PayPal’s 15 years of Progress, Payments and People

By: Hill Ferguson, Chief Product Officer, PayPal

It’s a little known fact but back when the company was called Confinity, our first business model was a mobile only one – beaming money between Palm III PDAs. PayPal (the product) was an offshoot of that business that allowed a payment to be sent, quickly and easily to anyone’s email address. The first PayPal transaction on record was sent on October 16,1999 – fifteen years ago today. 

The move from Palm Pilots to email payments was PayPal’s first pivot and it helped change the nature of ecommerce, by providing a quick and easy way for people like you and me to pay and get paid safely and securely over the Internet. PayPal was such a successful product that we renamed the company after it in June 2001 and we have continued to adapt to help take advantage of upcoming opportunities ever since.

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Since then, we’ve weathered the dot.com bust, seen competitors come and go, and broken new ground in the fight against cybercrime. As a global leader, serving 203 markets around the world and accepting payments in more than 100 different currencies, we’re again seeing the landscape of payments and commerce shift.

Because it coincides with the 15-year anniversary of pivoting from beaming payments through Palm Pilots to enable consumers to email payments, I find myself reflecting on the myriad ways PayPal has, does, and will continue to power the People Economy – something we’ve been doing since the get go, and have only recently named.

I think it’s safe to say I’ve grown up over the past 15 years, and so has PayPal. Admittedly, I watched early PayPal from the outside, both as a Valley insider and a user. But even from that vantage point, it was clear that PayPal would stand the test of time while others went the way of the Palm. And when I came onboard in 2011, I began to truly understand why that is.

It’s ironic, yet fitting, that our first transaction occurred on Palm Pilots, which are now defunct. That the very platform we built our first business on is extinct, but we’re still growing. And, its because of the crucial driver of our success: the ability to pivot, evolve, and adapt to huge changes in the industry – whether a new handheld device (or highly competitive category of them), an economic downturn, or even a new currency (yes, the Euro was not yet widely adopted when PayPal launched).

A few examples of key turns:

  • 2006, as infatuation with cellphones grew, we let people pay by SMS, well in advance of the advent of the iPhone® (though we were there in their first App Store®, too…)
  • 2008, as the economy softened, we launched the PayPal Student Account, to ease tension between parents and teens around money exchange, while giving teens the chance to learn good spending habits and experience being responsible… a fancy way of saying that even back then, we were powering the People Economy in the way our customers needed us most.
  • In 2009, we were the first to open up our global platform to allow third party developers to build secure, reliable payments directly into their apps.
  • In 2010 we fed the public’s love of Facebook by becoming a payment option for Facebook Credits.
  • And in 2012, we launched the first cloud-based in-store payments capabilities with the Home Depot.

What the founders knew then and we are even clearer on now is that the purity of our mission – and the undying dedication to what is required of us to earn and keep the trust and business of our users – keeps us able to take on new and shifting platforms and challenges.

Yes, we’ve come a long way in fifteen years. We launched 58 product experiences in 2013 and we have already surpassed that number this year. In the last 12 months, we acquired Braintree, the leading mobile payment platform, launched fingerprint authentication for payments with Samsung and announced our affiliation with Bitcoin. And, as we welcome a new CEO to our family (welcome Dan!) we’re excited to start the next journey as a standalone company to capitalize even further on our growth opportunities that set us up for the future.

Who knows whether biometrics will be as commonplace in 15 years as mobile is today, or if it’ll have fallen by the wayside; or if mobile phones will still dominate our computing or have been replaced by wearables or some other as yet undreamed of technology. We don’t. But we do know we’re the payments company that developers, merchants and customers alike – the whole world over – can trust to ferry them securely and simply through.

Check out our amazing webpage dedicated to our first 15 years of innovation at www.paypal.com/15years

…and here’s to the next 15!