tv Studio 1.0 Bloomberg February 15, 2015 9:30am-10:01am EST
♪ emily: founder, ceo, mad scientist. max levchin is one of silicon valley's most iconic and serial entrepreneurs. he has played a role in some of tech's biggest successes, from paypal to yahoo! to yelp. today, you can find him in his innovation lab, tackling issues like fertility, health care, and banking. but many years ago, max levchin had no country to call home. he fled the soviet union, and ever the entrepreneur, built a new life in america. joining me today on "studio 1.0" is paypal co-founder and affirm ceo, max levchin. max, thanks for joining us.
max: thank you for inviting me. emily: you were born in the ukraine. how much of a connection do you still feel to the people and the country? max: anytime i am told that -- oh, you are russian, i know you are, i feel the need to say no, actually, i am a jew who was born in the ukraine. it is still a part of what defined me -- what defines me. i haven't been back in a long time. on occasion, i miss it. emily: what do you miss? max: the people are very genuine. they don't pretend to be anything they're not. emily: what do you think you would be doing if you were still there today? max: probably writing code of some form. i was already sort of proto-entrepreneurial when i was there, so i probably would be starting a company of some sort. but -- more or less the same thing. emily: have you been following what has been going on there recently? i mean, are you worried about the civil war?
max: yes, i am very worried. i don't think it's possible not to follow it. as an engineer -- entrepreneur, i always sort of, well, let me think through this, i must have a solution. and it is not obvious there is one. it seems to be, at the moment, at least somewhat contained, but it is horrifying. emily: how does that affect you? max: it just makes me worry about people that i grew up with. i don't feel like i can help the situation. and it's kind of a shot of cold water. we live in a sheltered, beautiful place called silicon valley, and try and change the world from our keyboards. emily: do you worry it could escalate into another cold war? max: i don't think it's possible. i think the cold war was largely a product of mistrust, disinformation, and lack of clarity between people. and between social media and the internet today, that is just not possible anymore. i think the conflicts are unearthed and brought out very quickly. they still, sadly, seem to be frequently resolved with guns
and bullets, but at the very least, complex, long-term passive aggressive interactions between states are less frequent. emily: having lived there and here, who is to blame for the frostiness? max: i feel like there is always more we could be doing. we are the great democracy, we should be leading more. emily: you spend your days thinking about how to solve big problems. do you ever feel guilty that you are not trying to solve those problems there, and that you are here instead? max: no, i can't -- i can't say that i feel guilty at all. i am a big believer in working almost to the absolute exhaustion every day. i am a big believer in pushing yourself, getting more out of yourself, out of your team than you think or they think they can do. as far as my skills are concerned, i know how to do people, i know how to inspire and engage. it's all here. emily: how does being an immigrant impact what you do and how you live your life?
max: it shapes everything. i think it's a secret advantage. silicon valley has always been built by the hands of immigrants in a big way. in part because we come here with nothing to lose. we know that if we don't do it, no one else will give it to us. we work hard. we are used to discrimination, so we cast a wider net when we look for people to collaborate with, people to hire, people to bring in. we don't take anything for granted. emily: do you feel you've been discriminated against? here? max: no, never. i feel like i've -- everything i have, i owe to the fact that u.s. and the silicon valley is so fundamentally pro-immigrant. my politics, first and foremost, are pro-high skilled immigration policy, exactly because -- whatever it is, whatever i have contributed to the u.s. economy, i very much owe back to the u.s.
willingness to accept my family and myself as a refugee. i think we should be doing more of that. emily: tell me about your parents and how you grew up. max: i grew up in a soviet scientist family. my grandparents were physicists. my entire family -- their generation, my parents' generation, everyone but my dad were all physicists of some kind, some flavor or another. emily: what was your father? max: my father was originally a chemist, but one day he said, "ah, but i like writing." and so he became a writer. emily: who did you take after? max: i took very much after my grandmother. yo she was in her 60's or -- ye, 60's, when she decided that the family would be better served if we moved across the ocean. and so she single-handedly engineered the exodus of the family and brought us out here. and all the while, she struggled with breast cancer from -- throughout that entire time. and on her deathbed, i asked her, "how could you pull it off?"
she said, "well, what choice did i have? things had to be done." so, just so much willpower. emily: well, when you were very young, your parents were told you were going to die at a young age multiple times. what happened, what was wrong? max: that -- soviet union, the land untouched by modern medicine. i had some sort of a respiratory disease after another. bronchitis to pneumonia to some other stuff. every time i would breathe into a tube, they'd say, "oh, the lung capacity -- any minute now he is going to pass out and not wake up." between my mom and grandma, they were like, well, that is unacceptable. go do 100 push-ups, expand your lung capacity. my mom insisted i played a woodwind instrument to expand my lung capacity. i played clarinet. and somehow survived past the point where the doctors said we're going to stop predicting when he's going to die, since he seems to be surviving. emily: you were in chernobyl?
