The Asia Tech Podcast was joined by Paul Harapin, the Head of Asia Pacific and Japan at Stripe.  Yes.  That Stripe.
 
Some of the topics Paul covered:
  • The moment in his career when he discovered startups for the first time
  • Working with people with whom he has a deep level of trust
  • Hiring people willing to take the next risk
  • Being comfortable working with ambiguity
  • The challenges of product localization
  • Being in the early days of cryptocurrency in the creator space
  • Having the skillset to build something from 0 to 100
Some other titles we considered of this episode:
  1. You Just Keep Pushing and Pushing
  2. Working Everything Out as You Go
  3. The Customer Is Extracted From All the Complexity
  4. The Only Time You Think About It Is if It Breaks
  5. It Wasn’t Scary for Me
This episode was produced by Isabelle Goh.

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:34
Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today, we are happy to welcome Paul Harapin the Head of Asia Pacific and Japan at Stripe. I feel like I’ve just summarized my entire career by the way, Paul, thank you so much for doing this today. How are you?

Paul Harapin 0:51
I’m good, Michael, thanks for having me on.

Michael Waitze 0:53
It is my pleasure completely. And at least I have you smiling that makes me feel good. Before we get into the main part of today’s conversation. Why don’t we give our listeners a little bit of your background for some context?

Paul Harapin 1:06
Yeah, look, Michael, I started my career a number of decades ago at IBM and a great learning experience, the training, particularly the sales training, back then, that IBM put you through over 12 months, was just brilliant, really set a foundation of success. And many, you know, sales leaders had that background to the road, IBM or someone else. But it’s IBM went through a bit of a tough time. Yep. I ended up staying, staying and learning a lot through that transition in the early part of my career. But I realized that I wanted to try something different. And the startup, Tivoli came along, IBM ended up buying them for 840 million, something like that back in 1996. But that just opened my eyes to a whole new world of how exciting and unstructured the startup could be. Because it’s still pretty small. It ended up being four of us initially, working on things in APAC, spent three more years there, moved up to Singapore, built out that operation, as Head of Sales for Tivoli for Asia, Pacific, Japan, back then. A lot of fun. Then I left did another startup that got bought out really quickly around January 2000. That which point, not long after the.com crash occurred. So I thought it would be a really smart idea to start my own business here in Singapore. At the time, I was living in Singapore. And I did that now again, talk about a practical masters of building a business during a massive downturn in tech across a couple of different countries. But I did it for four years, ended up selling it to one of my customers a large telco. And as I was in the process of doing that, my boss from my previous startup Tivoli, called me up and said, Hey, Paul, I just joined the small startup. It does virtualization. And I said, like like the mainframe said yes. But on Intel machines ended up being VMware, right. So I ended up joining and it was the 10th employee in all of Asia. And when I left, nine years ago, overall, there was about three and a half 4000 people’s billion dollar business. So you know, that journey was, was brilliant. I then joined another startup as the first employee of in Asia Pacific, which was Domo, which is a phenomenal data platform was there through stealth mode IPO almost six years and then my boss from VMware as things happen, joined this not so little, but not huge in Asia company called stripe. And I saw that as both a great opportunity to work with Mike again, Mike Clayville, who’s our CRO, had come off, as in a similar role for AWS, building that from 200 people to 20,000 over seven years, so came off the back of that. So working with Mike was a great opportunity again, and also Just moving into an area that I hadn’t worked in before, so the opportunity to scale a business or help scale a business in the region, learn a whole new set of skills and industry was, was really exciting for me. And I say after 18 months, it’s exactly that. It’s it’s brilliant learning a lot great customers and having great time,

Michael Waitze 5:25
I want to go back to the IBM thing for for a reason. And that is because when I was growing up, IBM was the premier technology company in the world, and it wasn’t even close. And, you know, if you knew somebody who worked at IBM, you revered them. And you’re right, the sales training that they gave you back then was just indispensable. Right? And, and to be able to take that from there and then move to other companies along the way. It’s like, you cannot get rid of that part of your experience. And whether you’re doing the same thing today or a different thing today, it doesn’t matter. It’s just that training that really matters. What was it like, moving from a big company like IBM, for the first time yet into a startup? I presume at that time, you had a family at least you know, you were younger, we’re both younger than we are today. But back then, was it scary to go from like his big infrastructure? Having business to his really small company? You know what I mean?

