We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How Universal One-Click Payments Will Change Everything

Stripe presages the end of cash – or at least, never entering credit card information again.

  • July 15, 2012

Stripe, a startup backed by the same band of self-styled libertarian revolutionaries who founded and then cashed out of PayPal, is set to do to every transaction on the planet what one-click payments did to Apple’s App store and Amazon.com. If the company succeeds, the psychological abstraction of money at the core of the one-click impulse buy could make buying things easier than ever – maybe even too easy – and the backers of Stripe very, very rich.

Here’s how Stripe is different, according to a must-read post by Sarah Lacy at Pando Daily: acting as if it were a bank, Stripe does its own risk analysis on businesses that sign up with it, which means they can let anyone start processing payments immediately, without waiting to first get approval from the gatekeepers of the conventional financial system.

That was the original promise of PayPal, but PayPal has languished so long under the inertia of its parent company eBay that neither users or developers are particularly happy with it. After trying both PayPal and its two primary competitors on the web, BrainTree and Stripe, here’s what a developer had to say about Stripe, according to Lacy:

I’ve verified that it works, both on the backend and the frontend. I just need to make it live, have Paul test it with his credit card, get the SSL working on the server, and it will be READY.

Their API is so simple — fuck EVERYBODY else, I want to marry Stripe and have a billion of their babies.


In the real world, Stripe will be competing with Square, which is more focused on making it easy for merchants to accept the one means of payment we all carry around already – credit cards. It’s fairly obvious, however, how Stripe will connect the dots and leapfrog that modality: one click payments from the phone.

Granted, there are big players in this space already, like Google Wallet. But given Google’s abysmal batting average when it comes to the probably-still-too-numerous fields in which it plays, no one’s holding their breath for Google Wallet to break out.

Once we have a true one-click payment mechanism enabled, probably, by some one of the of Near-Field Communication standards built into our increasingly sophisticated and ubiquitous smartphones, we’re looking at the end of credit cards, at least. And possibly the end of cash, at least for everyday transactions. (Though, as I’ve written before, there are plenty of reasons cash will remain the standard for plenty of other types of transactions.)

This is such a huge potential moneymaker – Stripe charges 2.9% of every transaction plus 30 cents – that it’s a wonder no one has taken Stripe’s approach yet. Stripe seems to be succeeding because it treats the people who deal with the headaches of transaction systems – developers and project managers – as if they’re the real customers. And it’s working, as Lacy notes:

Stripe not only raised another $20 million two months ago at a reported $500 million valuation, it’s signing up big customers. Increasingly, it gets into massive companies — even ones you wouldn’t think of as particularly developer heavy– the same way it did with NSFW– developers just go nuts over it and sneak it into new projects. Like most modern enterprise software apps, Stripe then tries to expand within these customers once it has a foothold.

We’ve seen this before, with stealth invasions into corporate IT systems by iPhones, Wordpress, Google Docs and the like. Empower the workaday doers who will do anything to avoid their own corporate bureaucracy and your customer base will explode. The result could be a future in which the payment handlers aren’t branded Visa and Mastercard, but rather Stripe and Square.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.