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startup cleanup

Square CEO Jack Dorsey picks up San Francisco trash on Fridays

It used to be a given that hot startups in Silicon Valley would choose the environs of Menlo Park, Mountain View or Palo Alto as their homes. They’re all quiet areas in the historical heart of the Bay Area’s tech industry located about an hour south of San Francisco. These days, more of them are deciding to establish their offices in the city of San Francisco and find ways to integrate into the community.

For digital payments company Square, part of being in San Francisco has meant picking up its trash.

Most startups have a philosophy reflecting what they’re about. When Google went public in 2004, its mantra was “Don’t be evil.” Facebook lives by the “Hacker Way,” in which employees are encouraged to “move fast and break things.” Square is all about helping small businesses grow, which improves communities. Picking up trash became a natural extension of that.

The idea started out from a management training course given by Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who thought it would be a good idea to reflect on what Square employees had learned by taking a walk around the neighborhood. And while they did that, they might as well do something proactive to help their surroundings, like picking up garbage.

Positive feedback from Square employees convinced them to do it for about half an hour or so every week, which turned into Clean Streets. The city got involved and offered free supplies for the effort. It’s not a requirement for Square employees to participate, but it is encouraged, and staff including Dorsey and CFO Sarah Friar (in heels and all) regularly show up.

Every Friday since January, dozens of Square employees and a few outsiders from the community gather around 11 am in a lot outside the Square office. They take rubber and cloth gloves, brooms, tongs and other equipment to pick up trash in their area. This not being leafy Palo Alto, Square volunteers encounter urban grittiness, including members of San Francisco’s significant homeless population. Square has special boxes to collect the used drug needles that are sometimes found during Clean Streets.

For some Square partners, participating in Clean Streets could be an easy way to get direct access to the very busy Dorsey and his executive team. If Square starts heading toward an initial public offering—as is eventually expected—our bet is that investment bankers vying for a place in the deal start joining his Friday cleanup crew.

No matter what, Dorsey’s experience mobilizing people to collect trash in San Francisco via Clean Streets could eventually come in really handy. He has said one day he would like to be mayor of New York.

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