What I learned from Max Levchin about starting companies and morning routines

This week, I got the pleasure of listening to Max Levchin address the Bigcommerce office with some thoughts about business, entrepreneurism, and helmets that help you re-grow hair.

Max Levchin, by the way, was one of the original cofounders of PayPal and has been involved in a handful of “other companies you’ve probably heard of"— Yelp, Yahoo!, Evernote and more. Right now, he’s working on a payments startup— Affirm. A pretty shining resume, to stay the least.

One of the brilliant concepts that came out during the discussion and really stuck with me was how Max comes up with ideas for new companies, basically, how his "idea engine” works.

Write down ideas and review them

Max keeps a log of ideas that he reviews every few months.

Easy, possible even obvious, but this is something that I know I personally don’t do in practice. I write down ideas almost religiously, but I rarely actually review them.

I guess it begs to ask the question— what’s the point of writing down ideas if you’re never going to look at them again?

One of my own habits for god knows how long has been to “flex my idea muscle” by writing down 10 ideas per day. It’s been helpful, but I can’t think of a single time that I’ve reviewed my idea journal.

By the way, Max mentioned that 99.9% of the stuff that he writes down ends up being really nuts and/or terrible.

Max Levchin’s 2-Step Process for “finding pretty good companies”

Max shared his 2-step process for a “pretty legitmate path for finding pretty good companies”. I’d say PayPal is pretty good.

1. Get really excited about a segment or theme

Instead of getting pumped about a particular idea, get excited about the entire segment or theme. An entire industry.

Max says that “getting really excited about building an idea is a surefire way to find out it’s a bad idea or that it’s a really good idea that somebody else already built their business around”.

I tend to agree, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen into this trap. If you get more excited about building the idea than the industry around it, you’re probably starting the business for the wrong reason.

2. Dig really deep into the theme

“Start digging into an exciting segment. You’ll find that 90% has already been explored, built, failed, bought, sold, but if you dig long enough, you’ll find that 10% that no one else has gotten into yet.”

The secret to finding the 10% is simple (but not easy)— you need to know almost everything about the industry to realize when you’ve uncovered the diamond. To realize that no one else has gone this deep. Start with broad conversations and drive deeper until you find it. Breadth to depth.

Max’s Daily Routine

Max answered one of my all-time favorite questions—

“What does your morning routine look like? What are the 5 things you do to start the day?”

Max feels uncomfortable if he doesn’t follow this precise morning routine. I love this. That’s how you know it’s not a bullshit answer, that he actually practices it.

  1. Get up pretty early, around 5-5:30AM
  2. Read some email, respond to some email
  3. By 6:45AM, take the dog out for a walk
  4. Think through the day ahead
  5. Write down the 5 most important things today
  6. Spend time with kids and family
  7. Ride on bike, either indoor or outdoors
  8. Get to work between 8:30-9:30AM
  9. 2-3x per week work late, rest of time home for dinner

The most important part of his routine is the ability to get alot of thinking done before everybody else is awake.

I love the concept of writing down the 5 most important things to accomplish, instead of overburdening yourself with a massive todo list that’s next-to-impossible to accomplish.

The other thing that I love (but also hate at the same time) is Max’s dedication to riding his bike every morning. I’ve struggled with the morning exercise regime for longer than I can remember, deferring to the evening run.

What do you think? Leave a comment below and share the top 5 things you do everyday to kickstart your morning routine.