SAN JOSE -- It's been a busy year for PayPal, which has launched more digital payments products since the start of 2013 than in the previous five years combined. At the helm of many of these innovations is James Barrese, a former eBay (EBAY) executive who now is PayPal's chief technology officer.
In a dramatic shift from being a Web-based payments processor, PayPal this year has rolled out new mobile applications and a Bluetooth hardware device that the company says will soon replace the traditional wallet in nearly every type of transaction. It's even trying to figure out how to bring the digital payment system into space for the emerging space tourism industry. Barrese will help bring many of these products to the mass market in 2014.
The Mercury News sat down with Barrese to talk about PayPal's transformation and plans to own mobile payments space next year. His remarks were edited for length and clarity.
Q: What mobile products are you working on now that might not be in the hands of consumers?
A: From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed at night, most of us don't have the phone more than an arm's reach away, and that's creating all kinds of opportunities and innovations in terms of what people didn't think about.
When you have your mobile device in a store, are you offline? Are you online? Is it both? That's creating a whole new set of expectations and opportunities. We're really reinventing the experience of when you walk into a store, and that's the part that isn't in consumers' hands yet. When you walk into a store ... it can be easier for you to check in and buy what you want to buy and walk out without taking out your wallet.
Q: Why do you think people don't want to take out their wallet to pay? Taking out your debit card is not that difficult.
A: It's not that hard to pay with a card, so the bar is high. It's got to actually be easier or more convenient. But there are all kinds of cases where people like to travel just with their phone. People absolutely are drawn to this new experience. If you could get by with just your mobile device, and say you forgot your wallet, or it was actually easier to pay, then you'll like it.
Q: PayPal has not been a favorite among developers and startups. Why do you think that is?
A: In 2009, we were actually the first to open up our APIs (application programming interface, a set of guidelines for building software so it works on PayPal's platform) to developers. The thing is we didn't keep up with our policies and we didn't invest in the developers like we should have. We basically took our eye off the ball.
We have since pivoted and are clearly addressing that gap. Earlier this year we released a new set of APIs targeted at developers that are much easier. The reason why we are acquiring mobile payments company Braintree is that they have a fantastic set of products for developers, but also a great culture on how to engage and work with developers, and we see that as directly helping fill that gap that we had. So we're doing those things as well as assessing a lot of our internal policies that also really drive developers to be frustrated.
Q: PayPal has talked about supporting bitcoins -- a type of digital currency gaining popularity -- one day. Do you actually have any plans to do that?
A: We're watching it. We think it's an interesting space. I think that more time needs to go by, but we'll definitely look at it. And we do that for lots of different countries' currencies and payment methods. Basically, whatever the customer is paying with, we're going to go there.
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.
Position: PayPal chief technology officer and senior vice president
Previous jobs: Vice president at eBay, vice president of engineering at e-commerce philanthropy company Charitableway
Education: Bachelor's degree, Stanford University
Family: Married; three daughters, ages 14, 12 and 9
Residence: Grew up in Sunnyvale, lives in San Jose
Five things about James Barrese
1. Favorite thing to do when he's not at work is play with his three daughters. Chess -- on a board, not an iPad -- is the game of choice.
2. Has a passion for philanthropy and helped start e-commerce company Charitableway, which, before it folded, gave charities easier access to donors online.
3. Served two years in the Army (1986-88) as a communications specialist.
4. Thinks the physical wallet will be unnecessary within five years.
5. Among his favorite pit stops when traveling with his daughters is Jamba Juice.