Nearly two decades ago, PayPal transformed the world of e-commerce by offering to mask a user’s credit card information for online transactions. Today, that baton could easily pass to Stripe, a San Francisco-based payments startup founded by two young Irish entrepreneurs, brothers John and Patrick Collison.
Over the past 12 months, five-year-old Stripe has moved from the cutting edge in financial software development to mainstream awareness for businesses. It’s raked in tens of millions of venture capital; sealed important payments deals with prominent companies; and brought on high-profile executives who should help the company grow and scale.
Sometimes an app is just an app. But sometimes it’s a potentially huge business. That distinction isn’t always easy to spot; consider it a variation on “…another man’s treasure” for the phubbing age.
Kathryn Loewen, a former developer and software product manager, had racked up years of experience in financial services by the time she started business school at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia. When she graduated in 2013, she also had a head full of ideas, and methods for plugging them into business plans, and headed to her hometown of Vancouver.
Back home, she found herself in a good place. She had fellow developers to collaborate with in her home of Vancouver, and together they could build something, test it, and drop it if the app or software didn’t stick. But within months, one did. She’d been tinkering with Stripe, the Paypal-competing payment processor popular among startups. It appealed to her financial-service savvy. Along with another developer, she built an app onto its API that would allow business owners to monitor and manage their Stripe accounts on their Android devices. She called it Control.
After the Sony mega-hack, protecting email privacy may seem paramount. But at digital payments startup Stripe, email isn’t kept all that private in the first place.
Recently, Stripe openly detailed the internal system it uses to achieve what it calls “email transparency,” saying “almost all” messages inside the company can be read by all employees. Private emails at Stripe aren’t forbidden. But they are the exception.
No, these emails can’t be read by people outside the company. But it shows that privacy isn’t always as important as we think it is. Stripe’s system is part of wide-ranging effort to build services that seek to make our communications more public, not less—an effort that includes everything from familiar consumer services like Facebook to business tools offered by the likes of Slack and GitHub.
As far as the technology goes, open email at Stripe isn’t that complicated. Employees are asked to CC any work-related emails to topic-specific mailing list archives managed through Google Groups. Project lists are the most common, but categories range from individual countries to a “crazyideas@” list. Via the lists, all email becomes public and searchable inside the company. Stripe now has 428 lists in all.