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Stripe CEO Patrick Collison's Parents: The Subtle Art of Not Being a Helicopter Parent
Correlation between childhood and careers
Patrick Collison is the co-founder and CEO of Stripe, the fintech platform that enables millions of businesses like Network Capital to collect payments. It is one of the most valuable privately held companies in the world and true to its mission, augments the GDP of the internet.
He and his brother and co-founder John are among the youngest self-made multi-billionaires in the world. Patrick and John are both remarkably successful and remarkably well-read. Some credit for how they turned out goes to their parents. Patrick often talks about it. Let’s dive in to explore how the Collison brothers grew up.
** In India, the Kamath brothers are young, self-made billionaires. Nikhil Kamath was on Network Capital and spoke about his early childhood. Since this newsletter is about parenting styles, you might want to watch his masterclass.
Patrick Collision has read more books than any 33 year old we know of. His love for reading can be traced to his childhood.
Crappy Internet: Patrick grew up in rural Ireland and did not have internet for the first 15 years of his life. He lived far away from his school friends and spent all his time reading books, away from digital chatter, social media and gaming.
“We lived in a very rural part of Ireland. I was quite distant from even my friends at school. And so all there really was for us to do was play in the garden, which we did a lot of, and to read. It’s funny; I often wonder about this in the context of “If I had kids or when I have kids, what’s the optimal upbringing for them?” And, of course, you think, well, you kind of want them to grow up in a stimulating environment and have all these experiences and extracurriculars and everything else, but to me, that was not my upbringing”
“Get out of the house and play”: Both his parents worked. His mother Lily was a microbiologist and his father Denis was an engineer. Both became micro-entrepreneurs with his mom running a corporate training company and dad operating a 24 room hotel where Patrick has fond memories of running around and playing.
His home was sprinkled with books and there were plenty of stuff read all the time. ***This habit has stuck. Even today, he reads a couple of books a week - sometimes on the dinner table, sometimes walking and sometimes sitting in a cafe.
Most of Patrick’s childhood was as he puts it, “Getting out of the house and playing”. Reading and playing are two recurring themes. As he grew up to become a multi-billionaire CEO, playing outside was replaced by running and flying airplanes. Both John and Patrick are trained to fly airplanes.
“Our parents followed our interests and supported them, but they didn’t choose them. It felt like they pushed from behind rather than pulling in front.”: Helicopter parenting refers to a style of parents who are overly focused on their children. They typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures.
Patrick’s parents seem to be the opposite of helicopter parents. They were around when the Collison brothers needed them but let them be for the most part. Perhaps the most important contribution they made was to unleash the curiosity of their children.
There is a massive difference between a nudge and a push. Most helicopter parents are obsessive and pushy. Patrick’s parents nudged their children to their intrinsic curiosities rather than market demands. It so happened that what Patrick was interested in overlapped with where the world was going but it wasn’t directed or choreographed.
The Transition Year in Ireland: Patrick became massively interested in programming and ended up dropping out of high school. He says,
“But given my lack of education credentials elsewhere, I should, for the sake of my parents, insist that I did, in fact, formally speaking, graduate from high school. But I guess what happened is that I became very interested in programming, and I wanted to spend as much time on it as possible. Ireland actually has this interesting thing called “transition year,” this year between two major exams of high school or at least Ireland’s high school equivalent.
Transition year is a formally designated year that’s optional, where you can go and pursue things that you might not otherwise naturally tend to pursue, and the school tends to be much more permissive of going and spending three months abroad or going and doing some work experience in this area or whatever the case may be. And so, in that year, I basically decided to spend as much of it as possible programming, and so I did that.”
His parents put no pressure to follow the herd or opt for conventional choices. The decision to master programming was his.
“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.
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.”
The power of rituals: Patrick’s parents took him to the library every day. They took him traveling every summer. When interesting guests came home for dinner, the brothers were thrown in the middle of conversations not asked to go upstairs or finish their meals early and let the adults to the talking.
Parents as non-pushy life coaches: Teenage requires oodles of adjustment for most people but for Patrick it was a period of unbridled exploration. His parents served as mentors and life coaches, not tutors hailed by edtech platforms of today. They were interested in his overall development not tactical mastery of school examinations.
“When I got to college in the US, it was so foreign for me the idea that people were so laden with extracurriculars and burnishing their college resumes from age 12 or earlier. And the period of teenagerhood and adolescence was so intense, whereas for myself and John it really felt exploratory and that we were given – that our parents were some kind of life coaches”
Oscar Wilde has an interesting quote on parenting. “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes, they forgive them.”
In Patrick’s case, the parental love from childhood evolved into deep friendship in adulthood and stood that way. There was no judgment or forgiveness required.
Whether you are a parent or considering being one, it is important to reflect on the kind of childhood you want to provide. Kids remember and internalize actions, not words. Instead of saying the right stuff, focus on doing your bit. That in no case means imposing your worldview on them.
If there is one lesson you take away from Patrick’s parents, it should be this - your job as a parent is not to be perfect, just be good-enough to let them figure things out for themselves.
P.S. The Youth INK - Network Capital is a weekend immersion program for school students in the age group of 10-18. Inspired by creating a learning experience that sparks wonder and curiosity, our program is focused on strengthening the building blocks of knowledge.
P.P.S. Join us for the learning retreat