Elon Musk arm-wrestled his co-founder to resolve a PayPal software disagreement

From heated debates on operating systems to physical duels, uncover the rollercoaster journey of PayPal's inception. Elon Musk and Max Levchin's fascinating saga of rivalry and camaraderie that fostered one of the world's leading online payment systems.

Elon Musk arm-wrestled his co-founder to resolve a PayPal software disagreement

Friday September 15, 2023,

2 min Read

In a recent biography penned by Walter Isaacson, an unusual chapter in the foundation of PayPal, a popular online payment system, has been unveiled. During its early days, a significant disagreement about the choice of operating system between founders Elon Musk and Max Levchin escalated to a point where it was decided to be settled through an arm-wrestling match.

Back in the early 2000s, Musk's X.com and Confinity merged to create what would later be named PayPal. This merger led to several disagreements, the most prominent being the choice of an operating system for the platform. While Musk vouched for Microsoft's reliability, Levchin, described as a "low-key and super-sharp Ukrainian-born software wizard," favored the secure and user-friendly Unix system.

As tensions rose, Musk proposed a rather unconventional solution - to arm-wrestle Levchin to settle the matter. Despite being initially hesitant and finding the suggestion utterly absurd, an exhausted Levchin agreed to the contest. Predictably, he lost to Musk who was physically more imposing.

Even though Levchin refused to let the arm-wrestling outcome dictate the technical decision, Musk went ahead and had his team rewrite Levchin's Unix code using Microsoft's platform, a move criticised for overlooking growing fraud issues at X.com.

However, Levchin also highlighted Musk's multi-layered personality that housed brilliance alongside an undying streak of irony. He recounted instances where Musk's expertise unexpectedly surpassed his own, showcasing Musk's deep knowledge pool.

In 2001, the company was officially named PayPal, with Musk stepping away from the CEO position, a move orchestrated by Thiel and Levchin. Musk's journey with PayPal came full circle in later years when he acquired the domain name X.com from PayPal, citing sentimental value. In a surprising move, Musk renamed Twitter as X.com in July, paying homage to his entrepreneurial beginnings.

This revelation showcases Musk's unconventional yet highly successful business journey, characterised by a mix of audacity and ingenuity, continuing to both surprise and inspire the tech world.