Fintech

Affirm CEO Max Levchin: ‘I see an ocean of opportunities’

The fintech startup's stock soared more than 90% in its IPO debut today.

Affirm CEO Max Levchin: ‘I see an ocean of opportunities’

Affirm's stock opened at $90.90 after pricing at $49 a share, before climbing to as high as $96.07 in late trades.

Photo: Affirm

It was a blockbuster debut for Affirm. The fintech startup's shares soared more than 90% when it went public on Wednesday.

The day itself began quietly for CEO Max Levchin: He kicked it off with a Zoom call with his kids, made a latte for his wife and joined a group chat with some high school friends, one of whom is recovering from COVID-19. "We were very happy to hear that he's doing well," he told Protocol shortly after his startup began trading on the Nasdaq Global Exchange.

Affirm's stock opened at $90.90 after pricing at $49 a share, before climbing to as high as $96.07 in late trades.

Levchin took some time off to share his thoughts into what the successful trading debut means and what's next for the fintech startup.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Quick thoughts on why the stock is rallying?

I think the market does what it does. I choose to interpret it as, "People love what we stand for beyond the opportunity for financial gain." We have a story to tell, and our story is special. We built a product that actually improves lives in financial services.

What were the common questions you were asked by investors in the IPO process?

The question I heard a bunch — and I enjoyed answering — was: What makes you different? It's a hot space. There are tons of incumbents and a lot of new players. What do you do that makes you special? One big part of it is how much we attach ourselves to the idea of honest financial products, not just an opportunity for profit. It's really powerful, and that's resonated with millions of consumers and thousands and thousands merchants. That's part of our story and we tell it every time.

We took the time to build a fully universal solution. We will scale with the merchant up and down, something as enormous and complex as Walmart, and as technologically advanced and sophisticated and demanding as Shopify, and literally thousands of brands that we would have only heard of if we were looking for very specific things. We are built by a lot of engineers who are very technology-first. And that allowed us to do things right.

Some analysts, while acknowledging your growth, also point to the state of the economy. Given that consumers are still facing a lot of uncertainty given the pandemic and the economic downturn, how do you reflect on those concerns?

I think they are justified in the sense that the U.S. economy took a giant step back, in many ways, and yet also transformed itself, in some pretty fantastic ways. We saw the massive acceleration of the offline to online movement in commerce. I think the economy is being forced to modernize itself.

Are there things in the way the economy has changed over the past year since the pandemic began that worry you, that you feel could be a problem?

Part of what makes us different and special is we work with our consumers and our merchants to evaluate every transaction. So in many ways, I think our products are more important than ever to consumers. Some of them have lost their jobs, some of them are trying to be a little bit smarter about budgeting and affordability. I think these folks really benefited from Affirm. And we take great pride in helping them navigate the uncertainty and complexity around them. From a more macro view, income inequality is something that our society struggles with and is right to be concerned about.

What are the biggest challenges for you this year, post-IPO?

We are fundamentally limited by a number of things we can build and ship in per-unit time. I see an ocean of opportunities, and probably prioritizing them, and being focused and not trying to do everything for the exact same time despite the fact that it feels like we can do so much to help, is probably my personal challenge.

What was the toughest part of the IPO process for you?

The level of effort and intensity that our team brought to bear to make this happen constantly made me feel like I'm just not working hard enough. The sheer amount of work we were able to do in a shorter period of time was something else. That said, we weren't going to cut corners. We were going to do it right. We were going to go out when we were ready and when the market was ready for us.

Climate

2- and 3-wheelers dominate oil displacement by EVs

Increasingly widespread EV adoption is starting to displace the use of oil, but there's still a lot of work to do.

More electric mopeds on the road could be an oil demand game-changer.

Photo: Humphrey Muleba/Unsplash

Electric vehicles are starting to make a serious dent in oil use.

Last year, EVs displaced roughly 1.5 million barrels per day, according to a new analysis from BloombergNEF. That is more than double the share EVs displaced in 2015. The majority of the displacement is coming from an unlikely source.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less
Enterprise

The limits of AI and automation for digital accessibility

AI and automated software that promises to make the web more accessible abounds, but people with disabilities and those who regularly test for digital accessibility problems say it can only go so far.

The everyday obstacles blocking people with disabilities from a satisfying digital experience are immense.

Image: alexsl/Getty Images

“It’s a lot to listen to a robot all day long,” said Tina Pinedo, communications director at Disability Rights Oregon, a group that works to promote and defend the rights of people with disabilities.

But listening to a machine is exactly what many people with visual impairments do while using screen reading tools to accomplish everyday online tasks such as paying bills or ordering groceries from an ecommerce site.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Fintech

The crypto crash's violence shocked Circle's CEO

Jeremy Allaire remains upbeat about stablecoins despite the UST wipeout, he told Protocol in an interview.

Allaire said what really caught him by surprise was “how fast the death spiral happened and how violent of a value destruction it was.”

Photo: Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire said he saw the UST meltdown coming about six months ago, long before the stablecoin crash rocked the crypto world.

“This was a house of cards,” he told Protocol. “It was very clear that it was unsustainable and that there would be a very high risk of a death spiral.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

A DTC baby formula startup is caught in the center of a supply chain crisis

After weeks of “unprecedented growth,” Bobbie co-founder Laura Modi made a hard decision: to not accept any more new customers.

Parents unable to track down formula in stores have been turning to Facebook groups, homemade formula recipes and Bobbie, a 4-year-old subscription baby formula company.

Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The ongoing baby formula shortage has taken a toll on parents throughout the U.S. Laura Modi, co-founder of formula startup Bobbie, said she’s been “wearing the hat of a mom way more than that of a CEO” in recent weeks.

“It's scary to be a parent right now, with the uncertainty of knowing you can’t find your formula,” Modi told Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Latest Stories
Bulletins