Stripe CEO Patrick Collison on Crypto, China, and Fixing the Web

Patrick Collison, cofounder of online payment system Stripe, thinks that even with its wide-ranging and well-documented problems, the internet is still amazing.

“The key question—why aren’t things getting better faster—is something that we should be totally obsessed with,” he said.

Collison talked about the state of the web—and the financial world—during a conversation with WIRED editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson at the WIRED 25 conference in San Francisco on Friday.

Stripe facilitates online payments between consumers and businesses. Companies used to have to partner with vendors and banks in order to process credit card payments. But with Stripe, a company can stay more nimble by offloading its whole payment process to Stripe’s cloud-based system—for a small fee of course.

In 2010, Collison and his brother John forged Stripe in the belly of famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator. Since then, the start-up has become a payment heavyweight. More than 3,000 companies use its platform, and Stripe is valued at $35 billion.

While Stripe works with many of the world’s biggest companies—Google, Amazon, Salesforce—Collison wants to give smaller businesses the tools to compete on level ground with the larger ones. To that end, the company introduced Stripe Atlas in 2016. It’s a platform that enables start-ups anywhere in the world to incorporate in the US, so that they can have an easier time processing payments from US consumers. Add a payroll system that allows companies to pay employees instantly, and the financial aspects of running a small business become a whole lot smoother.

Collison said that Atlas is a key part of Stripe’s strategy in risky markets, allowing it to engage with businesses and consumers without entering those markets directly. China is a good example. “We enable people who use Alipay and WePay to transact with businesses outside of China,” he said. ”So we do business with Chinese consumers, but Stripe has no office in China.”

Tipping the Scales

Earlier this year, Stripe was involved in Facebook’s plan to launch the Libra cryptocurrency association. Stripe ended up pulling out of Libra after regulators increased their scrutiny and other backers got cold feet.

When Thompson asked Collison why Stripe walked away from Libra, the CEO said that Stripe has a vested interest in established financial systems, but that cryptocurrency is not part of the company’s business model. “I’m very skeptical of anyone who’s adamant that crypto’s gonna work,” Collison said, adding that he still feels companies need to be able to try new things, even if they have a good chance of failing.

Collison previously spoke to WIRED about his optimism and near-obsession with progress. When asked if he still has his rosy outlook, Collison hesitated.

“Problems can be solved with knowledge, not with just thinking that everything’s gonna be fine,” he said.

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