John Lunn, senior director of developer and startup relations for Braintree, PayPal’s multi-device global payments platform, is that rarest of hybrids in the tech world: a dreamer and a doer.

The self-proclaimed son of “hippie parents,” Lunn has built a career combining vision and optimism with formidable entrepreneurial and coding skills to create cutting-edge payments and fraud detection systems to democratize access to online commerce.

From Nemo to Venmo

In his current position, Lunn focuses on giving developers and users of Braintree’s business-building tools access to the features, functionality and mentorship they need to fulfill Braintree’s mission of “connecting the world and empowering people through payments” across 40 countries and 130 currencies.

Lunn also champions Braintree’s programs to promote social good and mitigate the adversity caused by technological disruption, noting in an essay on Medium that “I grew up believing in a society that looks after the less fortunate while encouraging people to make the most of themselves.”

His BattleHack contest invites coders to become “the ultimate hacker for good” as part of a 14-city global effort leading up to the BattleHack World Finals to be held Nov. 14 and 15 at PayPal Town Hall in San Jose, Calif.

CMSWire caught up with Lunn recently to talk about his winding career path from marine biology to online payments, the future of cyber security and what he perceives as the responsibility of tech disrupters to consider the broader needs of society.

Social Responsibility

Sobel: After more than 17 years at companies such as PayPal and CyberSource, you have become an authority in the world of online payments security. But you spent your college years studying Marine and Freshwater Biology and hold a master’s in Environmental Pollution Science. Can you track us through that transformation?

Lunn: Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always say “Captain Nemo.” That was the basis for my interest in marine biology and environmental science.

But when I was eight, my dad brought home a Sinclair ZX81 computer and I was hooked for life. I used to wait until my parents went to bed so I could write code and make games. When I left university, I realized there were no openings in Captain Nemo’s fleet so I signed up to work at a company that sold data.

I ended up talking the boss into selling databases ― which I wrote ― until a US-based payments startup called CyberSource came calling. They hired me as their fourth employee outside the US and 36th overall, and I have been working in some area of online payments ever since.

Sobel: Earlier this year you wrote an insightful and provocative blog post on LinkedIn entitled “Judge Dredd, Trucks and What We Are Doing to the World.” In it you say “I am faced with the reality that we are changing the world at such a pace that sometimes I’m not sure we are doing it with enough care.” Can you tell us more?

Connecting with Bill Sobel
Lunn: I think we have gotten completely carried away with the idea that disruption is a good thing. The idea of taking an inefficient or outdated system and making a better one is great but I believe we also need to look at the larger ecosystem to anticipate the impacts of disruptive change and be aware of its negative consequences.

Then, rather than simply funneling the profits from the gained efficiencies directly back to the few who disrupted the original system, we should look at how we can use some of those monies to help the “disrupted” adjust to the new world that has been created.

PayPal and Braintree are trying to encourage this kind of thinking with BattleHack, our global hackathon series. We bring together the world’s best coders in cities all over the world and have them devote 24 hours to working on something that is “good” and solves a problem that will improve people’s daily lives.

Sobel: PayPal had its IPO in 2002 and you joined the company in 2006. Nearly two decades later, how much has PayPal changed the world of payments, both online and offline?

Lunn: People forget that before PayPal, starting an online business was pretty much impossible. Bank merchant accounts only allowed established companies to open accounts and process online transactions. PayPal democratized the process and made it possible for anyone to sell to anyone.

PayPal continues to level the playing field by leading the way in mobile payments. Every time you pay using your smartphone or Venmo it’s because PayPal has made the world a more equal place.

I also think that PayPal is shifting the responsibility for transactional security from consumers having to protect their own accounts to providers doing that for them.

Sobel: That’s very interesting because obviously a number of retailers have been victimized by cyber-criminals hacking into their systems and stealing customer credit and debit card information. The problem seems to be escalating. Any thoughts?

Lunn: I think there has always been a balancing act between security and convenience. We want our details to be secure but we also want to minimize the time we spend dealing with arduous security measures.

Braintree developed its Vault technology to securely store customer information and payment methods. It tokenizes consumers’ card details for the merchant to reduce how widely your card details are held and encrypts them when they are shared. We think it will eventually minimize the theft of customer card data.