Stripe’s John Collison: “Better to be #disruptive than incumbent”

In a Melbourne fireside chat with Paul Bassat (hosted by NAB and Startup Victoria) Stripe‘s co-founder and President, John Collison offered the insight that “it’s better to be disruptive than incumbent”.

Incumbency comes with all the baggage of legacy data, semi-redundant systems, siloed business operations, and customers with long memories.

Whereas, a nimble and agile startup like Stripe can cut out inefficient and lazy business processes – especially in areas like online and mobile payment systems. And in doing so, a disruptive service can make us think, “how did we ever manage before this was invented?”

Collison was careful, though, to point out that Stripe is working with the banks, not against them, in case anyone thought his company has designs on becoming a fully fledged financial institution. “We simply want to make the payments business more efficient.”

Stripe’s approach is to leverage engineering skills and solutions “to fix first world and middle class problems”. Precisely so – why would you want to undermine the system (payments and transfers between banks and their customers) that gives rise to your very existence?

Collison also reflected that never before has it been possible for such a small number of people to create such enormous value, very quickly – citing the fact that WhatsApp had a mere 55 employees when it was acquired by Facebook earlier this year for $19bn. (Stripe itself, founded in 2010, had about 100 employees when it was valued at $1.75bn around the same time.)

While WhatsApp does not yet generate revenue, its valuation as a disruptive IM platform is largely based on a notional value per user, and what that may represent in terms of data from customer analytics or premium pricing for add-on services.

But you don’t even need to be a startup business to disrupt an existing market, as the music industry continues to discover to its cost – you simply need to be part of the demographic that is used to “free” stuff, has no real concept or appreciation for IP, refuses to pay for anything on the internet, and develops brand loyalty based on likes, shares and number of views. Even Stripe would be out of business if everyone switched to peer-to-peer money transfers without wanting to pay commissions or transaction fees.