Stripe: Building a Developer Cult

What makes Stripe a favorite of developers, the advantages of building a cult, and the how the little things add up for developers

When I ask another developer who their favorite internet API company I usually get a one word response:

“Stripe.”

“What should our documentation look like?”

“Stripe’s docs.”

“Who’s your favorite payments company?”

“Stripe.”

It’s wild how passionate people get about just rails. When I say rails, think rails on a train track. They serve as a utility for trains to travel on. You can consider Stripe the rails of commerce and the internet. Stripe provides the rails to the internet that enable a large portion of online commerce and transacting. But still, at the end of the day it’s just an API.

Stripe’s mission is to increase the GDP of the internet. And they’ve done just that over that last decade. They’ve reached 96% of US adults. And they complete 250M API requests per day. That’s over 91B requests per year that they fulfill through their API.

So what’s made them such a successful company when their functionality is matched by numerous other companies who can either beat them on rate or functionality?

  1. Customer obsession.

  1. Developer’s First and Foremost 

  1. Developer Empathy 

  1. Design

Being obsessed with customers was something that John and Patrick from the beginning.

Early on, Patrick would take customer success to the next level. He would go to customers’ houses to install Stripe. Obsessing over the user experience has become core to the company ever since. 

This philosophy comes through in the Stripe dashboard. A button that reads “Feedback about this page?” stands prominently in the top right corner of every page of the dashboard.

Constantly improving the UX for customers is a never-ending goal of theirs. That’s what it means to be customer obsessed. If you ever settle, you’re doing it wrong. 

They even take it a step further. You can expect their employees who don’t even work on product to ask you how they can improve it and where you’ve experienced issues. 

That’s what customer obsession looks like.

Developers First and Foremost

Making developers feel special is key to Stripe’s success. When a developer gets to work with Stripe, it feels magical. 

Patrick and John experienced the problem. They were frustrated. And they responded.

But their response wasn’t just building something that “just worked”. They built something that solved the problems they themselves had as developers. They fixed the things with that kept them up at night.

Then they kept improving. They talked to customers constantly. They found their problems. They empathized with the developers who were the ones building things with their product. 

The act of empathy in developing a developer focused product is severely undervalued. The software engineers that are building their company’s software have opinions. More likely than not those opinions on the tech they use are religious. And developer religion is sacred. By focusing on creating the best developer experience possible, Stripe has earned the love, praise and promotion of developers all over the world. Stripe doesn’t need to force their product down anyone’s throat because they create a delightful experience in a sector that leaves people banging their heads against the wall. 

But is it really worth it to invest so heavily in product and developer experience?

  1. Stripe was built to arm the rebels. They reduce the cost to start accepting payments securely to zero. Previously, businesses needed to invest heavily in building a compliant payment system that can take payments on their site. Not only is it expensive, but it’s also risky to do so and take on the liability of processing payments. With Stripe, you can process millions with a 30 minute integration from a remote cabin in the mountains. Anyone, anywhere can rebel against the system with Stripe.

  2. What comes around goes around. Stripe has spread good karma to developers by giving them an amazing experience and making them happy. In return, developers are promoters. They rep the brand and promote it where they can. They fanboy over the slightest feature release and push for adoption wherever they can. Not surprisingly, they push to work with it at their jobs too. That’s bottom up adoption at it’s best.

What actually differentiates stripe from the rest of the bunch though?

It’s the little things.

Stripe obsesses over creating a seamless customer experience. Small annoyances in applications compound. Sure, a user might not churn immediately because you have a bunch of unoptimized functionality or crappy UX, but it’s a recipe to create a grumpy user. And grumpy users aren’t always loyal users.

Over the years, Stripe has taken developers’ grumpy feedback and made it their mission to make developers smile when using their platform. 

Not only that, but Stripe has also managed to stay away from the enterprise jargon that makes developers and rebels alike cringe.

Payments infrastructure for the internet

It’s sexy, accurate and true to Stripe. A true developer first brand staying loyal to their values.

Also there’s this - 

Design that inspires…

Stripe doesn’t just value utility - they value the beauty in providing the utility. When you land on the Stripe home page you’re greeted with a design that inspires. Its beauty and attention to detail makes you want to build a better future. It makes you aspire to be like Stripe (the evidence is in the thousand startups that rip off their design yearly - as they say, mimicry is the best form of flattery).

I’m no design expert, but I can safely say that when you compare the following, one makes you want to do something with your day, and the other makes you want to take a nap.

Like I said, it’s the small things. Braintree works. It functions. But it doesn’t inspire. 

Stripe has built a developer brand that’s helped propel them to success by embracing the little things and leaning into them. The effort in their aesthetic and interaction design doesn’t go unnoticed. 

When Stripe dropped their latest design upgrade, developer and design twitter went nuts. Everyone was talking about it for a couple days. 

“What do you think of the new Stripe design?” 

That’s what I kept hearing for a solid 3 days. 

When people are buzzing about just a new site design, you know you’ve done something right. This is what happens when you invest heavily into the small things that go a long way for your audience. Stripe knows their customers are developers and developers tend to be obsessed with details. So Stripe makes sure all the details and small things(like the homepage) are delightful. 

… so what does this mean for everyone else?

If you’re building a developer first company - or a product that aims to empower developers to build something, you need to be obsessive about the developers who are going to build on top of you. 

Make them want to spend their free time building on your product. 

Make them want to start a cult for your product. 

Make them your biggest fans.

If you can do that, then the rest will come. Having a passionate developer audience behind your product will have compounding returns. They’ll build on top of your platform. They’ll promote it to others. And they’ll obsess over the product. 

Suffice to say, obsessing over your customers/developers will pay dividends. It’s somewhat imperative to obsess over them if you want to build a strong developer first product/company. Stripe may be the developer obsessive company on everyone’s mind right now, but be certain others have taken notice. There’s a new wave of companies coming who are developer obsessed and design driven. 

Keep your eyes peeled.