Patrick Collison

Co-founder of Stripe

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 17, 2015


Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
Hi all. I grew up in Ireland, started programming when I was 13 (first language: PHP), attended school for physics and math for a while, and then dropped out (or, rather, took a leave of absence -- hi Mom) to start Stripe with my brother John in the summer of 2010. So, we've now been working on Stripe for around five years. We're now 340 people serving developers in 25 countries, handling billions of dollars every year on behalf of hundreds of thousands of businesses. Favorite programming languages: Common Lisp/Scheme, Smalltalk, Mathematica Favorite books: Can't pick favorites, but some good ones: Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering, Metamagical Themas.
Amir Pakzadian@amirp · Sr PM @ Amazon / Founder of
@patrickc Hi Patrick, I saw a video (of you or your brother) mentioning that Stripe doesn't have Product Managers. I noticed now on your job board there is a PM position. Can you elaborate on why you guys saw a need to hire PMs? Also what sort of qualities are you looking for in these PMs?
Ben Brown@bebrown2 · Senior Consultant, First Annapolis
@amirp This is a really interesting question... I hope @patrickc answers!
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@amirp I think a proper answer to this would have to be pretty long. I think the summary is something along the lines of: as Stripe has grown, the amount of useful non-engineering work has grown faster than the number of engineers. There are probably two reasons for that: one, we now have a large business to run, and two, there's more coordination required (between different parts of the companies, external partners, etc.). So, I think the weightings in the trade-off have shifted. (That doesn't mean we were necessarily right back then, though -- maybe we should have had product managers in the past too.) In terms of what we're looking for, we've tried to lay it out fairly clearly in the job description :-). But if any part of that seems ambiguous or missing something, that'd definitely be helpful to know...
Brian Roemmele@brianroemmele · CEO, Founder, Alchemist, Metaphysician
@patrickc @amirp Patrick, Great answer sir!
Amir Pakzadian@amirp · Sr PM @ Amazon / Founder of
@patrickc @amirp Makes perfect sense. Thank you!
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@patrickc @amirp interesting answer.
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
@patrickc Hey Patrick! The developer onboarding for Stripe is REALLY GOOD. How did you get to that point? What were you measuring for success?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@mscccc We just built what seemed sensible to us as developers. In terms of onboarding in particular, I think it's less the case that Stripe has amazing insights so much as it is that everything else is so damn complicated. We just stripped away everything that seemed unnecessary. Slicehost was a particular inspiration to us here. The first version of the Stripe dashboard lived at, as a nod to They really *nailed* the VPS experience long before anyone else did. (And thanks for the kind words!)
jack rometty@rometty_ · student
Hey Patrick! I have wanted to ask you about books for some time! (ikr, dont laugh) 1: Which book gave you a perspective you wouldn't have otherwise aquired? 2: Which book occupied your mind for the longest time post-completion? 3: What's your favorite city planning book? :)
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@rometty_ 1. All of the good ones do that to some degree, so it's hard to pick particular ones. For example, Philippe Legrain's book on immigration -- which I recommend -- first made me realize that immigrants are a resource that countries should be *competing* for, and that skepticism around immigration is so crazy. Something similar goes for Calum Robert's book about oceans and their destruction. I'll come back and edit this as I think of other good/powerful examples. 2. Will come back if I think of a good answer. 3. Easy -- A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander.
jack rometty@rometty_ · student
@patrickc @rometty_ thanks, I'm excited to check these out! :)
ben johnston@benjohnstonsf · engineer, cloverpop
@patrickc @rometty_ *Callum. Great recommendation Patrick. -
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
@patrickc @rometty_ great answer on the Immigration book ...and now it's featured on Product Hunt :-) Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them
JJ Tang@jjrichardtang
Hey Patrick! Thanks for being here today 🙌 I have a couple questions: a) If you could time travel back to day one of Stripe and have 15min with your former self to communicate any lessons you've acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heart ache, what would you tell yourself? b) What is something you might believe in that others find crazy/insane/out of the ordinary? Bonus question: - Favourite emoji and why? 🤓 - Who do you think of as successful and why?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@jjrichardtang a) In a situation, do whatever you'll wish you'd done when looking back in a decade. This applies both to major decisions and in how you act yourself and how you treat others. Bonus: be nice. Niceness, in my opinion, is underrated (probably because it's hard to measure) but has highly compounding benefits. b) Hmm. I strongly believe in open immigration policies. Pursuing them would be one of the best things we could do for the world. Not sure if that's crazy but it's at least (sadly) out of the ordinary. Choosing a favorite emoji would be harder than choosing a favorite book so I'm going to have to demur on that one. In terms of who I think of as successful, so many examples. There are a lot of obvious answers. Bob Noyce and Alan Kay are two in our industry who are still somewhat underappreciated, I think.
