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Patrick (left) and John.
Photographer: Balazs Gardi for Bloomberg Businessweek
Every day, Americans spend about $1.2 billion online. That figure has roughly doubled in the past five years, according to the Department of Commerce, and it’s likely to double again in the next five as the internet continues to devour traditional retail. So it might come as a surprise that the web’s financial infrastructure is old and slow. 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. Much of the software that processes the transactions is decades old, and the more modern bits are written by banks, credit card companies, and financial middlemen, none of whom are exactly winning hackathons for elegant coding.
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 product was a hit with Silicon Valley startups. Businesses such as Lyft, Facebook, DoorDash, and thousands that aspired to be like them turned Stripe into the financial backbone of their operations.