Paul Harapin 6:18
Well, I do, it wasn’t scary. For me. I was married, but I didn’t have kids. And I’ve always been one to take a bit of a risk. Okay. I do remember at the time, though. A lot of IBM has been there for like 30 plus years, right? said to me, Well, you know, when you leave, people see you because you’ve got IBM name behind you. And they won’t be as willing to see you afterwards. Yeah. And to some extent, that’s true. But I think like any good salespeople, you’re gonna knock on the door until they do see you, right. And I, other than, obviously, a totally different scale of business. You know, our goal was, you’ve got a target, you want to grow the business, build the team to do that, make those targets or overachieve, then get the next one, do the next one. And just keep, just keep driving. It’s like, you know, playing rugby and running the ball up and, and you know, you just keep pushing and pushing, and eventually you get to the other end of the field. That’s how was so for me, it wasn’t a worry, I was just excited to have the freedom to actually make an impact that I didn’t feel like I had at IBM, having been there for a number of years and, and really wanting to make a difference.

Michael Waitze 7:42
I love the sports analogy. I like to say like, I was always the guy who wanted the ball. If that makes sense. That sounds like a similar thing to you. I cannot remove the DNA of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs for me either. And I will say that for sure. When I left people did say the same thing to me. Like, it’s not you. It’s the franchise. And you’re right, it is but what you understand that is how to build that franchise, and then how to build that connectivity with your clients. So I completely understand that. Do you want to talk a little bit about being the expert because it feels like you’ve built up this thing over time of Wait a second, now that Paul has had this startup experience starting with Tivoli. He’s the guy who knows how to take something from zero and turn it into something large. How do we get Paul on the team? Was that the same thing? You think when you join stripe? You know what I mean?

Paul Harapin 8:32
Yeah, to a certain extent, of course, when you’re joining someone you’ve worked with before, there’s a deep level of trust, because you’ve done that together before. I think Mike was the ninth employee in Azure at at VMware, and I was the 10th, or something like that. And so building that up, there’s that level of trust trust that you have together. But yes, as you know, into all the roles I’ve had, it’s people look to hire someone in any role for a particular skill set for what they’re trying to achieve. Right? It just so happens that my skill set was being able to take something that had few people or no people, and sit down and make a plan and start to build up a business across a very complex region. And I loved doing that. I remember when I when I left VMware, and joined a company that, you know, I was sitting in a coffee shop on my own in Sydney as the starting point. People like you crazy. You had one of the best jobs going and you’ve gone back to just sitting on your own and I said yeah, but you know, one part though, it’s so much fun and it’s not going to I’m not going to be sitting on my own for long and I think you know, I had 100 100 150 people or something like that when I when I left my last company and and And and now into into strike. We’ve got many more than than that. But

Michael Waitze 10:05
don’t you feel a little bit invigorated. So for me, it goes like this, right? You leave this gigantic company, and particularly for you after building it from being the 10th. Employee, there’s something really large, you then leave again, you’re sitting in a coffee shop by yourself, don’t you feel like you’re going back to like being 35 or 32? Again? And you’re like, Yeah, I can, don’t you though? Because I know I do.

Paul Harapin 10:25
Yeah, well, it is. You’re right. It’s invigorating, right, you’re back there. It’s raw. Because there’s everything centers around you. And, but the experience is great, because I have to sit there and I have to prospect, right, you know, that no one’s bringing me deals. Like while I’m trying to hire someone, I’m prospecting. And so I’m doing that doing interviews, you know, trying to build meeting with, you know, company like Accenture one day, and then sitting on doing cold calls and former customers and getting meetings. And that’s how you that’s how you build a business, you know, you do the first step, then you get the next one, and then someone else was on and off you go. And the next minute, you look around and, and there’s the team, and it’s, it’s a remember, at Domo, I took the experience, and I’ve done it here at stripe to in the, in the first part, we had our Christmas party, we had one table in a pub, like 12 of us. And I said, remember this time, because it won’t be long before, we’ll have to hire the whole pub to have our Christmas party. And then you know, a much bigger area. And you look back on that time, and there was only 12 of you. And you look on it really, really fondly. Yeah. And so really, really take note and remember the time, and it truly is those those early parts. Very rewarding. And when you catch up with your team, a lot of my VMware team are in very, very senior roles around the region. Now. You all go back to that time, it’s like catching up with high school friends, you can be 5060. And you still go back to those times when you were 12 years old.

