What do you do when you’re barely 30, a paper billionaire and it still all looks to be upside from here?
Patrick (31) and John Collison (29) lead relatively modest, quiet lives. The elder of the two has taken to social activism, part time, on the issue of planning and affordable housing.
But otherwise, the two Limerick brothers remain maddeningly uncontroversial and grounded, despite attaining a paper value that is scarcely imaginable to most of us. (For about a year, John held the title as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.)
This is somewhat against the rules for proprietors of the top 0.01pc global tech firms. Generally, we like our tech titans to be arrogant (Musk), outrageous (McAfee), enigmatic (Dorsey) or politically outspoken (Benioff). At a minimum, they should be socially awkward and occasionally prone to massive missteps (Gates, Zuckerberg).
But none of these things look to have caught on with Stripe’s founders, despite being relatively accessible on social media platforms such as Twitter.
While they figure out their potential future trademark personal vices and quirks, their company continues an ascent which is unprecedented for any Irish industrialist.
The company they founded in 2009 is now the most valuable ever Irish-made enterprise (albeit one based in the US). It has a market value of $35.2bn which is 50pc more than Ireland’s most successful industrial firm, CRH. This puts estimates of their wealth on paper up to $4.2bn each.
The next 12 to 24 months may bring Stripe’s biggest financial step to date.
Because of its enormous ‘decacorn’ (over $10bn) valuation, Stripe is now far too big for all but a tiny handful of giant corporations to consider acquiring, even if the Collisons were minded to sell (they have consistently said they are not).
That leaves two options: stay private or file for an IPO.
Right now, Wall Street looks like it is expecting the latter. Stripe is increasingly tagged as a likely IPO candidate for 2020. It is “ripe for an initial public offering”, as the New York financial firm, Manhattan Venture Research, put it earlier this month.
They’re not the only ones. Most venture-funded companies have a period of five to seven years before investors seek a definitive return, either through acquisition or flotation. Stripe is now in that zone for many of its investors. That there is no public sign of pressure from the same investors may be down to the one-way bet most of them feel they’ve backed.
Besides, would either of the two Collisons relish the public scrutiny and haggling that quarterly disclosures would bring? All of the indications they have given in recent years is that they would not. From interviews over the years, the question of a huge personal payday seems to be beside the point. Both are intellectually restless and driven to fix problems.
On a stage at a conference over 10 years ago, John ditched his prepared remarks and just live-coded a fix to a problem in front of the audience.
The process itself, together with a problem solved, appears to be the reward.
That won’t stop either increasing their net worth along the way. Stripe’s growth is as consistent as it is relentless.
“We’re growing at massive scale, now processing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of transactions every year with millions of customers,” said Eileen O’Mara, Stripe’s revenue and growth lead for Europe, the Middle East and Africa in a recent interview with this newspaper.
Stripe’s growth is online commerce’s growth. Its code is now embedded in thousands of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing online firms.
If things stay this way, both brothers may soon be Ireland’s richest citizens.