06/26/2015 02:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Conversation With Max Levchin


Image Credit: Max Levchin

At this year's Exponential Finance conference hosted by Singularity University in New York, I had the opportunity to talk with Max Levchin, founder of Affirm, a fin-tech startup that offers consumers credit at the point of sale.

Levchin was one of the original cofounders of PayPal where he served as the CTO until its acquisition by eBay in 2002. In 2004, he helped start Yelp, the ratings and review service where he is currently the Chairman of the Board.

Patrick Daniel: Let's start with a Peter Thiel kind of question. What does your fin-tech startup Affirm believe that few other people believe?

Max Levchin: The classic interview question. I don't think we think differently. We think that consumer finance needs to be transparent and there is no sense in building a business in the 21st century that fundamentally aligns against their customers. You should not run a business if you are out to get your customers.

Daniel: What do you think is the most important question to answer before starting a startup?

Levchin: Are you passionate about the thing that you are going to work on.

Daniel: What characteristic do you value most in your employees?

Levchin: Drive.

Daniel: What is your strategy to motivate and get the best people on your team?

Levchin: Don't try to strategize. I try to hire people that are deeply aligned with what I want to do and what I have to say.

Daniel: How do you communicate with your team?

Levchin: Email. I am pretty old school. I use email a lot.

Daniel: What role do governments need to play in this information technology revolution?

Levchin: I am generally not a huge fan of government getting involved in things, especially things that can be governed by the market. The role of government is to thoughtfully recognize situations when the free market mechanism is too slow and people are getting hurt. The government then needs to step in when things don't work and adjust. We don't live in a society where everything happens instantaneously. So we have to push on.


Daniel: How do you discriminate your ideas and find focus?

Levchin: I typically ask myself how am I going to be passionate about this at the lowest point. I ask myself if it is going to be important and valuable. What would people say to me when I am down, when it is not working and when nobody wants to fund it? If you can imagine the moment of self-doubts, how do you talk yourself out of that? That is a good litmus test.

Daniel: What do you attribute to getting things down?

Levchin: Drive.

Daniel: Do you have any daily routine or rituals that make you more effective?

Levchin: Yes, I get up very early. I ride my bike for at least 90 minutes to clear my head.

Daniel: When you raise money how do you make sure the money that you get from the firm is in alignment with your values?

Levchin: I sit down with a bunch of capitalists and tell them here are my values, what are yours?

Daniel: How do you define success?

Levchin: The number of lives that are better because of me.

Daniel: If you could offer your younger self advice, what would it be?

Levchin: Keep at it man, don't give up.