Stripe’s David Singleton: ‘We are building the future of commerce’

16 Feb 2018

Stripe’s head of engineering, David Singleton. Image: Stripe

Wherever commerce is going, Stripe is working on it, and its new engineering hub in Dublin will be at its heart, says head of engineering David Singleton.

Before joining Stripe in December 2017, Belfast native David Singleton served as Android Wear’s VP of engineering at Google and was known as the internet giant’s ‘smartwatch king’.

During his 11-year career at Google, he also worked on integrating voice search into apps and on publisher products for Google AdSense.

‘Many companies treat Dublin as a back office for Europe. But, given the depth of talent we are seeing, we see Dublin as much more than that’

In recent weeks, reported that payments giant Stripe is to locate its first engineering office outside of San Francisco in the Silicon Docks area of Dublin to spearhead international development of its technology.

No precise number has been put on the number of roles that will be created but the engineering team is likely to grow to at least a “few dozen” engineers within the first few years, in addition to the 100 Stripe employees already based in Dublin. Globally, Stripe employs more than 900 people.

Valued at more than $9bn in 2016, Stripe was founded eight years ago by the Collison brothers from Limerick when Patrick was 22 and John was 19.

The company’s technology platform enables hundreds of thousands of businesses to securely accept payments and create new revenue streams.

The 45,000 sq ft The One Building, where Stripe’s Dublin offices are based, was designed by Irish architect Sam Stephenson and was recently redeveloped by Jones Investments, the company that redeveloped Dock Mill on Barrow Street, which was sold to Google.

Stripe is now one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the Silicon Valley scene and the company has received investment from major tech titans including Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Sequoia Capital, CapitalG, Visa and American Express, to name a few.

Stripe’s David Singleton: ‘We are building the future of commerce’

Inside the Stripe Dublin offices. Image: Stripe

Tell me about Stripe’s plans for Dublin.

We’re launching our first international engineering hub in Dublin. It is the first engineering office outside of the US. Dublin is already home to our European headquarters and it is the centre from which we serve our growing user base from across Europe.

We already have about 100 people working in our office in Dublin and they work on things from user support to sales and operations, and now engineering.

We’ll be adding a few dozen engineers over the next couple of years and, given the heritage of our company – the founders being Irish – it means a lot to bring engineering, which is core at Stripe, back home to Ireland.

The first team that we are going to put in Dublin is actually the very core of Stripe – it is our payments product. The engineering team will focus on building core payments functionality for our user base globally but with a focus on Europe.

Our focus on building tools for developers is what has made Stripe the go-to solution for accepting payments if you are growing an innovative technology business. We are building the future of commerce.

We’re excited that the Dublin team is going to work on features that will make that payments product even better and even more valuable for our users around the world.

How does Stripe keep its finger on the pulse of payments innovation?

Because we focus on developers and are the natural choice for a new internet start-up setting up, we find that the most innovative companies run on Stripe and we take that as a real hint as to where commerce is going. We are really listening carefully to the needs of those customers, and work with those early-stage and potentially very fast-growth companies.

I think it really does give us a unique insight into what the bleeding edge of this technology is going to be.

We’ve also worked hard to make sure we experiment with innovative technologies. For instance, Connect, our product for marketplaces. One of the very first marketplace companies in the world ran on Stripe and they were doing really interesting things that we didn’t expect when they were getting started with their accounts. And we talked with them to understand what they were really trying to do, and then build a first-class support for those features.

Wherever commerce is going, our users know, and they know we will build it for them.

You can be a small group of people in Killorglin and start an internet business, integrate Stripe and you’ll be able to accept payments really quickly and easily. And, as your internet business grows, Stripe has powerful tools that will stay at the forefront of payments, innovation and services like that, and you will be able to compete with the leaders in Silicon Valley and be able to future-proof your business.

Stripe is a company founded by developers and led by developers. As director of engineering, that must make your job very interesting?

They are brilliant, obviously, and it is tremendously fun and energising to work with John and Patrick. But, also, a lot of the traits of creativity and passion are common to everybody who works at Stripe.

Tremendous innovation, tremendous focus on the needs of our users – I find this an amazingly energising environment to work in and I’m definitely having a lot of fun here.

What are the qualities of the company that set it apart from other players in the digital space?

Stripe has really dedicated developer focus, and we are focused on making sure that the process of actually using the product is extremely well thought through.

We’ve been very thoughtful in the design of both the technical underpinnings, the API, and also what end users will see.

I think anyone who experiences the API very quickly understands that the folks at Stripe have really understood the needs of businesses and we’ve brought that into all of the APIs they can use in a very flexible and powerful way. That provides tremendous competence if you integrate Stripe into something that understands your needs today and will continue to grow with you and understand your needs in the future.

What roads led you to Google and then on to Stripe?

I was born in Belfast and grew up there, and I still have family in Belfast and Dublin as well.

I learned how to program when I was living back in Ireland and took myself off to England, worked in the early days of mobile in a mobile operating system company, and then I spent a long time at Google where I was leading teams both in the UK and in California.

What brought me to Stripe was that, throughout all my time working in technology, I found that the things I got most excited about were where I could use computers or write a computer program to serve the needs of a business.

My parents had a small business when I was growing up and I used programming to solve a lot of problems for them.

I could just see the impact that was having on their business, that they could spend much less time doing admin, and focus on doing the stuff that they could do well because they knew the business.

With that thread going through me, I’m very excited to continue that – albeit at a hugely increased scale – to really focus on building tools to create the economic infrastructure for the internet. I’m thrilled to be able to help businesses to get started that otherwise might not, and allow them to work at a bigger scale than they otherwise could accomplish.

What factors make Dublin a good place to locate a global engineering hub?

When I think about what we are going to be doing in Dublin, it is going to be an exciting place for great engineers in Ireland and across Europe to come to because of that mission.

I’m looking forward to having a team that is focused right in the core of the product.

Specifically, we are looking to hire a head of engineering for Europe as well as managers and engineers to work on the API, and full-stack engineers to work across the whole product.

If you think about it, many companies treat Dublin as a back office for Europe. But, given the depth of talent we are seeing, we see Dublin as much more than that.

We are investing in the very core of Stripe engineering over the long term from Dublin.

I’m really excited that Ireland’s open door policy to talent coming in to the country and the pro-business culture has ultimately set up Ireland to be long-term winners, and other countries can learn from its example.

Being open to global talent and also having a sociopolitical climate where it just feels like a very inclusive and welcoming place to be is an example that Ireland can set for the rest of the world.

I am based in San Francisco. We will be hiring a head of engineering for Europe who will be based in Europe, and I will visit as often as I can and I know the team will make a global impact from Dublin.

We need a global team in order to build the best products for a global business. So, having the engineering presence in Ireland will make it possible to accelerate the pace of serving our users.

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