Why the 2023 Altman Coup Failed? The Ugly Truth : MONEY, HONEY

Altman Coup Failed for the Love of Money

It was widely reported that within 72 hours of CEO Sam Altman being summarily executed and kicked out of the company he founded, that more than 95% of OpenAI employees signed a letter threatening to quit if he was not reinstated. And that this was why the Altman Coup Failed.

In the popular and mainstream narrative, this was due to an overflowing amount of LOVE for their charismatic founder, Mr. Altman. This was in evidence all across X (nee Twitter), with coded heart emojis flying left and right across the accounts of OpenAI employees and @sama himself — right in the public eye, for all the world to see.

Love Love everywhere


NEWS FLASH: It wasn’t love of the man.

It was love of a much baser human desire:

It was the Love of…

Greg Brockman Tweet OpenAI employee meeting So Back 2023-11-21 at 1141 PM MONEY



Let me break it down for you. First simply, then in detail:

November 17: A Coup is Launched

By all reports, Sam’s termination was a surprise that happened in mere minutes, with zero notice given to employees, investors, and stakeholders. The Board video conferencing Sam as he was enjoying his VIP privileges at the Formula 1 race in Vegas. It was a 3 minute call. They told him he was fired, and that was that.

As Sam was being unceremoniously booted, OpenAI was on the brink of closing a new financing round that would value the company at around $80 billion — the third most valuable private company in the world, behind only TikTOk (aka ByteDance) and SpaceX.

But this was a very certain type of financing: this was to be a tender offer… essentially, an all-cash stock purchase directly from employees. In other words, not a penny of the proceeds would hit the OpenAI bank account. 100% of the approximately $2 billion cash raise was to be paid directly to employees.

Breaking with long-standing Silicon Valley tradition, where stock equity options are vested over a 4 year window (this practice encourages employees to stick around, rather than cash out and bolt), OpenAI allowed its employees an accelerated vesting which enabled them, with this new round, to sell their options for cash.

Strange happenings indeed, for a non-profit company. But this is no normal non-profit, to be sure.

[NOTE: all financial assumptions in this post —
$80B, $2B, 500 “vested” employees — are estimates]

That said, let’s do some quick math: OpenAI in November 2023 (the time of Altman’s unceremonious ouster) had approximately 720 employees. About 500 of those were eligible for the stock buyback. The financing round, led by Thrive Capital was to “raise” $2 billion. okay:

2,000,000,000 / 500 = 4,000,000

…that is to say:

$2 billion (divided by) 500 employees (equals) (…wait for it)

Four. Million. Dollars. Each.

It is of interest to note that the average OpenAI employee is a 20/30-something young adult (male) … many fresh out of their PhD programs. They have never seen money like this before. This isn’t like tempting a billionaire with another paltry $100 million. This is like offering a bunch of children a guaranteed ticket to win the lottery. except…

Sam was gone.

And Sam… was OpenAI’s Money Man.

It was Sam that created the for-profit company (ostensibly overseen by the non-profit) to raise a cool $1 billion from Microsoft.

It was Sam who had the audacity and the balls to knock on (Microsoft CEO) Satya’s door less than 18 months later, and say with a straight face: “Hey, I think we’re gonna need about $10 billion more) (…and he got it! not even giving up majority ownership, or even granting a board seat! WTF!?!?)

And it was Sam who had toured the world recently, who had spoken so prolifically at the World Economic Forum in Davos, who had gone head to head sparring with OpenAI co-founder Elon Musk on social media…

And now the Golden Goose had been… not even sacrificed.

More like… kicked out of the village, into the jungle, without so much as a ThankYouVeryMuchForAllYourHardWork.

So once that happened, being the young hip Bay Are Technofile 24/7 social media connected employee crew that OpenAI was, they did what came naturally:

They took to twitter with a back-propagated code system, which was, primarily:

Altman Coup failed for the Love of Money

Heart emojis.

