The Inside Story of How PayPal Ousted an Early Rival

In the early days of PayPal, its most important rival was Billpoint, a rival payment system that was a joint venture between eBay–PayPal’s most important partner–and Wells Fargo Bank. Consider the situation PayPal faced: the vast majority of its business at the time consisted of handling payments for eBay auctions, yet eBay itself owned a competitive payments business (Billpoint) that it was promoting to every single eBay user. To outside observers, the circumstances must have looked grim.

Yet as we know, PayPal triumphed over Billpoint, leading eBay to purchase PayPal for over $1.5 billion. One of the key factors was PayPal’s superior use of network intelligence. Reid led this intelligence-gathering effort for PayPal (he was executive vice president at the time) and asked all the members of the team, from executives to individual engineers, to use their network intelligence to learn about Billpoint’s strategy. Billpoint’s team, on the other hand, completely ignored the potential for network intelligence to provide insights into PayPal’s strategy.

From conversations with other companies that were building on the eBay platform such as and AuctionWatch (now Vendio), PayPal employees learned two key facts. First, the Billpoint team was convinced that the key success factor for an internet payments system was a deep banking relationship to combat fraud. Billpoint’s leadership felt that the Wells Fargo relationship represented an overwhelming advantage over PayPal.

Second, contrary to Billpoint’s belief, the companies on the eBay platform (and their customers) didn’t consider a deep banking relationship that relevant. They placed a far greater value on ease of use, especially in e-mail communications. Fraud prevention was a hygiene factor, not a driving force. None of this information was public, but none of it was secret either.

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