The Stripe Ecosystem in One Giant Visualization
It seems Stripe is living up to the hype.
The fintech unicorn was just revalued at $9 billion after its latest round of funding led by General Catalyst Partners and CapitalG, the investment arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. The new financing, which almost doubled Stripe’s valuation, occurred despite a general slow-down in venture capital funding over recent months.
Why are investors doubling down on Stripe? It’s because the company seems poised to continue revolutionizing online payments, and it’s creating a ripple effect that is spreading throughout the entire e-commerce landscape.
The above infographic, courtesy of payment analytics software Control, gives insight into the rapidly evolving Stripe ecosystem – a key differentiating factor that investors are banking on with this five-year-old startup.
Breaking the mold
As is often the case with game-changing companies, Stripe was born out of frustration. Co-founders John Collison and Patrick Collison created the payment-processing platform after seeing an opportunity to improve the cumbersome online payment experience not just for entrepreneurs, but also for web developers and customers.
Stripe lets business owners set up an online payment system and start accepting payments in as little as 10 minutes, with a process that’s as simple as embedding a line of code.
Cutting Red Tape
To fully understand how freeing this is for business owners and web developers, consider how limited online payment processing used to be.
Traditionally e-commerce companies accepted payments online by connecting with third-party software such as PayPal, or by spending time and money setting up a merchant account and building a network for securely storing sensitive credit card information. While larger companies with teams of developers could do this, smaller companies were limited in their options.
Furthermore, setting up a merchant account required an arduous waiting period – sometimes even months – before approval could be granted and payments could be accepted. Once payments were processed, they were subject to days-long holding periods while they were put through various levels of regulatory bureaucracy.
How Stripe Works
Stripe is a PSP (Payment Service Provider) that lets business owners collect payments, including recurring payments, and transfer them directly to their own account instantly.
It does this by eliminating the need to store credit card information, which is what limited business owners before. Previously, when setting up an internal online payment system, web developers had to adhere to strict regulations surrounding the storing of credit card information, as per the Payment Card Industry’s Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This is a complicated process that often requires a lot of paperwork and costly third-party consultation.
While any business or individual merchant collecting or handling credit card information is still required to maintain PCI-compliance, Stripe takes care of a lot of the legwork. Customers can enter their credit card information, which goes directly to Stripe’s secure servers, so site owners don’t have to store sensitive user data. Stripe processes the payment, checks for fraud, and takes a fee of 2.9% plus 30 cents. Business owners see the money in their bank account instantly, rather than having to wait days for clearance.
To customers, the payment experience is much the same, but faster and without the need to leave a current web page to visit a third-party page – as is the case with PayPal.
The Stripe Ecosystem
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Stripe is the ease with which web developers can build their own integrations that can merge with Stripe’s technology to fulfill other business requirements.
In many ways Stripe is like a giant lock into which web developers can insert their own custom-built “key”, unlocking a payment process that’s tailored to e-commerce. This has created a third-party integration ecosystem that spans nearly every aspect of running a business, from analytics to accounting, email, expenses, and shipping processes.
The best part? The massive Stripe ecosystem is accessible to anyone who uses the platform to run their online payment processing, and it truly allows developers and entrepreneurs to better serve their customers.
Big Players are Switching to Stripe
While Stripe was created with small business owners and startups in mind, recently some very big fish have joined forces with the payment processing platform, including Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Macy’s, and Target. With users in 110 countries and a recent foray into Asia, Stripe is now considered PayPal’s main competitor.
It’s no surprise then, that PayPal alumni saw Stripe’s potential early on. That’s why PayPal co-founders Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin have all invested in the now $9 billion payment startup.
The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies
Here are the reserve currencies that the world’s central banks hold onto for a rainy day.
The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies
When we think of network effects, we’re usually thinking of them in the context of technology and Metcalfe’s Law.
Metcalfe’s Law states that the more users that a network has, the more valuable it is to those users. It’s a powerful idea that is exploited by companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb, or Uber — all companies that provide a more beneficial service as their networks gain more nodes.
But network effects don’t apply just to technology and related fields.
In the financial sector, for example, stock exchanges grow in utility when they have more buyers, sellers, and volume. Likewise, in international finance, a currency can become increasingly entrenched when it’s accepted, used, and trusted all over the world.
What’s a Reserve Currency?
Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down foreign reserves held by countries — but what is a reserve currency, anyways?
