Follow Your Curiosity, Interview With Max Levchin of

Max-LevchinA few days, invited by Shanghai, I had a great pleasure to have the chance to interview with Max Levchin, who co-founded Paypal in 1998 then sold it to eBay for more than $1.5 billion at the age of 26. Now he is the CEO and visionary behind, the largest social entertainment company in the world and developer of the most engaging applications on social networks.

The interview took only 20min or so, but it covers different topics, such as Slide, Slide China, geek culture, spirit of geeks, view on Chinese startup environment, how geeks should do business etc.

The following is the highlights. (Note: part of the interview will be co-published on Founders magazine in Chinese.) Hope you will enjoy it. At least for me, it’s very very inspiring.

1. You co-founded Paypal which is something really changed the world; Now you have Slide, do you think it can make something really big again?

– Yes. Social game and virtual currency, I think they will be very popular. Slide is to build a powerful platform for this and for the change of our life.

2. You co-founded Paypal, sit at the Chairman of the board of, and now is quite successful as well. You are a great Entrepreneur, but do you think you are still a geek?

– Yes. Once a Geek, Forever a Geek.

3. So in your mind, what’s the spirit inside a Geek.

– It’s all about Curiosity. If you are in the business to make money which is your primary motivation, eventually you will get boring. Because once you have a lot of money, it becomes that all the interesting things are to make money ; But if you are in the business to learn, you will never run out of interest because there are always things to learn and you never learn everything. So as a result, curiosity is the spirit of geek in my opinion.. That’s why I started my companies, I am always curious about something. I am curious about money, I started Paypal; I am curious about self-expression, I started

4. About American Geek culture

– First of all, I think there are many geeks in China, not just in America. The reason that people think many geeks in US start companies is that they did so before other geeks started. They are smart and curious, they think they can do whatever they want.. So people have seen some very successful examples from U.S.

5. About Chinese Geeks

– For China, I think it’s just a time of time. There are and there will be more geeks like engineers started the companies and make it very big..
– Max asked, wasn’t Alibaba started by a geek? I said the founder is an English teacher. Then Max said, I think that’s also pretty geeky!
– in 10 years, I am sure you will see more companies started by geeks not just business people

6.  Advice on how geeks should do business

– I think real geeks end up of curious about and interested in everything..
– when I started my company. I knew nothing about business and I only knew how to code. I just wanted to make something that others will use. And we built a few products but many of them failed.
– Then I started question myself why they were failing. I realized that I was making things for me. I was a geek and my needs is not the needs for the general public. So at some points, I told myself, I need make things for normal people not just for geeky people. So I made the change and it works;
– But I think it’s not difficult to learn about this (experience), it just took a few round of failing. I think once you start the company, you will get it.
– I believe geeks can do business which is already proved, although I know there are some people might not agree on that.

7. Chinese startup environment

– For Chinese environment, it is not something I am superbly familiar with.
– I heard that the investment environment in China can be difficult because there are a lot of regulation from the gov, and not very good terms for the entrepreneurs
– I think typically it’s a matter of time. Initially, you start with bad environment, but as long as the market grows,  very quickly you will see this environment is improved, e.g. more money comes in, more incubators, more investors etc, then things will get better.
– I am generally optimistic on this.

8. About Investment

– I invested in diverse area, no particular investment focus..
– I only invested in Silicon Valley which I am familiar with.
– Mobile will be be huge. in the past 10 years, people thought mobile would be huge but it didnot happen. Now it’s finally happening. Slide will focus more on mobile in next 2 years.

9. Geeks change U.S?

– It’s probably true to say Entrepreneurs change U.S.
– The most important component of any community is entrepreneurs, because they ultimately push change forward in a discontinuous way,
– The entrepreneurship is a very powerful force in creating value for any country, so I think american entrepreneurs have made the difference. If you look at the time around the beginning of 20’s century when the power shifted from Europe to U.S. All the best invention and greatest ideas were happening in America. And most ideas were built by entrepreneurs; or at least most ideas are led by academics but commercialized by entrepreneurs.

10. Suggestion to local geeks.

– Follow your curiosity. Try lot’s of things. Don’t be afraid of trying things.
– It’s all about finding out how things work.

11. About Shanghai

– We set up our Shanghai office last year and now it has around 23 people.
– Slide Shanghai is working on some projects for western market only, although we know Chinese social gaming market is very hot. We need understand the local market better first;
– I am very happy our team here, they have done very good work and work hard and efficiently.