Patrick and John Collison: Stripe billionaires in their 30s


In 2010, two young Irish brothers explained to Peter Thiel, one of Facebook’s first funders and one of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture capitalists, why their online payment system was better than PayPal. Their start-up, now called Stripe, would dramatically simplify online payments and “increase the internet’s GDP,” they argued, in a somewhat grandiose way.

The first problem was that Stripe barely existed: Patrick and John Collison, then just 21 and 19, had hacked a prototype together while on vacation and had no experience with trading gateways or other financial mysteries.

The second problem was that Thiel had founded the very business they wanted to usurp. “I remember being very critical of PayPal,” Patrick remembers for two years. later. “Halfway through the meeting, I was like ‘hmmm, this might not be the best strategy.”

Yet Thiel was so impressed with their vision that he quickly agreed to invest. The same was true for PayPal co-founder Elon Musk and Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, a renowned technology investor and one of Google’s early funders. “It was obvious they were unusual,” Moritz says of the brothers, who grew up in the small village of Dromineer, 30 miles outside of Limerick. “It was a first in every way.”

A decade later, supporting the Collison brothers has turned out to be one of the smartest bets in the tech industry. Stripe is now valued at $ 95 billion, after raising $ 600 million this week. This makes it America’s most valuable startup, overtaking Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, and left the Collison brothers, now 32 and 30, with personal fortunes of over $ 10 billion. each, according to a person close to the company. .

“I often wonder if it is desirable to grow up in a boring place because you have to find your own interests”, John says the FT in 2014.

Yet even though it was boring growing up in a village best known for its half-ruined 13th-century castle, that’s only half the story. Because scientific intelligence, personal will and talent for business are also in the blood of the brothers.

Their father trained as an electrical engineer, working for the Irish operations of PC maker Dell, before purchasing a hotel by the lake. Their mother Lily, who trained as a microbiologist, started a corporate training business three weeks after giving birth to Patrick.

“I have always believed that the greatest gift you can give a child is that of self-confidence,” Lily wrote in a book published last year about spastic diplegia after her youngest son, Tommy, was diagnosed with bilateral cerebral palsy. “With effort, so much is possible.”

So this proved. At Castletroy College in Limerick, the two older brothers were avowed “nerds” of themselves. Patrick won the Irish Young Scientist of the Year award at age 16 for creating a new programming language. Young John broke his brother’s record for top marks the final exams in Ireland.

“They are extremely intelligent,” says Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England who joined Stripe’s board of directors in February. “Very level, very curious about this wide range of subjects. . . and very funny too.

Patrick and John left Ireland after school to go to college in the United States – but only after selling their first startup, which made software for eBay sellers, for $ 5 million in 2008 They quickly dropped out of their classes at MIT and Harvard to focus on Stripe (leaving their younger brother Tommy, who now works at a start-up that teaches coding online, with the distinction of being the only brother of Collison after graduating from college).

Yet Stripe was just one of many projects Patrick and John were developing then, including an offline version of Wikipedia, the web encyclopedia. “These are definitely types of hyperlinks,” Carney adds. “If you bring up a topic with them, it gets to a level of detail and sophistication pretty quickly.”

Now living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Patrick and John seem to have few of the usual hobbies of tech billionaires, even living together until a few years ago, when Patrick announced the Twitter that he and his fiancée had “hit our engagement metrics,” a geek joke worthy of a moan. “They are prudent, disciplined and judicious and are not prone to frivolous spending,” says Moritz. While some billionaires buy islands, Collisons are “more likely to go to a secluded place with a tent and read.”

This low-key style is also true for the company, which has grown rapidly even though it operates in a highly regulated payments industry. Working by the rules rather than breaking them, Stripe remains behind the scenes, despite processing billions of dollars in payments each year for Zoom, Deliveroo, Lyft and Instagram.

And although Stripe suspended the fundraising system behind Donald Trump’s campaign in January after the U.S. Capitol Riot, the Collisons have so far taken the company away from much of the regulatory drama and popular backlash that has engulfed other high-profile tech groups, such as Uber and Facebook.

The result is an extraordinarily successful business and two brothers who enjoy a pleasantly down-to-earth reputation. Like Waterford Whispers News, an Irish Onion-style satire site, headlined in a Object about them this week: “It’s hard to blame the success of the Collison Brothers, but we’re going to go.”

The only exception to being seemingly kind and well-adjusted human beings seems to be a family obsession with flying light aircraft. In 2017, John tweeted that he had flown a Diamond DA42 across the Atlantic, checking an item off his “bucket list”.

“I didn’t even get wet,” he joked.

tim.bradshaw@ft.com





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