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Stripe opens Atlas toolkit to help navigate a very common complexity

(ENTREPRENEUR) Starting a business is no easy task so Stripe has created a tool kit to help.

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Organized chaos

Setting up a business is daunting. The process is complicated, time-consuming and resource draining. To take advantage of this chaos, Stripe, the Silicon Valley based payments processor company, launched Atlas a year ago to help international businesses get incorporated within the U.S.

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Little did they know that the demand within the U.S. would explode as well!

Business model

Their original premise was brilliant: focus on international clients, and automate starting a business for them.

Shrink a trail of paperwork into a short web application.

Provide on the spot financial, legal and operational tools. Get a foreign business incorporated ASAP, hassle free.

The move proved wildly popular right away.

Within a short year, thousands of businesses got incorporation through the Atlas program spanning 124 countries.

“We wanted to see if we could help entrepreneurs in emerging markets to be on the same playing field as Silicon Valley startups. It’s been heartening to see that it’s working,” said Taylor Francis, Atlas project lead.

Business is boomin’

But then came the real unexpected surprise—growing demand from businesses within the country. Stripe could not ignore it anymore.

The $9 billion startup announced last week that it was expanding its Atlas program to U.S. based companies.

“It’s a slightly different problem, but even in the US, the process was time consuming,” acknowledged Francis.

For a mere $500 fee, Atlas now guarantees incorporation as a Delaware C Corp., a business bank account with Silicon Valley Bank, and registry with the IRS. The company has also collaborated with Orrick for legal corporations, PricewaterhouseCoopers for tax guidance, and Amazon Web Services for cloud services.

To make things more user-friendly, Stripe has also recently added new features for Atlas users, like how-to guides, templates, and online forums for exchanging tips.

Stripe looks poised to expand its reach

Current members can use the Atlas to invite new clients to join the feature. Additionally, Stripe expanded its partnership program to include crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

It is important, however, to note three things:

First, being a Atlas customer does not require you to sign up for Stripe.

Secondly, Atlas remains an invite-only tool, for several reasons. Stripe wants close oversight of businesses that are being set up in order to weed out illegitimate ones, for example, those engaging in gambling or virtual currencies.

There is also no hiding that Stripe wants to attract more international clients who would use their payment APIs.

However, mostly, Stripe wants to focus on high-growth start-ups, like small businesses or solo entrepreneurs. Francis put it this way, “If you’re starting a new yoga studio, that’s probably not the right corporate structure for you.”

Thirdly, it may be important to note that Stripe Atlas may not be necessarily the best fit for you, even if you qualify and invited to join. Delaware has a long history of offering attractive business law, coupled with business-friendly state courts, and customers being lured by its no sales tax policy. That is why Atlas, by default, offers a Delaware base.

Whether you’re in Delaware or Denver, if you’re looking to start a business this tool is a good starting point.

#Atlas

Barnil is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.

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Business Entrepreneur

3 types of clients to fire as a freelancer (without feeling guilty)

(ENTREPRENEUR) Being a freelancer, it can feel like a luxury to fire a client, but there’s a few clear signs they’re not worth your time.

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Freelancer woman with her head down on the laptop in front of her.

Freelancers often bend over backward to accommodate clients, many times to the detriment to the freelancer. Bad clients are toxic. It’s never easy to say “you’re fired” to anyone, but as a freelancer, sometimes, you need to weigh the cash value of a client against your time, mental health, and sleepless nights. Here are some reasons you can fire a client without feeling guilty.

Clients who aren’t paying on time

Clients who don’t pay or avoid you when there’s a problem need to go. You waste a lot of mental energy chasing down payments and juggling your bills. I know it can look like a bird in the hand kind of situation, but if your client isn’t paying your bill, the bird isn’t really in your hand. My best clients have been with me for over five years. Both consistently meet the payment schedule. Not to say there haven’t been glitches, but they’ve always taken the initiative to explain and got it fixed right away.

Clients who become more demanding without offering more payment

There are always jobs that need to be done right away or need more work. A client who puts demands on your time without compensation is hurting you. When you say yes to one thing, a short deadline, you’re putting other work off. You may be able to deliver to other clients within their deadline, but if you’re tired and grumpy, will it be your best work? High maintenance clients who want to micro-manage are another type of client you may want to kick to the curb. At the very least, raise your rates to account for the extra time it takes to mentally deal with them.

Clients who don’t act professionally

You need to set good boundaries with clients who may be your friends. It’s hard to find that line, but if you don’t set up good professional rules at the onset, you’re going to find yourself doing more for a client out of “friendship.” You’ll become resentful because you’re doing favors and not getting anything in return. Clients who violate contracts aren’t any better, regardless of any outside relationship.

It isn’t easy to fire a client. It’s your paycheck on the line. If you’ve got a bad client, think about the hours you waste worrying about them. Believe me, they are not spending the same energy. Use your energy to find better clients who appreciate you and your work.

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Business Entrepreneur

Twisted American Dream: Study shows microloans aid predatory MLMs

(ENTREPRENEUR) If microloans are being given to start new businesses, let’s give to those who are starting their own businesses rather than MLMs.

