Cotyrone woman beating market expectations
Sarah friar from strabane tells us how she became one of the most influential female tech executives in the united states
Sarah Friar from Co Tyrone is one of the most influential female tech executives in the United States. As chief financial officer of Jack Dorsey’s $20bn payments company Square, she is setting a pace that has helped the firm to beat market expectations and triple the share price.
And she is also a co-founder of the co-working space at Ormeau Baths in Belfast and has visited the site to lend her support to start-ups in the region.
Having guided the company through a US IPO (Initial Public Offering) three years ago, Sarah is now seeing Square expand rapidly to become one of the go-to services that small firms in the US use to accept payments using their phones as credit card terminals.
Her role is not purely to be a number-cruncher. She is also on point when discussing strategy, development and new products at the company.
Square, which was started by Twitter founder Mr Dorsey, has soared in the last year.
Its shares are up 200% in that time and almost 100% in the last six months, leaving it just shy of a $20bn valuation. (For context, this means it is now worth about the same as Twitter, which Mr Dorsey also runs as CEO).
Other than competent management and a relevant, functional product set, this rise in worth is based partly on the same kind of underlying factors that are elevating newly-formed unicorns such as Dublin’s Intercom, namely
We as women are still not clicking through into senior leadership that the world is moving online to make and accept payments. And for plumbers or builders or other self-employed people, taking that payment using an app — and without any hassle from banks about bureaucratic merchant accounts — is a godsend.
All of this has left Sarah, who’s from Strabane and an Oxford graduate, in a good place. Not only is she at the financial helm of one of the key players in the market, but her personal stake is doing nicely. In the last six months, Ms Friar has cashed in shares to the value of $5m with a remaining holding of $17m (around 0.1% of the company).
She graduated from Oxford in 1996 with a Masters degree in metallurgy, economics and management, and later spent two years at Stanford University’s School of Business.
But she is still one of the few female senior executives at a Fortune 500-ranked tech company.
That hasn’t gone unnoticed by Sarah. “I could pull out all the stats, such as the number of women who are CEOS in Fortune 500 companies, to show you that it’s atrocious,” she says.
“Frankly, it hasn’t really improved in the last few decades. Despite everything, we as women are still not clicking through into senior leadership. Progress is being made, but it’s very slow.”
As a senior chief financial officer herself, Sarah acknowledges that there is movement into the vicinity of the top tech jobs through more visible female CFOS and COOS. But there’s still a barrier around women not getting to the top CEO roles.
“If you look at CFOS and COOS in tech companies, you have Belinda [Johnson, COO] over at Airbnb, you obviously have Sheryl [Sandberg, COO] at Facebook and Ruth [Porat, CFO] at Google.
“You have these shining lights. But the unintentional biases that stop women getting to the CEO role are harder to assess. And then a lot of women end up as CEO in a ‘glass cliff ’ role, where you get in there but it’s a turnaround job for a company in trouble. In that position, already your chances are lower than a company with momentum and growth.
“That’s really what happened to Marissa [Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo]. So we women need to crack through not just when things are tough but when they’re growing too.
“It has to be the board that supports it and the company too. That’s where I’m lucky at Square. I feel like I’m super supported and that Jack is super supportive to me. I’m in this great position at Square and feel like I’m having a big impact.”
In this respect, Sarah says that Square has a culture that naturally results in much more progress by competent, qualified female executives at the company. This, she says, looks like a good template for how other companies can adapt.
“There are a couple of things that we can do at a senior level,” she says. “There’s definitely something in showing that it can actually happen. For example, 50% of our executive team is female. “When women look up the ladder and want to aspire to those positions, we show them that it’s doable.”
Other basic precepts have to be at work at the company too, she says. “A lot of people get fixated on recruitment, but you have to think of inclusion first and then recruitment,” adds Sarah.
“If you recruit people into a non-inclusive environment, you just push them back out again, it doesn’t fix anything. We started with inclusion and then did a lot did of work.
“So if you’re a female engineer, we try to make sure that Square is a place where you can be successful, we try to make sure we have the right atmosphere. Then from a recruitment standpoint, we talk about it, we measure it and put a huge push on gender. We’re pretty close to 50-50 on gender now.”
Ms Friar is conscious that it doesn’t end there. ‘Diversity’, if taken seriously, has to go beyond gender.
“Now we’re looking to go back on some of the other metrics we may not do so well on such as race,” she says.
“I’d also say that it’s good just having divergent voices at the table. It makes for better decisions and is a good proxy for why it’s good to have diversity. And this is not about being strategic. You’ve got to be ‘doing’. I’d love to see companies doing this more, boards and senior leaders.”
As for the business itself, it’s busy expanding into markets beyond the US. At present, that means Canada, Australia, Japan and the UK. Ireland does not appear to be on the radar for 2018.
“We’re really about doubling down in the countries we’ve launched in,” says Sarah. “And we still have a lot of work to do. But we’ve done very well so far and are ahead of plan.
“We’re basically starting to see all those same symptoms that we saw in the US, which is to say lots of small businesses starting to
People tend to want to keep their social and financial apps separate need this kind of utility. And it’s happening as bank branches close and it’s generally more difficult to use cash.”
Beyond small businesses, Square thinks it has spotted a valuable niche for itself with its ‘Cash’ card. Founder Jack Dorsey recently spoke of an “underserved, underbanked audience”. He said that people are using the Cash card for things like Mcdonald’s, Netflix, Uber and Spotify.
