How digital tools empower global entrepreneurs

Co-founder and CEO Patrick Collison wants to broaden entrepreneurship beyond the echo chamber of Silicon Valley.

Watch out: Your next big competitor could come from nowhere and be based in a country you've never heard of.

To help entrepreneurs everywhere, Patrick Collison, co-founder and CEO of online payments provider Stripe, is creating “a set of software tools for starting and scaling businesses.”

While Stripe began as a platform for online payment processing, it’s evolving to fulfill its initial mission of facilitating digital entrepreneurship, said Collison during his appearance at the Next Billion: San Francisco conference on October 13. That mission is tied to the increasingly important role of entrepreneurs in the global economy, he added.

“We started with payments as a foundational layer because we saw that accepting payments on the Internet was really, bizarrely complicated,” Collison said. “But now, with Stripe, you can be accepting payments online or in your app within minutes. This was just a starting point. Over time we’ve been building additional components.”

The latest component is Stripe Atlas, a toolkit of startup tools that lets entrepreneurs set up U.S. bank accounts, incorporate in America, and use Stripe to accept payments, even if they live and operate abroad. “The future is global,” said Collison. “It presents many challenges.”

Collison said his company doesn’t have anything specific to share about what comes next in its road map: “We’re going to run this repeated loop of talking to developers and entrepreneurs and asking them what’s stopping them from being successful or getting bigger, and then go out and build those things.”

Collison's biggest challenge? Solving problems that are specific to each local market where Stripe operates. 

“Launching Atlas in Japan required two years of legwork on the ground, which we spent working with regulators and understanding what entrepreneurs really want,” said Collison. “Turns out what they really wanted was multi-currency support.” Stripe has since added that to the tool.

Entrepreneurship beyond Silicon Valley

With Atlas, Stripe's primary goal is to enable entrepreneurship beyond the echo chamber of Silicon Valley.

"Silicon Valley is the best place to be for a significantly small minority of companies," Collison said. "If you're building a ride-sharing service in Mexico, you should probably be in Mexico." Tools like Atlas are helping to lower the operational barriers for businesses no matter where they happen to be located. This, in turn, stands to disrupt the business world as a whole by making global markets accessible to everyone.

While the existence of international red tape makes Atlas possible, Collison argued that more open immigration policies would help the global economy. 

“I find [U.S.] immigration policy disquieting,” Collison said. “It’s disconcerting that we as a society could be so wrong collectively. Forty percent of U.S. firms have an immigrant founder, despite immigrants making up 15 percent of the U.S. workforce. Immigrants are far more likely to start a company, and research also suggests that those firms are more likely to be fast-growing, to create more jobs, and to generate more tax revenue. 

“We’re all trying to figure out how to create a better global economy,” Collison continued. “Open immigration policies alone could add several trillion dollars to global GDP. Meanwhile, we’re trying to bring better software and better tools to bear on the problem, rather than pursuing legislative routes.”

Global entrepreneurship: Lessons for leaders

  •   Foreign entrepreneurs often lack access to financial services that we take for granted.
  •   Successful global expansion requires intense attention to local trends and needs.
  •   Regulatory obstacles often create business opportunities.