Max Levchin’s Career Advice

Max Levchin, former CTO of PayPal and currently CEO of Affirm, speaks with The New York Times about his career track in a really great interview.

On hiring candidates that are capable of great endurance:

And one thing I have found over the years is that in hiring, the dominant characteristic I select for is this sense of perseverance in really tough situations. It’s like the difference between endurance athletes and sprinters. I think it is a really good predictor for how people behave under severe stress.

Working in a start-up means there is a baseline of stress with occasional spikes. There are people who are really good at handling spikes. In fact, most people are really good at handling spikes. But normal isn’t normal. There is constant stress. And so I look for endurance athletes, in the business sense.

However, the question and answer that stood out to me by a long shot:

What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?

I tell them to take big risks, because this is the one point in your life when you have nothing to lose. You amass barnacles of good living as you get older, which makes it that much harder to make a big bet.

So I always tell people go to a start-up while you’re young. You might believe that going to a more established company to build up $100,000 in savings is your ticket to go take a big risk. It really isn’t. It just slows you down and makes you feel like you need to get to $200,000.

I think he is absolutely right. The one major regret I have is not having gone into the start-up world right out of college. I sometimes wonder if it’s too late to join if you’re in your thirties.

One thought on “Max Levchin’s Career Advice

  1. Thanks Eugene…. good choice of a book. It does dove tail with other books like GRIT, Cal Newport’s books on DEEP WORK and others. I was, like many others, driven by security, comfort, and driving the middle lane. Could I have done better? Sure! Could I have taken more risks? Absolutely. However, although happy with the results – retired comfortably and reading your messages and some of the books your recommend – it was a game of balance on the tight rope of life: Price vs value and quality of life. At 73, I confirm the well known quote that I regret more the things I didn’t do, much more so than the things I did and screwed up. Thanks again for sharing. Go out and run a 10K:)

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