Max Levchin

Serial Entrepreneur, Investor, & Coder. Affirm, HVF, Slide, PayPal.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 10, 2015


Max Levchin@mlevchin
Hi all, Max here. I'm the CEO of “Affirm,” the next generation financial services company offering consumer credit at the point of sale, and the Chairman of “Glow,” a women’s reproductive health company. Both companies were created and launched from my San Francisco based innovation and investment lab, “HVF.” Some of my past credits include serving as the CTO and one of the original cofounders of PayPal, helping start Yelp, founding the company “Slide,” and serving on various external boards. I'm also a proud father and husband, an avid cyclist, and self-proclaimed coffee snob. Happy to be answering your questions today, so please fire away!
Snoop Dogg@snoopdogg · The Doggfather
@mlevchin whats ur favorite kind of dessert?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@snoopdogg 100% dark chocolate & cheese.
Ilya Zobnov@zobnov · Product, Analytics, Development, BizDev
Hi Max, thanks for this opportunity, and greeting from Kiev! Talking about your current ventures, to what extend your decisions are data driven? (disclaimer: I develop a real time analytics platform)
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@zobnov 97.3% data-driven.
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
Hi Max. What is your thoughts on the "The Paypal Wars" book?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@_jacksmith mixed bag -- some stuff is spot on, some views/explanations are fairly one-sided, and a handful of factual errors. Eric was there for a lot of the action, but not all of it, and so some of that shows. Generally still an entertaining read.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Hi @mlevchin thanks so much for joining us today. Would love to hear what your career highlight is so far? What aspects of you past success do you feel will aid in your journey with @Affirm
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@harrystebbings many highlights. PayPal IPO was a big day, not only financially, but as a validation of our impact, etc. Realizing that we saved the company from dying (by way of fraud-related losses) was huge (beginning of 2001). Affirm has been an awesome journey so far... Too many great people met and befriended along the way in all these adventures to count - that's the biggest highlight of them all.
Logan Graham@logangraham
Hey @mlevchin. I'm doing my PhD in Machine Learning, and I love the mission of HVF. But I'm worried about data-driven innovation. Machine learning has low barriers for entry. You can't be "proprietary". What, then, is the competitive advantage of data-driven innovation? (Business strategy? Novel scenarios? Genius-level secret methods?) EDIT – adding the big question: will billion-$ businesses be built by machine learning, or will it be built on "hard" and tangible innovation like biotech, aerospace, and energy? EDIT 2 – just read your blog post on augmented intelligence. That's very very close to my research area. If you pass by Oxford, let's go to a pub.
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@logangraham speed of adaptation and revision; willingness to take directional risks with your own money, which leads to gathering a proprietary data set or multiple. Re big question -- the latter -- machine learning software will chew big industries so that startups can digest them more easily.
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@mlevchin thanks for joining us today! We appreciate the time. Can you tell us about one of your less known defining moments? And how has it contributed to the person you've become?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@corleyh I realized (by looking at our metrics) that credit card fraud was going to kill our startup (PayPal) and I didn't think we could fix it in time. I thought of giving up -- and one of my closest friends Scott, and my now-wife Nellie (who were present when I realized just how bad the situation was) both told me in unison to basically man up and solve it. I whined for another ten minutes, and then agreed with them that I had to. Anytime I feel like something is just too hard to do, or too big to fix, I think of that day and try to man up.
Yazin@yazinsai · Doer
Hey Max, were you really the first inventor of CAPTCHA?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@yazinsai kinda! PayPal was creaking under the load of automated fraudulent signups, and we urgently needed a way stop it. One day I screamed at the top of my lungs to the entire engineering team "can anyone think of a task humans excel at, and computers fail?" and a brilliant coder named Dave Gausebeck answered instantly "optical character recognition!" I spent the next 72h coding it non-stop and we rolled out immediately, which had a very positive impact on the number of fraudulent signups! Later, I found out that CMU had this problem under investigation, called it CAPTCHA, and had a bunch of really nice published work on it, right around the same time. We never saw their work though, so in that sense, we did invent it too.
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@mlevchin How was it working alongside Elon Musk? Hell, how does it feel to be on the same level as Elon?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@jeffumbro working with Elon is always interesting! He is obviously brilliant, and has an endless supply of very non-linear ideas around solving hard problems. He also believes unshakably in his inability to fail, which can be truly inspirational, and infuriating, in equal measure :)
Barnett Klane@barnettlklane · Software Developer, Bugcrowd
@mlevchin, what is your end goal with @affirm?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@barnettlklane to build a very long-term, truly great financial service company built with 21st century technology, yet first and foremost focused on earning and keeping its users' trust.
