Patrick and John Collison, the boy wonders of Irish technology, stand out for their exuberance, talent and passion to blaze their own trail.
The knowledge-based ICT economy is one of the few bright spots in our economy and there has been much talk about emulating the success of California’s Silicon Valley here in Ireland.
If we want an example of a huge technology success story we need look no further than Patrick and John Collison. The two young brothers from Co Limerick became dotcom millionaires in their teens when they sold software company Auctomatic for $5mn. And now, in their early 20s, the Collison brothers are working on their second software venture, Stripe, which has started operating in Canada. Stripe is a simple, developer-friendly way to accept payments online
Patrick and John Collison began working on the idea when they were respectively studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in the US. They both relocated to Palo Alto in Silicon Valley to work on the idea. Among the business giants investing in Stripe are Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, who co-founded PayPal and sold it to eBay for $1.5bn in 2002.
Thiel was an early investor in Facebook and sits on its board of directors. Andreessen Horowitz, a Californian venture capital firm with close to $1bn in funds, sees the potential in Stripe, as does Sequoia Capital, one of the early backers of Google.
This is the second time the brothers have found themselves impressing digital venture capitalists. In 2007, Patrick (then 18) and his brother John (16) founded Shuppa. The company later merged with Auctomatic, which was funded by a Silicon Valley investor Y Combinator. John was still only in transition year in Limerick.
Patrick moved to Silicon Valley to develop Auctomatic, a software company that built tools for the eBay platform. Running an online store involves managing inventory, tracking sales and managing communication with customers. Auctomatic aims to automate these processes so that sellers can focus on the more important parts of their business.
Patrick was offered a place at MIT but deferred his studies to work on his project. He worked with two others and it was acquired for $5mn in March 2008 by Canadian firm, Live Current Media.
In 2009, John (having returned to finish secondary school) scored 10 A grades in the Leaving Certificate, the highest-ever CAO score. He commenced his studies at Harvard University that year.
Patrick became director of engineering at Live Current Media in Vancouver and set up a Wikipedia app for the iPhone.
In a talk he gave in Dublin, for Science Week, in 2008, Patrick was quite outspoken about what Ireland needs to do to encourage start-ups here. He said that the biggest problem was that the investment community could do with some improvement, but that there was no reason why Ireland couldn’t become the Silicon Valley of Europe.
“I think the investment community in Ireland tends to be quite risk-averse. It does not value failure in the same way that investors in the US do. Collectively in Ireland, this is something we really need to fix. The ‘outliers’, the really risky propositions, are where the great returns come from, and we don’t value this enough in Ireland,” Patrick said.
The brothers are also advocates for teaching programming as a subject in school, believing that: “programming will be the maths of the 21st century.”
If Ireland is to become a digital success story, we need to nurture young innovators such as Patrick and John Collison. The Collison brothers are a shining example of how a tech start-up can become a global phenomena. A report by SecondMarket.com ranked Stripe alongside Pinterest as one of Silicon Valley’s rising stars, giving it an informal valuation of $1bn. And the Collison brothers are certainly rising stars in the global tech world and ones to watch for the future.