max: i was not in chernobyl. i was a couple of -- pretty close to chernobyl. emily: you were there when chenobyl happened? max: oh, yeah. i was very much in kiev. i think it was about 90 miles. so it's pretty close. yeah. it was -- it was very anti-climactic, retrospectively. a couple weeks after it happened, it became this giant, terrifying thing. but, when it happened, it was a very sunny day. emily: and you escaped. max: my parents found out through a friend of a friend in the government that something really awful happened at the chernobyl nuclear power station. and because i had a family full of physicists, they were like, nuclear power station accidents is no joke. basically packed me and my younger brother onto a train and sent us both off to crimea the next morning. you would get tested as you were coming off the train, with a sort of homemade geiger counter. one of my feet was setting off a geiger counter. i remember this very vividly,
because the guy was like, well, we may have to cut off his foot. look at this thing, it's beeping like crazy. we don't even know what that means, but it's beeping, it means he's radioactive. well, my mom said, maybe it's the shoe. so she made him take off the shoe. and apparently there was a rose thorn on the bottom of my sneaker. emily: do you remember, vividly, coming to the united states? max: i was super excited. i was -- it was a pan-am flight from moscow. we were going through the final border control with the russian soldiers. and this guy said, you understand you are leaving this country forever. you won't be allowed to come back. and my grandmother said, yup, we know. [laughter] we were literally leaving the country with $700. that's all we had. emily: and by the time you got here, the soviet union had collapsed. max: i was a man without a country. my red, soviet passport was a passport to no country. emily: the paypal story is sort of long and legend, as we know. looking back, was selling it the right thing? ♪
alto. it gets really hot. san francisco is moderate, but palo alto gets pretty brutal. i would go to stanford and sneak into summer lectures, because they were air-conditioned. i snuck into one because i recognized the name of the guy giving the guest lecture. his name was peter thiel. he was giving a lecture on currency trading. and it turned out to be a really, really small class. and i just chatted him up afterwards, because i just sort of felt like -- i was definitely not there to learn about currency trading, i was there to sleep and get some air-conditioning. and i ended up listening. he seemed like a really smart guy. he said, "well, what are you going to do with yourself, next?" i said, i'm going to start a company. he said, "oh, great! we should have breakfast." ok, when? "how about tomorrow morning?" we met at hobee's on embarcadero road, and he had the red, white, and blue shake. and we talked about companies and ultimately started paypal. emily: the paypal story is sort of long and legend, as we know. looking back, was selling it the right thing? the right time? max: the team was very tired.
probably the right call. but, on the emotional front, it was very difficult. on the business front, probably the right thing. emily: what was difficult about it? max: it's your baby. it was this gangly teenager that was growing up into being a beautiful company. emily: after you sold paypal, you could have retired. you didn't. i know it was actually a hard time for you. max: it turns out i am much happier when i am working. and i am not working, i am kind of a bummer. i bum people out. everyone around me was sort of, oh, man, don't come over, you're sad. emily: so you started slide. max: i started a bunch of things. slide was the thing that i ultimately wound up running. as i found out, not the thing that i deeply cared about at the product level. i was not in love, and still am not in love, with entertainment, but ultimately was not nearly as successful than i thought. strictly because the products didn't roll me out of bed every morning. emily: you ended up selling to
google, $182 million, what was it like working at a company that you didn't start? max: it was very weird, because i was -- i have never worked for anyone before. i had the privilege and opportunity to be very close to the very top of the company -- at the founder level. just not professionally, but just being there with the guys. they are as brilliant as it gets, they are awesome. so in that sense, it was rewarding intellectually, it was really fun. it felt a little bit unreal, in a sense that -- a little bit like i was in a lighter gear than i should be. i ultimately missed that, stay up all night -- not necessarily actually staying up all night, just being in a higher gear all the time. emily: so let's talk about your innovation lab, hard, valuable, and fun, hvf, where you are the mad scientist. you laughed when i said that. max: i am not that mad. [laughter] it is awesome. it is basically the intellectual outlet for everything that comes up in my overactive brain.
it is the consolidation of all my intellectual activity, investing activity, startup-ing activity, coding, hacking, prototyping -- anytime i have a wacky idea or run into someone that has a wacky idea, i can gather the troops and say, alright, we are going to go build something crazy. and it's kind of a -- a bit of a tyrannical democracy where if lots of people are excited by it then we go ahead and prototype it. we have lots of space covered in whiteboard paint. so when we have an idea, we start sketching something on the wall. as often as not, we say, it is amazing no one is doing this. it's a big problem, why don't we solve it? and we start a company. so it is like a generator or factory for projects and companies. emily: give us an update on glow. this is an app that you hope will be so much more than an app that helps women get pregnant. max: it is amazing.