Michael Waitze 12:10
That’s exactly the way I feel. I think one of the things that your career shows is that building this personal and professional network is really important. Right, as your colleagues, like you said, just now move to the senior roles. They’re looking around to fill some other senior roles and think, Well, Paul is going to be perfect for this or or Lisa is going to be amazing for this. But then, to work with you. You have to find another group of people that are willing to just like you did during your generation take that risk. How do you find that and I want to tell you a little anecdote about myself first, so you can understand how I look at risk and how it feels. When I first took my job at Morgan Stanley, I went on my first vacation in Hawaii, and I met a bunch of guys down there. We were in Maui. And they were jumping off a cliff into the ocean. And they can I always say like, I don’t know how high it was. It could have been one meter. It could have been 20. I don’t know. It looks high, though. Right. And I just thought this is what we do. And I remember that feeling jumping off. Do you know what I mean? And landing in the ocean just gone? Like didn’t die? Want to do that again? How do you find the people that are comfortable jumping off that cliff? When you’re you know what I mean, when you’re interviewing and recruiting?

Paul Harapin 13:19
Yeah, well, I think I think now I sort of know what to look for. The challenge is to find the combination of up and comers, yeah, that have no risk price profile, they just want to go out and get stuff done. And a little bit of seniority, that that ends up being the tough part. Because not everyone wants to go back and do a start up and take what they see your CV as a rigger. I’ve been pretty lucky I’ve chosen well. But, you know, I understand that, you know, some people that I hired at VMware, I’ve tried to hire since and their profile is just totally different. Now, they don’t want to take any risks and very happy you know, where they’ve been, and so on. So I think it just experience you get to know what to look for the questions to ask to identify someone who’s fine with ambiguity, know, process and procedure. And some people love process and procedure and are very comfortable working in that environment. Others are really good at unstructured, ambiguous environments and just working it out. And it’s really important to find the difference there, that neither is good nor bad. Yeah, they’re just different. And in the early phases of a startup, you’re just working everything out as you go. So the people you hire, you have to feel comfortable in that type of environment.

Michael Waitze 14:54
What do you think you’ve learned over 30 years in Asia, and I think I’ve mentioned to you as well, that I’ve all So I’ve been in Asia for 30 years. You know, we’d like to think of Asia now we’d like to, but people outside like to think of Asia sort of this big monolithic thing, right? There’s age over this way over there, right? But it’s not, it’s a bunch of different countries, every country has its own nuances and subtleties. When you’re building in Asia, particularly for a product that exists already that has an infrastructure around it, how then do you take that product and modify might be the wrong word, but like localize it because we talk about this a lot. Localization is not just translation. Yeah. How do you do that? How do you think about that?

Paul Harapin 15:35
The way I think about it, and it’s slightly different. So stripe is quite different, for example, to a VM way, back when I was they were the different countries around Asia, it was less about the product, because it was an infrastructure product, it was more around, how do we train people? How do we get you know, the internationalization and localization Correct? How do we present the product in a way that’s relevant to a customer in Japan and a partner in Japan, right, why they buy and run their systems, stripe is a little bit different, because we’re building economic infrastructure. But every country has slightly different nuances to their payments, and how they do business. You know, like Japan, for example, has convenience, which is a convenience store payment method right now, no one in Australia would even know what you were talking about. In relation to that. And so at stripe, it’s, it’s a little bit different. So we invest people in region to develop those local products. With a company like VMware or assess, it’s a little bit different. It’s, you know, the UX and so on. But the most important thing is, what’s the go to market strategy in region? And how do you adapt to the local needs of the customers there? How they think about that area you’re selling into? Because it’s not all the same? And then really representing that back into headquarters? Yeah. Which, you know, sometimes could be a, you know, a real challenge, even where people are familiar with the region. There’s lots of people around that aren’t necessarily familiar. So you always have to represent your unique needs back in. And there’s multiple of them. Because it’s not just one thing. You know, it’s not just Asia, or it’s, you know, a whole bunch of different requirements. So relentlessness in representing your region is key to success in Asia.

