While the payments super-unicorn Stripe expects growth this year, it won't be as strong as last year when the company benefited from an e-commerce surge spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an annual letter from its cofounders, Patrick and John Collison.
In an April 8 annual letter to their "community," the Collisons said Stripe collectively processed more than $640 billion in payments last year for a year-over-year increase of 60%. The letter further explains that "since a lot of this came from one-time behavioral adjustments caused by the pandemic, 2022 won’t match the same level of growth."
The Irish brothers co-lead the company with Patrick Collison as CEO and John Collison as president of Stripe, which has dual headquarters in Dublin and San Francisco.
John Collison suggested in an April 8 Tweet that it's the first time the company is releasing its annual letter to the general public since its founding in 2010. "This year, we decided to publish our annual letter to all of Stripe's users." A Stripe spokesperson declined comment on prior letters, or why it's releasing one this year.
In the letter, Stripe argues that opportunities presented by the internet are underestimated. The company expects to benefit this year from growth of the "creator economy" in which people who produce content, like podcasts, TikTok videos, newsletters and software, are directly paid by the consumers of their content.
"Production decisions shouldn't just be made in centralized fashion by corporate managers; the growth of everything from Substack to Teachable shows there are important topics, niches and other forms of cultural creation that have been left under-addressed," said the letter, which was only dated with the month of April.
Stripe also will benefit from what it calls "the explosive growth in fintech," especially in embedded finance, which refers to the business of inserting financial and payment tools into other products and services.
According to the Collisons' letter, Stripe can aid e-commerce growth by "lowering the cost and complexity" of starting a business; helping established businesses adapt their models to the web; simplifying the often convoluted process of international payments; and lowering the cost of scaling by providing simple, secure and reliable APIs and related services.
The brothers note that small businesses around the world lack access to financial services. Surveys cited in their letter showed "only 48% of small businesses say they have access to all of the financing they need," and 55% of business owners have to visit a local branch in-person for financial services, while 23% of businesses have to send a fax to open a bank account. "In short, the landscape still looks pretty antiquated," the letter said.
Each day in 2021, 1,400 new companies and 100 nonprofits joined Stripe, and more than 100 businesses generated $1 million in lifetime sales on Stripe, the Collisons asserted in the letter.
"We have, of necessity, expanded a great deal during the pandemic," the Collisons wrote. "We sometimes use the analogy of solid rocket boosters: once lit, they can’t be extinguished. They remind us of our customer base. We’re proud to work with the fastest-growing companies in the world, from Airtable to Zoom, but it also means that we have to work hard to stay ahead of their needs."
The company also asserted that 60% of the companies that went public last year are Stripe customers. "We want to support startups from the first line of code through (their) IPO and beyond," the letter said.
As to whether Stripe itself will go public, there has been plenty of anticipation in recent years, including in a January report from Business Insider, which said the company had revenue of about $7.4 billion in 2020.
As a private company, Stripe isn’t under the same requirements as a public company to disclose financial information. As a result, the letter offered some revelations about Stripe's business and strategy.
What has been previously reported is that Stripe raised $600 million in capital in March 2021 from investors European insurers Allianz Group and Axa, as well as investment management company Fidelity and venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, among others. The fundraising round valued the company at $95 billion, which the Financial Times said made Stripe the most valuable company to emerge from Silicon Valley.
The company now employs about 7,000 people in 23 countries, the letter said.
Stripe's services range from processing payments and invoices to managing subscriptions to issuing credit cards. Stripe gained traction in its early days by attracting business from startups like itself, and at the time that was seen as a drawback, but now "to be stuck on legacy technology is a business liability," the letter contended.
In the letter, Stripe also called out the areas where it invested over the past year, including in its Stripe Terminal product, which is an in-person payments tool for internet businesses to manage all of their offline and online sales. To bolster that product, the company acquired card reader provider BBPOS this year.
Stripe has also expanded Stripe Connect, a multi-party payments product that the letter said is used by companies ranging from automaker Mercedes Benz Group to food delivery company Deliveroo, among others. Stripe also is pouring hundreds of millions into security and reliability functions.
The company is also beefing up its security elements, declining to provide details "to avoid assisting adversaries," the letter said, noting "we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars each year in our security and reliability foundations."