Patrick Collison (born 9 September 1988) is an Irish billionaire entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and CEO of Stripe, which he started with his younger brother, John, in 2010. Patrick is one of my favorite silicon valley entrepreneurs, not only because he and his brother are building something great but because he is one of the most voracious reader in the valley.
In November 2016, the Collision brothers became the world’s youngest self-made billionaires, worth at least $1.1 billion, after an investment in Stripe from CapitalG and General Catalyst Partners valued the company at $9.2 billion.
Here are some thoughts of some other entrepreneurs on Patrick Collision:
“Patrick is quite literally one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. Like, he puts Larry Page on his heels smart. I don’t know anyone who has 1) read more books and 2) has the near photographic memory for what he has read. His thoughts are provocative and challenge the status quo. His success is no accident.”
To get a feel of voracious Patrick Collision is, you can check out his bookshelf on his website:
The Tim Ferriss Show Patrick Collison (#353)
So what did you guys know that other people didn’t?
Patrick Collison: Well, I think there are two different kinds of knowing. There’s conscious, explicit knowing where you see that there’s a prevailing belief or something, and you understand why it’s wrong, and you have some kind of proprietary insight that everyone else doesn’t have. I think there’s another kind of “knowing” which is just you have a belief or a model of the world and you don’t even realize that it’s different to others. It’s some deeply internalized thing that just for whatever circumstantial reasons you happen to have ended up with.
Not everyone that wonder is lost
Patrick Collison: Exactly. Yup. And then I moved to live with my then-girlfriend in Zurich. And so I lived in Switzerland for a while. And then I actually went back to college because I dropped out of college pretty early. And when I went to school, I thought, “Well, maybe I want to become a physicist or a mathematician or something or like that.” And who knows how successful if at all I would have been? Maybe I wouldn’t even have made the cut. But I had that ambition, aspiration. And I felt that we’d sold the company so early and it happened so quickly that I hadn’t really fully tested whether that was a good idea or not. And so I went back to college for a second time to do mostly math and physics. And so did that. And then while there, John was also in college at the same time. That’s when we went to start Stripe.
But if you looked at that two-year period it was drop out of college, start this company and move to Vancouver, move to this other country, go back to college, then start this other company. And when we started Stripe, it did not seem very promising. It seemed like this silly little developer payments thing. And again, it was another two years before it even launched. And so maybe that whole four-year period I think to many people who knew me or just were around, I’m sure it looked pretty scattered, weirdly planned, maybe misdirected. And they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. I certainly was not pursuing some grand master plan. And I think I was actually really lucky where from an early age, my parents were very okay with myself and John charting our own course. And you get these real hothouse environments where there’s a lot of pressure to go to this school, go to this college, pursue this career path, whatever.
You really feel like you’re on these narrow train tracks. And I would say that our upbringing was the opposite where really, our parents, even when we wanted to make very ostensibly strange and surprising decisions, our parents supported us. So when I was a 15-year-old and wanted to take a year off school to just program full time, my parents were supportive of that. Or when I wanted to try to drop out of school to go take this totally different exam system, my parents were okay with that. And so we had this upbringing where our parents supported us in that way. And when in my teens, early 20s was trying to figure out what the right direction was – I wouldn’t say that that was a lost period. Again, it was definitely a highly exploratory one.
And so just to your question of periods of real hardship, I think a lot of people either don’t get the opportunity to explore multiple directions like that or they – either others don’t give them the opportunity, or they don’t give themselves the permission to just have a few slightly lost years where the narrative isn’t super clear. And those years can be hard because, by definition, you’re not exactly sure where you’re going. And it’s very disorienting to not know where you’re sailing. And you can and do feel a bit of drift. And so looking back on that, I actually feel like it was really important in giving me confidence and perspective. But at the time, it definitely felt a bit unmoored.
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. Right. So “Not all who wander are lost,” right? So there’s a difference between being lost, which is you have a destination and you have gone off track or you are preoccupied with where you are currently located and don’t know where you’re located versus exploring and wandering. The second, which is I suppose more a follow-up question than a point is this: I’m very curious how your parents – and maybe you could also just tell us a little bit about what your parents did professionally or how they spent their time, but what your parents did to cultivate excellence and/or clear thinking without necessarily pigeonholing the direction of either of those.
So, if a biographer at some point is writing the story of your life, you give them unfettered access, how might they answer that? What are examples they might give, things your parents said, annual routines that you guys had or whatever, anything that comes to mind?
Patrick Collison: Well, we grew up in very rural Ireland, the middle of the countryside surrounded by farms and fields. And we were really – we had to figure out ourselves what was going to be entertaining and interesting and fun. It wasn’t just provided to us by the environment. And so we grew up as these free-range children. And we were lucky where there were lots of books in the house. And we read those pretty voraciously. I would say that the thing that our parents did is – well, there are a million things. But the three that stand out are they showed us the world. They took us to the library every day. They took us traveling in the summers. If there were interesting guests coming over for dinner, we weren’t dispatched upstairs or told to get an early dinner before the adults came. We were thrust right into the middle. So they really took us seriously and showed us the world.
The second thing is they really give us agency and autonomy and treated us as adults. And those went two ways and that on the one hand, they gave us a lot of freedom. On the other hand, they expected quite a lot of us. And so our youngest brother had to get some pretty major surgery in the US back when John and I were maybe 10 or 12 or thereabouts. And so they were gone to the US for several weeks, maybe more than a month. And we were left mostly alone for that month. We had a neighbor who checked in on us every day and made sure things were fine. But we spent most of the time alone when we weren’t at school. And from myself and John’s standpoint, that was fantastic. We loved the freedom. But of course, they reciprocally expected us not to give them cause to regret it.
And then the third thing is whenever we expressed interest in something, they really tried to find opportunities to – if there was a small chute of interest, they looked for opportunities to water it. But they never thrust those opportunities on us. Or I never felt that – or rather, they wouldn’t’ thrust the interests on us. I never felt that I was following a track laid down by somebody else. And so I remember randomly mentioning when I was 12 or 13 that learning – I don’t even remember why I thought this – but that learning ancient Greek seemed interesting. I think I just read some Homer or something, and I made a translation and that another language seemed interesting. And I was just saying that as some kind of random throwaway remark, I guess, the way a kid does. And sure enough, my mom went and found somebody at literally a local monastery who was willing to teach ancient Greek.
And then she told me about this. And so for two years, I went to that monastery once a week after school and learned ancient Greek. And that interest never went super far. I haven’t read much ancient Greek in the last 10 years.