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112 5 YEARS AGO
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
Shortly after being named the 2002
TR100 Innovator of the Year, Max
Levchin left PayPal, the company he
had cofounded, which he and his part-
ners sold to eBay for more than $1.5
billion. About a year later, he founded
Slide, a company that creates play-
ful ways to showcase photos on home
pages, blogs, and social-networking
websites like Facebook. Slide is cur-
rently one of the most popular ser vices
of its kind, allowing the images of
more than 120 million users to swirl,
revolve, fade, or "steam" into exis-
tence somewhere on Web.
Technology Review: If you were able
to give your 26-year-old self any advice,
what would you say?
Max Levchin: Don t take the year
o between companies.
It was probably the most miser-
able year of my life, between PayPal
and Slide. If you start companies for
fun, you nd, unless you re capable of
truly relaxing and not thinking about
new ideas and work, that it s actu-
ally painful to take time o . If some-
body told me, "You will go stir-crazy;
you won t be able to keep your mind
o the markets; you ll keep think-
ing about stu , and it ll be more pain
than good," I m not sure I would have
listened. But that was a year when
I could have done some awesome
work. Instead, I was really trying to
relax, and that didn t work out at all.
Do you find greater fulfillment in pro-
ducing rather than---
Consuming? Absolutely. One of
the interesting lessons I ve learned
is that you only value things when
they re scarce. It really extends all the
way down to your personal life. And I
think if you re an entrepreneur, you re
an extreme scarcity fanatic. You re
fundamentally trying to nd or create
things that are scarce and arbitrage
that. And so when you have ridiculous
and, therefore, worthless amounts of
time, you tend not to value it at all.
When you work as hard as we do
starting companies, you have three
hours to sleep and four hours to take
o during the weekend. Those are
the best four hours you get. You re
still thinking about work, but you re
very thankful to have that time to ride
a bike for a while.
What s your biggest challenge ahead?
On a personal level, a CTO ulti-
mately is still an engineer, which is
what I am by training and by rst
love, and I still love engineering---you
feel like you re moving the needle
with your own hand. Engineers are
happiest when they feel like they re
contributing to a cause by doing
something. And a lot about being a
CEO is lear ning how to contribute to
the cause less by your own hand and
more by motivating others and feeling
happy when they accomplish goals,
sharing in their success and celebrat-
ing it and channeling it to others.
That s not a particularly engineering-
type thing to do. My biggest challenge
is that I m still learning to delegate.
Do you have any advice for this year s
members of the TR35?
One piece of advice I sort of wish
I had heard is "Do it again. Keep at
it." I had considered going o and
studying theoretical math for a while,
because that s what I really wanted to
do when I was younger, or going to
join a more nancially bent institution
like a hedge fund or a VC. I played
around with those ideas in my head
and met with people who could give
me advice, many of whom were very
keen on recruiting me to do those
kinds of tasks. And eventually I real-
ized that if you re cut out to be an
entrepreneur, you re not going to be
particularly happy doing something
else. You re only kidding yourself into
thinking something else might work.
I wish someone had told me at the
time of the TR event---
To know thyself?
Yeah, you re exactly who you are;
you re going to start another company.
The funny thing is that the one thing
I was really into before, during, and
after PayPal was math and number
theory. I really wanted to do a PhD in
number theory or cryptography. This
may sound a little geeky, but if I had
an in nite amount of time and ability
to focus on things that aren t business
related, it d be exactly what I d want
to do. One day during my year o , I
got to talking with the person that I
wanted to be my PhD advisor, who
was at rst quite keen on this idea.
But eventually he said to me, "You
know, you re kidding yourself. You re
going to go start another company.
Just deal with it." And I said, "No,
no, come on, Dan, I m going to make
it happen!" And he said, "Nah, you re
going to start another company." And
he was right.
Please Don t Give Me a Break!
Max Levchin, cofounder of PayPal, talks about why he needs to
keep working. By Michael Patrick Gibson
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