Money makers: Earning their stripes

Brothers John and Patrick Collison are taking on Silicon Valley's finest the Irish way with their tech start-up, Stripe.


John and Patrick Collison: "hyper-intelligent and precocious"
(Image credit: ©Pamela Littky/CPi Syndication)

"It was far from Silicon Valley that we were reared," PatrickCollison, the 28-year-old "sandy-haired" Irish co-founder ofelectronic payments system Stripe, tells The Sunday Times'Kiki Loizou in his office in San Francisco's SoMa district."His syntax shows his Irish roots," but his accent is almostpure West Coast these days.

"Hyper-intelligent andprecocious," Collison and his younger brother, John, bothdropped out of prestigious American universities to set upStripe, a tool that helps firms process payments online.You might not have heard of it, says Loizou, but the sixyear-old firm is one of the"hottest young businessesin California, greasingthe wheels for billion ofdollars of online shopping".

If you've made any onlinepurchases recently, "yourmoney may well havepassed throughStripe's paymentsplatform".The firm isvalued at around$9bn, butCollison isn'tready to cashin with an IPOyet . "There'sso much to bedone", he says."The British andIrish mindset is...helpful in keepingyou grounded."

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Making pots of dosh from pot

Deb Baker and Barb Diner, aged 62 and 56, came out of retirement to take advantage of Colorado's legalisation of marijuana three years ago, when they noticed that some of the containers used to hold the drug were made with chemicals that gave off an unpleasant smell. Their solution was Higher Standard Packaging, a start-up selling containers for marijuana made from recycled plastic milk bottles. Since they established the business in 2014 they have sold almost seven million units of packaging to cannabis dispensaries. By taking on no outside funding or employees, and the gift of a delivery van from Baker's 90-year-old father-in-law, the pair turned a profit in their first year, and were able to draw salaries from the fledgling business.

Marijuana sellers, most of whom were young men, used to be surprised to see the women entering their stores. But "we would swear a bit and people would relax", Diner tells Julie Weed in The New York Times. Their first payment of $5,400 from a Denver dispensary was made entirely in small bills reeking of marijuana. Fearing their bank would reject the cash, or even close their account, the entrepreneurs put the money in Baker's clothes dryer with some Febreze sheets to remove the smell. Then, lacking a safe, they hid the cash in the freezer until they could take it to the bank. Now they joke about "laundering money" and "cold hard cash".

Kickstarting computer coding for children

Detective Dot is a nine-year-old British-Indian girl working for the CIA the Children's Intelligence Agency and battling her arch-nemesis, a greedy teenage tycoon named Shelly Belly. Her weapon is a selfie-stick that she hacked. "If it gets into enemy hands, it releases a mega-fart' and everyone in close proximity is wiped out for 15 minutes," Dot's 33-year-old creator, Sophie Deen, tells Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph. Deen founded Bright Little Labs, a media company behind Detective Dot, following a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, which raised £14,500 in 36 days. Its mission is to teach children how to code hence the hacked selfie-stick.

Young readers can flick to the back of the book to read in detail about the computer codes behind the hacks. Bright Little Labs has three employees and only began trading in November, but it has so far turned over £55,000, and produces games and apps in addition to the first Dot book, which costs £12.99. For £7.99, children can even receive a membership pack to the CIA. It includes a membership card that children can show off at school, bringing Detective Dot to a wider audience.

Elon Musk's underground transport network

"Traffic is driving me nuts," Elon Musk, the founder of private space-flight company SpaceX, and Tesla electric cars, tweeted one morning last December from his car to his seven and a half million followers. "Am going to build a tunnel-boring machine and just start digging" Within an hour, the project had a name and a marketing platform, says Max Chafkin in Bloomberg Businessweek."It shall be called The Boring Company'," Musk wrote. "Boring, it's what we do." A further tweet from Musk followed two hours later: "I am actually going todo this."

A few weeks later, a 50-foot wide and 15-foot deep pit appeared in SpaceX's car park, not far from Los Angeles airport. "The plan," Chafkin explains, "is to expand the current hole into a ramp designed for a large tunnel boring machine and then start digging horizontally once the machine is 50 feet or so below ground. That would make it low enough to clear gas and sewer lines and to be undetectable at the surface."

As the boring machine edges closer to the limit of SpaceX's property, permits are being sought that would allow the digging to continue, "eventually creating a vast underground network that includes as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains, such as the Hyperloop" the "fanciful" high-speed rail system Musk first proposed in 2013. Tunnelling technology is older than rockets and has changed little over the last 50 years.

That means most projects tend to be slow and wildly expensive. "It's basically a billion dollars a mile," says Musk. "That's crazy." Musk is hoping The Boring Company will be able dramatically to speed up the process of digging tunnels with better technology. And with Donald Trump's administration promising billions of dollars in infrastructure spending, Musk may find a sympathetic ear in the White House. Up until now, Musk, a self-declared environmentalist, and Trump, a climate-change sceptic, have not been natural bedfellows. But regardless of what happens in Washington, Musk intends to carry on digging. The Boring Company will help create "a trillion jobs", he says.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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