Is being Stripe’s competitor now a badge of honor?
Happy Monday, Term Sheet readers. Finance reporter Anne Sraders here, filling in for Lucinda while she takes a well-deserved break.
Startups usually don’t leap at the chance to talk about their competitors—in fact, many often position themselves as the sole company doing what they do.
“Yes we are a Stripe competitor and we’re really the only one,” Guillaume Pousaz, founder and CEO of U.K. payments startup Checkout.com, told me last week via email: “Because we’re a full stack payment technology company,” which provides payments services, fraud protection, and payout capabilities for its merchants, “with [two-thirds] of our 1,400 employees working in product and tech and growing at about 1,000 new people per year. Most others are legacy payment providers.”
But those like Matt Harris, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures focused on fintech, don’t quite see it as any one startup versus Stripe. “I think to make the claim that you represent their only competition, I’d say, misses quite a few boldface names who are also in that ring,” Harris tells me. Among those in that “ring”? Dutch payments firms Adyen (which is publicly traded) and Mollie (which is private, and worth some $6.5 billion).
Now, it’s not hard to see why companies like Checkout.com might not mind the comparison to the larger payments firm: Stripe is the world’s second most valuable startup, with a whopping $95 billion valuation. Beloved by developers and startups, it’s become a huge player in the payments space and a darling in tech circles. Which does have me wondering: has Stripe’s reputation in the startup world become so vaunted that competitors aren’t trying to fight the comparisons—or, for some, are even embracing them?
This idea of hitching a ride on a tech success story is not a new phenomenon with Stripe: In the 90s, Harris says, it was Microsoft, and before that, IBM. For the fintech space broadly, he argues “it’s an excellent framing device if you want to get investors excited, if you want to get your employees motivated, like, ‘it’s a two horse race and we’re gonna win.’ But I suspect the horse, only whose tail you can see from where you are, [isn’t] thinking as much about you as you are about them.”
In that sense, I also wonder if Stripe is so far ahead in their space that they’re the benchmark, for better or worse, for everybody who competes with them—à la Microsoft.
Of course, there’s space for multiple fintechs to exist in the multi-trillion dollar payments world. And Checkout.com’s CEO (like others who have been tagged with the Stripe comparison) is also clear about why he believes his business is unique: Pousaz says where Checkout is “different” is their focus on enterprise clients (versus small businesses) and global markets, offering a “consultative approach” with their merchants. “Our job is to increase their revenues, not just process payments,” he told me.
But the fact that CEOs like Pousaz are summoning Stripe’s name says a lot about how entrenched the company, still technically considered a startup, has become.
And it’s possible Stripe might beat Checkout.com to the next step of maturation, too: Entering the public markets. Although I reported last week that Checkout.com hired Céline Dufétel, formerly the COO and CFO of T. Rowe Price, to join its C-suite, Pousaz told me Checkout isn’t “in a rush” for an IPO. Stripe, on the other hand, has reportedly hired a law firm ahead of a potential listing, Reuters reported last month.
Jessica Mathews compiled the IPO and SPAC sections of this newsletter.
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