Founder Stories at 1871: Braintree’s Bryan Johnson

For the third installment of its Founder Stories Series, 1871 invited Bryan Johnson, founder of Braintree, to the stage. Braintree is a Chicago-based company that helps businesses accept online credit card payments.

Last night Johnson shared his insights and experiences, including the mundane job that inspired Braintree, the surprising outcome that accepting venture capital funding had for his company and the future of micropayments. A Doejo client and major competitor of PayPal and, Braintree’s clients include OpenTable, Living Social, 37 Signals, Uber and Shopify.

Johnson formulated the idea for Braintree while working as a door-to-door salesperson selling credit card processing. What started as just a part time job to pay the bills became an opportunity for him to gain firsthand experience of the credit card payment business while learning the in’s and out’s of the industry.

He quickly realized that the world of credit card processing was unregulated and with no one overseeing the process, small businesses were often being taken advantage of. Johnson quickly developed a unique sales pitch that focused on honesty, transparency and great customer support, turning him into the company’s number one sales rep.

“Those who show initiative will reap the benefits,” said Johnson, sharing a simple thought that changed his life. He then explained that he “never understood the value of a fixed wage. I wanted to determine what I was worth.” It was this kind of entrepreneurial thinking that inspired him to start Braintree.

With a concrete knowledge of the industry and an array of potential clients, thanks to satisfied customers accumulated during years of selling credit card processing, Johnson successfully bootstrapped Braintree for three years. He transferred the effective sales pitch from his days of door-to-door selling and focused on simplifying PCI compliance for businesses.

Braintree’s first big business partnership was with OpenTable, coincidentally the subject of the last Founder Stories event, where they stored credit card data for 11,000 restaurants individual reservations. This partnership caused the focus of the company to pivot: they now needed to solve internal problems for tech companies, forcing Johnson to hire software developers to assist with the tech-start up clients they were quickly acquiring.

Braintree was processing almost $3 billion in credit card volume before they looked to venture capital firms for funding. The decision to accept funding was fueled by Johnson’s goal to work with exceptional people and discussions with banks that began enforcing limitations on Braintree, saying they did not have deep enough pockets to do what they needed to do.

Accepting funding had a surprising outcome for Braintree: it lead to increased press coverage and boosted their credibility. Suddenly, Braintree, a behind the scenes business-to-business product, was enjoying 30 press features in a 12-month period, boosting their visibility.

Johnson settled on Accel Partners in his search for the most entrepreneur friendly firm and is happy with his choice, saying they let the company culture grow, did not interfere with the business and have allowed Johnson keep control of his company.

The future of Braintree is focused on mobile, specifically the ease of completing a transaction on a mobile device.

“We think we have some solutions to help merchants increase revenue and to help consumers make a frictionless transaction,” said Johnson. Braintree is also focusing on making credit card payment more of a rich experience by integrating growing technology such as social media and data aggregation. 

For Braintree, it seems anything is possible. They have already launched a successful campaign for a free market competition allowing them to compete with PayPal despite being a smaller company. “No matter who you are or what your stage in life, you can make a difference,” said Johnson.

His secret to success is simple: Johnson says his sincerest desire is to be useful to society. Not motivated by money, he is driven by a need to do something larger than himself and be able to control his own time.