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Google is shutting down Slide, the social app maker founded by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin. Basically, Google let Slide operate independently for a while, harvested Slide for social talent, and when Levchin decided to leave shut down the company.
It’s a sad end for a company that had so much potential as a Google acquisition: it could have been Google’s social NeXT.
NeXT was a company that failed in the marketplace but had a visionary founder and impressive technology. When Apple bought it, that’s precisely what it lacked. That vision and technology transformed the company. (NeXT’s operating system, NeXTSTEP, became Mac OS X, and still has the same core as iOS.)
Slide was in the same position when Google bought it: some impressively successful apps, but a series of pivots and nothing that really “stuck” business-wise, and a visionary founder.
It’s worth explaining just who Slide’s founder Max Levchin is. Levchin is a Silicon Valley demigod. He founded the company that eventually turned into PayPal. A computer wizard, he was behind the cryptography and security technology that allowed PayPal to survive cyberattacks from the Russian mafia and others. He singlehandedly saved the company several times and built the technology that powers the most successful company in one of the most technically complex domains, payments. And he’s relentlessly competitive in a way that’s shocking even by Silicon Valley standards.
As for Slide, while people mocked its apps for making slideshows and throwing sheep at your Facebook friends, it was one of the few startups that “got” social and built immensely popular apps, even though it could never quite figure out how to monetise them.
Levchin should have been put in charge of Google’s social efforts, with dictatorial powers. He’s exactly the right combination of vision and operating skills. To put it another way, Levchin could have been Google’s “Andy Rubin of social.”
One of the very most powerful technology companies in the world spent $200 million (a bargain) hiring one of the very most talented technology executives in the world–and then sidelined him. It’s incomprehensible.
To be fair, under Vic Gundotra, also an extremely talented technology executive, Google’s social effort Google+ seems to be doing very well. But it also seems to be distinctly skating where the puck is, copying features from other successful social products, instead of skating where the puck is going. By all accounts, Gundotra is an excellent operator but not really the visionary type, when Levchin combines both attributes.
Maybe Google’s social strategy will still be successful. But it’s hard not to think about what could have been.
Previously: Google Shuts Down Slide →