Celtic Tigers

Issue 08-07-17   |   Reviewer:   Bob Cohen, MBA


For years, the explosive growth of e-commerce has outpaced the underlying technology; companies wanting to set up shop have had to go to a bank, a payment processor, and “gateways” that handle connections between the two. This takes weeks, lots of people, and fee after fee. In 2010, Patrick and John Collison, brothers from rural Ireland, began to debug this process. Their company, Stripe Inc., built software that businesses could plug into websites and apps to instantly connect with credit card and banking systems and receive payments. The company now handles tens of billions of dollars in Internet transactions annually, making money by charging a small fee on each one.

Seven years in, however, Stripe’s mission is less to send more books, vacuums, and grooming kits into the world than to “increase the GDP of the internet,” Patrick says. To do this, the company is beginning to move beyond payments by writing software that helps companies retool the way they incorporate, pay workers, and detect fraud. It’s part of an ambitious bid to revamp how online business has been conducted for 20 years and to give anyone with a bright idea a chance to compete. Today, Stripe is the financial engine for more than 100,000 businesses. It stores key financial information such as credit card numbers, deals with fraud, and adds support for new services such as Apple Pay as they arise.

Three years ago, Stripe had 80 employees. Now it has 750. The Collisons’ plan is to bundle new tools into the core product to make that 2.9 percent fee seem even more reasonable. One feature, Radar, is a fraud- detection system. Radar comes free, but Stripe wants to find ways to charge monthly fees for add-ons and look more like a traditional software company, with services helping high-profit payments roll in month after month. In a recent trip to the Middle East, Patrick met with both Israeli and Palestinian tech entrepreneurs to explore opportunities for further growth. While Israeli companies appear to be thriving, their counterparts in Palestine have had to contend with travel restrictions, a 2G cellular network, and poor access to investors. Patrick’s pitch made it clear that Stripe wants to expand its business in Palestine and anywhere else entrepreneurs need help, adding, “We are drawn by places that the rest of the world tends to underestimate.”

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