$US9 billion startup Stripe is a payments company first and foremost: Companies like
Target, SAP, and the NFL use Stripe’s technology to power at least some of the payments in their websites and apps.
On Thursday, Stripe launched Sigma — a tool to help its customers analyse and make sense of the vast amounts of payments data that flows in and out of its service. The end result is giving businesses a deep and always-fresh view into the flow of money in and out of their coffers, where before they may have been largely in the dark.
“We can solve this universal problem for any internet business,” Stripe CEO Patrick Collison tells Business Insider.
Your average business generates a huge amount of data, just from the payments side. Invoices going out, money coming in, and receipts going back out, pretty much as fast as customers can push the buttons on their phones. It’s hard for a human to make sense of, and traditional software doesn’t offer an easy fix.
While companies like Microsoft and Oracle offer different pieces of the software “pipeline” you would need to analyse that data, it’s still pricey to get started, difficult to hook up to your existing data archives, and slow, taking hours to return answers. Collison suggests that Stripe’s customers, many of whom are smaller startups, simply don’t bother.
By contrast, says Collison, Stripe Sigma is fast and easy to use, plugging straight into the data that already flows through the Stripe payments system. Sigma already uses the extremely common SQL language for “asking” questions of the data, such that most C-level executives or accountants who need to use it likely already know how.
Take, for example, Slack, the mega-popular $US3.8 billion chat app startup, which has been an early Sigma customer. Somebody in the company’s financial department taught themselves SQL, got the hang of Sigma, and used it to figure out a way to speed up the monthly close of the sales process by a full day, Collison says.
In a bigger picture sense, Collison doesn’t see Sigma as competing with those other data analytics companies or products. Rather, as with the Stripe Radar fraud prevention tool, the startup just heard that customers were having problems running their business online that they couldn’t otherwise solve.
“[Customers] tend to be articulate, and specific, and correct about what would be most useful to them,” says Collison.