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The Innovation Stack

Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time
Narrated by: Jim McKelvey
Length: 6 hrs and 23 mins
4.7 out of 5 stars (33 ratings)

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Summary

From the cofounder of Square, an inspiring and entertaining account of what it means to be a true entrepreneur and what it takes to build a resilient, world-changing company

In 2009, a St. Louis glassblowing artist and recovering computer scientist named Jim McKelvey lost a sale because he couldn't accept American Express cards. Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty of accepting credit card payments, McKelvey joined his friend Jack Dorsey (the cofounder of Twitter) to launch Square, a startup that would enable small merchants to accept credit card payments on their mobile phones. With no expertise or experience in the world of payments, they approached the problem of credit cards with a new perspective, questioning the industry's assumptions, experimenting and innovating their way through early challenges, and achieving widespread adoption from merchants small and large.

But just as Square was taking off, Amazon launched a similar product, marketed it aggressively, and undercut Square on price. For most ordinary startups, this would have spelled the end. Instead, less than a year later, Amazon was in retreat and soon discontinued its service. How did Square beat the most dangerous company on the planet? Was it just luck? These questions motivated McKelvey to study what Square had done differently from all the other companies Amazon had killed. He eventually found the key: a strategy he calls the Innovation Stack.

McKelvey's fascinating and humorous stories of Square's early days are blended with historical examples of other world-changing companies built on the Innovation Stack to reveal a pattern of ground-breaking, competition-proof entrepreneurship that is rare but repeatable.

The Innovation Stack is a thrilling business narrative that's much bigger than the story of Square. It is an irreverent first-person look inside the world of entrepreneurship, and a call to action for all of us to find the entrepreneur within ourselves and identify and fix unsolved problems - one crazy idea at a time.

©2020 Jim McKelvey (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"McKelvey tells the remarkable story of how with Square, he started a business that would transform an industry, along the way unlocking a whole new model for innovation. An inspiring call to action for entrepreneurs who want to tackle problems that affect our everyday lives, with perseverance and some crazy ideas." (Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution, cofounder of AOL, and author of The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future)

"The Innovation Stack is a deeply useful book about the characteristics of successful companies and how and why to build one, complete with inspiring case studies that literally span centuries. But it’s also much more than that: a witty, humane exploration of living in the complicated, inequitable world we all share and are working to make it less so." (Eric Ries, entrepreneur and best-selling author of The Lean Startup)

"Who can say they went up against Amazon - and won? Jim McKelvey can, and this book tells how." (Peter Thiel, entrepreneur, investor, and author of Zero to One)

"Growing up in the Show Me State - aka Missouri - made me skeptical of everything...especially Jim McKelvey. I’d say more but I’m out of charact" (Jack Dorsey, cofounder and CEO of Twitter and Square)

What listeners say about The Innovation Stack

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inspirational

the best book I have read this year. most books might teach you something new. this book taught many new things both in work life and in personal life. the examples shown in the book and the stories made it feel like as if I am reading a thrilling novel. feel motivated and ambitious to help others after reading this

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Hugely impactful (and funny) business book

This is one of the most impactful business audiobooks I have listed to, and my current collection is around 300. I write reviews only when I come across an outlier that manages to adjust my worldview. The Innovation Stack did that and somehow managed to make me laugh out loud at the same time. As a serial entrepreneur that is always looking for an edge, the best praise I can give this book is that I really hope that as few people as possible read this! But inline with the positive (but not sugary) message of the book, bold innovation isn't necessarily a zero sum game, so I'll see you outside the city wall.

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Amazing to read about true innovation

This book has changed my understanding of innovation and entrepreneurs. It has explained true sense of innovation and how to innovate in this continuous disrupting world.

