The Knowledge Project #32 Patrick Collison

  • You dropped out of both high school and college? I’d become very interested in programming. I wanted to spend as much time on it as possible. Ireland has a transition year (in the middle of high school). I spent that year programming. When I came back to school it felts so much slower and less fun. [3:44]

  • What Stripe looks for in potential hires: A rigor and clarity of thought. So many organizations prize smoothness (of interactions) and reduce the number of ruffled feathers. They prefer cohesion over correctness. We try to identify people who are seeking correctness. People willing to contemplate things that seem improbable or things divergent from the status quo. [12:57]

  • Doing anything of significance is hard: The default outcome is that you do not survive. To survive over the long term is an unnatural act. You need to find people who are willing to push against the expected trajectory of nonexistence. Find people who enjoy that. It is not for everyone. [14:36]

  • Stripe looked like a bad idea: It was a crowded market. There were tons of existing incumbents. There were significant regulatory barriers to entry. We had no experience in the domain. We had no experience. We weren’t US citizens. We had no obvious mechanism for distribution and we were not a naturally viral product. [18:04]

  • What gave Patrick the confidence to build Stripe: It just seemed so strange that something like Stripe didn’t exist. We looked for Stripe before we started it. It must be the case there was some company somewhere offering infrastructure and APIs and payment tools that are straightforward to use for a developer. This is one of the top needs that any business operating on the internet must-have. [19:12]

  • The challenges of dealing with uncertainty: You are operating in a weird zone where you are often making decisions that have significant long term impact in the face of great uncertainty. You could reduce the uncertainty. You could obtain more information. You just don’t have time. You are left in this dissatisfying situation where I have to make a highly consequential decision...Making a lot of decisions in that zone is somewhat dissatisfying. [28:16]

  • The Buxton Index: The time horizon on which an organization makes its decisions. Maybe a university makes decisions on a decade long horizon. A company makes decisions on a quarterly time horizon. An individual makes decisions on a weekly or monthly time horizon. The observation was that organizations with very different Buxton Indices find it difficult to work together. [38:48]

  • Before making a decision Founders should ask themselves if they should be the one making this decision: Ask yourself why am I making this decision? Some kinds of decisions must be made by the founder (CEO). But there are some decisions where I’m if I’m making it that probably suggests that something else organizationally or institutionally has broken. [49:50]

  • I don’t know all the answers yet [to building a successful company]: We spend a lot of our time scrutinizing other organizations, trying to find out and kind of reverse engineer what works for them and why. [56:36]

  • Why do you read so much? There’s so much to know. There are extremely important things that I really should know but I don’t. That is problematic. [1:06:48]

  • Great quote: Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought. [1:09:09] 

  • What small habit do you have that makes the biggest difference? I reach out to people whose work I admire and tell them that. That usually leads to dialogue. [1:21:24]

  • Full podcast here.