What Stripe’s Atlas Program Signals About Its Strategy

Being a digital payments player is about more than just powering payments; it’s about empowering global consumers/businesses.

But is that really what Stripe’s latest product announcement at Mobile World Congress yesterday (Feb. 24) was designed to show? Or does it really show Stripe’s, well, real stripes?

The announcement is the launch of Atlas, a new product aimed at providing entrepreneurs around the world with access to the necessary “building blocks” for starting and growing a global Internet business.

Atlas gives entrepreneurs the ability to incorporate a U.S. company, set up a U.S. bank account and accept payments with Stripe. It also allows access to basic services, like tax advice from PwC, legal advice from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and tools from Amazon (including $15,000 in AWS credit).

“While the Internet is theoretically borderless, the majority of the world’s population lives in a country where they don’t have access to high-quality banking or payments infrastructure. Atlas gives entrepreneurs around the world a way to access robust business and banking infrastructure, no matter where they’re from, so they can build an online business that’s global from day one. The same way Stripe took the complex process of setting up online payments and made it easy, Atlas streamlines the tasks necessary to set up a business,” a Stripe blog post about the news reads.

Stripe says that its solution can have a company up and running in a matter of days and at a fraction of the price of previous versions. The traditional safeguards and processes for establishing a U.S. business still exist, but Stripe notes that Atlas takes away much of the friction.

Stripe also touted the advisory board that it has formed for Atlas, including:

  • Lawrence Summers: 71st Secretary of the Treasury of the United States
  • Fadi Ghandour: Founder and Vice Chairman of Aramex and Executive Chairman of Wamda Capital, a VC fund focused on technology investments in the Arab world
  • Neal Wolin: Former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President for Economic Policy (Obama administration)
  • Linda Rottenberg: Cofounder and CEO of Endeavor, a nonprofit organization that pioneered high-impact entrepreneurship in South America
  • Ben Lawsky: Former Superintendent of Financial Services, State of New York

As of yesterday, Atlas is available in beta. For entrepreneurs to participate, they will need an invitation from Stripe or one of its 60 accelerator and investor partners. Beta pricing is $500, which will be waived for the first 100 Atlas entrepreneurs.

Perhaps a bigger question is whether this gives the world some important clues about Stripe’s position and strategy — a platform for startups that have simple business needs. Which means, of course, that the businesses that will be attracted to this proposition are those that will either outgrow Stripe once their business grows and their needs become more complicated or die on the vine because they couldn’t make a go of it.

Either way, Stripe might find itself in the unfortunate position of subsidizing the growth of a business that leaves the moment it has the potential to become a profit-making enterprise or one that would never have made it to begin with. It’s a business proposition that could be more about cost of churn, a rather expensive lesson that its offline counterpart, Square, has also learned doesn’t always deliver the returns on investment that make for attractive market valuations.



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