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What we can learn from Stripe’s culture

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

When you think about a company’s culture, what are the first things that come to your mind? The way the office looks like, how close everyone is with the CEO, do they have good benefits and catered lunches? That is very much true. But it’s also the tip of the iceberg. Culture in a company is so, so much more. Take Stripe for example. We recently read a great article posted in The Generalist, which inspired us to share some of our takeaways and keep spreading the knowledge.

Stripe offers online payment processing for internet businesses. That is, of course, a very simplified explanation of the variety of services they offer. This startup was founded by the Collison brothers, Patrick and John, originally from Ireland. Their initial idea came after the challenges they faced after selling apps forced them to rethink the way payments are processed in the digital world.

Their story is now a wild one, filled with incredible people who joined their team, all of the setbacks and challenges they overcame, and the head-spinning growth of their creation. But what sets them apart isn’t their success. Many have achieved the same. What makes them unique and attracts so much attention is the way they operate. They have won a lot, but they’ve done it with a lot of grace. Such attitude and approach are rare amongst their competition, and it is all established through the postulates of their culture.

According to many who worked for them, their culture isn’t just a dull letter on the paper, a memo shared amongst new hires, a sparkling poster on the wall. It is truly the way they do business, and why this company stands high on the pedestal. Let’s see what others can learn from their culture, and implement its essence in their own environment. There are six key components:

1. Take the long view

This seems like a cliche, but when they say long, they mean decades-long. When they are making a decision they are thinking about ten to twenty years in the future, not just three or five. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it took them as long as three years to hire some of the new employees that joined Stripe over the years. They are in it for the long haul, and their culture reflects it.

Of course, this kind of thinking had to come from the founders. Patrick is actually a board member of the Long Now Foundation that aims to encourage thinking about the next 10,000 hours and what they could mean for humanity as a whole.

In the world of instant processing payments, it might seem very unusual to establish your entire business model on such a unique school of thought. However, it helps bring perspective, shed a different light on the current challenges, and promote building a legacy, as opposed to focusing on just the present moment.

2. Users in the center of everything

It is impossible to even consider building a successful business without focusing on those who would benefit from it. Users, clients, customers, however, you choose to call them, simply require to have their needs put first. Stripe follows this lead but adds a twist to it.

Patrick, CEO and Founder, can often be found resolving user’s issues on Twitter. Not by a proxy, a chatbot, or a customer service representative, but himself, through his official profile. What they mean when they say users come first is - users come first to all of us. He went as far as to say that it’s been easy knowing what are the next steps he was going to take with the company, because users have been telling him what they want since the beginning. He just needed to listen.

3. Write first

This is a very simple yet very prominent part of their culture. It seems a bit from the rule Bezos infamously established in Amazon, when he forbade his employees to rely solely on PPTs. The reasoning behind this lies in the power of the written word. It forces a much deeper understanding of the subject, evokes creativity and focuses our thinking. This is why, in Stripe, each project begins with short documents - no animations, no visuals.

4. Over-index on transparency

In the early days of the company, Stripe had the most unusual rule that every single employee needs to be CCd on every single e-mail. Everyone knew what everyone was doing, and they could comment and criticize both the form and the content. A never-ending flow of feedback, in every possible direction. They adapted, and this lead to the most transformational approach to information sharing and feedback.

This idea of transparency remains vital to the culture of Stripe and a key reason for its success. Stripe is very deliberate about how they share. For instance, they have a weekly internal forum with Patrick and John where issues are openly discussed and questions answered. In their company all-hands, wikis, emails and internal messaging they aim to democratize access to information and avoid siloed thinking. People are even encouraged to “lurk” into coworkers’ projects to learn about what is happening and provide feedback.

The reason behind over-indexing on transparency? They believe that access to information is imperative to creating the very best work, and learn from each another. Everyone who aims to build something worth remembering should seek constructive criticism

5. Efficiency as leverage

In order to get where they wanted to go, Patrick and John worked very hard. Sometimes there is a lot to be done and the time is limited, which is why Stripe often uses efficiency as leverage.

Many cite long hours and working weekends as the least favorite thing about working there. Most of those have left the company, which leads to a benefit you couldn’t predict. It left the company hands of high-performers, focused on their careers, with an overwhelming desire to increase their own productivity and prioritization.

They have no trouble admitting that it isn’t easy working for Stripe. But they also don’t shy away from the fact that it’s worth it.

We don't see eye to eye with having a high-pressure environment as a requisite for success, but we do takeaway the relentless emphasis on efficiency and prioritization as a positive cultural trait.

6. Decentralized leadership style

Learning now what you have about Stripe, this last element of their culture shouldn’t surprise you. They operate on something they call “edge administration”, encouraging all of their team members to seek ownership over decisions and behaviors, to be involved, and to be proactive. They are allowed to have access to all the information and to be in constant communication with top management.

The structure isn’t flat, but the culture is. This way team members feel like owners and are empowered to make decisions.

If what you just read about Stripe’s culture resonated with you, here’s food for thought: All of these principles can be applied to absolutely any team or company with zero budget and this kind of forward-thinking can be a part of your environment as well. You can take precisely what fits your own way of doing business and resonates with your values. Stripe's culture can serve as an inspiration and as a reminder how crucial culture can be, and how important it is to nurture it. It is a very bright idea after all - all we need to succeed is just ourselves, our will, and fortitude.

The 1 minute takeaway

Company culture is critical to a company's success, and when it comes to cultures that have been built deliberately and successfully, Stripe is a great example.

There are six key components to their culture: taking the long view, keeping users in the center of everything, writing first, over-indexing on transparency, efficiency as leverage and decentralized leadership style.

Use these principles as inspiration and choose the elements that will be a cultural add for your company.


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