In essence, reserve currencies (i.e. U.S. dollar, pound sterling, euro, etc.) are held on to by central banks for the following major reasons:
- To maintain a stable exchange rate for the domestic currency
- To ensure liquidity in the case of an economic or political crisis
- To provide confidence to international buyers and foreign investors
- To fulfill international obligations, such as paying down debt
- To diversify central bank portfolios, reducing overall risk
Not surprisingly, central banks benefit the most from stockpiling widely-held reserve currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro.
Because these currencies are accepted almost everywhere, they provide third-parties with extra confidence and perceived liquidity. This is a network effect that snowballs from the growing use of a particular reserve currency over others.
Reserve Currencies Over Time
Here is how the usage of reserve currencies has evolved over the last 15 years:
|🇺🇸 U.S. Dollar||🇪🇺 Euro||🇯🇵 Japanese Yen||🇬🇧 Pound Sterling||🌐 Other|
Over this timeframe, there have been small ups and downs in most reserve currencies.
Today, the U.S. dollar is the world’s most powerful reserve currency, making up over 61% of foreign reserves. The dollar gets an extensive network effect from its use abroad, and this translates into several advantages for the multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy.
The euro, yen, and pound sterling are the other mainstay reserve currencies, adding up to roughly 30% of foreign reserves.
Finally, the most peculiar data series above is “Other”, which grew from 2.0% to 8.4% of worldwide foreign reserves over the last 15 years. This bucket includes the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Swiss franc, and the Chinese renminbi.
There have been rumblings in the media for decades now about the rise of the Chinese renminbi as a potential new challenger on the reserve currency front.
While there are still big structural problems that will prevent this from happening as fast as some may expect, the currency is still on the rise internationally.
What will the composition of global foreign reserves look like in another 15 years?
Why Gold is Money: A Periodic Perspective
Gold has been used as money for millennia. People often attribute this to beauty, but there are basic physical properties for why gold is money.
Why Gold is Money
The economist John Maynard Keynes famously called gold a “barbarous relic”, suggesting that its usefulness as money is an artifact of the past. In an era filled with cashless transactions and hundreds of cryptocurrencies, this statement seems truer today than in Keynes’ time.
However, gold also possesses elemental properties that has made it an ideal metal for money throughout history.
Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer from Columbia University, broke down the periodic table to show why gold has been used as a monetary metal for thousands of years.
The Periodic Table
The periodic table organizes 118 elements in rows by increasing atomic number (periods) and columns (groups) with similar electron configurations.
Just as in today’s animation, let’s apply the process of elimination to the periodic table to see why gold is money:
- Gases and Liquids
Noble gases (such as argon and helium), as well as elements such as hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine and chlorine are gaseous at room temperature and standard pressure. Meanwhile, mercury and bromine are liquids. As a form of money, these are implausible and impractical.
- Lanthanides and Actinides
Next, lanthanides and actinides are both generally elements that can decay and become radioactive. If you were to carry these around in your pocket they could irradiate or poison you.
- Alkali and Alkaline-Earth Metals
Alkali and alkaline earth metals are located on the left-hand side of the periodic table, and are highly reactive at standard pressure and room temperature. Some can even burst into flames.
- Transition, Post Transition Metals, and Metalloids
There are about 30 elements that are solid, nonflammable, and nontoxic. For an element to be used as money it needs to be rare, but not too rare. Nickel and copper, for example, are found throughout the Earth’s crust in relative abundance.
- Super Rare and Synthetic Elements
Osmium only exists in the Earth’s crust from meteorites. Meanwhile, synthetic elements such as rutherfordium and nihonium must be created in a laboratory.
Once the above elements are eliminated, there are only five precious metals left: platinum, palladium, rhodium, silver and gold. People have used silver as money, but it tarnishes over time. Rhodium and palladium are more recent discoveries, with limited historical uses.
Platinum and gold are the remaining elements. Platinum’s extremely high melting point would require a furnace of the Gods to melt back in ancient times, making it impractical. This leaves us with gold. It melts at a lower temperature and is malleable, making it easy to work with.
Gold as Money
Gold does not dissipate into the atmosphere, it does not burst into flames, and it does not poison or irradiate the holder. It is rare enough to make it difficult to overproduce and malleable to mint into coins, bars, and bricks. Civilizations have consistently used gold as a material of value.
Perhaps modern societies would be well-served by looking at the properties of gold, to see why it has served as money for millennia, especially when someone’s wealth could disappear in a click.
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