Thursday 12 December 2019

Collisons 'bet big' on Dublin with new hub for payments giant Stripe

Limerick-born brothers Patrick and John Collison, co-founders of Stripe
Limerick-born brothers Patrick and John Collison, co-founders of Stripe
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

He is one half of the most successful tech entrepreneur partnership ever to come out of Ireland, creating a company worth almost €10bn and a place among Silicon Valley's top tier.

Now, Patrick Collison (29) is returning to place a "big bet" on Dublin as the next European centre for technology.

Stripe, the payments company which is a strong competitor to PayPal, is announcing a major new engineering base in Ireland's capital.

The facility will develop "core" new technologies for the company, a function normally reserved for the San Francisco base.

Limerick-born Collison, together with younger brother John (27), could have picked Berlin, Paris or London for the critical function, all of which have international reputations for cutting-edge tech development, as well as Stripe offices.

But Collison says that Dublin is now the place to do it. Why? Because it's the best place to live.

"There's real engineering and tech talent, to be sure," he told the Irish Independent. "But as importantly, a lot of people really want to move to Dublin. It's now a cosmopolitan, desirable place to live."

This doesn't appear to be a platitude. Stripe isn't announcing a new call centre. It's creating a "core" engineering base to compare with the one it has in San Francisco. This is the type of centre that is difficult to hire for anywhere in the world, given the level of tech expertise required. It's also an unusual thing for a multinational tech company to do in Ireland.

"There's often this broader tension around companies moving operations or support to Dublin and not necessarily treating those offices as real research and development centres," said Collison.

"But we've spent time now in Dublin and are struck by how much real engineering and tech talent there is now, and how that's trending upwards. So we took a broad view on where we might base this European engineering office and have decided to place our bets on Ireland and on Dublin."

Part of the plan, he says, is to hire advanced tech engineers from "every corner of the globe", as well as locally, to create an elite engineering unit in Dublin.

As if to emphasise this, Stripe's recently hired Global Head of engineering, David Singleton, will be overseeing growth in the new Irish engineering function. Singleton is not an administrator who acts as a human resources 'country manager', but a star Silicon Valley engineer recently poached from Google, where he was in charge of the tech giant's massive Android Wear smartwatch development. His involvement is being interpreted as a signal of intent that Stripe is serious about getting top engineers into the new Dublin facility.

"Ireland is now the fastest growing technical workforce in Europe," said Singleton. "The Dublin engineering team is going to work on the core of Stripe, our payments. We see Dublin as much more than a back office for Europe and we're investing for the long term in engineering, which is really the core of Stripe and what drives our growth."

Hiring will now start with a new European head of engineering, various managers and multiple engineers.

"We'll start with payments and see what other projects we'll take up over time," said Singleton.

Together with his younger brother John, Collison founded Stripe in 2010 as an easier way for companies to accept payments online. The firm is now one of the world's most valuable financial technology companies, recently valued at almost €10bn. It employs more than 1,000 people.

Can Stripe succeed in building a top-tier engineering base in Dublin to rival centres such as London and Berlin? Collison believes it can. He says that Dublin is in a seminal moment of its industrial development.

"Silicon Valley is not pre-eminent because Silicon Valley itself produces all these great technologists," he said. "It's pre-eminent because of the people who move to Silicon Valley. Dublin now has an orientation in welcoming people from a very broad variety of countries, too.

"People come from every corner of the globe to relocate there."

However, he has also sounded a warning on infrastructure issues that could jeopardise Dublin's future as a place that can keep attracting highly skilled workers and investment.

"One of my biggest concerns is rapidly rising housing costs in Dublin and the challenges that creates for people," he said. "It's going to be to Dublin's detriment if people are priced out of the city."

Collison is not alone in expressing concern on this issue.

A recent report from the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, which represents firms such as Google and Facebook, predicted Dublin is at a "tipping point" in turning future jobs investment away because of the accommodation crisis.

It has predicted that such investment will shrivel unless at least 30,000 new apartments become available in the capital by 2022 and over 200,000 nationally.

Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office suggest big tech companies employ more than 100,000 people in Ireland and are responsible for a growing chunk of economic activity in service companies which supply the tech firms.

Despite this, Stripe is bullish on making its "bet" on Dublin for the future.

"Stripe is live in 25 countries today, but actually building an engineering presence outside the US is really going to boost our understanding of that global market," said Singleton. "Money is actually quite cultural. The way that people want to pay in the Netherlands is different to the way they want to pay in Ireland. To achieve a true product fit in every market, I think we need a diversely distributed, global engineering team. And establishing it in Dublin is our first step in doing this outside the US. I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time with the team in Dublin in order to help make the most of the investment that we'll have there."

Irish Independent

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