Justin Womersley@jwomers · Founder,
Hi Patrick! I'd love to know how you got through the initial period of developing Stripe and raising money - in hindsight Stripe's products are just so far ahead of the others in terms of usability, but I could imagine pitching the idea to investors you might get a lot of pushback that this was a "solved" problem with Braintree/PayPal etc. How did you get past this point? Thanks!
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@jwomers Yes, that part was absolutely tricky. And a lot of investors *did* take that view -- we got plenty of rejections. I'd actually love to hear the answer of the folks who did end up investing. 5-8 investors turned us down but Peter Thiel and Sequoia said yes. My guess is that they were betting on the rise of developer influence within larger organizations and on the difference that great technology can make in terms of the products it enables. (As in, to believe that all of the options are the same is in some way a pessimistic view in terms of how much technology can matter.) But that's just my speculation.
@patrickc If you had unlimited time and were forced to start a second company in the next 12 months, what field, area, or sector would you explore outside of payments? What problem do you think really needs to be solved?
Lejla Bajgoric@lejlahunts · Intern, Product Hunt
Hey Patrick! What do you think the next big disruptive product in relation to the economic infrastructure will be/should be -- whichever you feel more comfortable answering. Thanks!
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@lejlahunts Things that make it easier to circumvent the problems caused by physical and political borders. As the world becomes more interconnected, they're an increasingly problematic/leaky abstraction.
Wanna Migrate@wannamigrate · Founder @ Wanna Migrate
@patrickc Hi Patrick, thanks for your time! We are from a remote part of Brazil and have just been rejected on our interview for YC last week, but it was a good validation to get there. We received an offer from another accelerator this week so I want to ask you if you think Stripe would have had the same level of progress if you had joined a different accelerator (other than YC).
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@wannamigrate I think YC is hard to beat. I doubt any accelerator can be the best fit for *every* company -- and there could be some particular industry or geographic considerations that you should weigh. (And I'm no expert in the accelerators for other industries.) But for us in particular, I'm sure that we would not have made as much progress had we not been part of YC. Being part of the community of other companies was critically helpful in the early days.
stevewaffles@_stevewaffles · Engineering at Torchlight
Hi Patrick, any plans to implement a way to do micro-transactions?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@_stevewaffles No immediate plans but we've long been very interested in it. I think the issue is more than just pricing, though.
stevewaffles@_stevewaffles · Engineering at Torchlight
@patrickc @_stevewaffles Looking forward to what Stripe has in store in the future!
Danielle Newnham@daniellenewnham · Founder, The Junto Network. Author
Hi Patrick - I have 2 questions for you (3 if I was to pester you about your book list again... (gentle reminder!)) 1/ I understand you started coding young ~ what first sparked your interest in tech? 2/ What kind of upbringing / environment encouraged the curiosity and entrepreneurialism which has led you and your brother on the path you have taken?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@daniellenewnham 1/ It was always something that I was interested in -- I don't really have a better answer than that. I used to borrow books about the internet from the local library before we had a computer because even just *reading* about it was fascinating. Once I started programming (I just bought a book about PHP one Saturday -- written by @LarryUllman, who now works at Stripe!), I fell in love with it and proceeded to spend a large fraction of the subsequent decade on it. 2/ We had a very rural upbringing and supportive/encouraging parents who had also started small businesses themselves. The latter part of that was obviously helpful in making starting a company seem like a completely boring and normal thing to do. When we were very young, our playing often involved made-up companies that we "worked" at, in the same way that we'd probably have played doctor had either of our parents worked as physicians. I think the slight isolation (there wasn't much to do in the evenings except read, play together, and -- later -- program) might actually have been helpful for encouraging us to go deep in particular areas. (It's very hard to definitively attribute any of this stuff, though, since you can't know the counterfactual...)
Mike Douglas@mikedouglas · Software Eng., A Thinking Ape
@patrickc If you could deliver a book to every doorstep in Silicon Valley tomorrow, which one would you pick and why?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@mikedouglas The Dream Machine by Mitchel Waldrop. The history behind how we got here is so interesting and so few people understand it properly.
