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Inside PayPal's Big Purchase

EBay is laying down $800 million to acquire a payment platform popular with fast-growth start-ups, Braintree. It'll give PayPal more oomph, but is this a tipping point for eBay?
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Braintree, a payment-platform company that powers transactions for growing companies such as Uber and Airbnb, has reportedly been in the market for a buyer for more than a month now. After negotiations with Google went south earlier this month, the company has found a new parent: eBay's PayPal.

The pending all-cash deal of about $800 million is less than the company was reportedly seeking, but eBay is promising to let Braintree operate at least semi-autonomously under PayPal.

Before the acquisition, Braintree was armed with $69 million in outside funding from venture capital firms Accel, NEA, RRE, and Greycroft, among others. The company didn't take funding until 2011, four years after its founding by Bryan Johnson, who bootstrapped the company out of Chicago. Johnson is a serial entrepreneur who had previously founded two endeavors. Both--a cell-phone sales plan and a real-estate venture--failed. He told the site Technori:

My first venture when I was 21 was just short sighted. We didn’t understand what we were getting into. With the second in real estate, we made some misguided assumptions about others. But when I got into the credit card processing, I finally felt that I had complete control over determining whether it succeeded or failed. It was the first time in my entrepreneurship career where my effort directly controlled the outcome. It felt really good.

Johnson, though, was replaced as CEO in 2011 by Bill Ready, an executive with a history of leading companies through acquisitions. Earlier this week, Ready wrote on YCombinator's Hacker News to defend acquisition rumors: "I'm no babe in the woods. I've been through multiple acquisitions in the past as well as multiple funding rounds."

Braintree claims to processes $12 billion in payments annually, of which $4 billion is processed for mobile devices. A lot of those are payments from other fast-growing start-up companies--Fab, GitHub, and OpenTable, to name a few--a lucrative B2B niche.

"I think that the Braintree acquisition makes a lot of sense ... It was rapidly becoming a potential threat to PayPal," Daniel Kurnos, an analyst at the Benchmark Company, told Reuters

Braintree has 4,000 merchant-clients and 180 employees. It also has Venmo, a start-up that allows individuals to send money to one another for free. Braintree's 2012 acquisition of Venmo seems to have been one of the most significant attractions for eBay and PayPal.

Ready said in a statement Thursday: "The alignment with PayPal means Braintree can continue to push the boundaries of innovation while expanding into new markets with increased speed and confidence. Our current customers and developer community can expect the same level of support and partnership they’ve always enjoyed, coupled with more resources."

The acquisition seems to be just another step for eBay--a massive, $60 billion company--in nurturing its mobile-payments talents. Is Stripe next on the auction block? That would be a sure sign that eBay sees its future less as a marketplace and more as the go-to for payments.

Last updated: Sep 26, 2013

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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