Square's much overlooked recovery

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September 8, 2017

What got my attention recently was a throwaway comment from an entrepreneur whose company's technology burrows deep in the bowels of the payments industry: Square has been doing really well lately.

Square? Really? That, as anyone who follows the soap opera of Silicon Valley knows, is the other company Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey started and runs today as CEO. But Square was the weak sibling, a credit card-reader purveyor that was running out of money and went public a couple years ago at a valuation below its last private investment level. It was an embarrassment, the one no one talked about.

Today Square is looking pretty darn good, especially in relation to its cousin, Twitter. The payments company's stock has soared this year, nearly doubling, while Twitter has inched up a few percentage points. Square continues to grow its humdrum business, while Twitter hasn't been able to convert being a part of the global zeitgeist into a reliably advancing operation.

In this case, humdrum is good. Square takes a predictable cut of every transaction its ma-and-pa merchant customers make. (It lost a major relationship with Starbucks, a cup-half-full development given the large size and poor economics of the arrangement.) It also upsells data, offers credit and soon may become a banker to those same legions of small merchants.

With its core business solid, Square has gotten creative too. It bought a food-delivery business called Caviar, for example, that competes with the likes of Door Dash and UberEats. Why? Restaurants are loyal Square payments customers, and offering them additional service is an exercise in stickiness.

Square still loses money, though the business is approaching the breakeven point and revenues in its most recent quarter grew 26%. The figure jumps to 36% not counting the lost sales from Starbucks, which shortly will cease to be a year-over-year factor.

This investment beast has become a beauty, and the transformation happened in plain sight.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com
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NEWSWORTHY

Are you kidding me? It is the nightmare scenario of consumer data theft. Equifax, one of the "big three" credit bureaus that collect every scrap of financially relevant information they can find on consumers, admitted Thursday it had been penetrated in July by hackers who stole the goods on 143 million people. The goods in this case include social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver's license numbers, kind of a digital toolkit for identity theft.

Another freak out. Investors got a little panicky on Thursday after Comcast disclosed it could lose as many as 150,000 cable subscribers this quarter and Disney CEO Bob Iger said his company's upcoming online video service would include Marvel and Star Wars movies. Comcast shares fell 6% and Disney shares lost 4%. Viacom also lost 4% and Charter Communications fell 2%.

See the damage. Hurricane Irma is still roaring towards Florida with considerable destructive force. My colleague Jonathan Vanian compiled some of the best videos of the storm as it tore through the Caribbean over the past few days.

Still inflating. Filecoin, a startup focused on digital storage, set a record raising $257 million by issuing its own digital tokens, the largest amount raised in an initial coin offering, or ICO, according to Coinbase. Almost $800 million was raised in ICOs in the second quarter, but that record could be broken this quarter, Coinbase said.

Horse already out of barn. A day after Facebook admitted that Russian operatives had likely conducted a political ad campaign on the social network comes news that Twitter will also disclose how it was used. Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday that Twitter would brief Congress on Russian interference schemes.

You know what's cool? Game of Thrones just wrapped up its seventh, if somewhat abbreviated, season on HBO and while we still don't know who will end up on the Iron Throne, there's one title that's not in question. Digital market tracker Muso reported that episodes of the series were downloaded online over 1 billion times, an "unprecedented" degree of illicit viewing that should keep the title of "most pirated show on earth" firmly in hand.

Purgatory arrival delayed. The FBI and Manhattan U.S. attorney's office are investigating Uber's use of its software program known as "Hell" that tracked drivers from competing services, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Uber said it was cooperating with the inquiry.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Apple Is Relying on Its Biggest Competitor for OLED Displays on the New iPhone by Natasha Bach

Amazon's New Headquarters Could End Up North or South of the Border by Barb Darrow

Everything We Know About the Air Force's Secret Space Plane That Just Launched by Jonathan Vanian

Deals on New iPhones May Not Be As Good As Last Year by Aaron Pressman

Apple Might Have Signed a Cheaper Music Deal With Warner by Don Reisinger

Tax Bill Calls for Digital Currency Exemptions Under $600 by Jeff John Roberts

Activision's $500 Million Investment May Finally Pay Off with 'Destiny 2' by Chris Morris

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

For good or ill, more people that ever are depending on social media to get their news. In the latest survey by the Pew Research Center, 67% of U.S. adults got news from sites like Twitter and Facebook, up from 62% last fall at the height of the election.

The report includes a host of interesting details, including that social media news reading is growing fastest among older, nonwhite and less educated demographics. There's also data about which sites have been gaining as a news source (Snapchat!) or declining (Reddit).

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FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE

A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.

How I Used Professional Poker to Become a Data Scientist
I've found that the game of poker is a microcosm of life. What holds true at the poker table will often have a corollary in many other aspects of life. There are a few key principles I learned during my poker career that I'll share with you.

How Jackson Hole Survived the Eclipse
The area's already overtaxed infrastructure—hour-long traffic jams in the summer are typical—would be brought to its knees by star-gazing nerds. The town could see up to 100,000 tourists, it claimed. (A regular busy summer day in Jackson gets about 25,000 people.) Grocery stores could run out of food. Gas stations could run out of fuel, even though L.A.-like gridlock could render cars useless anyway. It would be a sort of Y2K-meets-Comicon scenario.

Gamergate Is Never Going Away
Cheong's initial tweet about the video has 12,000 retweets. "Game journalists are incredibly bad at video games," Cheong seethed. "How do they think they're qualified to write about games?"

Can Levi's Make Life Better for Garment Workers?
It's 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, and a section of Linea 1 has left their stations to form a ring on the factory floor. As their supervisor stands in the center, the workers toss a ball of blue yarn back and forth across the circle, each holding on to a segment of string to create an elaborate cat's cradle. As they pass the ball, they take turns making promises, telling each other the things they plan to say and do later.

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BEFORE YOU GO

In just a few days, Apple will unveil its new iPhone models. There are plenty of rumors about the new features-everything from OLED displays to wireless charging—but no one thinks Apple is going to bring back the dearly departed headphone jack. So engineer/hacker/adventurer Scotty Allen decided to take matters into his own hands, literally. He's crafted an iPhone 7 that has a headphone jack. Check it out.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.
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