There's a great question doing the rounds of technophiles today: Did Google pay $182 million for Slide, or did they pay it for Max Levchin? Three weeks after buying social apps developer Slide, Google has announced that its founder, the Ukrainian-born 35-year-old Levchin, is to become a Vice President for Engineering at Google.
Google is in the middle of developing a social network that it hopes will take the shine off Facebook's continuing dominance on that front. Until now the man in charge has been Vic Gundotra, Levchin's fellow VP of Engineering. It's unclear if Levchin will take over social duties.
What he can bring to Google is a wealth of experience--after all, Levchin is the guy who co-founded PayPal and served as its CTO before selling the company to eBay. His 2.3% share in the company netted him $35 million. Levchin was also responsible for one of the earliest versions of CAPTCHA, a security routine also known as the Gausebeck-Levchin test. And security will be a key issue for Google as it attempts a less hiccupy splash in the social media world than it managed with Wave.
And then there's Slide. From its inception in 2006, it has figured out how to get its users to pay for its "tools for self-expression," as Levchin calls it. The firm has developed games and apps for Facebook (although it started working with MySpace), although some commenters are claiming that, compared to Facebook, Google is behind the times with its acquisition of Slide. On GigaOm, Adam Rifkin states "even Slide knows that FunSpace, SuperPoke, and Top Friends are so 2008. So don’t expect the “viral techniques” of the past to work: Slide had 130 million users in 2007, but 27 million users in 2010."
There's always a question mark over how entrepreneurs do once they're brought into large companies. But Levchin has a solid background--before PayPal was sold, Levchin was managing around half of the staff. But insiders say Google can be hostile to high-level employees who are brought into the firm. All Levchin's success may not shield him from this backlash. He'll have to work hard to justify that $182 million.