Big idea: To make mobile commerce and digital money a reality. "In the past 5,000 years, there have been only four major ways that people pay for things: barter, coins, paper, and then plastic. The future is undeniably digital," says Osama Bedier, 34. "That great iTunes buying experience? It needs to happen in almost everything, in a common way that's intuitive, whether I'm on my TV, Blu-ray player, iPhone, or the Web." Bedier is behind PayPal's radical move to open up its system to third-party developers and allow them to integrate its payment system into their Web sites, mobile apps, and devices. In the first three months, PayPal signed up more than 15,000 developers.
Bedier's move from engineer to executive: He started at PayPal in 2003 as an engineer and spent years championing the idea of an open platform, developing the security to keep it safe in his spare time. "In the early days, it was a part-time labor of love for me." Last summer, he was promoted and given the resources to make it happen.
Coming to America: Bedier's family moved to the United States from Egypt when he was 8, so his father could work on his PhD. They landed at Oregon State University in Corvallis (2010 population: 55,000). "I felt like the only Egyptian there," he says.
The whiz-kid programmer: Bedier started programming in the sixth grade. "A friend of my father's showed me some code he wrote. I was hooked from day one." A father of four, Bedier is now teaching his own kids how to program. "I feel like schools are a little bit behind in teaching computer science."
Big break: A menial job at an AT&T Wireless call center. "I started building software that let me resolve calls faster," he says. When coworkers saw what he was doing, they wanted in, and the higher-ups noticed the productivity gains. "They took me out of that role about five months in and set up a call-center technology group, where I basically extended this stuff into all of their call centers."
Weirdest job: To pay his way through college, Bedier was a bouncer at the Roxbury, the famously selective '90s nightclub in West Hollywood that was first parodied by Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live. "That's the running joke around here: I'm really a bouncer but at some point had a change of heart."
Favorite brain food: "In-N-Out is, like, the best burger place ever." Usual order? "The Double-Double with Animal Style fries, but if I'm really hungry I'll get the 4x4 — four patties, four slices of cheese."
Brainstorming process: "My team knows that when I get up out of my chair, I'm going to the whiteboard and I'm going to find a solution. I'm a big proponent of getting a bunch of really smart people in a room and beating an idea to death."
Entrepreneurial inspiration: The founders of YouTube, LinkedIn, and Slide, to name three successful startups, all worked at PayPal. "If I counted the money I've lost by not leaving, I'd probably get depressed. But if I'd seen an opportunity to change the world that was bigger than what I'm doing now, I would have left already."
When it's "me time," you'll find Bedier in ... the pool. "I've been swimming since age 5. I was ranked nationally in Egypt and at the state level in high school. Swimming taught me determination and discipline, and it's one of those ultra-competitive sports that you just never forget."
The perils of PayPal: "My wife and I love to go to the movies when we have the
chance — we both love action movies," he says. "We loved Avatar! Liked the surprises, the mix of sci-fi and realism, and that it was unconventional." He tries to get his oldest daughter to babysit at no charge, but PayPal can interfere with his plans. "Kids can text their parents, 'Hey, I want 10 bucks,' and all you have to say is yes, and the money moves. That has become my worst nightmare."
A version of this article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.