Wednesday 24 August 2016

Stripe introduces new service that could change face of ecommerce

Published 24/02/2016 | 18:53

Patrick and John Collison
Patrick and John Collison

Stripe, the online payments company founded by Limerick brothers Patrick and John Collison, has introduced a new service that could speed up global ecommerce adoption.

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The company has launched Stripe Atlas, which lets budding entrepreneurs in developing countries begin trading online through a connection to a US bank account, online payment system (Stripe) and US incorporated company registration.

It's another big move for the Collison's payments company, which has partnerships with some of the world's biggest companies, including Google, Facebook and Apple.

Stripe is rolling the new service out on an invitation (beta) basis and through a network of around 60 global incubators, accelerators and investment partners.

The move, which was unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, is part Stripe’s wider plan to "increase the GDP of the internet", co-founder John Collison exclusively told Independent.ie.

“You look at other internet products from companies like [Irish online customer contact firm] Intercom, and anyone in the world can use them,” he said. “But we have to take a country by country approach. Even though we’re in 24 countries today and making good progress, if we just continue launching at 10 countries a year, we wouldn’t have global coverage until 2033. So this is another cut at it.”

The idea behind Stripe Atlas, he says, is to give those interested in trading online a shot at doing so, shorn of some of the geographical restrictions that sometimes hold online entrepreneurs back. It’s particularly targeted at would-be entrepreneurs in developing countries.

To this end, Stripe’s new service includes incorporation in Delaware, where legal stability and clarity make it easier to make progress on issues such as issuing stock or raising money.

To further this infrastructural “right footing” for Atlas applicants, Stripe has teamed up with some heavyweight financial, legal and professional services firms. These include Silicon Valley Bank, which provides each newly established business with a US bank account. PricewaterhouseCoopers is also on board, offering tax guidance and some expert advice, free of charge. Stripe has also signed up Orrick, an international law firm, to provided legal guidance. Lastly, Amazon is also on board with $15,000 (€13,000) in Amazon Web Services credits to help with some tools and infrastructure needed to scale and grow.

These are the types of steps that give companies a big boost in building an ambitious online trading capability.

“Although it was theoretically possible for companies in developing countries to do this before, it was extremely difficult,” said Collison. “It was especially hard to set up a bank account. You’d have to fly to the US and go through all these other steps. So the idea here is to take the idea of people who want to set up global business and make it really easy.”

The “steps” Collison refers to include a daunting list of things that might put may hopeful entrepreneurs off.

First of all, an entrepreneur who wanted to establish a US business had to know that they could incorporate a US entity in the first place, “which many didn’t”, say Stripe executives.

The would-be ecommerce trader would then have to fly to the US to attend meetings in person and file paperwork, after which they would need to hire lawyers to help draw up documents and navigate bureaucracy. Additional requirements would include contacting the US inland revenue service (IRS) for a tax number, as well as setting up a Stripe account. (Stripe is not yet available in most developing countries.) All told, say Stripe executives, this typically costs an entrepreneur “months and thousands of dollars”.

So the company decided to do something about it.

“The reason we did this? We’ve been talking until we’re blue in the face about how we want more online commerce happening,” said Collison. “But because what entrepreneurs find is Iso cumbersome and mind-numbingly complex, they end up being shut out from the online economy. We really believe that the availability of the tools matters for what gets built and what gets done. Online payments is so hard that it‘s holding back what happens on the internet. We’d have more internet commerce if it was easier to do.”

Collison said that anyone can contact Stripe if they want to apply for the Atlas service (it’s currently on the front page of Stripe.com). However, given that Irish or British companies can already access Stripe from Ireland, he thinks it will be of much more use to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

“There’s this new kind of business emerging that is a global internet business with more ties to the online economy than the local physical one, where the atoms are based,” said Collison. “You often see that the people working in these businesses, which are selling to a global audience, are digital nomads. They might happen to be based in Guatemala, but their business is online.”

The Atlas Beta pricing is $500, waived for the first 100 Atlas entrepreneurs. That price, says Stripe, includes around $400 of fees that anyone incorporating a Delaware entity would have to pay.

Collison’s co-founder brother, Patrick, says that Atlas aims to shorten the process from months into days and will cost a fraction of the previous price.

“The promise of the internet is that geography should be largely irrelevant,” he said. “But that's not yet true. The majority of the world's population lives in a country where they don't have access to highquality banking or payments infrastructure. There are a lot of latent potential in places like Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. These are places where developers and entrepreneurs simply aren’t on a level playing field with people in more developed economies.”

Stripe has around $300m in funding and employs over 250 people, most of whom work in its San Francisco headquarters. The company is estimated to be worth over €5bn.

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