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Superb book interested me the whole way through

A great book for anyone whose always dreamt of being an entrepreneur. Jim tells it like it is and gives some lovely examples from his own experiences. Loved the part on Southwest and Herb Kelleher in particular. Highly recommend this one

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  • JamalJ
  • 18-07-20

The one business book you should read this year

I don't usually read business books any more because they mostly suck and follow a theme of look-how-awesome-I-am-so the-lesson-is...be-like-me!-You-can-fall-down-and-prostrate-yourself-at-my-shrine-now kind of books. NOT INTERESTING nor uplifting / helpful in anyway. And I barely if ever have written a review of a book. Business and self-help books deserve at most a reading of their *summary* in my mind because it's usually around one idea, often not very novel, and because the author needed to have a book under their name, they hired some interns to research a bunch of moderately interesting but useless stories to puff it out into a book. So my muscle memory made me assume that this would be no different. The main reason I decided to read this book in the first place was because of peer pressure and a desire to contact the author for other reasons. Boy was I wrong. Anyway, safe to say, The Innovation Stack is the best read I've had in a long time. The main idea is profound, useful, and encouraging for anyone doing a startup or any kind of venture, business or not, for that matter. So I'm totally going to steal these ideas to build my own ideas and might occasionally give the author some credit. The historical tidbits and stories are interesting as well if you don't know your banking history or furniture business history. McKelvey makes these way more interesting than it sounds; in fact, I probably shouldn't even mention them since it might make you not want to read his book by the mere mention of them. The writing is really good as well - funny, punchy, and down to earth. No McKinsey talk. In any case, whatever you do, even if you *hate* audible books and think they are an abomination of *real* books because people in the 2020's have the attention span of gnats and can't sit down and read books any more, well get over it. The Audible edition is a JEWEL because it's performed by the author himself - and he does a marvelous marvelous job. Friggin get this book. Better yet get the Audible edition. I'm forcing all of the founders I've invested in to read this so you should too. And no, I did not get paid to write this (kinda wish I did though, could use the money) and had to pay for my book at full retail. Ugh.

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  • EJ
  • 14-06-20

Incredible insights

I’d never heard of Jim McKelvey ntil I saw him interviewed on a C-SPAN book program my wife was watching. I’d heard of Square - and of course Jack Dorsey - but not McKelvey. But I liked what he said and bought the book immediately. And I absolutely LOVED it! I own a small company that solved a “perfect problem” back in 2009, but I’ve never really understood how our continued innovation stack has functioned; now I do. The real world examples of Square, Bank of Italy (America), IKEA and Southwest were incredibly insightful and really brought the whole idea of an innovation stack to life. If you are an entrepreneur- or want to be - this should be required reading. Great book that I’ve already recommended to our entire leadership team.

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  • Kristi
  • 27-03-20

More than Square

Jim is for real. He isn't going to douse you with platitudes and formulas and guarantee success with if you follow a magical path lined with marshmallows. In fact, he highlights the rarity of what entrepreneurship actually is. He takes our buzz word away and replaces with a heavy dose of reality. What I found helpful as a small business owner is that he identified and storified patterns in the creation process. He also says it's scary. While I'm not an entrepreneur, I'm sure glad that someone is as freaked out as I am. Finally, his narration is authentic and borders on conversational. I enjoyed the listen and the content. If you like Malcolm Gladwell, Maria Popova, or books that weave history in to "the why", you'll enjoy The Innovation Stack.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 22-10-20

Love this book

The way the innovation stack is described in this book it will blow your mind!!!

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  • Wade H. Millward
  • 15-10-20

Excellent

Jim does a fantastic job teaching a plethora of principles and lessons through various stories. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have many takeaways from it

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  • David Hults
  • 18-09-20

St. Louis Entrepreneur Succeeds Again!

I loved it! This guidance for entrepreneurs is spot on, no b.s., and so helpful! Jim McKelvey not only has bright ideas, he has figured out how to give instruction based on his efforts and research. He shows you how, what, and when to copy or innovate. Jimis a guiding light in our field and our city, inside and outside the wall.

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  • Pete Gordon
  • 12-09-20

Wow incredible!

What an amazing book and experience reading it and learning from it. The insights about Innovation and Risk and Problem solving are incredible. Great job Jim!

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  • Bo Schultz
  • 26-08-20

Fantastic book for businesses!

Definitely going to be reading this book several times. After listening to a dozen or so books on business and start ups, this is definitely in the top three. Highly recommend!

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  • Gabriel
  • 28-07-20

Smart insights

Insights on what innovation is made up of. McKelvey's ideas broadly match the methodology of Blue Ocean Strategy and yet add a different perspective. A very interesting and motivating piece of research and reverse engineering of a business concept.

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  • Vinay Kanchanapally
  • 22-07-20

Must Read for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Great narration, storyline and takeaways. This book has a lot of aspect about entrepreneurship which come to you only by experience.