Stephen Pair & Tony Gallippi

Founders, BitPay

Friends Before Founders

Before they founded BitPay, the world’s premier Bitcoin payment processor, Tony Gallippi and Stephen Pair had to reconnect after their college friendship had gone on hiatus for several years. Their friendship resumed via one of the more potent symbols of the technological era: they became Facebook friends.

The two had been in the same fraternity while pursuing undergraduate degrees at Georgia Institute of Technology, Gallippi in mechanical engineering and Pair in computer science. After they graduated, as often happens to college friends, their careers and other life choices took them on separate paths. Their Facebook friendship picked up in 2010 right where they had left off several years earlier jawing away about stocks, the economy, software, and what they had been doing since graduation.

Pair had stayed in his home state of Georgia to work in various technology and software jobs. He eventually started a family and bought a house only a mile from his boyhood home, where his parents still live. And by 2010, Gallippi, a Baltimore native, had landed in Orlando. He’d been working in the robotics industry.

The two stayed in touch, and one day in 2011, after Pair had learned about and purchased his first bitcoin, he mentioned it to Gallippi. Pair remembers it this way: “Tony told me to sell all my bitcoins before it collapses. But then he started thinking about it a little more.” Not long after, Pair opened up his email to find a long memo from Gallippi outlining a business idea for a Bitcoin payment processing system. “It was great,” Pair remembers. “This long detailed note from him, and I immediately wrote him back a one-line response: ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”

The rest as they say, is history, though it is a history still very much in the making. Pair is the CEO and oversees the daily operations of BitPay’s Atlanta headquarters. Gallippi serves as the executive chairman and travels the world, opening new markets and helping to build the company’s field offices in San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Buenos Aires. The company launched in May 2011 with a two-person staff that has grown steadily to include more than 80 employees.

Both partners have called on their backgrounds in technology-related industries for their work with Bitcoin. “I spent the first five years of my work life as a mechanical engineer, but I realized I was going to have to move to more of a customer-focused role,” Gallippi says. “I liked solving engineering problems, but I just couldn’t see spending most of my life hunched over in a cubicle.”

Opportunity knocked when a leading robotics firm recognized Gallippi’s combination of technical know-how and people skills; they hired him to develop their sales teams. He stayed 11 years until he and Pair hatched the plan for BitPay. For Gallippi, cubicles are now a thing of the past.

Pair’s love for all things digital surfaced as a young boy, when he couldn’t keep his hands off his father’s TRS-80 Model 1 computer, despite his father’s explicit instructions to the contrary. “I’d wait until he went to work and jump right on,” Pair remembers. “I just had to make sure I put everything back exactly as it was. But he probably knew I was doing it. Finally, he got me my own computer when I was in junior high, and I taught myself all the programming languages I could.”

Some 25 years later, Pair came across an article about Bitcoin. “My econ brain said, ‘That can’t possibly work.’ But it stuck in the back of my mind,” he says. “And then around Christmas of 2010, I read Satoshi’s (Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym for the founder of the Bitcoin protocol)whitepaper,andIknewthathehad solved a longstanding computer science problem holding back digital currencies. I knew right away what a big deal it was going to be. I decided I really wanted to be doing this full-time.”

Less than a year later, he was. His college friend’s fateful memo set them both on the path toward changing the digital era into which they had been born. BitPay now processes Bitcoin payments for more than 40,000 companies worldwide, but Pair and Gallippi are hardly finished.

“We continue to invest in the product; merchants keep asking us for features that help them in their business,” Gallippi says. “We recently launched a payroll product that allows employees to be paid part of their salary in bitcoins. We use this at BitPay, where every employee takes something in bitcoin, and a few of us go all in at 100%, including me. We do everything we can to support the Bitcoin ecosystem, which is only going to grow. Our intention is to grow right along with the leading edge of it.”