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MLMs twisting the American Dream with microloans. Image of the American dollar with collage background.

Microloans were touted as a way to help people in poverty to find a way out. Yes, the interest rates were higher, 15% – 18% for some micro-lenders, but not as high as payday loan businesses where loan interests can soar to upwards of 400%.

When you live life on the edge of financial failure, microloans are supposed to offer a helping hand to those starting their own businesses.

Enter today’s flourishing MLM market, where participants are promised if they work hard and follow the plan, they can make their way to the top of MLM glory with its promises of riches, cars, cruise vacations, and more.

Microloan companies classify MLMs as small businesses and offer loans to those who can’t use cash as collateral with their own banks to secure loans. These microloans are used to buy MLM inventory and a dream.

Grameen America is one microloan company that allows MLM inventory purchases as part of their business loan program.

“Grameen America does not advise members about their business choice or refuse loans based on business type as long as borrowers can prove their funds are being used for business purposes and the business is legal,” Grameen America told Vox reporter Kelsey Piper in an interview for a May 18 story.

“It is our experience that our members know how best to put their business loans to use and the type of business they believe will be successful for them. Our data shows many members start off in one kind of business, e.g. direct sales, and then pivot into other types of businesses as they cycle through our program.”

According to a Grameen America study, women who took out these microloans saw a positive but modest increase in monthly net income, a small increase in savings and a Vantage-Score (a type of credit score).

Their study shows that 32.7% of their customers plan on starting or have started their direct sales or MLM investment.

The company does not differentiate the overall income success of entrepreneurs who start their own businesses from those who invest in MLMs so measuring the difference in success there is not possible. However, an AARP Foundation study found that 44% of participants dropped out after less than one year of working with an MLM.

With a loan interest rate of 15% – 18% for a microloan, failure could lead women in poverty to an even worse situation than where they started.

The microloan business is not new, and the results are not hidden. As investigative stories showed in 2016, microloans aren’t lifting women out of poverty.

Encouraging women in poverty to use the loans to buy inventory in an MLM is bad business for everyone. Financial experts and even some MLM companies make it clear going into debt to join an MLM is strongly discouraged. Microloans don’t change financial fundamentals.

The Grameen America study does show positives for the women who serve as their customer base. The study stated, “Overall, the study found it was not just increased income or just the loan that led to the program’s positive effects. The weight of the evidence suggests that women who experience life circumstances similar to those in the Grameen America program are likely to be more financially resilient in the face of unexpected challenges if they are offered more options to combine work and businesses, more ways to strengthen their peer networks, and more liquidity.”

That might be true, but with an over 40% failure rate for those investing in MLMs, the risk might not be worth it.

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Business Entrepreneur

The next Amazon delivery partners are your corner mom-and-pop shops

(ENTREPRENEUR) Amazon has been stepping up their game, and their newest strategy is to include small business owners, mom-and-pop shops, and entrepreneurs.

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Samsung photo with amazon app loading page.

The world is reeling from supply chain issues from missing menu items at your favorite restaurant to a nationwide baby formula crisis. Amazon is one of the largest retailers in the world and its adaptation strategy is a return to the basics: work with local, small-town retailers. Yes, you read that right. Amazon is taking a grassroots approach to getting the goods to outlying and underserved communities.

Amazon is aware that its shipping speed to rural areas sometimes leaves much to be desired. Shipping directly to a person’s home in rural areas without Amazon facilities nearby and fewer available drivers causes delays. Shipping to an Amazon locker in the nearest metro takes less shipping time, with the tradeoff being the consumer picking up the responsibility for the last leg of the process. This isn’t always a valid option for a lot of people. What if you don’t drive and you need that particular item immediately? Many members of these isolated communities may be elderly or have poverty barriers to traveling long distances. Low-wage workers often have trouble finding time to go out of their way. Sure, you could ask your neighbor or there are other services, but that isn’t providing equitable service to disadvantaged populations. That’s one of the reasons Amazon’s new strategy for rural delivery is so useful.

Not only do the packages get to their destinations fast, but small businesses working with Amazon add an income stream by playing a role in the package journey. For small businesses reeling from the pandemic and lagging rural economies, this work with Amazon offers an opportunity to pull in much-needed capital by doing something as simple as delivering packages in their hometown. They don’t have to drive all over creation, just in their hometown which will reduce carbon emissions. Right now, with the gas prices as they are, that’s a huge plus.

There are other pluses to this too. By working with small businesses, Amazon is bolstering rural economies and empowering isolated communities. They’ll have more purchasing power, which is a win for everyone. Amazon is actively helping small businesses and it’s a great reverse on the trend of forced obsolescence we usually see when big-box retailers are involved.

If you’re struggling with supply chain issues, consider taking a page out of Amazon’s book. Get in touch with local small businesses in your area and see if you can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you are a small business, be open to partnerships and opportunities to diversify your income to help stabilize yourself in an uncertain market. It’ll help you both in the long run, increasing the resiliency of both businesses.

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