Lifetime Achievement Award: The Collison Brothers

Self-made millionaires from their early teens, the Collison brothers have faced a meteoric rise to the top of the fintech industry with Stripe

Patrick & John Collison are the renowned sibling duo who co-founded fintech’s highest-valued company, Stripe. 

Founded in 2009 – when they were but 21 and 19, respectively – both Collisons’ net worth exceeded $1bn before they’d even reached 30. Receiving a market valuation of US$95bn at the end of 2022, Stripe is now the world’s leading fintech company. But how did the brothers get there? 

Born in Dromineer

Raised in Dromineer, a small town in Ireland’s County Tipperary, it’s almost fitting that the tech-giant siblings grew up with limited access to the internet, needing the help of satellite links to access the world wide web. As such, the internet represented “a connection to the greater world” for Patrick and “had a lot of significance”.  

Despite the disadvantage, the brothers showed signs of success in tech from an early age. Patrick was taking computing courses at the University of Limerick aged eight, before going on to win the 41st Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition award at 16 for his LISP-type programming language software, Croma. 

Starting up 

Patrick and John set up the software company Shuppa aged 19 and 17 respectively in Limerick. In need of funding, the brothers had no luck with Enterprise Ireland but did receive interest from Y Combinator, of Silicon Valley.

Shuppa was then merged with the startup of two Oxford graduates, Harjeet and Kulveer Taggar, becoming Auctomatic – a software-as-a-service platform allowing big sellers on eBay to track inventory and traffic. The quartet also developed an iPhone app to provide an offline version of Wikipedia, before the company was sold to Live Current Media for $5mn in March 2008. 

A gap in the market

Becoming teenage millionaires, Patrick dropped out of the Massachusetts Technology Institution to take on the role of Auctomatic’s director of engineering. It was at this point, following the brothers’ experiences with Auctomatic, that “the online payments industry was an unusually compelling example of an entire industry that is going to have its lunch eaten”.

The brothers had already found a gap in the market by finding solutions for big eBay sellers, so in 2010 they did it again with Stripe, simplifying payment acceptance on any app or website without the need for ecommerce operators to obtain licences or strike deals with various banks. Stripe did it all for them, levying a 2.9% fee in return.

There were early admirers, too, with PayPal co-founders Elon Musk and Peter Thiel investing $2mn in Stripe alongside investment firms SV Angel, Sequoia Capital, and Andreessen Horowitz in 2011.

Rise of the Collison brothers

The Collison brothers would only have to wait five years before becoming the world’s then-youngest self-made billionaires after investment from Capital G and General Catalyst Partners took the company’s valuation up to $9.2bn – taking their net worth to a respective $1.1bn in 2016. 

The investment didn’t stop there, with a further $150mn funding round raising the Collisons’ worth to $3.2bn the following year. And, in 2019, investments of $250mn saw Stripe’s valuation soar to $35bn. 

Notwithstanding the unprecedented growth rate of the company, John said to the Irish Independent in 2020: “We're still quite early in Stripe’s journey. And when I say that, you might roll your eyes, given that we've been at this for 10 years. But we’re still growing at quite a fast rate and still investing very heavily in future growth.” 

This rate of expansion appears to have accelerated faster than either sibling expected: in 2022, Stripe received a public valuation of $95bn – more than double its worth just three years prior. 

Giving back

Despite Stripe’s rise to become the gold standard of fintech unicorns, Patrick and John have been keen to uphold the company’s core values. “We’re not a glamorous business, just an infrastructure company that hopefully we’ll be able to compound for a long time,” Patrick told Forbes.

Words are nothing without action, and the Collison brothers keep to their modest self-assessment of business management with a hands-on approach. Both still review every product launched and complete friction logs to ensure the user experience of their payment solutions remains a friendly one. 

Philanthropy, too, has been core to the Collisons’ ethos as fintech billionaires. Their company contributed $1mn to the pro-housing-development lobbying organisation California YIMBY and offers a fee discount to non-profit organisations. 

Looking forward

Though the company’s growth rate may have been overvalued – with its latest round of funding in 2023 pricing Stripe at $50bn, as opposed to the $95bn market valuation touted in 2022 – it’s clear that Stripe remains the largest fintech in the world. And, if the Collisons are to be believed that Stripe is still in its early days, then it will surely remain in the upper echelons of the fintech unicorn table for some years to come. 

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