Stripe will help Cubans do business in US

Commerce tech company Stripe got a boost for its new product from an unexpected source, The White House.

Less than two weeks before President Barack Obama's historic trip to Cuba, the White House contacted the company and asked if it would be willing to launch its new product, Atlas, in Cuba.

John Collison, co-founder and president of Stripe, at the iCONIC conference in Seattle on April 5, 2016
David A. Grogan | CNBC

"We said the only logical response which was 'Sure! Why not?,'" said John Collison, president and co-founder of Stripe.

Stripe Atlas allows entrepreneurs from other countries to incorporate a company and set up a bank account in the United States. They can then start accepting payments through Stripe and receive tax and regulation guidance from its partners, tech law firm Orrick and global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Collison said just days after Atlas' initial launch, Stripe received applications from 185 countries.

"We thought we had tapped out the list of countries," he said. Because of the sanctions on Cuba, that country wasn't really on the company's radar when Stripe first launched Atlas.

"We quickly had to scramble to line up the partners we work with to make the Atlas product work," Collison said.

Collison said that while the internet should allow people to start global businesses regardless of what country they're in, there are geographic realities that prevent them from doing so.

"A lot of those countries are by and large shut out of the online economy," he said.

These entrepreneurs struggle with regulations in their own countries, Collison said. At the same time, the alternative to setting up a company in the United States is prohibitively expensive because of the requisite airfare and legal fees needed to do so.

"Many more of these businesses would be getting started if it were easier," said Collison. "Since the start of Stripe, this has been bugging us that the opportunity was so unequally distributed."

Atlas users pay just $500 to cover the processing costs of incorporating in the United States and opening a bank account. After that, Stripe, a company in 2014, collects its standard fees from its online payment processing services, which would remain a primary source of revenue for the company.

While being tapped by the White House has helped Stripe enter the Cuba market early, it has not yet selected Cuban entrepreneurs for its Atlas beta program. The company is still processing the pile of applications it's received.