- Stripe co-founders John Collison and his brother Patrick Collison are two of Business Insider’s 100 people transforming business.
- Stripe, founded in 2010, has a private valuation of over $20 billion — making it the most valuable financial technology startup in the world.
- Collison says that Stripe’s international footprint, its developer-friendliness, and its dedication to fixing real problems, have attracted customers like Amazon and Microsoft, who use its tech to power at least some of its payments infrastructure.
- In the long term, Collison says, Stripe has the potential to break the reliance of industries like tech and publishing on advertising as a business model.
- See the full list of Business Insider’s 100 people transforming business here.
Stripe started in 2010 with a simple idea from brothers and co-founders Patrick and John Collison: Give developers a simple way to take credit card payments from within their apps and websites, using just a few lines of code.
From there, Stripe has grown into a linchpin of the app economy. It’s added new features like Stripe Radar, which helps detect and prevent credit card fraud, Stripe Issuing, which helps customers issue their own debit cards, and even Stripe Atlas, which helps automate the complicated process of actually starting a company.
Its developer-friendly approach has won it customers of all sizes: Target, Amazon, Microsoft, Warby Parker, and others rely on Stripe’s products to take at least some payments. It has strong momentum with investors, as well, with a private valuation of over $20 billion — making it the most valuable financial technology startup in the world. John Collison himself was, for a time, the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, before Kylie Jenner claimed the title.
"We have the mission of increasing the GDP of the internet, and fortunately, we are not running out of things to do there," John Collison, president of Stripe, told Business Insider in a recent interview.
Collison says that a big trend at Stripe over the last year or two has been the company getting "dragged upmarket" by its customers.
"Traditionally, when people think Stripe, they think startups, and that’s certainly where we got our start," says Collison. Recently though, large public companies, including tech titans like Salesforce and Slack, have turned to Stripe to help expand their payments capabilities.
In Collison’s view, it’s similar to how even the largest companies are increasingly moving towards cloud computing. They have the capital, and the resources, to run their own data centers — but no matter how much cash they throw in, their infrastructure will likely never be as large-scale or cutting-edge as that of the tech titans.
Perhaps ironically, this is part of why even Amazon and Microsoft, who run those major cloud platforms, are turning to Stripe. Collison says that while the largest tech companies definitely have the expertise to build similar services for their own use, Stripe has a focus – and an international footprint — that just makes it easier and more efficient to use.
The international opportunity
Stripe’s international footprint is a big piece of the puzzle, Collison says. The company currently operates in at least 25 countries, and recently opened a engineering center in Dublin, Ireland, about a two hour drive from where the Collison brothers grew up. That engineering center is important, Collison says, as a step towards making sure that all of Stripe’s important product decisions aren’t solely made from within the United States.
This is important, ultimately, because it’s really hard for companies to take international payments — and so, many don’t even try, Collison says. If Stripe really wants to grow the internet economy, Collison says, it has to be committed to helping customers solve that problem.
"The internet is expanding, and the markets [customers] want to address are expanding," says Collison. "That’s kind of what we do, with the payments infrastructure we have," he continued.
In a competitive sense, Collison says that he watches the movements of competitors like PayPal, Adyen, Square, and WePay "keenly," especially as they add more features and technology that go head-to-head with some or all of Stripe’s product lineup.
At the same time, he says, the opportunity is such that the major limitation on Stripe’s growth is its own ability to follow through on its plan and keep helping customers all over the world move money around. In that sense, he says, Stripe’s focus is on continuing to add new features and tools that solve specific customer needs, and making sure that its technology is as friendly to developers as possible.
"We are really obsessed with the rate of business growth, and rate of economic growth, in the internet economy," Collison says.
‘We can change the trajectory of the internet economy’
Looking out into the much longer-term, Collison sees Stripe as capable of shifting the economic balance of power in the tech industry. Right now, the major way that most consumer internet services and publishers make money is by advertising, with Google and Facebook leading the way. There’s no rule that this is how it has to be, though, he says.
"The internet economy is very advertising focused," says Collison. "And it doesn’t have to be this way."
It was reported last year that in America, the entire podcasting industry — which is mostly all driven by advertising — is worth $314 million. In China, however, that same market was at an estimated $7.3 billion, which Collison credits to the fact that most podcasts in the country are supported by subscriptions and other direct forms of payment.
If Stripe can make it easier for anyone, anywhere, to make and accept payments, Collison believes that it could in turn open new opportunities for business models that go beyond just tracking users and serving ads. That, in turn, could light the path towards a new kind of internet, where the advertising business doesn’t have quite so much sway.
"If we’re successful at this, I think we can change the trajectory of the internet economy," Collison says.
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