Michael Waitze 17:46
Yeah. This I completely understand again, when I was living in Tokyo was really hard to explain to the people in London that we’re doing development, and even the people in New York that were doing development, you got to trust me on this one, these things, these five things need to change, you know, and they would say things like, Well, look, just have them do it in English. It’s more than that, right? Even if it’s just translated into Japanese, or translated into Bahasa localization is way more than just changing the language. And stripe doesn’t just do payments, but just it’s the thing that people know, right? There. So local or national, right. Like in India, you have UPI. So how do you integrate with the API’s there? How do you share data across different domains? Right? How do you do all these things? And how do you view that level of interoperability? And even just like open API’s to be able to connect the different regions with the different businesses and with which they have to interact? Yeah.

Paul Harapin 18:36
Yeah. Well, you know, it stripe, our mission is to increase the GDP of the internet. Yeah, by building that economic infrastructure, so that a customer in any country can sell their goods and services into any other country. And so that’s where that becomes important is, you know, we stripe has built that infrastructure so that we can continue to layer on all new innovation that’s, that’s coming out. That’s both global and regional. And the customer is abstracted from all of that complexity. Because if you think about going back, probably not even that long. But let’s say we go back 10 years, if you want to set up a business from, let’s say, Singapore, and you want to sell into some countries in Europe, some countries across Asia and America, the complexity of trying to do that of setting up bank accounts and companies and relationships with payment, you know, the visas and so on, is so complex, let alone trying to you know, work out all the other nuances to what’s happening with the regulatory system and everything else. It was a real barrier, and you know, And that’s why I love stripes, real goal of just increasing commerce globally, by making it as simple as possible. So if you want to be selling into Japan, you can do that through the same API integration, because it’s one platform. And the next minute, for the most part, depends what you’re doing. But for the most part, you can sell really quickly, in a local currency in that country, all through the same piece of development work that you’ve already done for your local presence.

Michael Waitze 20:36
Can you talk a little bit more deeply about this idea of customer abstraction? Right. In other words, a lot of companies talk about how the customer is really important. But this idea of customer abstraction is really interesting. Yeah.

Paul Harapin 20:50
Yeah, in relation to what we do, I sort of, if you think about any form of infrastructure, the, you know, the roads, you know, plumbing, anything like that, the goal is, it just works. And you don’t think about it. And the only time you really think about it is if something breaks, right. And, and so we look at things the same way. We we want to support our customers, to grow their businesses in whatever way they want to win whatever country or countries that they wish to. And if we can take all of that work that would be necessary, without a straight platform, away from them, and just make it really easy, then they take those development resources and that energy and that capital and invest it in their platform, right, and their products and their customers. So for us, abstracting the customer from the complexities of the global financial systems is is what we’re all about. And so customers work with us and they go, yeah, hey, you know, when we’re unconstrained to some extent, because we can, you know, we can move as quickly as we wish to, because we can work with stripe to open the next country. And I’ll give you an example. We’ve got 40,000 customers in Australia, who transact globally, every month, of all the customers that we have. So you think about, and that’s a growing number. Yeah. So I’m really I’m really proud of that. And that’s, that’s just one example. It’s, you know, it’s happening everywhere. So many customers from overseas, we work with locally, as well.

