The Importance of International Payments for Startups

Last week, we announced that Braintree is now available in 8 new countries, making us available to businesses in more than 40 countries, including all of Europe, Australia and Canada. After launching internationally in September of last year, we’re already handling more than $2 billion in international transactions (25% of the more than $8 billion we handle annually). While I’m certainly proud of how quickly our international offering has taken off, I wanted to share more about why international payments are so important to startups.

Broadly speaking, we’ve heard from e-commerce and m-commerce companies that wanted to use Braintree internationally for two reasons. The first is that payments in most international markets are extremely complex and dominated by either banks or very large, bureaucratic, legacy providers that provide software that looks like it was written 20 years ago.  That’s not unlike the situation in the US before Braintree broke onto the scene a few years ago and began providing developers with elegant payments software that matches what they’d expect from the best cloud based services. The second reason, however, is much more game-changing. With our ability to accept 130 currencies, Braintree is giving e-commerce companies of all sizes the ability to expand around the world, something only a handful of providers have ever been able to do.

So, why is the ability to expand around the world and accept foreign currency so important?  International expansion, much like an IPO, has always been something that startups aspired to as part of their growth plans. Also like an IPO, it has been something that many startups felt they didn’t need to rush toward. However, that has been changing rapidly in the last few years, driven by the development of large, technology-enabled markets as well as a significant increase in tech entrepreneurship outside the US.

Once an e-commerce company or model is successful in its home market, two forces are going to drive that company to expand internationally very quickly. The first is that consumers will pull the company into international markets. Our world is now more interconnected than it has ever been with massive distribution platforms like the App Store, Facebook and Twitter. Once a company is successful in its home market, consumers in other markets will pull the company into their markets. The second force that has emerged is that entrepreneurs and developers in other markets will now quickly clone or adapt successful models to their own markets before the originators of those models are able to expand. This has been best exemplified by the Samwer brothers’ Rocket Internet. Rocket rapidly clones successful startups that fail to quickly heed the callings of consumers to expand their model overseas. Given the Samwer brothers’ success with this, the model is spreading.  And it isn’t just companies outside the US cloning US-based companies. For example, many have dubbed Max Levchin’s new startup, Affirm, to be an adaptation of Klarna, a very successful European startup.

So, what should you do as a startup or e-commerce company to deal with these phenomena? Plan for success and prepare for international expansion from the start. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to build in multi-language support or undertake all the necessary work of international expansion from the very beginning. However, you should be thinking about building infrastructure and choosing partners that can help you expand, and not make it more difficult down the road.

We’re proud that we’re able to provide the payments infrastructure that companies will need for international expansion, particularly since access to foreign currency payments had previously been one of the most difficult parts of expanding an e-commerce business overseas. We’re humbled to have, in some small way, helped companies like Uber, LivingSocial, Wrapp, Rovio/Angry Birds, Airbnb and 99designs with their international expansion and we’re excited to help others to follow in their footsteps.

If you have questions about your own plans for international expansion, we’re happy to help.  Learn more about international payments or contact us.

Bill Ready Bill is the SVP, Global Head of Merchant and Next-Gen Commerce at PayPal. Previously, Ready was the CEO of Braintree, leading the company through the 2013 acquisition by PayPal for $800 million. More posts by this author

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