Union Square Ventures funded Mark Pincus's casual games maker Zynga with $10 million not long after Max Levchin-founded widgetmaker Slide raised $50 million. Competitor RockYou wants a round of funding that would value it at $400 million. We like to scoff at these purveyors of online sheep-throwing tools, but that's serious scratch, people. In this excerpt from a longer interview with Kara Swisher, Zynga's Mark Pincus explains what widgetmakers see in our future — and shows us exactly what kind of pitch VCs are going for these days.
Max Levchin, the cofounder of PayPal and the CEO of Slide, measures nearly everything, down to the optimum price to pay for an engagement ring. If he needs a metric for self-importance, Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good, Sarah Lacy's new book about Web 2.0, provides one. He occupies 78 out of 294 pages, more than anyone else. Here are the index pages for "F" through "M":
Hidden in Fortune editor Andy Serwer's stream-of-capitalism blog was this nugget: Slide CEO Max Levchin will soon wed longtime girlfriend Nellie Minkova. Minkova, pictured here with Levchin, works at Clarium Capital Management, the hedge fund of Peter Thiel, Levchin's cofounder at PayPal. For more of Minkova, see this excerpt from a New York Times video where she discussed domestic life with a boyfriend who works 18 hours a day:
Worried about an upcoming recession, PayPal cofounder Max Levchin told News.com that his company, Slide, is "trying to shift away from advertising partially" and go "direct to consumers" for its revenues. "It cuts out one more party from the equation," Levchin said. "During a recession time you don't have to worry so much about building an enormous scale, you just have to build up a loyal base of fans that pay you a little bit." Slide's revenues today are generated mostly from ads on mini-applications embedded on Facebook and MySpace pages. Levchin is not the first to have come up with this idea, but having just raised $50 million from large investors for an ad-supported business, Levchin's shift in thinking is either a wise caution — or a brilliantly devious headfake for rivals who have yet to raise a big round of venture capital.
In January a pair of money managers, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price, bought 9.1 percent of Slide for $50 million. Fortune asks, "Are these widgets worth half a billion?" The mag doesn't come up with anything more than "maybe," but I'm willing to go a little further. Slide worth $550 million? No, despite its huge traffic numbers. While it's true that advertisers are desperate to reach the 18-24 market, I hardly think SuperPoke is what they had in mind.
Max Levchin's widget maker Slide just took on funding that set its value at $550 million. And the company's user base grew 142 percent in a year to 150 million users, giving it the ninth largest "reach" on the Internet. Maybe this means its worth paying attention to Levchin's ideas on "How to successfully launch a social networking platform? Maybe. But not for more than 100 words.
BusinessWeek columnist Sarah Lacy has more details on Slide's new funding round: Max Levchin's Web widget factory is now valued at $550 million, after raising funds from the likes of Fidelity Investments and T. Rowe Price. While the company is mum on IPO prospects, such big institutional investors typically come in during a so-called "mezzanine" round — a company's final private financing before a public stock offering.
Here's the real takeaway from Fortune's long-expected profile of the PayPal mafia: "Peter Thiel has a butler." The former PayPal CEO is living large in Pacific Heights. But he's hardly idle. With PayPal cofounder Max Levchin, masterminding a wide array of startups founded by some of his star hires at the payments company he sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. He's now on the board of Facebook, with a stake worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and stakes in Yelp, LinkedIn, Slide, and others besides. He may not quite be the capo di tutti capi imagined by Fortune's photo editors — who cleverly staged a Godfather-inspired shoot, above — but he's created a gang that can run free from the rules of the traditional VC game. Sand Hill Road hates him for it. I say, more power to him — and the rest of his mafiosi. (Photo of Thiel and Levchin by Robyn Twomey/Fortune; Godfather still from IMDB)
Sunday's New York Times profile of PayPal and Slide founder Max Levchin tackles the phenomena of serial entrepreneurs. What makes them start multiple companies after a multimillion-dollar IPO or sale? The short answer: Money, but not in the way that you think. Levchin talks about how Slide's exit needs to be more than the $1.5 billion PayPal received, plus inflation, for him to be pleased with the outcome. (Look no further than fellow PayPal Mafia membes Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, who sold YouTube for a PayPal-topping $1.65 billion, for another example of this behavior.) Netcape cofounder Marc Andreessen, who was interviewed for the article, points out the obvious in Silicon Valley: No one here really cares about money in the consumption sense, but everyone cares about having more than the other guy. San Francisco society blog SF Luxe begs entrepreneurs to become conspicuous in their consumption, and we'd like to agree. It's more fun for the rest of us.
Slide executive Keith Rabois, one of the many new converts to Facebook in Silicon Valley, asks how much a Facebook app user is worth. The increasingly popular social network lets other Web companies plant applications, like Slide's photo-sharing service, on its site. But it's not clear how much loyalty users of such add-ons have to any site besides Facebook. So Rabois's question is apt, if a bit tardy: One wonders why Rabois didn't ponder such matters before Slide CEO Max Levchin got up on stage with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to swear fealty to Facebook's platform.
After disappearing from the Sequoia homepage of fame, one-time Paypal CEO Elon Musk — see his take on his own backstory here — is back, with a new smiley portrait. Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, the mo' "real" founders of Paypal, are also still on the page of course. They're both wearing crowns as befits their royal status. A polite distance separates Thiel and Levchin from Musk in the gallery. One imagines a similar dynamic emerging at a cocktail party where all three are present.
Marketer and pro-blogger advocate Curt Hopkins is a good and reasonable man. Good because he's running the Blogswana project, in which students will help those affected by AIDS in Africa tell the world about their plight. Reasonable because when he asked the following Valley people — people known as good souls with a passion for world-changing technology — for financial support, he expected a few yeses and a few nos.
Two adorable San Fran dot-commers duke it out. Will Slide's Max Levchin pound Six Apart's Ben Trott into submission? Or will Ben win with that grin?