Sam Altman : The “Next Bill Gates?” for the 21st Century

Sam Altman, Windows AI

“Who is Sam Altman?”

Well… first, there was Bill Gates.
. . . . (and Paul Allen)

And then there was Steve Jobs.
. . . . (and Steve Wozniak)

And then there was Larry Page
. . . . (and Sergey Brin)

And then there was Mark Zuckerberg
. . . . (and Adam D’Angelo)

And now there is…


Sam Altman
. . (and Elon Musk? Greg Brockman!)

Altman is co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, arguably the best, the most nimble, the most undervalued (yes, even while clocking in at $30 $50 $88 billion on near-zero modest 8-figure revenue. Yes.), and the most important AI company on Planet Earth today. (other contenders are DeepMind / Google, Meta, Tesla, and a bunch of OpenAI refugees, who created a curious lil company called Anthropic when the Safety vs Speed devil first reared its ugly head in 2021)

Sam is the face of AI today.

And given that he’s still a young(ish) man, 37 years young, it looks like he may be the face of AI for… well, perhaps for the short remainder of human history. (couldn’t resist).

Sam had his start at Y-Combinator, the legendary Silicon Valley incubator. At the time, Sam was building a cute little app startup, Loopt, and Paul Graham was running YC. Paul was impressed. In 2009, he wrote this about a then 25 year old Sam, as part of his epic Fundraising Survival Guide:

Sam Altman has it. You could parachute him into an island full of cannibals and come back in 5 years and he’d be the king. If you’re Sam Altman, you don’t have to be profitable to convey to investors that you’ll succeed with or without them. (He wasn’t, and he did.) Not everyone has Sam’s deal-making ability. I myself don’t. But if you don’t, you can let the numbers speak for you.

Funny enough, 5 years after saying that, PG named Sam CEO of Y-combinator. A king among all future kings.

And now, this is the man who is on the eve of walking back into the company that fired him, with a whole new board of directors in hand… is anyone actually surprised?

OpenAI’s one-line Business Plan

Sam Altman has been asked repeatedly, given the insane level of funding and cash reserves, how he plans to turn a profit, eventually. And to his credit, from the get (2015), his answer has not changed. We play back one of the many Q&As here:


“So, Sam, you have
$10 billion in the bank.
Near zero revenue.
How do you actually plan
to make money?”


Our plan is very simple:
At OpenAI, We are devoted to one singular goal: the creation of AGI: an Artificial General Intelligence that is smarter and faster than any human across every domain. And once we have created that — and we will create that — we will just tell it:

‘AGI, make a plan to maximize wealth.
..and execute that plan, now.’

And it will be so.


Altman on AGI: The Upside & the Downside

this, TechCrunch’s interpretation of Sam’s recent interview:

You’ll also hear Sam Altman address best- and worst-case scenarios when it comes to the promise and perils of AI. The short version?

“The good case is just so unbelievably good that you sound like a really crazy person to even start talking about it…

And the bad case — and I think this is important to say — is, like… lights out for all of us.”

— Sam Altman
Jan 17, 2023

the full video, for the curious:

Sam Altman: a One Man VC

In the heady days before Sam and Elon formed OpenAI, Altman was CEO of one of the core powerhouses of Silicon Valley, and incubator founded by Paul Graham, called Y-Combinator. Y-Combinator was famous for nurturing some very successful start-ups from a mere one page idea to Angel funding to $10 million A-round investments. Examples include:

  • AirBNB
  • DropBox
  • Stripe
  • Coinbase
  • Doordash
  • Instacart
  • Reddit,
  • Twitch
  • etc

you get the picture. It was the very heart of Silicon Valley startup culture. And Altman was the handpicked leader. From that vantage point, he got to witness entire waves of startup trends, and make personal connections with their founders.

Paired with that knowledge, Altman built a respectable private portfolio, from scratch. As the years advanced, and his wealth and power expanded, he went from making token investments in Angel rounds, to his present day behavior: making $100 million drops, leading C-rounds.

Sam Altman at OpenAIs SF HQ 2023

Altman’s Portfolio of Investments

His portfolio merits some examination:

  1. Helion Energy: Specializing in nuclear fusion energy, Helion Energy holds a significant place in Altman’s portfolio. He invested $375 million in the company in November 2021 during a Series E round, valuing the startup at $2.5 billion​​.
  2. Humane: A platform creating and selling a novel AI hardware device, Humane has received investments from Altman three times, including leading a $30 million Series A round in September 2020​​.
  3. WorldCoin: Altman is the leading visionary behind the WorldCoin cryptocurrency, which aims to scan the retinas of every human on earth, a sort of universal ID​. He claims it is a hedge against identity theft by rogue AIs. He has also intimated that this will be the compensation mechanism to enable OpenAI’s UBI program, once AGI is achieved and we find ourselves in a post-capitalist world.
  4. Neuralink: In July 2021, Altman invested in Elon Musk’s brain implant startup, Neuralink, during a $205 million Series C funding round. Neuralink focuses on developing an implantable wireless device that connect the human brain to a computer​​.
  5. Retro Biosciences: Based in San Francisco, Retro Biosciences works on developing cellular reprogramming, autophagy, and plasma-inspired therapeutics. Altman was the lead investor in the company’s $180 million venture round in April 2022​​.
  6. Aspen Neuroscience: Specializing in personalized cell therapies, Aspen Neurosciences received investment from Altman in its $70 million Series A fundraising in April 2020​​.
  7. Hermeus: An aviation startup developing the world’s fastest supersonic jets, Hermeus received investment from Altman as a lead investor in its $100 million Series B round in March 2022​​.
  8. Asana: A productivity management tool, Asana saw Altman as a lead investor in its $50 million Series C round in March 2016 and also in a $75 million Series D round in January 2018​​.
  9. Reddit: Y Combinator was a lead investor in Reddit’s $50 million Series B round in 2014 and also participated in a $200 million Series C round in 2017. Altman served as a board member of Reddit from 2014 to January 2022​​.

Two other (as yet to be formed) massive ventures were hinted at in Q3/Q4 2023:

  1. “AI-first” wearable device: similar (in good ways only, we hope), Altman spoke of an “AI SuperGroup” consisting of himself, Jony Ives of Apple Design fame, and Masayoshi Son (of Softbank, the money component) set to produce the long-awaited iPhone Killer : a wearable device that is AI-first, AI-full time.
  2. AI chip fab: this is no laughing matter. We’ve seen nVidia, who is the dominant (80% market share) player in AI chips, increase revenue by >200% in less than a year, with a stock price topping $500 a share (making them, out of nowhere, the 6th most valuable company in the world, right behind Amazon and ahead of Meta / Facebook. It is important to note that an actual chip fab costs a minimum of $3 billion and 3 years to actually build… and that’s just to launch.

In other words, Sam has a lot of buns in the oven. Could all the possible inter-company conflicts of interest be one of the reasons the board fired him in Nov 2023?

Sam Altman Net Worth

That list of companies and investments is actually a mere sampling. There is no full public disclosure of the totality of Altman’s investment portfolio, as he is a private citizen — although certain sources place his net worth at between $500 and $800 million (which to us seems quite low… a man with that kind of wealth doesn’t generally place half of it into a single investment (see Helion, above).

Altman’s Helion and Worldcoin investments are of particular note, as they forward his personal agendas of fusion energy (to resolve the voracious appetite of AIs for global electricity) and UBI (to grant adequate food and shelter to global citizens in a post-capitalist world).

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