John Collison: Putting Startup Success in Perspective [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

May 22, 2015
Stanford eCorner
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John Collison: Putting Startup Success in Perspective [Entire Talk]

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In this video, John Collison, the co-founder of Stripe, discusses the early days of the company and the challenges they faced. He talks about the different definitions of Stripe - as an easy way to accept payments online, as a platform for running an online business, and as better economic infrastructure for the internet. He also highlights the importance of understanding the uncertainty and detail of a startup's early days and the need to be open to change and different visions.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is Stripe?

Stripe is a platform for accepting payments online. It provides a better way for businesses to accept payments compared to options like PayPal or building your own payments infrastructure.

Q: How does Stripe help run an online business?

Stripe not only allows businesses to accept payments online but also provides tools for running different types of online businesses. It helps with tracking payments and billing for subscription businesses and managing complex operations for marketplaces.

Q: What does Stripe provide in terms of economic infrastructure for the internet?

Stripe aims to create better economic infrastructure for the internet by allowing anyone to accept payments from anywhere, regardless of the payment system or currency being used. It aims to connect different payment systems and create a globally interoperable system for accepting money online.

Q: How does a startup's description of itself change over time?

Startups often change how they describe themselves as they evolve and grow. They tend to describe themselves in a more grandiose way as they become more successful but may pretend that they had that vision from the beginning. This can create a founding myth that may not accurately reflect the early days of the company.

Q: How did the founders of Stripe view themselves in the early days?

The founders of Stripe initially saw it as a product they really wanted as developers, and they had a few friends who also wanted it. They didn't fully realize the potential scale and impact of the problem they were solving until later. The market research they did was based on their own needs and the needs of a small group of people.

Q: What were the challenges in the early days of Stripe?

In the early days, Stripe faced the challenge of building and acquiring users for their product. It took them two years to build and launch the product, and they only had 50 users initially. It felt like slow progress, but they were able to focus on creating a great product and providing excellent customer support to those early users, which led to viral growth through word of mouth.

Q: How did Stripe focus on customer support in the early days?

Stripe took extra care of their early users by setting up mechanisms to quickly address any bugs or issues they encountered. They would receive notifications and even phone calls when a user encountered a bug and would promptly fix it. They also provided personalized support through channels like Campfire and prompt responses to feedback on their dashboard.

Q: How did Stripe's early strategy lead to viral growth?

By providing exceptional customer support and creating a great product experience, Stripe's early users became passionate advocates. They spread the word about Stripe and recommended it to others, leading to viral growth through word of mouth.

Q: How did Stripe handle competition in the payments industry?

Stripe differentiated itself from competitors by focusing on its unique value proposition. They emphasized that Stripe was a developer-friendly tool for building online businesses, while other payment companies like Square focused on physical transactions. It's important for startups to clearly communicate what sets them apart from competitors and where they are heading in the long term.

Q: What is the future of Bitcoin and alternative currencies according to Stripe?

Stripe sees the global aspect of Bitcoin as the most exciting and valuable. They believe in creating a globally interconnected economic landscape where anyone can accept money from anyone, regardless of currency or payment system. They have added Bitcoin as an instrument for accepting payments and are exploring other cryptocurrencies as well.

Q: How do startups make decisions about product strategy and prioritize their efforts?

Startups constantly face the challenge of making decisions about product strategy and prioritizing their efforts. It's about finding a balance between sticking to the core vision of the company and being willing to adapt based on market feedback. Startups should have a small set of things they are not willing to change and be open to reevaluating the rest of their strategy based on customer feedback and market realities.


In the early days of a startup, it's important to navigate uncertainty and understand the detail of the industry. Startups often face slow progress, but it's crucial to focus on building a great product and providing exceptional customer support to early users. Differentiating oneself from competitors and clearly communicating unique value propositions is key. Startups should have a vision but be willing to adapt and prioritize based on market feedback. The exploration of new opportunities and ability to spot them requires thinking outside the box and questioning how things work. Building a supportive network and seeking advice from experienced individuals is invaluable. Patience and persistence are necessary qualities for founders, as strategy and decision-making are ongoing challenges.

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