by Joe Marshall on July 26th, 2020
Stripe Atlas is a “platform for forming a company” aimed in particular at startups and internet businesses. It consolidates a lot of the legal paperwork, fees, and hassle of incorporating a business, giving you access to a bevy of Stripe resources for company formation, all behind an online dashboard that sits inside your usual Stripe account. It costs $500 and covers a few hundred dollars in legal fees, plus it comes with thousands of dollars in credits with affiliated partners.
Stripe Atlas offers:
Although Stripe Atlas was designed initially for businesses that wanted to incorporate as Delaware C Corporations, it’s been expanded to support LLCs - meaning that if you don’t want to issue stock, have a Board of Directors, etc, but just want the legal framework for some shared profit venture, with the liability protection of an LLC, Stripe Atlas is still for you.
A major feature of Atlas, finally, is that it optionally comes with a business bank account. Access to the US banking system is a killer feature for international entrepreneurs who might want to process payments, sell / purchase companies, or otherwise participate in the American market.
So, Stripe Atlas is for:
We’re a small, four-person bootstrapped business (basically, bullet points one and three). We knew and trusted Stripe as our payment processor and loved the idea of not only consolidating a lengthy, involved process into a tool we (already!) used, we also saw the $500 fee as more than worth it, considering the promised $5,000 in AWS credits, registered agent fees, and incorporation fee. The ability to create a business bank account in addition to the incorporation was gravy, considering that we needed a business-only Stripe-connected account. For us, since all we required was a garden-variety, digitally-oriented LLC formation with the ultimate company divided into four ownership units, Atlas made perfect sense. If our needs hadn’t been so simple and we’d ultimately needed something more custom, we still would’ve explored Stripe Atlas’ premade templates and flat-fee legal services, but more cautiously.
In order to get approved for a Stripe Atlas account and a Delaware C Corporation, you’ll need to provide some information to Stripe for each person who’s going to be a part owner of the company:
What you’ll need:
Once you submit this info Stripe will hit you with a whole mess of emails asking you to Docusign everything from an IP Assignment, which assigns any intellectual property you might have created to the company, to the actual paperwork dividing stock if you’re a Delaware C Corp or ownership units if you’re an LLC. It’s all very direct and automated, signing each stage of documents and providing the requisite information unlocks the next stage of documents and info-gathering.
Day 1: We signed up and submitted all our personal info
Day 3: A mistake! We noticed in our Stripe Atlas dashboard that the status of our documents was no longer "Submitted." We notified them, resubmitted some things, and they rectified the error.
Day 6: We receive the company formation documents: IP assignment, ownership percentages, etc.
Day 10: We received our bank account with Azlo but still couldn’t accept payment (trying to process one would trigger an error through the Stripe API)
Day 14: We receive our EIN (Employer Identification Number), otherwise known as our tax ID. We can now accept payments!
Stripe Atlas teases a number of partner benefits in their promotional copy - $5,000 for AWS, up to $100,000 for GCP (!). Of course our all-AWS infrastructure makes those AWS credits essentially free money, so we were very interested in maximizing that benefit.
So after signing up for Atlas and going through all the AWS rigamarole we were able to secure only $1,000 in AWS credits.
We posted about it and actually received a follow up from Stripe:
Thanks for your interest in Stripe Atlas. My name is Tony and I’ll be happy to share further about our tools.
We know that building a new business is exciting and challenging—but it can also be costly. To help you get off to a great start, Stripe Atlas has partnered with Amazon Web Services to create some great offers for Stripe Atlas businesses.
In your case, applying through Stripe Atlas, the amount you're eligible for is (up to) $5000. The "up to" phrase is because there is a lifetime eligibility cap.
If you have any other questions about AWS benefits or Stripe Atlas, just reply to this email—we're happy to help.
In summary: It seems that though Stripe can advertise the "up to" amounts it’s the actual partners (like AWS) who are setting the standards for what companies merit what credit payouts. Basically, Stripe directs you to AWS, you verify you’re a Stripe customer via a code, and the Amazon Gods pay what they pay.
It seems in AWS Activate (the program giving the credits) we signed up under the "Bootstrapped / Self-funded" option to get our $1,000 in credits. Maybe if we'd signed up as a "Funded" startup we could've expected the full $5,000?
It’s disappointing and a little opaque, but no more than most marketing copy. Just keep in mind as you’re reading those credit totals in the official Stripe Atlas documentation that they come with light asterisks - it’s not ultimately Stripe awarding those amounts.
We have been incorporated for under a fiscal year, so alas we haven’t had the pleasure of doing taxes yet. We have done some research into it though, and tried to get a sense of what support Stripe offers Atlas companies during tax time.
Here’s an example of some of the Stripe communication around taxes. These resources all came in an email to Atlas founders:
We decided to create a business checking account with Azlo because we desperately needed to move off my-real-live-checking-account we naturally shipped with.
We haven’t done anything exciting from a financial perspective - no complicated M&A’s, accounting logistics, or large business loans - we’ve just been depositing money from our Stripe account and occasionally withdrawing.
One neat feature of using Azlo + Atlas is that when you’re activating your Stripe account, moving beyond the testing stage and generating a live production token, as soon as Stripe gives you a valid token you’re ready to accept payments - immediately. It’s a great feeling adding that critical Stripe token to your secrets management, pushing it live, and knowing someone can “walk up”, purchase your digital product, and pay you money for it, all completely automated. This is admittedly a small thing but also indicative of some of that Stripe attention to detail they’re so great about.
Really the only blemish on our entire Stripe Atlas experience was wanting that sweet $5,000 in AWS credits but settling for $1,000 - which feels like a pretty small, spoiled gripe. Having the central location for everything company incorporation-related in our Stripe dashboard - where we’re already comfortable - and small things like document and personal info checklists, only having to pay a single entity (Stripe) instead of a million small fees, along with just having the whole thing on rails, makes Atlas a great proposition.
Here are a few resources we’ve found useful. They run the gamut from the official sources for some of the technologies we’ve mentioned to particularly good community discussions around common issues.