Michael Wee@theweester · Engineer
@patrickc Hey Patrick! Love the work you've been doing at Stripe. How did you come up with the idea for Stripe and what made you decide that it was the one worth pursuing (versus other projects you could have tackled)? If you weren't working on Stripe, what would you be doing? Have a good one! :)
Michael Lee@mikehlee_ · Product Designer @ Sunrun
Thanks for joining us! I used to use Stripe when I worked on my own startups and loved the simplicity from the dev side to the consumer side. It's clear that great design is evident in your products. When did you feel great design is super important for Stripe's success, did this start from the beginning or did you invest more in design later during Stripe's growth?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@mikehlee_ We always felt that both UX and UI design were very important. We were able to do an okay job at the UX stuff but we spent months and months -- almost a year -- trying to hire our first visual designer. While it was underrated in importance by the community as a whole for a long time, it seems that the developer community has now realized that programmers deserve great design too. Things like React and Hashicorp's products are as nicely-designed as any company website.
Matt Nish@mattnish · Co-Founder @ Bonsai
What were the early days of Stripe like? Were there any major product pivots at that stage of the company? How long did it take to get a prototype out, get your first 10 customers, get your first 100 customers, and what stage were you at when you got into Y Combinator?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@mattnish There were no major pivots. The main change was becoming increasingly aware of just how much potential there was in this direction... we initially thought of Stripe as a nice and hopefully useful developer tool. As we explored the space, though, we came to realize that its potential impact could be huge -- when you took account of the aggregate importance of what we could help enable and how we could change what could be built. We were very small for a long time. We were in private beta for nearly two years and, in that time, we had less than 100 live customers. There was a *lot* of pre-launch honing and refinement. This is a tangent, but I think one of the inadequately-acknowledged problems in our industry is how users make product iteration harder. Unix has so many bad design decisions that are hard to unwind because Unix is so successful. Lua is a much nicer language than JavaScript; JavaScript can't move nearly as quickly because it has users. So, success is double-edged and you've to work *very* hard to avoid the problems it creates.
Matt Nish@mattnish · Co-Founder @ Bonsai
@patrickc thanks for the response! "I think one of the inadequately-acknowledged problems in our industry is how users make product iteration harder" -- Totally agree. I think too many people believe product launching/development is black and white, and that more people trying it out as soon as possible is best, but backwards compatibility/smoothly transitioning those users makes it increasingly difficult to change directions/tech.
Jeff Huber@jeffreyhuber · Founder, Standard Cyborg
@patrickc I've always been impressed with the intellectual depth of the content you share about. how do keep your pipeline full for that? recs from friends? blogs? etc
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@jeffreyhuber Glad you enjoy it (though I think I tweet enough inane stuff that I'm not sure I deserve the compliment). I do want to use this opportunity to call out a few things I really like, though: Slate Star Codex (blog), Pocket (app), Shtetl Optimized (blog), Marginal Revolution (blog), @pmarca's feed, NBER working papers (@NBERpubs), @seanmcarrol, @statnews, and @dgmacarthur. All of them are great sources of fascinating material. I'll update this answer if I think of other particularly good ones.
Jourdan Bul-lalayao@jourdanb21 · Co-Founder & CTO, Jobox
@patrickc Hey Patrick!! Thanks for chatting with us on Product Hunt! I've used the Stripe API at both of my jobs after college and it definitely does make the accepting of payments very easy :). So thanks for building it! My question is intentionally vague as I'd love for you to answer based on your interpretation of the question! If you had only one tip to share with entrepreneurs on how to build a successful startup, what is your absolute #1 tip?
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@jourdanb21 That one is easy: nail the product. :-) Nearly everything else can be solved along the way. But the product *has* to be great.
David Diamond@david_diam · Product designer
Hey Patrick, do you think living in Ireland was a disadvantage when starting Stripe? I know our startup community is only in it's infancy and there certainly is a lack of events and things around, especially with the Web Summit moving to Lisbon. I'd love to hear about your experience of Ireland while starting up. Cheers
Patrick Collison@patrickc · Cofounder, Stripe
@david_diam We actually lived in the US when we started Stripe. That said, I think it would have been very challenging to start Stripe in Ireland. (I wrote a post about this on my site, over at (Permalinks are currently broken because $reasons involving rewriting it to run on Docker...))
Sebastian Bensusan@sebasbensu · Komunike
What are the main positive/negative lessons from the open email policy?
Wen Wilson@acreerph · CEO & FOUNDER , HEALTHCITE
As a fellow Irishman, now also living here in the U.S. , have you thought of going back to Ireland to create an accelerator/incubator program?