Hard, Valuable, Fun

Hard, Valuable, Fun

Max Levchin

PayPal co-founder Max Levchin swore he'd never work in financial services again.

"I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that I wasn't going to make another payment product or banking product," he said.

But Levchin told Carnegie Mellon University students during a recent recruiting trip that using data to disrupt the credit industry sparked his interest in a new venture, Affirm.

The stop at CMU's School of Computer Science is part of Levchin's University Tech Tour drumming up interest in his investment firm and startup facility, HVF Labs. HVF stands for "Hard, Valuable, Fun." An umbrella organization for all of Levchin's data-focused undertakings, HVF is leveraging widely distributed sensors, including smart phones, to tap into un-mined data and address major societal issues.

One example of an HVF investment is Emerald Therapeutics, founded by D.J. Kleinbaum (S'05) and Brian Frezza (S'05). The company has applied the cloud computing model to expensive and often tedious drug discovery research, making the process faster and cheaper. Researchers send Emerald Therapeutics instructions for a experiment, which is then completed using robotic laboratory equipment in Emerald's facility.

Affirm, the first company to spin out of HVF, is an app that offers credit to users at the point of sale. The team that developed the app includes Levchin, who serves as Affirm's CEO, and Jeff Kaditz (CS'03, S'03), Affirm's chief technology officer.

"I am proud to say that two of Affirm's executive team members, CTO and co-founder Jeff Kaditz and our COO Huey Lin, are both CMU graduates as well as our Tech Team Lead, Manuel Arias," Levchin said. "We only hire the best and these three Tartans are proof of that."

Levchin used his time at CMU to interview students for jobs, talk with members of the the James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellows Program and hear pitches from CMU's entrepreneurs.

He also sat down with Dave Mawhinney, co-director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, for a fireside chat to discuss the state of innovation and the future of entrepreneurship.

Levchin said he could have retired after eBay acquired PayPal, but he is addicted to problem solving.

"My legacy will probably be the 'hardest working nerd,'" Levchin said. "My general approach to solving problems has always been 'Don't say no, there's got to be a way. Think harder and work more hours.'"

It's the chance to crack hard problems that keeps him innovating and backing other entrepreneurs. It's also the reason he likes working in tightly regulated industries, such as finance and health care, where major players cornered the market and learned to navigate regulatory structures years ago.

"It takes effort to figure out where the entry point is, but you can actually outplay the other players by being smart," Levchin said. "I prefer games where being harder working and being more thoughtful is an advantage as opposed to a land-grab or a better marketing slogan."

Related Links: Affirm | HVF Labs | Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship | James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellows Program

Homepage Story Archives