Sometimes Boring Problems Present Great Opportunities

December 18, 2010

2:26 pm

Braintree is not a sexy business and we don’t get much attention. We are, however, one of the fastest growing companies in America, and we are powering payments for some of the most exciting businesses in the country. This is not because we got a ton of funding or initially came up with some wildly disruptive technology; it’s because we solved an old, simple, and boring problem.

Back Story
Six years ago, no one would hire me. At the time, I was involved in a non-paying venture and needed money to pay my bills. I was forced to get a commission-only, door-to-door job selling merchant services to businesses.

Selling merchant services was painful because the industry is notoriously deceptive and confusing. After 12 months of getting berated daily and taking solace in the smallest of successes, I won over 200 customers and became the company’s top sales person out of 400 nationwide. In accomplishing this, I wasn’t doing anything amazing; I had simply figured out that all these businesses wanted was a fair price, an honest approach, and reliable customer service.

Starting Up
That’s when I quit my sales job and started Braintree founded on those three principles. What we did was so simple and obvious, but so radical compared to what was going on in the industry. Within a year, we had quite a few customer evangelists and word of mouth propelled our growth faster than we could manage.

There’s nothing uniquely innovative about these three principles or what I was trying to do with Braintree. The business didn’t require outside investment, didn’t get any major press, and didn’t have hockey-stick growth. All we did was stick to these principles and put our customers first.

Bootstrapped, Managed Growth
Because of this, we’ve grown the company with our own cash flow. We’ve maintained unfettered control to do what is best for our customers and people. We have the freedom to grow the business at the pace we want and in any direction we want, because we don’t have any outside investors or a ticking clock to worry about. It’s satisfying to have reached a point where we are now making notable innovations in our industry.

I frequently talk to entrepreneurs who want to start a business. When I ask about their ideas, I usually hear something along the lines of what’s next, what’s trendy, and the capital required to roll the dice.

In these conversations, I suggest they also consider an alternative approach: find an old, simple, and boring problem and start by solving that. Do it without raising capital. Learn the industry inside and out. Then, after you’ve gained some momentum, the view of the horizon may be clearer and you may not have to worry about that blasted ticking clock.

Bryan Johnson is the CEO of Braintree, a Web 2.0 payments company based out of Chicago. If your start-up wants to process credit cards, check out

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