Michael Waitze 22:40
Can I ask you this, I want to go through the value chain. Right. So when stripe first started, it was meant to be at least at the beginning, a company that did payments, right? It was just easy for people to do that. My guess is that the vision of the founders of the company was was much bigger than that. But you can really can’t build everything at once. But but let’s go through the value chain a little bit when Atlas came out. I remember I’ve been watching this for years, right? When Atlas came out, I just kind of looked at it. I’m like, okay, I get it. Now I can pay for things. But I gotta have a company to pay for things setting up in Delaware. It’s probably the right idea for US company. I can click a couple of buttons and get a bank account and a company set up and stuff. Okay, yep, I get it. This is great. But if we’re truly global, when are we going to be able to do the same thing with Accra? And Singapore, right, or is Estonia where they have all this company set up kind of stuff? Because that would be awesome as well. No. Yeah, absolutely. And I’m not asking you for a date. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying like, you know what I mean, yeah,

Paul Harapin 23:40
you’re right. And we sort of have that challenge with everything we do. It’s okay, we’ve got one thing happening, when can we get it going? Everywhere, because everyone can take advantage of it. And I think the beauty of the way we approach is we’ll innovate, see how that takes, and then continue to scale that over time. So if you look back a few years, we didn’t have our billing and invoicing. Yeah, Stripe backs, products in Asia. But we do. It’s all part of the platform. We’ve got banking as a service in the United States. And that’s now rolling out into Europe. And you know, Asia’s next on a on a fast follow. So the the one thing about building a platform that’s truly global infrastructure is that you’re building not for a one off, problem solved for sure you’re building for everyone in every country. And so the level of integration that we go through so that not just the payments work, but the payments through the recurring billing through the invoicing the taxes correctly. credit card issuing, you know, all of that happens. But I’m excited to, you know, to see new products coming out all the time. And actually in the last couple of days, we made more announcements around payouts with crypto and, and the creator economy and different things. So, you know, we’re always on the move and trying to keep up with supporting our customers in their full commerce requirements, payments being one part, but you know, that full commerce stack and integrations that they need were really, really focused on,

Michael Waitze 25:35
you threw it out there. So I have to ask you, so what’s going on in the crypto space in the Creator economy space? I know a few people that create stuff, and I’m just curious what’s out there for them?

Paul Harapin 25:45
Well, I think the two of them that those two areas are exploding, and I believe we’re still early on very so you would have seen that. from a creative perspective, we’ve announced you know, things with Tik Tok and Twitter and Spotify and others, because many creators work across multiple platforms. So how do we enable all of that commerce down to a creator level so they can share their wares sell their products, get their their tips, or their advertising dollars that they get, and that is just really simple for them to manage, regardless of which platform they’re using. And so whilst early days, it’s already billion dollars in, you know, creator economy that’s going on, we’re continuing continuing to invest to enable that with our customers like, like the tiktoks and Twitter’s and so on, on on crypto, same thing, crypto NF T’s is the demand flowing through there is phenomenal. It’s so starkly different from what we were seeing a couple of years ago, where crypto was still more a speculative investment versus a potential payment currency to buy your coffee. You know, I know there’s organizations in Sydney, where you have your crypto wallet on your phone that’s connected to a credit card and you Apple Pay your your coffee for $4. And it does a crypto on the spot exchange. So, you know, even those simple use cases are starting to flow through. And that’s why it’s really important for us to be working tightly with our customers. So we can, you know, not just understand the area, but understand how it impacts how they want to do business, which is really the driver as a company that truly is user first focused organization.

Michael Waitze 27:54
Yeah, I mean, I look at a company like why GG, right yield guild games and some of the companies with which they’re dealing but with play to earn. Now a real thing, if people are earning money, that means that they’re now going to have money to spend, if they have money to spend, they’re probably not. And if they’re playing games, they’re not just local or regional, they’re now global to and their needs. This gets back to this idea of interoperability and open API’s and all this data sharing and stuff that we talked about earlier. But if there’s a way for them, then to move because moving money, globally has been so hard. I know. Right? Like I said, I’ve been living outside the United States for 30 years. And just to get yen into dollars back to somebody in the United States for years was just painful. Like pure plain. Yeah. But now you add crypto into it. Are all these things working together seamlessly now? You think?

