When Stripe President and Co-founder John Collison and PYMNTS Karen Webster were contemplating the future of the Connected Economy, they recalled the past, specifically 2005 when the dot-com bubble burst and the overwhelming pessimists overtook the market when it came to the topic of the internet.
“After the first dot-com crash, everyone said that all the interesting internet stuff had been done — and of course that wasn’t true,” Collison said of the crisis 15 years ago, before predicting that the really interesting internet stuff hadn’t even happened yet and that investors were being distracted by the specific moment.
With that in mind, and on the heels of almost 16 months of hyperactive change and adaptation, Collison is again urging tech industry followers, investors and entrepreneurs to consider the big picture that will emerge as a result of jamming 10 years of progress into a year and a half.
“What we get really excited about is that if you are an entrepreneur today, starting a company in 2021, you’ll have a cornucopia of potential new business opportunities ahead of you,” Collison said. And opportunities for advancement will give birth to the next generation of innovation that we can’t imagine — let alone predict — today.
The Era Of Entrepreneurship
While much has been written about the many businesses that failed during the pandemic, far less has been said about how many have opened. Businesses that were able to open, Webster and Collison agreed, powered by the infrastructures of connectedness that have been being built in the background for the better part of a decade.
“We saw two million new businesses created on Stripe since the start of 2020,” Collison told Webster. “That’s more than the number created in Stripe’s lifetime up to this point. I think what those two million businesses do will surprise us.”
That’s due in part to the fact that many of the businesses entering the digital era from verticals that heretofore have been slow to digitize. Healthcare is one striking example, as necessity pushed the long-reluctant segment to embrace technology that it has spent the better part of the last decade and a half avoiding.
Locally based tradespeople and service providers are other examples. Plumbers, carpenters and the like wouldn’t have bothered with digitization 10 to 20 years ago, because the value proposition just wasn’t apparent. But the rapid evolution of connectedness has made that digitization offering much more appealing, he noted, as it has stacked on other use cases where service providers suddenly have access to scheduling capability, distribution, discovery and help with SEO.
And what we have seen across segments and verticals, said Collison, is that the real power of connectedness is the ability to continually layer in capabilities and connection points for any business.
“I think after a while, you’d be silly not to take advantage of it,” Collison said.
The Excitingly Unpredictable Future
Predicting the future is easy to get wrong, Collison noted. As an example, in financial services, people tend to “really overstate how rapidly transformation has happened within the space.” There are thousands of headlines written a year about the death of banking, he said, and followed by various large banks like Chase doubling its market share over a 10-year period, despite predictions of doom among lenders.
The lesson to learn, he said, is that we live in an era of very dynamic equilibrium and that the U.S. financial services sector is going to be a vibrant and competitive space, where the winners are still a big unknown.
In fact, there are a lot of unknowns out there — what regulators will want, what is going to happen with crypto-backed currency when central banks get in the game and what shape the FinTech boom will take as it continues to develop. There is a lot we don’t know, Collison noted, but what we do know is mostly encouraging, as we learn that a connected economy is a better economy for the businesses and the consumers working within it.
“As we talk about this futurology, it’s tempting to extend current trends forward, but the book isn’t written yet,” he said. “I think we’ll still have lots of really exciting surprises on the upside. And that’s why I get so excited working in the technology industry — the fact that we still pull rabbits out of hats all day long.”