Entrepreneur Extraordinaire: Max Levchin of Slide, Paypal

slide logo taglineWhat is the definition of an Entrepreneur? To me, a true entrepreneur is a person who not only dares to dream, but it is someone who has the single minded courage and persistence, to chase the dream until it turns into reality. It is someone who is willing to try 10 times and fail, until they reach that breakthrough moment, when they finally create something of lasting value.

I have heard numerous talks or read many articles, where an entrepreneur’s story has been described from the lofty point of view of implied, instant success. Entrepreneur starts company, grows revenues to x million, has an IPO, and successfully sells the company a couple of years later. And then on to the next success.

Reality rarely matches this idealistic scenario. Very seldom do we find entrepreneurs who simply step on the start-up rocket ship, and blast into mega enterprise space, the first time around. Even less frequently do we find a successful entrepreneur who is willing to tell the real story behind the story, and talk about all the failures that led to the ultimate success.

I once heard Max Levchin, founder of Paypal, deliver a keynote at a conference, where he put a human face on climbing up the golden path of entrepreneurship, and the trials and tribulations on the way. He described his experience of starting a string of “garage” companies (9 in all) with little or no success. Then he spoke about one day, showing up at a business class with the intention of taking a nap in the back of the classroom (it was a hot day and the class room was air conditioned). Turned out that there was only one other person in the class. When the presenter, hedge fund manager Peter Thiel turned up, he found out, much to his chagrin, that he had an audience of only two, Max and another person. That “close” encounter led up to another meeting, and soon, between Max’s software expertise and entrepreneurial drive, and Peter Thiel’s business and finance acumen, Paypal was born.

After Paypal, Max Levchin went on to found his next start-up Slide, a photo sharing site. Today, with upwards of a 100 million viewers, the site, by any account, is a huge success.

Well, a winning streak of two successes, after a string of not-so-successful ventures - is that a fluke? Not really. If you stack up a few wrecks on the road of entrepreneurship, pretty soon you are able to climb high enough, where you can see further, and you know which direction to not go next time. Past experiences tend to successively focus our vision towards where the next success will very likely lie. Also a huge success like Paypal probably brought Max a whole lot of credibility and panache, which made the next success, Slide, all the more likely.

Ultimately, we do realize that Max Levchin got where he did, not just because he was smart enough to see and seize upon an opportunity, but also because he had the tenacity to keep trying until the “fluke” ultimately happened!

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