Paul Harapin 28:43
Yeah, that’s, that’s the goal. So for us, what we support is all supported seamlessly through the same integration. And customers can, you know, transact in one currency and pay out into another. And that’s what we’ve, you know, really, again, when I talk about abstracting the complexity from users, that’s that’s one of the things and don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot, a lot of complexity still to work on. But I think we’ve we build and continue to build that infrastructure that allows us to continue to layer on new innovation and take pieces of complexity out one by one as we move along, and Kryptos another one and do it all with, you know, strict governance and compliance and so on, because you don’t want to taking money and paying it out. But to make sure that that’s all done in the right way, and there’s no money laundering and everything else like that. So, again, there’s a whole component of complexity and just related to that part of the Comp the global commerce engine, that stripe does for our customers that for the most part is abstracted away from them. You know,

Michael Waitze 30:07
I don’t want to go down the AML and KYC, haven’t you? I don’t really because we could spend hours doing that. But I want to ask you about this right, I was talking to Pranay Batra, who runs the insurance business at phone pay in India. And obviously there are 400 million people or 500, who knows on their platform, India’s a big country. But do you think about stripe as well, particularly in Asia, where insurance penetration is low? And as you gather more people onto the platform using it as a distribution? Because we were talking about the value chain that’s getting built right in new products? Do you look at this as a distribution mechanism potentially for all kinds of insurance products as well, particularly for people that are running businesses, even connectivity insurance, right? In other words, at its simplest form, I have a business, I need to make payments, and you know, and tax and all this other stuff that I do for my business, I send out invoices, if my connectivity goes down, I’m kind of lost, right? But there are other ways to use the platform for distribution. Do you think about that as well?

Paul Harapin 31:06
Yeah, we do. You know, as we as we continue to expand the platform, there’s more and more customers that are coming up with different ways of distributing different things. So I have a customer in Australia, for example, that is doing micro insurance riding the platform. So the concept of I don’t really drive my car very much. Maybe I just drive it on a Saturday, so just want to pay for my insurance for that trip. And they can do that. And it’s it’s really simple to do it. Because there’s a there’s a organization that’s building their platform to enable that now we make the money flow and how that all works. complex multi party payment structures in marketplaces, beat insurance or anything else. Really, really simple. And so I see that distribution capability being leveraged all along. I mean, there’s certain things that stripe will do. But there’s much much more that our customers are doing to leverage our platform for that distribution, whether it’s insurance, or anything else.

Michael Waitze 32:23
Yeah. You said usage based insurance is actually really interesting. There is a company I don’t know if this is you’re talking about in Australia called Koba run by Andrew Huang, who does this really interesting for UBI. Before I let you go, I want to talk about Asia just at scale. I mean, again, you and I have been out here for you’re born here, but we’ve been running businesses in Asia for 30 years. And if you could see what I was doing what you can, you’ve seen kind of growth going like this in Asia, and now it’s starting to go like this, can you feel it in your own sort of business growth and business development, this acceleration of business in Asia, and the growth there

Paul Harapin 32:59
again, and it’s one of the most exciting things about being at stripe, not only do I get to work with some of the biggest organizations on the planet out here, but some of the smaller less than, and most innovative fastest moving organizations and, and everyone in between, and it’s it’s quite having lived in Singapore twice, once, 25 years ago. And now again, it’s palpable, the innovation that’s happening, it is just so different than shackles are off, doesn’t matter what country it is, you know, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc. The innovation that’s been built, and is now accessible, that innovation is accessible to the whole world, right? There’s no constraints done. Right? If you look at just some of the customers coming out of Australia, you know, the the canvas and the Atlassian Yeah, you know, 1520 years ago, everyone had to leave Australia to build a company of any note that wasn’t certainly any tech company. And now you don’t have to leave anyway, it doesn’t matter where you are in Asia, I think, is really a hotbed of innovation. And then that’s why it’s so exciting to be working in this region. Always has been, but I think even more so now, in the world that we’re in with tech, and platforms driving, so much change. And, you know, of all the bad things of COVID One of the things that that’s positive is it’s really accelerated than the necessity to leverage technology across all aspects of our life. So just super exciting. You know, as you said, I definitely feel 35 Again, I can assure you I’m I’m nowhere near it anymore.

Michael Waitze 35:01
But I feel that but I do feel this acceleration of growth here and I think that’s a great way to end Paul harpin the head of Asia Pacific in Japan at stripe. That was awesome.

Paul Harapin 35:11
Thanks, Michael. I really appreciate your time and enjoy the chat.

 

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