Case Detail

Case Summary

Hip to be Square: Disruption in the U.S. Mobile Payment Market

Case Number: 5-213-251, Year Published: 2014, Revision Date: December 19, 2016

HBS Number: KEL792

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Authors: Sarit Markovich; Evan Meagher; Anirudh Parasher Malkani; Andrew Tseng

Key Concepts

Business Marketing, Business Plans, Competition, Competitive Strategy, Decision Making, Growth Strategy, Market Analysis, Product Development, Strategic Planning


Founded in San Francisco in 2009, Square finished 2012 as the darling of Silicon Valley; flush with more than $340 million in funding, the firm had grown to several hundred employees in just three short years. It processed more than $10 billion annually in credit and debit card payments from small business owners that used Square’s smartphone-enabled card swipe device wherever cellular or wireless Internet service was available.

However, Square’s success had attracted new entrants into the mobile payments processing space, both in the United States and abroad, threatening to derail the company’s remarkable trajectory. With its latest financing round valuing the company in excess of $3.4 billion, management and investors were considering which strategies would continue—even accelerate—the company’s growth.

Learning Objectives

Square presents an opportunity for classes in strategy and technology management to contemplate the following:

  • How can a startup disrupt an established set of incumbents without provoking a harsh competitive response?
  • How can a growth company in a rapidly changing industry expand beyond the core competency that fueled its initial growth?
  • Which growth platforms make the most sense for a company in a complicated ecosystem with many players offering divergent solutions?

Number of Pages: 16

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Strategy

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: United States

Industry: Credit Card, Mobile Payments

Organization Name: Square

Organization Size: Medium

Year of Case: 2013