We’ve looked at how OpenAI marketed ChatGPT to developers (and you can even get the PDF here if you want to refer back to it) – now, we’re turning our attention to another tech giant: Stripe.

From the start, the online payments processing platform took a developer-first approach, which paid off as 3.2 million active sites use their products – and the company is currently valued at about $95 billion.

Take a look at how Stripe grew and the lessons you can take from them. 👇

What is Stripe?

“The part of Stripe that I've always found most interesting is the idea of facilitating new commerce that wouldn't otherwise happen. Payouts are turning out to be a big part of that. These new networks are efficient, intelligent replacements for offline behemoths.” – Patrick Collinson, Co-Founder of Stripe

Stripe was founded by Irish brothers John and Patrick Collison in 2009 as a financial services and SaaS company. Mainly, Stripe provides payment-processing software and APIs for e-commerce sites and mobile apps.

Being a company created by developers for developers, Stripe’s products have always been easy to use and integrate with other systems. Not only this, but they made sure to create documentation, provide tutorials, and offer code samples to developers from the get-go.

In the past few years, Stripe grew to handle more complex transactions while also providing services that make e-commerce easier than ever. Stripe works with over 120 orgs in many different industries, and the rise of e-commerce sales during the pandemic only helped them accelerate their growth.

Stripe’s developer marketing

So, which developer marketing strategies did Stripe implement to become the juggernaut they are today?

A focus on developers

Stripe is solving a very important problem when it comes to global transactions – but not all tools or platforms that solve important issues succeed. In fact, many products fail.

One key aspect of Stripe’s growth to one of the most essential orgs out there is how they focused on developers from the get-go. Their audience was clearly defined and they understood that developers had a very specific pain point (getting paid) – the next step was figuring out how to address that pain.

In other words, Stripe focused heavily on the customer, i.e., the developer experience.

“For years, the growth in e-commerce outpaced the underlying payments technology: companies wanting to set up shop had to go to a bank, which processes payments, and set up a gateway to connect the two. This takes weeks, lots of people, and fee after fee. Much of the software in place was decades old and written by banks, credit-card companies and financial middlemen.
“Paypal – designed to simplify payments – actually made this worse. The company infuriated startups with its restrictions – once turnover hit a certain level, Paypal automatically put the business on a 21 to 60 day rolling reserve, meaning that up to 30 per cent of a company’s revenue could be locked up for up to two months. Developers had to choose between this and complex legacy systems built by banks.” – Stephen Armstrong, via Wired

Understanding who their audience was

Stripe understood one thing early: they wouldn’t succeed with a traditional product pitch. Presenting a list of features, going for the hard sell, talking about how much better they were when compared to competitors – none of that would work with their developer audience, people who also build with the product, not just use it.

It was all about getting to know their customers inside out, and fully understanding their motivations, their attitudes, what they were looking for, as well as their likes and dislikes.

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Allowing for a hands-on experience

Also, part of Stripe’s strategy was to let developers try their product and get hands-on with it. That way, developers could explore the product at their leisure and figure out how it solved their problems in a way that was more engaging than a hard pitch.

Developers could more easily see the value in the product than if there was someone reciting a list of benefits.

“At YC we use the term "Collison installation" for the technique they invented. More diffident founders ask "Will you try our beta?" and if the answer is yes, they say "Great, we'll send you a link." But the Collison brothers weren't going to wait. When anyone agreed to try Stripe they'd say "Right then, give me your laptop" and set them up on the spot.” – Paul Graham, Do Things that Don’t Scale

Providing API integration

Because Stripe understood that developers are often key decision-makers in choosing the right product for their org, they focused on integrations, and were able  to attract the attention of developers.

These API integrations allowed developers to simply copy and paste seven lines of code to any app or site and voilà, everything was up and running in no time. Businesses could immediately connect to a payments company without having to spend weeks setting up the process.

Because the developers were doing this integration, it was clear Stripe made their lives 1,000x easier.

Ensuring clear documentation

Stripe’s documentation is simple and clear, allowing developers to easily understand their products, navigate to what they’re looking for, and make the most of the products without needing to ask questions or request help.

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Offering a long-lasting product

Another growth driver: the seven lines of code Stripe provided meant developers didn’t have to make any changes for years. Not only was the product easy to use, but it also ensured maintenance was stress-free.

Companies could focus on other aspects of the business without having to worry about payments and whether they’re system was out of date.

Creating several products

Stripe didn’t put all their eggs in one basket. Other products that attracted developers was a programmable infrastructure to move money around the world – the Global Payments and Treasury Network.

