Stripe is on its way to becoming a 1,000-person company, says John Collison (video)

4 Nov 2015

John Collison talking with John Kennedy at the Web Summit in Dublin. Photo: Connor McKenna

Stripe, the Silicon Valley e-commerce payments platform founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison, is growing up. It has been steadily adding a seasoned management team to prepare it for growth beyond the US.

In the past year, the company began maturing its management structure with the hiring of former Google X division executive Claire Johnson as its new head of operations.

The company also hired former Twitter executive Don O’Leary to spearhead the company’s European expansion from a base in Dublin’s Digital Hub and has been actively recruiting talented tech workers from all over Europe. The company has also hired Thrive Capital’s Will Gaybrick as its first CFO.

Stripe, started by Irish brothers John and Patrick Collison, was recently valued at $5bn after raising just under $100m from investors including card giant Visa.

Stripe was founded five years ago when Patrick was 22 and John was 19. The company has received investment from Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Sequoia Capital, Visa and American Express to name a few. Stripe enables internet sites to accept credit and debit card payments easily and without friction.

Today, the company processes billions of dollars a year for customers that include Kickstarter and Salesforce.

‘We see our mission as increasing the GDP of the internet’

Speaking with at the Web Summit in Dublin this week, John Collison said the company is on track to grow from 300 or so employees today to 1,000 people.

He said Stripe has had to mature its management team to cope with stellar growth.

“We [Patrick and I] were the first people working on Stripe and we developed a lot of the ideas but you have to be very clear on where your own limitations are and the fact that we are now a 300-person company and we will soon be approaching a 1,000-person company.

“And there are loads of things we don’t have experience doing and we want to do exceedingly well and so that’s why, last year, we hired Claire Hughes Johnson as COO, we recently hired a CFO, Will Gaybrick, and that for us is about bringing in expertise for things we don’t necessarily happen to be really good at.”

Collison believes that while Silicon Valley is the epicentre of the technology world, US companies need to locate overseas to achieve international growth.

“I don’t think any company seriously tries to scale internationally from Silicon Valley in the US. I don’t think you can have all your people in the US and build a competent international company and so we are trying to grow overseas, not just Europe, also in Australia. In Europe, we are hiring people in Dublin, London, Paris and Berlin.

“Don O’Leary, formerly of Twitter, is heading up our Dublin office here and we are starting to build out for a number of roles for our European operation – multilingual support, sales, finance – and it is going well. We are pretty excited about it.”

Taking the friction out of e-commerce

John and Patrick Collison set out to tackle the frictions involved in online payment that they believed were holding entrepreneurs and established businesses back from creating digital businesses.

“When you talk about friction, it can seem trivial, but what we mean is the effects and the knock-on effects that result in an impediment to what is happening online.

“It is so hard to start an online business that some people don’t get over that hump – or are restricted from creating an international business.

“We want to make it so easy and so, almost, default, to be getting up and running, selling online and internationally.

“We see our mission as increasing the GDP of the internet, providing the tools and infrastructure. We are not an online shop ourselves, but we are providing the infrastructure that business run on to make being an online business easier.”

If you have been paying close attention to the evolution of digital and mobile payments, Stripe has been at the heart of key evolutions such as Apple Pay and the processing of mobile payments by platforms like Twitter and Kickstarter.

“It is all part of a larger thing,” Collison explains. “If you are starting a business tomorrow, we want Stripe to be at the heart of that. If you are setting up an online shop or a software-as-a-business product or a mobile marketplace, or you are building the next Uber or Hailo, we want Stripe to give you everything you need to run that online business

“Apple Pay is one very effective piece of that puzzle where if someone is buying from you on an iPhone they no longer need to enter details by hand but just press their thumbprint sensor and they’re done. We have to think about Android users as well and so we want to provide the complete package for these online businesses, which will involve a whole lot of these components.

“There is no silver bullet or one thing that will solve everything, it is about providing those platforms that make the whole thing easy for business.”

The success code

Irish policymakers and educators are still asleep at the wheel when it comes to realising the value of ensuring coding becomes a part of the school curriculum. If there is an example of why coding matters in terms of a thriving future, the example of John and Patrick Collison’s success so far is a glaring one.

But John Collison goes a step further and says all entrepreneurs should have some coding ability.

“Learning to code is hugely useful and it is encouraging to see resources going into it. When we started out we were mostly taking resources from different places on the internet and from books, whereas there are now lots of resources.

“It’s not that you can’t start a company without knowing how to code – there are plenty of good examples – but it is so easy to just turn your thoughts to something concrete if the feedback cycle is so short you can do it yourself.

“It’s hard to create furniture without woodworking skills, similarly, if building apps or web pages it is so much better to understand the medium and build prototypes. If the business is successful the ironic thing is you are not going to end up coding, you will code yourself out of a job. I don’t write any code for Stripe today but for that initial phase where you are seeing what works or doesn’t it is really valuable to know how to code,” he concludes.

“Some of the best ideas sound kind of wonky at first or seem a little out there, but it is much better to pursue an original idea that sounds a bit weird than a clone of an existing business that will always be limited in its potential.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years