Thursday 19 July 2018

'Don't be afraid to fail' - Irish Silicon Valley leader tells tech graduates

Sarah Friar, Square
Sarah Friar, Square

Margaret Canning

One of the most senior female business leaders in Silicon Valley has urged Irish graduates not to be afraid of failure as she picked up her own honorary doctorate.

Sarah Friar, who grew up in Sion Mills, Co Tyrone, and now lives in California, is finance director of payments company Square.

It sells technology to businesses from the small market trader up, which allows them to accept card payments from customers using just a scanner and a smartphone. It's branched out into other services including invoice and payroll with a mission statement to build "simple tools to help people participate and thrive in the economy".

Ms Friar (45) went to Strabane Grammar school before a degree at Oxford. She said her own appreciation of the value of small businesses stemmed from witnessing the benefits such firms brought to places like Sion Mills. It was badly hit when its linen mill closed in 2004.

Her father Harry had worked in the mill but had retired before the closure. "I love small businesses because they get wealth back into communities and encourage people to shop local," she said.

And she added that there was "lots and lots more" for Square to do to become an omnichannel operator. It's also launched a cash app for sending money peer-to-peer.

Ms Friar, a co-founder of Belfast's Ormeau Baths tech hub, said Square was becoming "quite well-known" in Ireland.

She said the tech industry and venture capital ecosystem in the North had improved but that a cautious attitude persisted.

"There's still a fear of failure and less willingness to take risks. That's something that doesn't apply in California and San Francisco, where people think that in failure you can find your learning.

"So it might be in the failure of your first business you might find the idea for the real success that becomes your second business."

She said she had been impressed with the calibre of graduates she spoke to at Ulster University yesterday, describing them as "very bright-eyed and full of energy".

Irish Independent

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business