Sam Altman is an American entrepreneur, investor and programmer best known as the co-founder and CEO of OpenAI. Even though Altman is at the helm of one of the most significant companies in the world of tech today, his net worth is not as high as other tech titans such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates or Twitter owner Elon Musk.
Altman’s OpenAI is essentially a non-profit research company. It is behind the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot known as ChatGPT and digital image creator DALL·E. The company counts Musk as one of its co-founders and early investors.
OpenAI’s first major achievement was its groundbreaking GPT-3 technology, which is a text-generating tool capable of responding to questions as coherently as a human would. GPT-3 was launched in 2020, and it has laid the foundation for some chatbots.
ChatGPT was released in November 2022. Built on the GPT-3 platform, it quickly gained popularity with its ease of use and impressive capacity to respond to almost any kind of question-based on its training.
It is ChatGPT’s popularity that gave a massive boost to the interest in AI chatbots and their applicability in other fields. DALL·E, similarly, has been a major success, spawning related AI-based platforms that can create incredible digital images based on user prompts. And Altman is at the heart of these revolutionary changes in technology.
Everything to know about Sam Altman and how he makes his money
What did Sam Altman do before OpenAI?
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Altman attended the John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated from Stanford University with a degree in computer science in 2005.
Following his graduation, he worked as a software engineer at Google.
In 2009, he co-founded Loopt, a location-based social networking company. The company was acquired by the banking and payment solutions company Green Dot Corporation in 2012 for USD 43.4 million in cash.
Just before creating OpenAI, Sam Altman was the president of a startup accelerator Y Combinator. He joined the company as a partner in 2013 and became its president a year later.
It was under his leadership that Y Combinator grew into one of the most influential companies in the world of technology.
He was also the CEO of Reddit for a very brief period of eight days in 2014.
What is OpenAI?
Altman co-founded OpenAI in San Francisco with Elon Musk, billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman in 2015. It started with funding of USD 1 billion, which came from Musk, Theil and Altman himself.
According to The Washington Post, OpenAI was founded to “protect against a future in which big tech companies, like Google, mastered AI technology and monopolized its benefits.”
The non-profit organisation’s official LinkedIn page says that it is “dedicated to ensuring that general-purpose artificial intelligence benefits all of humanity.”
While Musk left the company’s board in 2018, Altman was made CEO the following year. In his role as CEO, Altman is responsible for the company’s overall strategy and direction.
Is OpenAI still a non-profit?
The Washington Post reported that OpenAI transitioned into a for-profit company in 2019. But the company limited the cap on the earnings of its investors. As such, investors can earn only up to 100 times their investment under the current arrangement.
Altman, however, explained in an interview with podcaster Lex Friedman on 25 March 2023 that the control lies with the non-profit.
“So we started as a non-profit, we learned earlier on that we were going to need far more capital than we learned early on that we were going to need far more capital than we were able to raise as a non-profit” Altam explained, adding, “Our non-profit is still fully in charge… there is a subsidiary capped profit so that our investors and employees can earn a certain fixed return.”
The official OpenAI website explains how the non-profit main organisation and its for-profit subsidiary sit together for the greater goal of the company.
“The OpenAI Nonprofit would remain intact, with its board continuing as the overall governing body for all OpenAI activities,” reads a statement in the ‘Our Structure’ section of OpenAI.
It says that the for-profit subsidiary would be able to raise capital through equity and hire world-class talent, but would remain “legally bound” to carry out the mission of the non-profit.
Altman even took USD 1 billion in funding from Microsoft in 2019. That funding was followed by two more investments, the latest in January 2023. Even though the exact figure of the latter investments is not known, an April 2023 CNBC report suggests that it could be around USD 13 billion in total.
Owing to its investments, Microsoft has been able to license and commercialise some of the work done by OpenAI’s technology into everything — from its Bing search engine to GitHub coding tools and Microsoft 365 productivity bundle to Azure cloud.
Sam Altman’s investments
Altman is a frequent speaker at tech conferences and events. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Young Global Leaders community.
According to capital market company PitchBook Data, Altman has made 134 investments as of May 2023 and is an angel investor.
Citing PitchBook Data, Business Insider reports that Altman invested in Musk’s Neuralink during the Series C round in July 2021. He also invested in Lattice, an employee management platform co-founded by his brother Jack Altman, in the seed round in May 2016.
Among his other investments are grocery delivery and pickup service Instacart, content platform Patreon, work management platform Asana, AI-powered search engine Rewind, real estate company Atmos, and online public petition platform Change.org.
One of the major companies that Altman has invested in is Helion Energy, which converts deuterium into helium-3. A deuterium is a form of hydrogen and the company says that it is creating an “ideal fuel for fusion electricity.” Helion Energy was co-founded by David Kirtley, Chris Pihl and George Votroubek.
It is one of the major nuclear energy companies that use nuclear fusion generators to create clean energy. It aims to deliver power to Microsoft by 2028 through the world’s first commercial fusion generator connected to a power grid in Washington.
Reports suggest that Altman has invested around USD 375 million in Helion Energy. In an interview with TechCrunch in January 2023, Altman said that the company is “more than an investment to me” and he is “super excited about what’s going to happen there.” He added that he spends the most time on Helion Energy besides OpenAI.
When asked which of his investments is most successful, Altman said on a “multiplies basis” it was the financial services company Stripe.
“But, you know, I’ve been doing this for, like, 17 years, so there’ve been a lot of really good ones, and I’m super grateful to have been in Silicon Valley at what was such a magical time,” he said.
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What is Sam Altman’s net worth?
It is unclear how much exactly the American entrepreneur may have added to his net worth as returns on his several investments. But wealth tracker Celebrity Net Worth says that the net worth of Sam Altman is an estimated USD 500 million.
What is certain is that he built his fortune almost entirely through his work in the tech industry, which includes his roles at OpenAI.
In April 2023, TechCrunch reported that OpenAI raised funds of just over USD 300 million from multiple venture capital firms, including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Thrive, K2 Global and Founders Fund.
As per the report, the company was valued at the time somewhere between USD 27 billion and USD 29 billion.
But appearing before a US Senate panel in May 2023, Altman said that he has no equity stake in the company.
“No. I’m paid enough for health insurance and have no equity in OpenAI,” Altman said when asked if he makes “a lot of money.”
“I’m doing this because I love it,” Altman underlined.
How does Sam Altman spend his wealth?
According to a 2016 article by The New Yorker, Altman once told Kwadwo Nyarko and Perry Ogwuche, the founders of Shypmate, an app that links people to passengers who can cheaply carry packages to Ghana or Nigeria via airlines, that he owns five sports cars.
“Well, I like racing cars. I have five, including two McLarens and an old Tesla. I like flying rented planes all over California. Oh, and one odd one—I prep for survival,” he told them.
It is not clear which McLarens he drove at the time, or whether he continues to own them. But in 2014, he wrote on his blog that he owns a Tesla Roadster.
He said that it takes “$10 to charge (on average, sometimes I pay peak rates and sometimes not) for about 200 miles of range.” He then proceeded to explain why he preferred taking UberX instead of driving his car.
At the time of writing the blog, he said that he owns “an expensive car,” indicating that he had only the Tesla Roadster.
(Hero and Featured images: Sam Altman/@sama/Twitter)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: No, he is not a billionaire. His net worth is about half a billion dollars.
Answer: Sam Altman is the CEO of OpenAI.
Answer: Sam Altman's salary at OpenAI is not known.