CEO Sam Altman shares rules ChatGPT maker OpenAI broke
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman knows the rules for startups inside and out – enough to know when they don’t apply. Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg via Getty Images
When it comes to artificial intelligence, business advice that was once trusted often seems less relevant.
Consider OpenAI. Founded in 2015, the AI venture behind ChatGPT and GPT-4 is already valued at nearly $30 billion and is the talk of Silicon Valley. But success was hardly inevitable. If the founders had followed some traditional startup rules, OpenAI might be an obscure company today.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who previously led startup accelerator Y Combinator, discussed the company’s unusual ascent during a fireside chat hosted by fintech company Stripe this week.
“OpenAI went against all the YC advice,” Altman told Stripe co-founder and fellow billionaire John Collison.
He rattled off the road: “It took us four and a half years to launch a product. We are going to be the most capital intensive startup in Silicon Valley history. We built a technology without any idea who our customers were going to be or what they were going to use it for.”
On Saturday, Altman tweeted: “chatgpt has no social features or built-in sharing, you have to register before you can use it, no inherent viral loop, etc. which seriously calls into question the years of advice I gave to startups.”
chatgpt has no social features or built-in sharing, you have to register before you can use it, no inherent viral loop, etc.
seriously questioning the years of advice I gave to startups ????
— Sam Altman (@sama) 6 May 2023
Asked if potential OpenAI investors were wagging their fingers and telling him he was doing it wrong, Altman replied, “Yeah, and I was just like, I don’t really care. Don’t invest.”
Of course, knowing the startup rules inside and out allowed Altman to break them with confidence. In addition to leading Y Combinator, whose success depends on evaluating startups, he also served as CEO of Reddit and is a prominent investor – he was an early investor in Stripe.
“Maybe you’re more self-actualized, you don’t have to care as much,” Collison noted, to which Altman replied, “Yeah.”
Greg Brockman, OpenAI president and co-founder, also reflected this week on the company’s rule-breaking ways.
“You should have a problem to solve, not a technology looking for the solution,” he said Possible podcast this week. He added that they spent “a couple of months writing down all the different ideas that we could work on for both GPT-3 and GPT-4 … Maybe we could do a medical thing or a legal thing.”
Instead, they decided to ignore the rule entirely – to great success.
AI is just different, Brockman concluded: “Every company, every individual, every business is a language business. It has language flows deeply baked into it. So if you can add some value to existing language workflows, then it’s only going to be able to be adopted so widely .”