By the time David Marcus became its president last year, PayPal—one of the most successful technology startups of the late 1990s—had taken on the culture of an entrenched player in payments. Under Marcus, the company is aiming to recapture its startup mentality. He has begun a steady stream of changes that sets a tone for the entire banking industry to follow.

Marcus came to PayPal, an eBay subsidiary, with the company's 2011 purchase of Zong, a mobile billing provider he founded. (There have been many more acquisitions since then, including the $800 million purchase this fall of Braintree, an online payments gateway.) Marcus guided the launch of PayPal Here, a mobile payment system to rival Square, and is leading the company through its landmark deal with Discover to put PayPal at the point of sale with every Discover merchant. Each of these moves demonstrates that disruption is still possible in markets thought to be locked up by large and formidable companies.

But all of this came at a cost. To reshape the company into a set of more agile development teams, PayPal eliminated up to 400 jobs in late 2012. And to speed up its push at the point of sale, PayPal had to sacrifice the "cardless" nature of its digital wallet at Discover merchants.

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