Square's "Director of Experience" On Why An In-House Barista Makes Everyone Happy

And other wonderful, whimsical lessons on how to keep employees psyched and productive (terrariums, apparently) from Kyle Zink, the payment company’s own Willy Wonka.

Kyle Zink, "Director of Experience" at Square, wears many hats. Zink started at the payments company in November of 2010, having previously worked at Google. As Square’s first marketing hire, Zink’s job was initially to go to craft fairs and events and pitch the company’s credit card reader. “The first time people saw the reader and heard it click in to the phone, they had this look of bewilderment and amazement on their faces,” said Zink.

Square is a company that takes user experience seriously. As Zink’s role at the company grew, though, he became interested in a different kind of Square experience—the experience of people who pass through the company's offices in San Francisco, New York, and Atlanta. Roughly six months ago, Square formed an “Experience Team,” with Zink as its director. Zink now lovingly crafts everything that anyone who steps into Square’s offices—be it an employee who may stay for a decade, or an investor who may visit for an hour—sees, hears, tastes, touches, or smells.

We caught up with Zink to learn more about Square’s idolization of the Golden Gate Bridge, its employees’ affection for terrariums, and why Square has hired its very own barista-cum-QA-tester.

FAST COMPANY: You craft the experience of Square offices for very different audiences. What do you do for employees, for instance?

The office experience team thinks about how to best utilize the space. We’ve designed our food program for peak performance, including healthy options and vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free meals. We organize a couple programs, like Square Academy, which is an opportunity to express creativity and get a new skill set. Some past ones have been zany, like beer-making classes and terrarium building.

Terrarium building?

That’s our number-one most attended. Terrariums are little living plants that exist in various glass structures. Lots of Square employees have terrariums on their desks. Another main element for employees is events. We do things like walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which we celebrate and idolize at Square.

Why?

Bridges are designed to do one thing only: not go down. We identify with that—we move people’s money, and it’s important that they trust us. But where most bridges fall short is that they’re ugly. The Bay Bridge works, but it’s not beautiful. Whereas the Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful, iconic piece of art. We believe we’re also at that intersection of design and engineering. Recently it was the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, and we decided to celebrate it and our two-year anniversary by walking across the bridge as a team. To me, that was a really powerful moment, to see the entire company offsite on this iconic bridge.

So that’s how you craft the experience for employees. How about people who may just be passing through, like a guest or candidate?

When a candidate comes in, what we like to do is instantly introduce them to the product. We have at Square our own coffee bar, with our own barista, Katrina Forck. The Square recruiter pays for the drink for a dollar, and it’s a great way to first introduce Square.

Square has its own barista?

If there’s one kind of merchant that encapsulates what Square is, it’s the coffee merchant. Our third or fourth customer was Sightglass Coffee. We wanted to offer coffee to our employees but also have a way for product testing to take place. Kat receives a beta build a couple times a week, the latest and breaking in our technology, and she logs any errors or bugs that come up along the way.

So Kat’s a barista, but also knows how to code?

She doesn’t have any knowledge of coding. We wanted someone who would mirror our customers. She sits down daily with our product testing teams to talk about what she encountered, and helps log problems through screenshots and written communications. We use her somewhat as a guinea pig, but she’s quite a masterful guinea pig. I encourage you to try her lattes. They’re the best in the city.

And finally, how do you craft the guest experience?

We try to create this high-touch, white-glove service for every guest. When they come out of the elevator, there’s a digital NDA agreement, rather than pen and paper, done over an iPad.

Is it weird, hearing you talk, that this is making me think of Willy Wonka?

That’s the goal: about bringing surprise, delight, and magic to everyday experiences at Square. You know, I’ll take it. I like the Willy Wonka comparison.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

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