Running an MVP

There are many benefits to having a minimum viable product (MVP), and Stripe understood that in the first few months, while they were still figuring out their original product and making improvements on the fly.

Their MVP meant their product had to be manually installed for a user at the beginning. However, they learned a lot by doing this and eventually figured out what worked best for their customers.

Being responsive

Not only is Stripe a customer-driven company, they’re also product-led. If customers or potential customers reach out to them, they’re very responsive, and they’re quick to reply and act. They also understand that, if people are reaching out with a problem because they can’t find the solution anywhere else, Stripe needs to get on top of that and fix the issue.

Checking for positive signs

Developer communities are crucial but they’re not the only way to interact with developers. For example, Stripe keeps an eye on specific signals that tell them whether someone can be converted into a customer or upsold:

  • An increase in developers wanting to use the API or more people logging onto the dashboard. This shows interest in the products.
  • People reaching out directly to Stripe, typically wanting to learn more about a product.
  • The company checks for things like the tech stack potential customers have (which tells them whether they can integrate Stripe), how big the orgs are, their revenue, etc.
  • When a potential customer has a complex case that requires a more extensive conversation, which can lead to a stronger relationship.

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Using pricing to get feedback

Ali Abouelatta, author of First1000, talks about how Stripe used pricing to get the right feedback for their product. At this point, they were still in Beta and not the titan they are today, so the brothers decided to go the more expensive route.

In fact, they charged “5% + $0.5 when all their competitors were charging 2.9% – 3.2% + $0.3” – this structure ensured that:

  • People who signed up to the company were not motivated by money, as they were willing to accept the more expensive cost; this helped the Collison brothers to build for the right audience and attract potential customers who were more likely to convert.
  • Stripe had to build a great product that clearly distinguished them from their competitors, since the higher price set high expectations.

Approaching competitors

In 2011, the Collison brothers decided to approach Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, PayPal founders, and tell them PayPal just wasn’t cutting it.

“It’s a little impetuous to go to PayPal founders and say payments on the internet are totally broken. But look, you can WhatsApp anyone around the world and it’s free. It’s a remarkable act of coordination between the telcos and ISPs and the people who own the fiber underneath the sea to create this global communications network. Then, if you look at the economic infrastructure, we haven’t even started.” – John Collison, Co-Founder of Stripe

The brothers were able to pitch a vision of more connectivity and ease-of-use, and secure seed funding from Thiel and Musk. By 2014, they had a valuation of $1.8 billion. Today, while Stripe hasn’t displaced PayPal, the two platforms can work together incredibly well (as users can integrate both payment processes into their site).

Investing in paid advertising

During their first year, Stripe also ran ads on Stack Overflow. It’s a false assumption that paid ads don’t work with developers, and Stripe understood this was a viable avenue.

In fact, to create great ads, make sure you’ve got a goal in mind, know who the ad is targeting, have engaging copy, and have a landing page for people to go to when they click on the ad.

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Developers are often seen as a difficult audience to reach, with many marketers struggling to effectively target this demographic. However, advertising to developers can be an effective strategy if done the right way.

Hosting events

Another way to build relationships with developers and grow your brand awareness is to host events, such as hackathons – Stripe hosted monthly Capture The Flag hackathons in person and, once those events became popular, they began to host them online, which helped them to foster a stronger relationship with developers.

Meetups are another great tool. Stripe hosted many meetups for developers and hackers over the years, and continues to host these events today.

Blogging and social media

Stripe keeps a blog that provides information and opinions on many different topics, and they also maintain a presence on social media. This allows them to market their product, raise brand awareness, and understand what people are looking for.

Key takeaways

Stripe signed deals with many companies, such as Lyft, Monzo, Salesforce, Asos, and Shopify, and easily processes billions a year. Their marketing strategies, mainly their focus on the developer audience, has paid off, since they’ve grown explosively since first appearing on the tech scene.

Here are some of the key takeaways you can apply in your own marketing:

  • Put developers (and their experience) first – i.e., be customer-obsessed.
  • Ensure a first-hands experience with your product (open access to tools)
  • Have strong and clear documentation.
  • Provide API keys and self-serve sign-ups to save developers’ time.
  • Minimize the barriers to access – no need for contractors or speaking to a salesperson.
  • Address any challenges developers may have immediately.
  • Build long-lasting relationships with developers.
  • Use pricing as a marketing or feedback tool.
  • Don’t dismiss the power of events and in-person meetings.
  • Invest in content, social media, and paid advertising if it’s right for you.

Why not head over to our Slack community to chat about this success story with other marketers and developers? There’s much to learn from a company like Stripe, so share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions!