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How Unicorns are Launched: Stripe

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August 31, 2023
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min read

In our interconnected digital world, facilitating smooth and secure online transactions is the cornerstone of e-commerce. Pioneering this transformation is Stripe, a company that started with a simple idea and grew into a global payments juggernaut. This article, part of the series "How Unicorns are Launched," invites you on a journey through Stripe's early years, examining how two Irish brothers turned a simple concept into a fintech powerhouse.


In 2010, Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison founded Stripe with a mission to simplify online payments. They identified a niche in the market for a streamlined, developer-focused solution that could handle online transactions with greater efficiency.


Prior to Stripe, Patrick and John Collison had already tasted entrepreneurial success. They co-founded Auctomatic, an auction and marketplace management system, which they sold for $5 million when they were just teenagers. This early win cemented their passion for solving problems with technology, setting the stage for Stripe's inception.


The idea for Stripe was sparked by the Collison brothers' own experiences. During their previous entrepreneurial endeavours, they found the process of accepting online payments clunky and outdated. They saw a need for a platform that could facilitate effortless and efficient online transactions, and this vision gave birth to Stripe.


Stripe's MVP, initially called /dev/payments, aimed to demystify payment processing. It enabled developers to embed a payment system into their websites with just a few lines of code. The MVP was distinctive in its developer-first approach, placing a high priority on ease of integration and functionality.


Before they discovered their market fit, Stripe underwent a series of significant iterations. The Collison brothers dedicated two years to beta testing, meticulously refining the product based on user feedback.

One of their initial hypotheses was centred around simplicity. They believed that by simplifying the code required for integration and providing comprehensive, clear documentation, they could encourage greater adoption among developers. This belief was affirmed when early adopters expressed appreciation for the platform's simplicity and ease of use.

Next, they hypothesised that a customisable checkout process could better meet users' needs. To test this, they developed a flexible user interface that businesses could adapt to their specific requirements. This customisation feature was a resounding success, as users welcomed the ability to tailor the checkout experience without the usual complications.

Furthermore, the brothers also hypothesised that providing robust security features could ease businesses' concerns about handling transactions online. To test this, they made security a core feature of their offering, incorporating measures such as two-factor authentication and encrypted transactions. This commitment to security helped to build trust in the product, paving the way for wider adoption.

Product Market Fit and Beyond

Stripe officially launched in September 2011, a year after raising its seed round. The product swiftly gained traction in the tech community, affirming their market fit. In 2012, Stripe raised a $20 million Series A round at a $100 million valuation, underlining the market's faith in their offering.

Today, Stripe stands tall as one of the most successful fintech companies worldwide, with a valuation exceeding $95 billion as of 2021. It serves millions of businesses across more than 120 countries and boasts an impressive clientele that includes giants like Amazon, Salesforce, and Shopify.