Talk to people involved with failed startups and you’ll hear a familiar refrain: “We failed to monetize, so we had to shut down.” Helping startups scale and begin that journey to profitability is the mission of Stripe and Piruze Sabuncu, who has served as the company’s Head of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong since 2015.
Sabuncu experienced failure earlier in her career as part of a startup in the health tech space that worked to build healthy habits around mobile phone usage. The company failed to monetize and had to shut down, which although painful at the time, makes Sabuncu thankful for the stability that Stripe has achieved since it launched.
Stripe achieved stability with a clear mission and a new approach to an old problem. Most people are familiar with Stripe’s payment functionality and ease of on-boarding. This comes with global capabilities to immediately allow a user to transact and sell in 130 currencies, right out of the box. Specifically to Asia, Stripe has enabled users to not only accept credit cards but also Alipay, and WeChat Pay.
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“Our goal is to increase the GDP of the internet,” Sabuncu said. “There were a lot of companies trying to solve the payments problem, but how Stripe approached this was by looking at it not as a financial infrastructure problem, but as a tech problem. The founders, John and Patrick, were confident developers could solve this problem.”
Stripe gives the right tools and infrastructure to the people within the startups who were actually building the next generation of products in addition to those coming up with the new ideas. By giving developers the power to build the kind of experience they wanted, the company found traction with its products, including a marketplace product that on-demand transportation and ride-sharing company Lyft used.
The top 5 tools used by Singapore’s startups
As part of the company’s efforts to expand in Asia, Stripe partnered with companies like Ecosystem Players and 500 Startups for a survey called the Startup Stack to “pulse check the startup economy in Singapore.” These companies wanted to understand how cloud-based software was enabling entrepreneurs to start and scale their businesses and what were the most common tools these companies were using.
Stripe was in the top five, as was Slack. The three other top tools were AWS, Google Analytics and GitHub. Google Drive and Dropbox were popular, but not in the top five.
In addition to gaining insight into commonly used tools, Sabuncu and her colleagues discovered that many of these Singapore-based startups had already gone global.
“I think one of the big findings for us was how globally-minded the startups were,” Sabuncu shared. “More than a third of the startups that launched last year were already selling outside of Singapore. Many of the ones that were not global yet were thinking of going global in the next year. Yet, only 36% of startups believe that they could have started their businesses from Singapore as little as five years ago. But thanks to cloud-based software, many of these companies are going global faster now.”
Advice for scaling a startup
For those startups looking for traction in their domestic market or those looking to go global, Sabuncu offered a few pieces of advice from her own startup experience.
“One of the things I personally believe is that you have a better chance of being successful if you’re working on something you’re passionate about,” she offered. “You need a theme, a goal you want to achieve. With my original startup, it was, ‘we want to bring healthier habits to peoples’ lives.’ With Stripe, it’s increasing the GDP of the internet. Go deep—what’s the user’s problem that you’re trying to solve?”
If you have a mission in mind from the outset, Sabuncu says, your chances of success go up significantly. Along with that mission, your company should adopt a user-first mindset. That starts with listening to users and trying to better understand them. They are the ones who will help your company expand in your market.
That was the approach Stripe took and it has served them well.
“I think the last thing I would say, especially in this region, is that developer resources are scarce,” Sabuncu said. “What that means is it’s crucial to focus on what you’re trying to solve and do that instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.”
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Categories: Money Matters