Square's $29 billion deal to buy Afterpay looks like a smart move into the fast-growing "buy now, pay later" space. But it's far more significant than just offering consumers the short-term installment plans that have grown popular among credit-wary young shoppers.

With the Afterpay deal, Jack Dorsey is making a strategic turn, linking the core Seller and Cash App businesses more closely after years of fostering them as independent units under the Square umbrella. Afterpay could turn into a $29 billion bridge between Square's many businesses, bringing Square's business success and customer ambitions into a single product. In doing so, Dorsey's also potentially fulfilling a decade-long dream of having a brand that dominates the way people shop and pay. It just won't be called "Square."

Square struggled to get consumers to adopt its apps in its early years, despite having a charismatic founder, distinctive design and an almost cult-like following among small business owners. It didn't help that it kept changing the name: Pay With Square, Card Case, Wallet, then Order (R.I.P., all of them).

Even a huge deal with Starbucks to let customers order lattes with the Wallet version of the app in 2012 — two years before Starbucks would introduce its own app — couldn't realize Dorsey's ambitions of getting space on people's home screens. Square eventually faced up to this reality, killed off the app, undid the Starbucks relationship and called the business unit that processed payments and made hardware for merchants "Seller."

So where's Buyer? As Wallet was floundering, Square launched a side project called Square Cash in 2013. Now known as Cash App, what started as a simple Venmo knockoff is now a major money machine for Square. In 2015, Cash added business payments. Rappers started dropping their cashtag in lyrics. By 2018, you could buy bitcoin; by the next year, stocks.

Seller, meanwhile, was branching out from physical retail into online. It added website building (with the Weebly acquisition), invoices and a host of other features. Those proved crucial during the pandemic when lockdowns forced many small retailers to rely on ecommerce to survive.

"Buy now, pay later" is still a small part of consumer credit. But merchants like the installment plans, because they lift conversion rates. And companies like Affirm and Klarna are betting that once a shopper uses their services, they'll come back for their next purchase too. Klarna has gone on an acquisition spree to add features to its app. Square is betting that Afterpay will turn Cash App from a money-sending and investing app into a spending app too — a financial super-app.

There's also PayPal, which also wants to make its already popular mobile payments tool a super-app — one app to pay for almost anything. It also offers "buy now, pay later" plans. Square will be tackling PayPal in an area of strength, ecommerce, while fending off PayPal's attempt to chip away at its in-store payments with its iZettle acquisition. (Past attempts by PayPal to compete with Square were kind of embarrassing: Remember that triangular dongle?)

Square's strategy most resembles Klarna's, including adding tools for discovering merchants. (Shades of the past: Discovering Square sellers nearby was a key feature of the Card Case app.) But it has the huge advantage of the installed base of Cash App, which, after the deal closes, will be where Afterpay shoppers go to manage their payments.

That will mean tighter links between Seller and Cash App. Though Cash App has obviously benefited from the company's payments expertise, it hasn't found many ways to benefit from Square's seller base, or to benefit them. Cash App users can spend their balances at Square registers, if they get a physical debit card or persuade a harried clerk to find the Square point of sale app's QR code to scan.

In this scenario, "buy now, pay later" is a way to get Cash App users to start thinking about using the app to do more than send money to friends. Cash App users might tap a pay-in-four plan, or might use a linked credit or debit card, or spend a stored balance. What that adds up to: Dorsey has finally gotten his wallet app.


Niantic’s future hinges on mapping the metaverse

The maker of Pokémon Go is hoping the metaverse will deliver its next big break.

Niantic's new standalone messaging and social app, Campfire, is a way to get players organizing and meeting up in the real world. It launches today for select Pokémon Go players.

Image: Niantic

Pokémon Go sent Niantic to the moon. But now the San Francisco-based augmented reality developer has returned to earth, and it’s been trying to chart its way back to the stars ever since. The company yesterday announced layoffs of about 8% of its workforce (about 85 to 90 people) and canceled four projects, Bloomberg reported, signaling another disappointment for the studio that still generates about $1 billion in revenue per year from Pokémon Go.

Finding its next big hit has been Niantic’s priority for years, and the company has been coming up short. For much of the past year or so, Niantic has turned its attention to the metaverse, with hopes that its location-based mobile games, AR tech and company philosophy around fostering physical connection and outdoor exploration can help it build what it now calls the “real world metaverse.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.

Supreme Court takes a sledgehammer to greenhouse gas regulations

The court ruled 6-3 that the EPA cannot use the Clean Air Act to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions. That leaves a patchwork of policies from states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack.

The Supreme Court struck a major blow to the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Striking down the right to abortion may be the Supreme Court's highest-profile decision this term. But on Thursday, the court handed down an equally massive verdict on the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of West Virginia v. EPA, the court decided that the agency has no ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. Weakening the federal government's powers leaves a patchwork of states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack in reducing carbon pollution.

Keep Reading Show less
Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.


Can crypto regulate itself? The Lummis-Gillibrand bill hopes so.

Creating the equivalent of the stock markets’ FINRA for crypto is the ideal, but experts doubt that it will be easy.

The idea of creating a government-sanctioned private regulatory association has been drawing more attention in the debate over how to rein in a fast-growing industry whose technological quirks have baffled policymakers.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Regulating crypto is complicated. That’s why Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand want to explore the creation of a private sector group to help federal regulators do their job.

The bipartisan bill introduced by Lummis and Gillibrand would require the CFTC and the SEC to work with the crypto industry to look into setting up a self-regulatory organization to “facilitate innovative, efficient and orderly markets for digital assets.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.


Alperovitch: Cybersecurity defenders can’t be on high alert every day

With the continued threat of Russian cyber escalation, cybersecurity and geopolitics expert Dmitri Alperovitch says it’s not ideal for the U.S. to oscillate between moments of high alert and lesser states of cyber readiness.

Dmitri Alperovitch (the co-founder and former CTO of CrowdStrike) speaks at RSA Conference 2022.

Photo: RSA Conference

When it comes to cybersecurity vigilance, Dmitri Alperovitch wants to see more focus on resiliency of IT systems — and less on doing "surges" around particular dates or events.

For instance, whatever Russia is doing at the moment.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at

Latest Stories