Max Levchin falls somewhere in the middle. "I don't subscribe to any of the ridiculous secession-of-Silicon-Valley or secession-of-California theories. That's lunacy," says the co-founder of PayPal and online lending startup Affirm.
But "nor do I subscribe to quiet grief," he adds. "I will certainly continue speaking my mind and doing what I think is right."
Levchin, after all, is a Ukrainian immigrant who moved to this country as a teenager and who's now living under a fiercely anti-immigration new president. But the CEO of San Francisco-based Affirm is also running a startup in the highly-regulated industry of financial services, one that Donald Trump has made nonspecific noises about deregulating. As Trump officially took office, Levchin said he would reserve judgments on campaign promises until more policies were in place.
"In the end, we're all Americans. We have to work towards the best outcomes for the country," he says. "Where we disagree with any administration, what the British called 'the loyal opposition' is the correct behavior."
The new Trump administration is being closely watched by the financial industry, which has been subject to wide-ranging new regulations in the wake of the financial crisis. Both crisis and regulations opened an opportunity for online lenders and other fintech startups like Affirm, which sells online loans to people shopping at specific retailers. (Think Casper or stationary-bike maker Peloton: You buy a big-ticket item like a mattress or a high-tech piece of sporting equipment and, at the online checkout, Affirm offers to lend you the money to finance your purchase over several months.)
Online lenders have come under closer government scrutiny in the past year, especially in the wake of a difficult time for many fintech startups. An industry-wide funding crunch and a scandal at Lending Club, one of the biggest and most prominent online lenders, kicked off several months of industry soul-searching.
Levchin, who lived through a previous fintech era during PayPal's early days, is cautiously optimistic for his industry in 2017.
"There's probably going to be a less fraught funding environment--my guess is people who have cleared series C financing are going to hunker down," he says. (That would include Affirm, which closed its $100 million series D last year.)
"And I expect some consolidation, as companies figure out how to compete in the reduced funding environment," he adds.
Financing aside, it's hard to say exactly how well Affirm is doing among other lending startups; the company has yet to release revenues, customer numbers, or the amount of credit it's extended. The numbers it will offer up: Almost 900 merchants are using the company to lend to their customers, according to Levchin, and the startup currently employs about 210 people.
His long-term goal is to drag Affirm out of the niche of making retail-specific loans and turn it into more of a mainstream, all-purpose financial company. To that end, Levchin says he is planning to introduce some additional products this year: "This is definitely the teenager year--the growing up year," he says.
Still, there's a long way to go before financial adulthood. "We live in the land of giants," Levchin says, "and even the largest of us are midgets in the world of Goldman Sachs and Bank of America."