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How Block (Square) avoided death by Amazon


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Block co-founder Jim McKelvey.

CNBC | NBC Universal | Getty Images

BARCELONA — In 2014, Amazon launched a product that sounded strikingly similar to something already on offer from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s payments company Square, which is today known as Block.

It was called Amazon Register, and it would let small businesses accept credit card payments using a smartphone or tablet computer, just like Block’s technology. There was one key difference, though: Amazon offered processing fees of as low as 1.75%, compared to the 2.75% rate from Block.

“We were still a startup, and Amazon copied our product and undercut our price,” Jim McKelvey, who co-founded Block with Dorsey in 2009, said during a fireside discussion with CNBC at the Mobile World Congress tech show.

“When Amazon does this to a start-up, the start-up dies,” he added. “When Amazon did that to Square, we were terrified.”

Block wasn’t unique in facing possible “death by Amazon.” The e-commerce giant has waded into several industries over the years, from cloud computing to TV and films. A number of retailers have been…

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