One day soon, online shopping might be known as just “shopping.” Even before the pandemic, the rate of growth for e-commerce far outstripped growth rates for brick and mortar commerce. Once the pandemic shut stores and restaurants and forced everyone to stay home, online shopping was not only easier, but often the only way to make a purchase.
Stripe brings together everything that a business needs to build websites and apps that can accept payments and send payouts around the world. On our most recent episode of our podcast, Decoded, we spoke with Berni Torres, a software engineer at Stripe, to learn more about the company’s approach to payments.
Innovating an Entire Infrastructure
According to Torres, Stripe was inspired by its founders’ frustrations accepting payments for their previous online business. The founders — brothers Patrick and John Collison — created the Stripe API as a way to simplify the complexity of accepting payments. Instead of complicated integrations that could take weeks, online businesses could cut-and-paste the Stripe API into their code to begin accepting payments in minutes.
Because the founders were looking to solve their own problem, that influenced Stripe’s focus on the developer community. Torres said:
“Stripe was founded for developers; the first name was actually /dev/payments. This is a tool that was originally designed to help other developers and startups overcome the complexity of payments integrations.”
Since then, Stripe has matured from purely payments to creating the entire financial infrastructure of the web for startups and industry leaders alike. As Torres explained:
“As we scaled and realized we had a product that worked for more companies, we had to learn how to successfully have enterprise users, too. To support every company’s financial needs, Stripe has since rolled out capabilities that include in-person payments, business financing, invoicing, and treasury services.
I think being able to provide an ecosystem of related apps and products is something that is really attractive for enterprises.That’s something that we’ve been adding as well as we grow.”
Designing for Online and Offline Payments
Part of the promise of digital commerce is being able to sell to buyers anywhere in the world. While the company started by focusing on accepting credit cards in the US market, Stripe now creates integrations for the unique payment methods that are found across international markets.
“For example, in Mexico they use Oxxo Abuelito, in which when you buy something online you get a voucher. As a buyer, you go to the physical location and you pay with that voucher, which then gets communicated back to Stripe. This is a completely asynchronous offline transaction that we support.”
Because of this, Stripe has been intentional in creating teams of engineers located around the world so that they can become domain experts in local payment methods, regulations, and preferences of buyers around the world.
“One of the most important things is that our engineers are closest to our customers so that we can actually understand the needs of different countries. One really simple thing is to have an engineer that speaks the language of the merchant that is trying to use Stripe so you can have a conversation with them.”
In addition to expanding access to payments, a core focus of Stripe is payment security — not only because it's good for business and required by regulators, but because customers depend on secure payments to survive and thrive.
“We move a lot of money every day that represents the actual livelihood of people around the world. If my deployment goes bad, it's not like my page won’t be visible or something; it means I’m stopping the livelihood of someone. So we need to be really careful with what we’re doing.”
To do so, Torres says that Stripe designs its systems in such a way as that security isn’t optional and cannot be overridden by a human deciding that they don’t need to worry about it.
“For example, one of our most important servers can’t be accessed by one person. You actually need two people to access it because they have different parts of the key.”
How Engineers at Stripe Share Ownership
While online payments feel like part of our everyday lives, Torres believes that we are still in the early innings of e-commerce.
“We are still at the very beginning of the economic infrastructure of the internet. Anything we do is still baby steps compared to what we might be able to achieve in the future.”
To bring this future to life faster, the company has created a system called “being on-run” that ensures someone is always available to answer questions and help other teams.
“On-run is where there’s one person on the team each week who is the contact point for questions. So, whenever I want to ask another team for something, there’s one person that is assigned that I know I can go to instead of just screaming into the void and trying to figure out who can help me. Just like engineering teams have on-call rotation with incidents, we have on-run to help our colleagues achieve whatever they need to do.
There’s a huge sense of ownership across Stripe; you are constantly helping other teams and making sure that nothing just goes unowned.”
Check out this week’s Decoded podcast to hear the full interview with Berni Torres to learn more about Stripe’s vision for the financial infrastructure of the internet. Listen and subscribe to future episodes.