Summary List Placement
They’re among the richest people on Earth, but the sibling-cofounders of Stripe aren’t ones to flaunt their wealth. For years Patrick and John Collison shared a modest two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco while also running a company worth billions of dollars. They’d rather bike than hail a car to the office in the city’s warehouse-filled SoMa district.
It’s not surprising that an Irish Examiner columnist recently wrote of the Collison family matriarch that she is deeply proud of her sons but would “rather stick pins in her eyes (than) be seen to be boasting in any way about wealth.”
The Collison brothers are sitting on a combined fortune worth $23 billion after Stripe’s latest funding round, as we previously reported, and still, they’ve come to represent the antithesis of the celebrity-founder because of their humility and modest lifestyle. Patrick once likened himself in an interview to the “publicly visible servant” of Stripe rather than its chief executive officer.
It seems Stripe’s culture is imbued with their character, based on a review of past interviews and company blog posts.
Here’s the abridged story of how two immigrants became some of the youngest and least pretentious billionaires alive.
A tale of two brothers
The brothers grew up in a small hamlet in Ireland, the eldest sons of an innkeeper and a mother who ran a corporate training company from the family’s home, according to a profile of the founders in Bloomberg. They lived 40 minutes from school and, as such, they rarely saw their friends outside of the classroom. But the brothers had each other.
They had an insatiable appetite for reading that led Patrick, the oldest, to check out a programming book from the library as a teenager. He told Bloomberg‘s Emily Chang he read about the internet long before he could access it.
The two started creating their own websites and hacking into each other’s builds, spurring them to improve, they said.
In college, the brothers slapped together a piece of software that helped individual sellers on eBay auction their items and gather insights in order to send bids higher. They sold the fledgling company for $5 million in 2008.
The teenage millionaires then dropped out of college and got to work on something new.
The brothers have said in interviews they conspired to invent a better payments process after seeing how difficult it was for online businesses to accept payments over the course of building their previous company. Still, they wondered if they were arrogant for trying to one-up the traditional financial system, all before they were legal drinking age.
“You’re trying to figure out in those early days of starting a company or starting a product, are we wrong or is the world wrong?” John said on the “How I Built This with Guy Raz” podcast.
The consensus is that they were right beyond measure.
“They have the advantage of coming to California without being tainted and polluted by what’s in the water supply and air of Silicon Valley,” Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia, an early investor in Stripe, previously told Bloomberg.
“There’s such an improbability to their story — that these brothers from a little village would come to build what could well be one of the most important companies on the internet,” Moritz said.
We launched Stripe 9 years ago today. Thanks to everyone who bet on us since then! pic.twitter.com/qWzdPMeV7Z
— Patrick Collison (@patrickc) September 29, 2020
The older Collison is quiet and cerebral, known for his programming instincts and footnotes in emails. Patrick said in an interview with Inc. that younger brother John has better adapted to the role of a startup executive. John is the high-energy salesman of the pair, who led employees in after-hours climbs in the San Francisco hills before the pandemic.
Stripe’s ethos is based on humility
Now, the brothers have spent more than a third of their lives growing Stripe into the world’s most valuable startup.
And the company culture is infused with their own particularities.
For example, Stripe has no job titles. Employees often work in teams, making it essential for employees to give peer feedback, Claire Hughes Johnson, Stripe’s chief operating officer, said on an episode of startup Lattice’s podcast.
The company has a culture of over-indexing on transparency. Email is internally public and searchable. The thinking is that if employees could find answers to their questions in a companywide inbox, they would be more effective.
Stripe employees are also encouraged to “lurk,” peering into whatever their peers are working on, according to the company’s career website, so they can learn about what’s happening in the organization and offer feedback.
It harkens back to a time when the Collisons hacked into each other’s website, in order to make them stronger.
The brothers, who are now among the 200 richest people in the world, according to Bloomberg data, remain humble.
“We were the first people to work on Stripe, and chronologically that’s interesting but so much of the great work that we do now, we’re a piece of it but we’re not the most important piece of it,” Patrick once told the Financial Times.
Stripe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Are you a Stripe insider with insight to share? Contact Melia Russell via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at (603) 913-3085. Open DMs on Twitter @meliarobin.