glow is probably going to be the thing that i feel most emotionally about. it's awesome. we have 20,000 confirmed pregnancies. we're probably going to have 50,000 before the end of the year. emily: you are also doing some creative things that you hope will revolutionize health care. max: we are helping women conceive naturally, or stay out of conception if that is their goal, or helping them carry healthy babies to term, hopefully, across any form of health care. the number one cost is complicated pregnancy. it can cost upwards of $100,000 to have a multiple birth pregnancy. just carrying multiple babies to term, delivering, it is an incredible expense that employers bear. and it has been the source of some controversy. i think aol was the last one to talk about million-dollar babies that are just too expensive. i don't think it is in any way reasonable to think of it that way, but if we can prevent those
costs by addressing the causes early, that is a lot of money -- a lot of money saved, and a business model for a company like glow. emily: so let's talk about affirm -- this is where you are spending most of your time -- trying to become the modern bank. max: it is going really well. the best question to ask is how many softwares there are in the world. and your atm is literally a green screen. if you are buying something online and you don't want to put it on your credit card, don't want to carry a balance, if the merchant chooses to support affirm, we will literally let you split your purchase into several monthly payments. emily: we all have credit scores. will there be an affirm score? will that replace -- max: there is. there already is. that's what we use internally. i feel like we are helping to push fico and credit scoring, credit underwriting, into the 21st century. emily: you spend a lot of time thinking about big problems, big problems that you can solve. and you have been pretty
outspoken about the lack of big innovation in silicon valley. why aren't you working on flying cars and rocket ships? max: i try to find places where i can add value the most. i don't know much about jet propulsion engines. i am not sure rocket ships are my forte either. i really like math. my idea of a good time, until very recently when i had kids, was still curling up with a book on probability theory and solving the problem. so applying that passion and that love for numbers to places where numbers can really make a huge difference, such as consumer finance, health care, quantified self. emily: you mentioned your kids. you are very passionate about your work. you're passionate about cycling, which is your hobby. what kind of parent are you? max: i hope i am a good parent. my number one worry these days is am i as good a father as i can be.
i think i'm pretty fun. although my wife has now determined that not only am i a nerd, my son is a nerd, too. i am very happy about that. we are nerding out. he is a four-year-old that loves arduino programming. emily: is he going to learn how to code? max: he already knows how to code! emily: and he's four? max: he is four and a half. one of his favorite games is playing with blinking lights and making them blink to music. emily: how much faith do you still have that yahoo! can be turned around? max: i have lots of faith in marissa. she has the drive. ♪
keep on coming back to as i age and try to be a better parent, i always come back to where did it all begin. what is the one thing that makes me who i am? and i am 100% sure that's drive. that i got from my grandmother. i remember vividly thinking to myself, my god, she is like a tank. and she is 5'1". and that is the one thing i have to pick up from her -- the drive to succeed is just unstoppable. emily: what did you do with your first big paycheck? max: nothing. i remember the day i earned my first million dollars. i was in a shower in palo alto. someone else's apartment that i was crashing in. i just didn't have time to get my own apartment. i was taking a shower and i thought to myself, remember this day -- you are now a twentysomething-year-old millionaire. you should probably go out and do something to commemorate it, you know, do something nice for yourself, max.
and then i went to work. emily: yahoo!, you've been on the board now, how long? max: couple years. emily: how much faith do you still have that yahoo! can be turned around, that marissa is the person to do it? max: i have lots of faith in marissa. she has the drive. i think she is probably, or pretty certainly, a harder working person than i am. emily: there are obviously not enough women in high places, especially in technology. as someone who likes to solve problems, how can that problem be solved? max: i am going to solve it personally for one woman, at least, by making sure that my daughter is as technologically and nerd-enabled as possible. it has to start really early. the problem is that you can't just slam dunk into, alright, everybody hire more girls. you have to begin when they are babies.
you have to make sure that they are exposed to everything and anything that they are always told that you can do whatever you want to do. in that sense, it's actually one weird thing that the soviet union got right. socialism and -- when i was growing up, the idea of girls, boys not being, sort of, equivalently, intellectually gifted -- it was not enforced by the government. it was just, like, of course girls are smart, boys are smart, it was never an issue. and the fact that my grandmother was a double ph.d in astronomy wasn't that big of a deal. here it is like, oh, my god, how did she do it? emily: how do you, max levchin, want to be remembered? max: just want to make sure my kids say he was around and he was really fun. or at least helpful. emily: max levchin, thank you so much for joining us today on this edition of "studio 1.0." max: pleasure. emily: great to have you. ♪
ryan: oleg tinkov is one of russia's most passionate cyclists. oleg: oleg tinkov is the man. he is number one. ryan: he is also one of its most prolific, patriotic, and outspoken businessmen. oleg: you have to go to war. then you have to go to the war. like with vietnam. maybe it was the wrong war, but you have to go. ryan: he is happy to weigh in on the extreme of russian business. oleg: if you would have been the u.s., you would have died already. even in an aggressive environment. it is normal for russia. ryan: after month changing him, -- after months chasing him we ,ot