Many entrepreneurs have managed to become fantastically wealthy from their shareholdings in their startups, but the hottest startup in recent times has a founder who is running the company for a different reason.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has revealed that he has no equity in OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT. At a Congressional hearing with the US government on the dangers of Artificial Intelligence, a senator asked Altman if he made a lot of money from the startup that’s become that’s now the fastest product in history to have reached 100 million users. At this Altman replied that he had no equity in OpenAI, and was only paid enough to cover his health insurance.
Senator Kennedy was incredulous, and jokingly told him he needed a lawyer or an agent. But Altman smiled, hinting that he wasn’t running the company for money. “I’m doing this because I love it,” he replied.
Now it’s not everyday that the CEO of a high-flying startup doesn’t take any equity in his company simply because he loves what he’s doing . A lot of founders say that they love running their companies — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said similar things about running Amazon, but owns a 16 percent stake which makes him the third-richest man in the world; Elon Musk too loves running his companies, but his equity stake in Tesla has made him the world’s richest man. OpenAI was last valued at around $30 billion, so it would seem that Altman is leaving billions of dollars on the table by choosing to not have any equity in OpenAI.
But there might be more complex reasons why Altman has no equity in OpenAI. OpenAI was started off in 2016 as a non profit, and initial investors donated money instead of investing, because they felt that the mission of producing human-level Artificial Intelligence could create too much wealth and upturn society in too many ways to be seen as a mere investment. However since then, OpenAI has rejigged its corporate structure — it now has raised money from Microsoft, and is competing with comapnies like Google and Meta.
Also, 38-year-old Sam Altman is already quite wealthy. He’d started his first company at the age of 19 named Loopt, and had raised $30 million. Loopt eventually shut down, but Altman then became a partner and President of Y Combinator, which has funded hundreds of successful startups including Airbnb, Stripe and Dropbox. While Sam Altman’s net worth is not known, it’s likely he’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars from his Y Combinator stint and other investments.
And now he seems to be spending his time helping create AGI, which is artificial intelligence which will be at par with humans. It’s one of the most ambitious goals one could possibly have — creating AGI will essentially replicate human intelligence, and radically change what the future of humanity will look like. And while he won’t make any money from it, the success of ChatGPT shows that a lot can be achieved if you simply set your mind to something that you love.