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Immigrant Entrepreneur Hall of Fame: Max Rafael Levchin

Country of origin: Ukraine

Year came to U.S.: 1991

Education: BS Computer Science, PayPal corporate website
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Businesses: PayPal, Inc. (1998)

Headquarters: San Jose, CA

2015 revenue: $9.2 billion

Worldwide employment: 16,800

 

  • Levchin sought asylum in the United States from the Soviet-controlled Ukraine.
  • PayPal was one of the first companies to use a “human verification system.”

 

Max Levchin

Photo credit: Morgan Sherwood

In 2002, Max Levchin was named to the MIT Technology Review as Innovator of the Year and one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35. Indeed, by that age, he had already co-founded five major Internet and software companies like PayPal and helped start other Internet giants such as Yelp.

Levchin’s entry into the United States was far from ideal, however. He arrived in Chicago with his family in 1991 seeking political asylum from Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. But such a drastic change in his life did not deter him from pursuing his dreams.

By the time he left college in 1997, he had co-founded two companies that made Internet tools: NetMeridian Software and SponsorNet New Media. The next year, he and friend Peter Thiel founded Fieldlink which was later renamed Confinity. Confinity dealt with cryptography and managed the beamed payments from Palm Pilots. Within the next two years, Levchin and Thiel took this concept further and devised an Internet-based payment product called PayPal.

What made PayPal unique was that it was one of the first companies to use a “human verification system” that requires users to enter numbers from a distorted picture. Such a system is now mundane to Internet users, yet it helped PayPal rise above its competitors. In 2002, eBay was in need of a secure payment system and acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion. After that, many of PayPal’s competitors went out of business. In 2015, PayPal separated from eBay with it’s second initial public offering (IPO) valued at $46.6 billion. That year, the company processed 4.9 billion payments for 118 million active customers in 202 countries.

Levchin went on to found the media-sharing service Slide and helped jumpstart Yelp, the world’s most popular review site. He collaborated on a book titled The Blueprint (2012) that calls for a revival of world innovation, a subject on which Levchin is an expert.

Updated July 2016

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