Belfast Telegraph

Silicon Valley boss tells grads ‘not to fear failure’ as she receives honour

Inspiration: Sarah Friar
Inspiration: Sarah Friar
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

One of the most senior female business leaders in Silicon Valley urged Ulster University graduates not to be afraid of failure in an address as she picked up an honorary doctorate.

Sarah Friar, who grew up in Sion Mills, Co Tyrone, and now lives in California, is the finance director of payments company Square. Yesterday she received a Doctor of Science degree from the UU.

Square sells technology to businesses, from the small market trader up, allowing them to accept card payments from customers using just a scanner and a smartphone. The firm has now branched out into other services, including invoice and payroll.

Its mission statement is "building simple tools to help people participate and thrive in the economy".

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

Sarah's 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 said there was "lots and lots more" for Square to do to become an "omni-channel operator". The firm has also launched a cash app for sending money peer to peer.

Sarah, who is a co-founder adviser of Belfast's Ormeau Baths tech hub, said Square was becoming "quite well-known" in NI.

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Customers include St George's Market trader Flax Fox, which sells art prints of Belfast.

She said the tech industry and venture capital ecosystem here had improved but there were still issues.

"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," she said.

"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."

Sarah said she had been impressed with the calibre of graduates yesterday, but she also urged the province's two universities to work together.

"I think we're too small in Northern Ireland to have two universities that are competing. It's so much better if we can go after things together," she added.

Belfast Telegraph