In the year between leaving PayPal in 2003 and starting Slide in 2004, Max Levchin was in bad shape. The woman he would eventually marry took a break from their relationship. Friends would find themselves on the receiving end of long rants and have to excuse themselves to go back to work, because it was Tuesday afternoon and they still had jobs.
At tonight’s Pando Monthly, Levchin said it was his desire to escape the post-PayPal shadow that led him to starting Slide, a social apps and games company.
“I think it would have always been a disappointment because I just don’t care about games. I played a really good games company CEO because I had to. But it drained the crap out of me. I couldn’t play games if my life depended on it,” Levchin said.
Pointing to his PayPal co-founder, Elon Musk, Levchin said that without [enthusiasm] there’s always a ceiling to how far you can go. “Elon wants to die on Mars. Not because it is fun to die, but because that is fucking important,” he said.
Slide had a successful exit, selling to Google in 2010. Even if he couldn’t admit it to himself at the time, Levchin said that PayPal’s legacy impacted how he thought about business and what he felt that success ultimately looked like.
“I measured success since the day I started building start ups in the number of people that used my product and thought it was good,” Levchin said. Slide was popular, at one point one of the 10 biggest entities on the web.
“But what I was secretly measuring myself against, that goal was to top PayPal. The goal was to get a big group of people to benefit from what I’m working on every day. But in the back of my I’m thinking it has to be that and bigger than PayPal.”
In 2010, Levchin had two options for Slide: sell or re-capitalize the company and accept some blood letting. He looked around his executive team and saw that people were exhausted. The hopes for big success were fading. He never thought about leaving, but worried that people who’d worked hard might leave for years with nothing to show for it.
“I finally said, look, I may have been leading you through the desert but here’s a bit of an oasis,” Levchin said.
Was he relieved when Google stepped in and bought Slide?