sam altman startup

How to Make an Impact on the World (Lessons in Entrepreneurship) – Sam Altman on Resources for Humans

Check out the Resources for Humans Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “Look for the intersection of what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and where you can create value for the world. In my experience, if you don’t find something at the intersection of those three, it’s hard to really have an impact.”Sam Altman
  • “Working hard early in your career to get the leverage and the compounding effects is underrated and one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received.” Sam Altman
  • “Most of the founders that I’ve spent a lot of time with that have gone on to be successful spent a very long time on their idea when a lot of other people would have given up” Sam Altman
  • Take more risks early in your career
    • “Being young, unknown, and poor, that’s actually a great gift in terms of the amount of risk you can take”Sam Altman
  • Startup success take sh** ton of hard work. You will fail, and you will be criticized. You NEED self-belief to survive:
    • “You really have to have a deep-seated personal connection that this thing you’re going to do, that a lot of people say is really stupid, is going to work and going to be important” Sam Altman

Intro

  • Sam Altman (@sama) is the former president of Y Combinator and current CEO of OpenAI
    • In this episode of Resources for Humans, Jack Altman (@jaltma) interviews his brother, Sam, about how to create real-world impact 

How to Pick What to Work On

  • 🎧 “Look for the intersection of what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and where you can create value for the world. In my experience, if you don’t find something at the intersection of those three, it’s hard to really have an impact.” – Sam Altman
  • 🎧 Most people sort of just “fall in” to what they work on without much thinking
    • Don’t be like most people – what you work on is worth the upfront thought 

How to Pick Who You Work With

  • This is HARD
  • Be willing to move so you can be surrounded by like-minded individuals in your field
  • To add: “Whenever I’ve helped people for no immediate benefit…. time and time again in my career, it’s later benefited me a lot” – Sam Altman
    • So: Put in the effort to help/give – it’ll come back to benefit you

How to Accomplish Big Thing

  • Sam recalls a Charlie Rose quote: “The way things get done in the world is through a combination of focus and personal connection
    • Sam would also add self-belief
      • “You really have to have a deep-seated personal connection that this thing you’re going to do, that a lot of people say is really stupid, is going to work and going to be important”Sam Altman

Work-Life Balance in Your 20s

  • “If you work hard at the beginning of your career, and you get a little better at what you do every day, every week, every year, and you learn more, and you meet more people, and you just get more done, there is a compound effect. It’s far better to put that time in at the beginning of your career than the end.” – Sam Altman
  • In his 20s, Sam tried to:
    • Meet every person he had time for
    • Go to every networking event he could
    • Spend as much time learning and getting better at his craft
  • 🎧 “You obviously don’t want to work all the time… but I do think you want to work harder than most people think you should. If you do that, you tend to benefit from it later.” Sam Altman
    • “Working hard early in your career to get the leverage and the compounding effects is underrated and one of the most valuable pieces of advice that I never got”

How do you know when to quit a project?

  • “I think most people give up on things way too early. The mistake that most people make is they try something, it doesn’t immediately work – and you see this most in young entrepreneurs – and after 7 weeks… they give up.” – Sam Altman
  • Startup success is HARD
    • You’ll face critics and tons of mini-failures along the way
  • “Most of the founders that I’ve spent a lot of time with that have gone on to be successful spent a very long time on their idea when a lot of other people would have given up”Sam Altman
  • Use this framework: Giving up should be both an internal and external decision
    • If people aren’t using your product or saying it’s bad, that alone isn’t a reason to give up
    • Definitely pay attention to the above, but: “The best entrepreneurs I know make an internal decision about when to give up or keep working on something” – Sam Altman
      • “When you’ve run out of ideas AND something isn’t working, then it’s a good time to stop”

How to Stay Inspired Over the Long Haul

  • “If you don’t actually believe what you’re doing is really important, if you don’t derive satisfaction from what you’re doing, then you won’t be able to sustain all the bad things that happen in the incredibly long period of time that the bad things happen over” – Sam Altman
  • “The ONLY motivation that I’ve seen work for people over a long period of time is enjoyment in what they’re doing and an intense belief that it matters. And, ideally liking the people they go to work with every day.” Sam Altman

The Burnout Myth

  • Burnout doesn’t come from working too hard, it comes from failing
    • “Momentum is really energizing. The lack of momentum is super draining. I find I have infinite energy to work on things I find interesting and that are working, and almost none to work on things that I either don’t find interesting or aren’t working.” Sam Altman

On Taking Risks

  • 🎧 “I think people have terrible risk calculus, in general” – Sam Altman
    • Most people tend to either be wrong about what is/isn’t risky or aren’t taking enough risks (especially early in their career)
      • “Being young, unknown, and poor, that’s actually a great gift in terms of the amount of risk you can take”
  • Also, let’s re-define risk:
    • “I think what risk actually looks like is not doing something that you will then spend the rest of your life regretting”Sam Altman
  • Be a doer, not a talker 
    • History belongs to the doers – take a risk, actually doing something, and don’t just sit around talking about it

Ask For What You Want

  • This is advice Sam wishes he received earlier
  • You will get told “no” a lot, but sometimes it’ll work
  • “Being willing to ask for what you want and be somewhat aggressive are fundamental characteristics of being an entrepreneur”Sam Altman

Each Crisis is Less Scarier Than the One Before It

  • This is something you tend to pick up along your entrepreneurial journey – it’s not really advice you can read/hear and internalize

It’s About the Long-Term

  • Whether with investing or startups, it’s worthwhile to think about something you’re willing to make a long-term commitment to
  • “You get paid as a founder for the wealth you create for other people… The best companies create massive amounts of value for the world, and they capture some of it for themselves… But they do it over a VERY long period of time.” – Sam Altman
    • “So, if you’re going to be one of these companies, make a super long-term commitment… It’ll take a long time, but it’s worth waiting because you’ll make FAR more money over the long horizon by doing this company really well, compared to a bunch of short-term things along the way.”

Closing Advice

  • Think hard about:
    • Where you think you can make the most significant contribution
    • The thing you’re truly good at
    • What the world actually needs
  • “Then, go meet people to work with, go learn as much about that field as you can, and have the courage to actually take a risk and focus on it and go do something there. It’s okay if you fail.” – Sam Altman
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Notes By MMiller

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