When digital payments and FinTech firm Stripe announced last month that it would be rolling out a new service, Atlas, to help foreign entrepreneurs get set up in the U.S., it said that the solution was designed to solve a big problem for small business who live outside of major markets, like the U.S. and Europe. In order to reach these markets, business owners have to jump through hoops just to get connected into major payments ecosystems.
In the age of the Internet, Stripe Chief Business Officer Billy Alvarado said in a recent interview with PYMNTS, that simply shouldn’t be happening.
“I may be able to start a business in Honduras, but it doesn’t mean I can set up a payment and banking infrastructure such that most people in the U.S. and EU would be able to transact with my business,” he explained. “It’s a significant breakage in the Internet and really limits the promise of what it can bring.”
Entrepreneurs the world over encounter similar frustrations, he said. Business owners often have to make multiple trips to the U.S. to set up a bank account, facing forms and waiting for approval to accept payment.
That, he said, means that SMBs spend most of their time and resources on figuring out how to accept money, instead of channeling that effort into evolving a product or service that consumers would want to actually pay for.
Stripe’s mission with Atlas, Alvarado explained, is to make it as easy as possible for businesses to get connected into resources that allow them to transact and link to the U.S. payments system.
“In many ways, Atlas provides a product that gives entrepreneurs a simple, fast, easy way to incorporate their companies in the U.S., coupled with a bank account, so they can actually ride the financial rails in a global way,” the executive said.
Atlas also provides access, through a number of partnerships with companies like PwC and Amazon Web Services, to services that link entrepreneurs to legal and accounting advice, infrastructure and other professional support to get their digital start and reach a key market. Looking ahead, Alvarado said that Stripe will look to bring Atlas to new markets, allowing entrepreneurs to connect to more than just the U.S. payments system. This will allow business owners to work with markets, like Europe and elsewhere, that may suit their customer base more appropriately.
“Many of these businesses are in places that lack not just payments but lack a lot of business infrastructure around them,” he explained.
Alvarado contends that Atlas is Stripe’s way of using the Internet as the great business equalizer it should be — in Alvarado’s view, by linking startups to a sophisticated payments infrastructure.
Alvarado challenges the notion that Atlas is suited to only the youngest of firms. According to Alvarado, getting connected into world-class payments infrastructure is a must for any company today. “That’s a value proposition and a need we see,” Alvarado said, “from a one-person company all the way to a Fortune 500 company.”
True enough. But therein lies the chasm that Atlas and Stripe both have to cross to scale this, along with the Stripe platform, more generally. Atlas-type services are well-suited to young companies who don’t have the need for — and, therefore, don’t have the access to – sophisticated payments, business, tax and legal services.
Getting bank accounts and processing relationships established, not to mention getting the 411 on the legal and tax issues of doing business in the U.S., is a daunting task for a young company. But, as startups grow up, their needs change, as do their options pool for those services. The same holds true for the more established businesses who likely already have relationships in place that can get them what they need on all fronts.
Atlas is a clever concept, and it’s early days. We look forward to tracking how it all plays out.