Stripe Atlas was launched by payments company Stripe last year to help small businesses set themselves up as a legal, incorporated business entity in the U.S. Now with “thousands” of entrepreneurs from 125+ countries using Atlas, Stripe is expanding it with a new feature as it hones its focus on being a platform for startup services. Companies that are signed up to Atlas (which costs $500) can now also use it to set up the legal paperwork and issue stock to founding teams.
Created in partnership with the legal firm Orrick, the basic service includes templates to generate, review, sign, and store stock issuance documents, based on “standard terms” in the startup world — which typically include four-year vesting and a one-year cliff. Anything more tailored requires a more enhanced service level (and extra fees).
The feature is also currently limited to founding teams, although Taylor Francis, who leads the Stripe Atlas program, notes that one update that Stripe might consider is expanding it to work for other employees, too. Stock options are one of the more talked-about aspects of people opting to take jobs at startups — the hope being that if it takes off, so does your bank balance. So widening the option out to the wider pool of employees could be a no-brainer detail to add into the mix for Stripe.
“We can see going down that other direction down the road,” Francis said in an interview.
The new service comes at a key time for Stripe. The company was valued at $9 billion as of its last funding round in November 2016, and while its CEO Patrick Collison has said the company is not aiming for an IPO any time soon, on the road to that day, it will be looking for more ways of diversifying and expanding its business model to fill out that hefty valuation. Positioning itself as a business services platform is one way for Stripe to do that.
Some of the logic behind Stripe launching Atlas goes something like this: it’s an effective way to onboard businesses who are perhaps not yet using Stripe’s core product of API-based payment services, but hopefully they will turn to Stripe for such a service as and when they do.
“We hope that [using Atlas] means they will be more successful down the road,” Francis said, “and if they then use some of our other products [like the payments API] that will be good for them, and us.”
Atlas itself costs $500 to join, with a chunk of that fee going towards the costs of filing forms and related legal work, Francis said, so for now it seems like there is less a focus on using it as a revenue generator for Stripe.
But longer term, Atlas has the potential to be a platform in and of itself — especially since not all the companies that will use will necessarily be commerce companies that generate lots of payments. Adding in the stock issuing service is one way of testing the waters for more features, and Francis confirmed that there will be more coming.
“There is nothing that we are sharing today but the way we are thinking about this is there are a whole bunch of barriers that get in the way for founders,” he said. “We are going to keep going down the list and see how many of these we can solve.”
This comes on top of a few other enhancements of Stripe Atlas and Stripe over recent months in aid of becoming more of a services platform beyond its basic payments offering. In April, Stripe opened Atlas to US-based companies (it initially launched as a service for companies outside the U.S.) — “Since that launch we’ve seen a skyrocketing in the number of Atlas users,” said Francis — and earlier this month the company launched a kind of content play, Stripe Atlas Guides, to start answering various questions founders might have.
If you want to know what further products we might see from Atlas, you can use the Guides as a guide. “They are very much a harbinger of what’s to come from Stripe Atlas,” a spokesperson told me.
And this month Stripe also launched a service called Elements to help its customers build customised check-out experiences, a la Shopify.
Alongside the stock issuing tool, Stripe is also adding a few smaller things, including a checklist for other practical items startups need to track after incorporating, like getting an accountant and an automated service for getting agent in Delaware (where all the startups are incorporated through Atlas). It said that it’s also working on automating more tasks on the list.