Braintree, the Chicago-based payments gateway that’s processing about $2 billion in mobile transactions per year, just poached one of Google Wallet’s creators Rob von Behren from Square.
Von Behren was one of the co-founders of Google Wallet, the NFC-centric mobile payment system that was designed to let consumers pay directly for goods and services with their smartphones.
Wallet hasn’t seen widespread traction thanks to the often conflicting motivations of carriers, banks, credit card companies and Google. But there were also internal politics too, which led to a diaspora of Google Wallet team members out into startups and growth-stage companies like Square and Braintree.
At Braintree, von Behren says he’ll be working on their mobile e-commerce platform. “Smartphones are pervasive in developed economies, and people use them all the time while making purchasing decisions — but actually buying things with your phone is still really painful in most situations,” he said.
Braintree has focused on building out a direct-to-consumer presence with the acquisition of New York startup Venmo over the last year. Before, Braintree had mostly been handling B2B relationships and powering payments for companies like Airbnb and Uber. Venmo gave them a consumer brand, which they then used to launch services like Venmo Touch, which let consumers sign up to pay for services in the Braintree network with one-click.
Von Behren didn’t really comment on why he left Square after spending a year there. Square has seen a string of departures into the venture world with its head of growth Jared Fliesler moving to Matrix Partners, its director of product Megan Quinn moving to Kleiner Perkins and its COO Keith Rabois joining Khosla Ventures after allegations of sexual harassment.
“For somebody as well-known and respected as Rob, getting that kind of hire was going to be fierce competition,” said Braintree CEO Bill Ready. “We’re thrilled to have him on the team.”
He added that Braintree is definitely not doing NFC. “Rob’s passion was never NFC,” Ready said.
Von Behren said he was mostly attracted to the problem of making payments easy and frictionless on mobile devices. Braintree has a critical mass around this area with 40 million customers and $8 billion in transaction volume a year.
He added that the Google Wallet experience taught him about how difficult it can be to work with large retailers.
“One of the most challenging aspects of Google Wallet was working with the long development cycles of large brick-and-mortar retailers,” he said. “While it’s easy to conceive of good technological solutions to many of the problems these retailers face, figuring out an evolutionary path between where they are and where they would like to be is challenging.”
He added, “Google is one of the few companies in the world that has the right combination of tech savvy and resources to be able to tackle something like this, but even at Google this was difficult.”