Yoni Blumberg@yblumberg · Special Projects Manager, InVenture
@mlevchin @barnettlklane That's (perhaps intentionally) quite open-ended / vague. Does the vision eventually extend beyond credit? Is the distinction important?
Faramarz Hashemi@faramarzhashemi · Designer
Run us through your day. I'm mostly curious how you spend your time once you get home, or rather, when you leave the office at the end of the day
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@faramarzhashemi I get up at 5:30am, do urgent email/work stuff for an hour; then get on the bike, get my energy boost for the day pedaling. then head to the office sometime between 8 and 9, depending on the length of the ride. I wind up having too many meetings, it feels, but they are all useful :) At least half the days, I try to make it home towards 6, so I can spend some time with my kids during dinner, and read them before bed. Then I get back to email/writing/etc. I try to go to bed before midnight. Sometimes I succeed.
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
Hi Max! What's your take on online schools/education? What components do you think are missing that will make them grow exponentially?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@theo_dimarhos generally a fan, but they lack the in-person interactions (and dynamics) that make traditional schooling what it is. Some new ideas in the space are impressive (HackReactor has done some work in making the online experience seem more in-person like).
mike lin@mikelinsf · Founder & CEO, influencersTV
Did you ever have any doubts around PayPal's success? How many times did you pivot?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@mikelinsf plenty of times :) We pivoted (by my count) 6 times!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@mlevchin Thanks for being here today. 🙌During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@ems_hodge most challenging moment: too many to pick one... A really close collaborator died very suddenly when we were both very young, during PayPal. Having to do a layoff at Slide, looking people in the eyes, and admit that I, as the CEO, screwed up. You overcome by being honest, no matter how much it hurts, with yourself, set a course, and execute. proudest moment: PayPal IPO, many other little things that had momentous importance then... and then faded as the next challenge came up :) most surprising moment: it's a daily shocker in the world of startups :) you get used to it.
Hey @mlevchin thanks for doing this, I've read zero to one and was wondering what was your experience like founding and working at PayPal? Also what are your favorite books?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@alfink92 uhm, it was.. great!? :) My favorite non-tech book is Master & Margarita. Tech-wise, I have a certain permanent love for Knuth's magnum opus, but find Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs easier to read end-to-end quickly :)
Aashay Mody@aashaymody · Growth @ Astro
Hi @mlevchin, would love to hear your thoughts on nootropics/smart drugs and Nootrobox's chewable coffee cubes (since you are a coffee snob)!
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@aashaymody love the idea, never tried any of these. would love to -- always excited to experiment on myself for the sake of marginal productivity gains!
Andrey Zagoruiko@which_might · cofounder,
Max, can you please collaborate on your media consumption? Do you visit directly a subset of sites every day or you are using RSS for some blogs (which ones?) or have you delegated control over your information inbox to Facebook/Twitter and click only links from those networks?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@which_might twitter + links I find there is more or less all I use. News360 is an app I use a fair bit when I have the time.
Moses Koledoye@mounderscore · Programmer
@mlevchin Do you see any other location in the world as having a near, if not equal, potential as that of silicon valley in the near future? And why would you want to fund a startup in a location outside S.V. or the U.S.?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@mounderscore not really. maybe NY.
Tigran Hakobyan@tigranhakobian · Entrepreneur, Co-founder/CMO @ inapptics
Hi Max, Thanks for joining us! What's your favourite business book you'd advise to young entrepreneurs and why?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@tigranhakobian Some good ones from the "pure business" category: Zero to One, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, The Innovator's Dilemma, Good to Great, etc. Personally, I prefer less advice, more history. From my favorite business segment: Too Big To Fail, Ascent of Money, When Genius Failed, etc. Books on applied psychology (Influence, Predictably Irrational, etc) are another way to round out primarily technological education :)
Tigran Hakobyan@tigranhakobian · Entrepreneur, Co-founder/CMO @ inapptics
@mlevchin Thanks Max! By the way, was reading Zero to One today. I like it, just few chapters left to finish it.
Klajdi Turlla@klajdi_kl · Product Manager, MPAY Albania
@mlevchin what do you think it's the best approach to increase electronic payments in cash based society with normal presence of the bank (i.e 50% banked population, people take the salary in the bank, high penetration of debit cards but low usage)?
Max Levchin@mlevchin
@klajdi_kl ha, that is a roughly a trillion-dollar question :) Reducing interchange is a big step -- making card transactions cost same as cash.
Klajdi Turlla@klajdi_kl · Product Manager, MPAY Albania
@mlevchin :-) yeah right. In my country there is also a lack of interoperability. Merchants usually have 4 or more POSes from different banks making the product inneficient for the banks and very expensive.