2 min read

Where the 21st Century is Happening

Cities are the perfect mix of mega growth, nasty problems, and shifting lines of authority.

Valued at $22 billion, Stripe exists to capture one global trend: “only about 3 percent of global commerce happens online today.” The 3 percent is bolded to emphasize inevitability.

Stripe solves two problems for a fast-growing yet fractured part of the global economy. It builds software for the 3 percent who buy and sell online. It also makes it easier for the remaining 97 percent to start and grow online.

Other large, fractured markets are physical and digital infrastructure, technology-enabled wellness, modern online-offline security, and off-grid renewable energy.

Where do these markets operate? Cities – the 21st-century market-of-markets.

Cities combine up-and-to-the-right growth, intractable day-to-day problems, and shifting lines of authority between the public and private sectors.

In my lifetime, two-thirds of the world will live in cities; 80 percent of global GDP will be generated in cities; 75 percent of global carbon emissions will come from cities; and, as a result, most problems and opportunities related to health, security, and innovation will happen in cities.

But for the average person (or average consumer), cities are chock-full of day-to-day problems. It is too hard to secure your family, identity, and assets; too challenging to sustain flesh-and-bone relationships; too expensive to buy healthy food; and, for many, too difficult to access drinkable water, breathable air, or basic healthcare.

Right now, a $10 billion-plus company is working on each of these categories. We can expect many, many more at ever-larger valuations.

From privacy to transportation, companies and governments are in an epic battle to define boundaries in the 21st-century. Who will mitigate the risks from and extend the benefits of autonomous vehicles? Various forms of cybersecurity? Food safety? Modern supply chains? Affordable housing? The crisis of chronic disease? Artificial intelligence? Always-on surveillance?

These battles won't always have clear winners and losers. They will continue – rapidly moving from high intensity to low intensity as technology advances – until both sides reach detente through new models of public-private cooperation. In the meantime, caught between larger forces, billions of people will be dealing with advances in technology, mass job automation, suffocating debt, catastrophic climate change, severe demographic shifts, and full-spectrum health threats.

As Stripe bets on global trends in online commerce, I’m betting on billion-person, trillion-dollar trends in global cities.

Henry Luce famously called the 20th-century the American Century.

The 21st-century is the Urban Century.