Max Levchin, Founder & CEO of Affirm’s Key Advice For Founders

On October 11, Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm, described his entrepreneurship journey to a rapt audience at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center. From early days as Paypal’s co-founder, on to each startup that Levchin has worked on Slide, Yelp, HVF, Glow, and then finally Affirm, Levchin shared the highs and lows of his journey -as a founder and developer, drilling down to his core advice to other entrepreneurs.

“Entrepreneurship has interested me from a young age,” he said. Levchin shared how when he was a kid, he’d make his brother play “stock market games,” where his brother would tell him how many stocks he wanted to buy, and Levchin would tell him if the stock went up or down.

However, his actual entrance into the world of entrepreneurship was by complete accident. While he was studying at the University of Illinois Champaign after immigrating from a Soviet Ukraine — two entrepreneurs, perhaps aware of his potential, approached him to join their startup. Levchin agreed but was focused on maintaining his GPA at the time. The startup failed but the experience made him want to try again.  “This is the worst outcome possible, I’m excited to do it again!” recalled Levchin.

And he did do it again, creating Paypal, which became a global phenomenon. He remained involved until the company’s successful exit. Levchin’s journey then hit an existential bump in the road. With the massive success of PayPal, Levchin assumed that he had done all he could in the financial services industry. He searched for other fields and started a video game startup as well as other companies. But nothing sparked his interest in the same way that PayPal did.

His wife encouraged him to continue with financial services, and when he finally took her advice, Affirm was born. “Within me somewhere burns this passion for financial services,” said Levchin.  He continues to lead the company to this day.

Levchin advised aspiring entrepreneurs: “You’re good at certain things and, if you’re lucky enough to find out early that you’re good at something, it is ok to double down and triple down on that skill set and that passion.”

To Levchin, it is important that Affirm has focused on actively improving the lives of others. The number one performance indicator used by the company is the number of lives impacted. “We change lives,” he said, “and we have the opportunity to do good things with that.”


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