Don’t expect your mounting worries about the tech investment bubble to slow down the PayPal mafia.
Affirm, the online lending startup led by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, this week disclosed a cool $100 million in series D equity. The lead investor: Founders Fund, the venture capital firm started by, yes, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
The investment, coming as many venture capitalists are pulling back on their tech bets, brings Affirm’s total equity and debt funding to $425 million. The San Francisco company would not disclose its valuation, aside from Levchin’s description of the new investment as “an up round.”
Thiel is not Levchin’s first PayPal buddy to invest in Affirm; former executive Keith Rabois, now at Khosla Ventures, already sits on the startup’s board. But Founders Fund had previously invested in Glow, Levchin’s fertility-tracking app, and Levchin acknowledged that getting Thiel interested was an easier process for him than it might be for most founders.
“Peter and I were having dinner, and I told him I was thinking about raising money again. He said, ‘Well this time, can I have a look first?',” Levchin recalled Tuesday.
“It came together very quickly because we’ve known each other so long, and it’s a very friendly deal,” he said, though he hastened to add that Founders Fund “wasn’t in any way easier to convince as investors--they’re very rigorous.”
Levchin co-founded Affirm in 2013 with Palantir co-founder Nathan Gettings and Jeff Kaditz. The company specializes in providing retailer-specific loans for people buying big-ticket items: Do you need help financing that Casper mattress, or that Peloton bike? Affirm might have a checkout offer for you!
The startup plans to use the new investment to help bulk up operations, so that it can start working with bigger merchants; to keep up in the San Francisco talent war, as its 129 employees bulge out of its downtown offices; and to set aside some funds for an eventual acquisition or two. Levchin is also now looking to raise more debt, to increase Affirm’s lending capital.
But like many other fintech founders, Levchin also has his eye on a bigger long-term target: all the financial services provided by the staid, traditional, huge banks--and the business to be won from the young people who hate them.
“We’re not just trying to build another profitable lender; we’re trying to educate people about financial responsibility,” he says.
Still, Affirm’s trying to grow at a time when investors and other company founders are becoming cautious about the increased regulatory scrutiny and tighter funding for financial startups. “Fintech has been beaten up significantly, and there’s a spillover from the public markets,” Levchin acknowledges, nodding to the plummeting share prices of online lenders OnDeck and Lending Club, which both went public in late 2014.
And then there’s the overall tech investing climate, which is decidedly slowing. Only 18 venture-backed U.S. companies landed equity deals of $100 million or more in the first quarter of 2016, according to a CB Insights and KPMG report released Wednesday. That was slightly down from the 19 such “mega-rounds” in the fourth quarter of 2015--but less than half of the 37 such deals closed last fall.
But as one of the relative few tech startups to land a “mega-round” investment of $100 million or more recently, Levchin doesn’t appear ready to pull back. He won’t provide much in the way of specifics about Affirm’s revenues or customers, but says “we saw a pretty significant uptake of our product among consumers” in the past year. Affirm now works with 700 merchant partners, up from 100 a year ago, and “we’ve hit the elbow point on every operating metric,” he says. “It seems like a good time” to raise money.