For those observing, it became very clear very quickly: a Heart for @sama (Sam Altman’s Twitter handle) means “I’m with you. I quit unless they bring you back.” A heart in return from KingMaker @sama means: “Yes, you’re one of my chosen ones. You will share in the vengeful financial bounty that I will [re]secure upon my [inevitable] return and vindication.”

Now, let’s rewind a second. How did it come to this high school parody, played out in both the public eye and behind closed doors amongst some of the richest, most powerful movers in Silicon Valley?

Put yourself into the head of an OpenAI employee on the morning of Nov 17, 2023.

You wake up in the morning, with a little pep in your step… totally confident in the knowledge that the round will close in the next 14 days.

You’ve already been browsing Zillow, looking at little farms in Sonoma, vacation homes in the Virgin Islands… you’ve actually mustered the courage to walk into the Lamborghini dealership (or McClaren, or Ferrari, whatever your particular kink is), and you’ve got your eye on that shiny new STO… i mean, really, it’s only $350,000, hell, that’s less than 10% of the paycheck you’re about to cash.


Sam’s gone! 😱

And sure enough, within 48 hours, New York Times reports:

“The OpenAI $2B funding round has been put on hold.”


OpenAI Thrive Capital $80B funding in jeopardy Reuters

It’s now utter turmoil at OpenAI…. so… What do you do?

November 19: Mutiny in SF

Well, here’s one idea:

Lets stage a mutiny, and threaten to quit, and put our resumes on the line, to get Sam back.

Because when Sam comes back, the money comes back. We know that for sure. So, a little blip in my employment history? We can handle that. We’ve got “AI experience” on our resume. We’ve got 2 recruiters calling each one of us, every day. Hell, we’ll even get a fat signing bonus with our next gig.

Buuuut… losing out on a $4 million payday (please note: significantly larger for the first 100 employees)… no, we won’t handle that well. not well at all.

Long story short:

The employees staged a mutiny. They signed a letter, in fact:

OpenAI Mutiny Letter

And within 24 very fast hours, that letter had garnered the signatures of more than 95% of OpenAI’s then 720 employees. We might imagine (and some said as much) the immense pressure that non-vested colleagues received from the privileged 500 or so soon-to-be-millionaires, who were watching their Lamborghinis evaporate before their eyes.

And so, in quite short order, with the Board realizing that an OpenAI company with 8 or less remaining employees in December might not have the impact & value of an OpenAI with a full head of steam in October… well, the Board, by and large, resigned. And the Altman Coup failed. Utterly.

Hell, even Ilya recanted. And…

The Altman Coup Failed. Miserably.

Within 96 hours, OpenAI was “back to normal” (not really), with Sam Altman as CEO, firmly back in the driver’s seat.

The two female board members had resigned.

Co-founder (and alleged coup orchestrator) Ilya Sutskever had disappeared. (It appears he is still technically on the OpenAI payroll, but no one has seen or heard from him since this embarrassing episode, and one might imagine that he and Sam aren’t exactly buddy buddy after the near death experience that Ilya put Sam through)

The only Board survivor was the elusive Adam d’Angelo. Two seasoned Silicon Valley hands were implanted to lend adult supervision.

Aaaaand… fast forward 4 months…

OpenAI 80B funding New York Times


cleartext via New York Times:

“OpenAI has completed a deal that values the San Francisco artificial intelligence company at $80 billion or more, nearly tripling its valuation in less than 10 months, according to three people with knowledge of the deal.

The company would sell existing shares in a so-called tender offer led by the venture firm Thrive Capital, the people said. The deal lets employees cash out their shares in the company, rather than a traditional funding round that would raise money for business operations.”

Well well well. How about that!?

Looks like the boys got their Lambos after all.

Money wins.

Every time.

Oh, I almost forgot:

Hey @sama:

OpenAI is nothing without its ❤️ 💖 🩷


More on Sam Altman:


engine: MidJourney v6.0

prompt: /imagine: “a hundred employees stand in the atrium of a modern office building, in casual dress, listening to their founder speak. They are all wearing rose-colored glasses, that have a heart symbol glowing on the left lens, and a “$” dollar sign glowing on the right lens. graphic novel style”