“These are everyday activities you would expect someone to use a card for,” he told a recent earnings call, also noting that activity “notably” picks up on Fridays as people get paid. It appears that Square Cash users are increasingly sending and receiving money from friends and family.
This “underserved” audience is a phenomenon that Sarah believes is relatively underacknowledged.
“The number of individuals in the US who don’t have access to a bank account is shockingly high,” she says. “A big reason is cost. If you’re a bit lower down the totem pole of wealth, banks want to charge you to keep a minimum balance.
“For a lot of people it’s prohibitive to keep $200, so then they have to pay a fee. There’s also a real problem if they’re overdrawn, where they have a $20 or $30 fee. Our goal with the Cash app is to effectively give them an account without any fees. We give them a sense of control.”
Sarah also says that others end up “underbanked” not because of impecunity but due a general distrust of the financial system.
“Many grew up in 2008 and 2009,” she says. “There’s often just this huge distrust of banks, whose net promoter scores are sometimes zero. Or they feel it’s not for them because it’s that’s what their mom or dad does. They have a phone and there’s an expectation that everything they’re used to is happening with that device, including how a financial app works.”
For the rest of us, though, financial habits are relatively slow to change. Even so, the world is moving pretty quickly toward alternative payments to our traditional credit cards, Sarah says.
“There are lots of cultural variances,” she says. “In China, WeChat pay and Alipay have hurdled the rest. By comparison, in the west we’re playing catch-up. I don’t know if that means Asia is now the proxy or that that is where the world will be soon.”
A good example of culture interjecting in payment practices is the separation that still exists between social networks and payments. On paper, it would appear that the social apps we use most — such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter — would automatically mop up in any shift toward app-based mobile payment transfers.
But that isn’t happening, says Sarah. “What we’ve seen to date is that people tend to want to keep their social and financial apps separate,” she adds.
“We have a good perspective from seeing usage in this channel, with ourselves and other players.” Sarah Friar is a headline speaker at Moneyconf, a Web Summit conference taking place at the RDS in Dublin from June 11-13
Pros: Stunning design, innovative Face ID, best iphone camera Cons: No headphone jack, relatively modest battery life
There’s little doubt that the iphone X represents the future of iphone design. And there’s no question that this is the best iphone you can now get. The question is whether it justifies that big, big price?
As well as packing in the very latest powerful technology under the hood, the iphone X has two main distinguishing features about it: an edge-to-edge screen and facial recognition instead of a fingerprint reader.
The first of these, the iphone X’s ‘super retina’ screen, is simply gorgeous.
The way that it stretches almost totally from corner to corner is a first for Apple and an ergonomic game changer for those who like big screens but dislike having extra-big phones to accommodate those screens.
(Obviously, rivals such as Samsung have had this in place for some time.)
The deal here is that the display is 5.8in, making the screen longer (but slimmer and hence not bigger overall) than the iphone 8 Plus’s 5.5in display.
Because of this edge-to-edge design, there’s no appreciable bezel, meaning that the overall
If you hang out of your phone the way I do, you’ll need an extra shot of power during the evening device is significantly smaller than an iphone 8 Plus (or rivals such as the S9 Plus and P20 Pro). In fact, it’s much closer in size to a regular iphone, despite its screen being way bigger. This is obviously a great advantage for pockets, as well as overstretched thumbs.
As an ergonomic upgrade, it works.
The quality of the Oled screen is also absolutely top drawer, adjusting to lighting conditions in order to ease eye strain.
The other big feature that regular iphone users will need to get used to is its Face ID and, hence, the lack of a physical button.
The Face ID system is largely flawless, with few misfires in my time with the phone.
It’s certainly much quicker and more accurate than the equivalent technology on rival devices such
What is the smartest flagship phone out there? In a new series, Tech Editor Adrian
Weckler pits the market’s three best flagship handsets against each other – picking out their strengths and weaknesses. This week, he takes a look at the iphone X
as Samsung’s Note 8 or Huawei’s phones.
As for the removal of the ‘ home’ button, you now swipe up instead. This becomes second nature after a short while, although I can see why some people may not the like the idea at first — that home button has been a safety valve of sorts (or a short cut) in a variety of scenarios for many years.
On the camera front, the iphone X sports the best Apple can offer.
It has two 12-megapixel lenses, one with a wide-angle 28mm perspective and the other with a telephoto 50mm view.
Like the iphone 8 Plus (and 7 Plus), these combine to give you way more flexibility and quali- ty than a single-lens phone camera. But, unlike the iphone 8 Plus, the telephoto 50mm lens here is also stabilised, meaning clearer, better photos, especially in low light. That’s a notable upgrade.
While you don’t quite get the 40-megapixel detail from Huawei’s P20 Pro, Apple’s colour-rendering and, especially, video-recording performance means that this doesn’t feel like second-best at all. It’s a brilliant camera to use.
If I was looking for negatives, I might say that the iphone X’s battery life doesn’t match that of its flagship competitors. It’s generally fine for the best part of a day (or more, if you don’t use it heavily), but if you hang out of your phone the way I do, you’ll need an extra shot of power some time during the evening. The iphone X also doesn’t have a headphone jack, although it’s not alone in this regard. And while 256GB storage is available, the ‘ base’ model only comes with 64GB, which feels modest at this price tier.
In summary, the iphone X is definitely Apple’s top performer. But can the extra cost be justified over, say, an iphone 8?
This can only be a subjective answer.
But here’s a guide: if you want the absolute best, newest, highest-performing iphone out there, this is unquestionably it.
If you’re genuinely happy with a high-end iphone in a more traditional form, then look to the iphone 8 or iphone 8 Plus.