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In His Own Words: Max Levchin (Video)

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By any measure, Max Levchin should be retired. He is rich beyond his dreams, he is married to his long time sweetheart, and is enjoying family life. His most recent startup, Slide, was acquired by Google (s GOOG) for about $200 million. A modest win when compared to the fact that he co-created PayPal, which today is one of the new global payment systems that rivals decades-old giants such as Visa and American Express. And yet, Levchin is restless, thinking about the future and new opportunities. He is working at Google and trying to help them with their social strategy.

A few days ago, he stopped by my office and proceeded to talk about a diverse range of topics (everything but Google’s social efforts!) Max doesn’t like to talk about himself, though he is happy to talk about his business or the technology industry at large. I was hoping to learn more from him about the common mistakes startups make when working on someone else’s platform, and what comes next. In the course of an hour-long conversation, he showed a whole new side of himself.

In a nutshell, Max unplugged and told me his story. And it is a riveting one – that of a Ukrainian boy who moved to Chicago when he was 16, who re-programmed himself into a mid-westerner by watching hours of television. Anything to scrub out his accent and to fit in, he said during the interview. Being an immigrant, he said, was a great way to prepare for the entrepreneurial life – pointing out that when you can re-program yourself, pivoting your business is just part of your overall tactics.

In this first part of the interview, Max talks about the manic days of PayPal and how his wife (then girlfriend’s) advice to “quit whining” helped him get through some tough times. My favorite part of the story is when he talks about his inability to cope with the stress of coming up with an idea that was bigger than PayPal. But don’t let my words get in the way — watch the video! (Part 1 of 2)

Video edited and directed by Chris Albrecht.

P.S.: Watch Max on the now-retired “GigaOM Show.”

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17 Responses to “In His Own Words: Max Levchin (Video)”

  1. I found it particularly interesting that Max created an incubator primarily to initiate an environment of creativity.

    How do you come up with the best ideas possible? Easy! Just setup an atmosphere where great ideas are pooled together, then pick the best ones.

    • I have a different take on incubators. Unless they are about a couple of people trying to get traction for their ideas, they typically go nowhere because then they are essentially a play on real-estate/money/resources. That is just boring.

      Some of the better ones are the ones such as Betaworks and in the past it was Idealab in its early days. I think rest of them haven’t been much of an impact. (I might be missing some, so apologies in advance.)

  2. Guillaume

    He’s pretty much exactly right about IMs. They used to be amazing but as the rest of the web evolved and they stayed stagnant. I remember windows had a webcam chat client back in the windows 98 days. And yet most clients still can’t do webcam chat with more than 2 people in the conversation. In over a decade nothing has gone forward?