Show me the money!

With all the hype and attention that Bitcoin (and Coinbase) has been getting lately, I thought it would be interesting to look into what the ‘real’ options for accepting and sending payments on the web really are.

Besides, a handful of my projects actually do have some small payment collection features and so it wouldn’t hurt to do some clean up around that if there are better options out there.

So in digging around a bit, I found my general options really haven’t changed all that much over the past few years…there are a few new players like Coinbase and Stripe that seem to be doing some interesting things, but still aren’t *quite* what I was hoping would be available.

In my quest, all I really want are three things:

1. Secure. All of the options seem pretty good on this front, and getting an SSL certificate is fairly simple these days (though still a bit more money than I would personally like)

2. Affordable. This seems to be the real kicker. Nothing I’ve found is *really* affordable, and in fact, they all seem to work really hard at either making their actual pricing very complex to understand or at the very least appear to be exactly the same as the other options. Of all the options, Stripe seems to be the easiest to understand and most straight forward (though I feel like 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction is still a high hurdle to jump).

3. Simple. I’ve built a couple of different systems over the years that have integrated with old-school merchant services more than once…so I’m pretty confident that I can make any of the options work from the technical side of the conversation…so when I say simple, I mean from the user’s point of view. It needs to be quick and clear how a user is charged, what they are being charged, why they are being charged, and just specifically how the whole transaction is completed.

This seems 'simple’, but it’s amazing how complex it actually still is. In fact, this is one of the true genius things about both Amazon and Apple (they’ve made transactions within the worlds they control - simple).

Of all the options, again Stripe seems to come out on top for simplicity (but I have not actually implemented it in any of my systems so take it with a grain of salt).

So anyway, with that in mind, here are the top ones I took a peek at (if you have other good options I would love to hear about them in the comments below):

Amazon Payments - This has been my default system over the past couple of years. It’s basically the same as PayPal, but with the massive added advantage of not being PayPal. It’s secure, on-par affordable, and easy-to-implement (but still somewhat complex from a user standpoint).

Braintree - Very hard to tell this service apart from Stripe. The core difference seems to be customer service (ie. they are geared towards non-techies, stripe is geared towards techies). Since I’m a techie, I decided Stripe would be a better fit for me.

Coinbase - I like a lot of what they have building, but no one across any of my services actually understands Bitcoin and likely won’t for at least a couple of years…so unfortunately not worth spending any of my limited resources on yet.

Paypal - I hate their customer service, I hate their fees, and I hate their complexity (on all fronts). I would rather not deal with transactions than have to deal with PayPal (that’s how bad they really are).

Stripe - I’m not in love with the fee structure, but it wins on all the other fronts (and I have a few connections who are already using and loving it).

Square - Seems mostly geared towards small, physical world, payments at the moment. Wasn’t entirely clear if they could actually do everything I wanted/needed for my services yet.

Venmo - Geared mostly towards mobile and mirco-payments. Also not entirely clear if they could actually do everything I wanted/needed for my services yet.

…and just to be fair I also did a quick look at a few more 'traditional’ options, specifically:

Merchant Services - Seems like a reasonable option, but also feels like they are geared more towards taking traditional brick-and-mortar merchant services online. Probably a lot more complex and costly than is needed (and simply benefiting from companies not knowing there are better options)

Bank of America Merchant Services - I use Bank of America for my business (and some personal) banking…so there could be some small advantages in keeping it all in one world. Long term, I might still go this route, but the initial set up (cost, time, and commitment) is higher than that of Stripe, so I’m starting there instead.

So - that’s where I’m at for the moment…over the next week or two, I’ll take some time to implement Stripe into a few of my services and see what the real bumps and challenges are (and hopefully report back to you on any big ones).

How about you? How do you get paid? How do you pay your partners? What are you looking for in services to solve these challenges?

UPDATE: In one of my side conversations, Balance was brought to my attention as another option…from my initial quick looks, it might even be a better fit for my needs than Stripe…so this def. warrants a bit more digging!

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at

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