Brothers John and Patrick sold their first business aged 21 and 23 for £3.8 million – their latest venture has just been valued at £7billion
Twenty-seven-thousand-pounds for a degree, stagnant wages and the thought of living at home until you hit 35 – that’s the reality for millions of today’s generation of 20-somethings that are battling out their future, with reality.
But it’s not the case for John Collison who, at the age of just 27, is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire – and there’s no degree in sight.
University drop-outs John and his older brother Patrick, 29, founded US-based software company Stripe in 2011, aged just 21 and 23.
Today, their ingenious San-Francisco-based firm sells software systems that enable companies around the world to process online payments and run their websites.
It currently has 100,000 customers – and last year announced a new round of funding that would value the company at £7billion.
This means they’re each worth at least $1.1billion – £830million – according to Forbes magazine.
Not bad for two computer enthusiasts who grew up in a small village in County Tipperary, Ireland.
They may be university drop-outs, but there’s something very inspiring about John and Patrick’s story.
By the time the two brothers reached their late teens, they were heading to two of the world’s most prestigious institutions – both based in the US – a bold move considering they had no ties to America, back then.
Patrick enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Massachusetts, and John followed to study maths at Harvard – both degrees were funded by the millions they’d already earned through their at-the-time business venture, Auctomatic.
This was a website that helped small firms and sole traders manage their businesses on eBay. It was sold in 2008 for $5million (£3.8million) a year after they had set up its first iteration.
The brothers then turned their attention to Stripe, and continued to work on it together after John started at Harvard. They then both quit the student life to launch Stripe in Silicon Valley, California.
John said: “It was obviously easier for me because Patrick had already done it (dropped-out), but we’d both developed a bit of wanderlust.
“I had considered the UK, but that wasn’t far enough away, it wasn’t wandering enough. And both of us were studious, so going to a top college in the US was always tempting.”
He added: “We came up with Stripe the way a lot of people come up with similar ideas – we were in the market for something like Stripe [that we could use].
“You might wonder what is hard about starting an [online] business. Creating a product that people actually want to buy, and getting them to hear about it, all that we could handle. But getting money from people over the internet was extremely difficult.
“I remember saying to Patrick ‘how hard can it be? Maybe we should give it a try?.”
750 employees and offices worldwide
Stripe is a software system that allows firms to more easily collect payments from customers, it also manages customer data.
It charges an amount per transaction – in the UK, this is 1.4% of the value of the transaction plus 20p.
After launch, success quickly caught on to the point that they’d secured funding from Tesla boss Elon Musk, and PayPal founder Peter Thiel.
“Only 5% of consumer spending globally currently happens online, and we want to help increase that.
“We are indexed to the growth of the internet economy. As long as the internet economy continues to grow, Stripe will continue to grow,” John said.
“I don’t know about you, but I think that is a very safe thing to bet on.”
Today Stripe has 750 employees, including 500 in San Francisco, and 150 overseas, including a European office in Dublin.
On a day-to-day basis John, who has the title of president, spends more time dealing with external matters, such as sales deals and partnerships, while Patrick focuses most on internal matters, such as engineering.
Just don’t ask them what it is like to be a billionaire.
“Mostly it is just a calculator exercise,” said John.
“The valuation is predicated on us continuing to execute and launch very compelling products in a highly competitive space – so good signs, but still a lot to do.”
And, no they don’t own a collection lavish yachts, either.
When asked what makes them tick out of hours, John is quick to point out it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
“People now ask this a lot and I feel like they always want some really interesting answer – and I have nothing for them.”
“People ask ‘how has your life changed?’, and they want me to have taken up some elaborate new hobby, like Faberge egg collecting or yacht racing.”
Instead he says he’d much rather go for a run, describing it as a “very practical, low maintenance hobby”.