Braintree Buys Venmo for $26M -- If PayPal Wasn't Scared Before, It Should Be Now

By Sarah Lacy , written on August 16, 2012

From The News Desk

Word has just leaked that payments company Braintree is buying fellow Accel portfolio company Venmo for $26 million in cash and stock. We caught up with Braintree CEO Bill Ready to talk about what the deal means. In five words: PayPal is even more screwed.

Braintree has been busy inking deals with many of the next generation ecommerce and mobile giants -- like Uber and -- billing itself as the modern, anti-PayPal. It's known for its white-glove customer service and easier sign up process. It's been particularly strong on mobile, helping build frictionless, one-click mobile payment systems that allow companies like Uber to drain your bank account while you barely notice.

But so far Braintree has mostly been a force among merchants, with its magic all but invisible to consumers. This deal dramatically changes that. By buying the consumer-facing digital wallet company, Braintree will now be able to extend that easy one-click purchasing power across any vendor it works with.

In other words, anyone who has booked a hotel room with HotelTonight, anyone who has ever paid for an Uber, anyone who has bought anything on, Airbnb, or LivingSocial -- they can instantly buy anything from any site that uses Braintree, no need to enter a username, password, or credit card details. "No need to put in your information," Ready says. "We've got you covered in a single click."

How many people does that cover? Some 30 million consumers, Ready says. That's already one-third of PayPal's customer base and 15 percent of the cardholding population in the US. And it's heavily segmented towards more affluent, early adopters. Anyone who has experienced post-ride Uber sticker shock knows the ease of these payment systems have the potential to unlock a torrent of industry-wide mobile commerce. Husbands will soon be freezing wives phones instead of their credit cards.

This solves an obvious pain point for consumers -- no one wants to whip out a credit card while mindless browsing on a subway. But it solves an even bigger pain point for merchants.

As Ready explains, 20 percent of ecommerce traffic is all happening on mobile now, but the conversion rates for companies that don't have easy one click payment systems are lousy. They are some 75 percent worse than shopping on a computer. This problem will get more acute as mobile traffic grows. In another year a full 50 percent of ecommerce traffic will be on mobile devices, Ready says. If last generation etailers want to keep up with more nimble mobile-first etailers, they're going to need some payments help, quickly. "This is the next incarnation of PayPal," Ready says. "It's what is needed in a mobile world."

Ready says Braintree is closing on several new, big last-generation ecommerce customers, to be announced in coming weeks. The battle for payments just got a lot more interesting.

[Disclosure: Accel is also an investor in PandoDaily.]