Sam Altman's $65K OpenAI Salary Masks A $2.8 Billion Startup Empire

While Sam Altman is widely recognized as the CEO and co-founder of OpenAI, he also plays a significant role in venture capital and startup investing. Most people are unaware that Altman’s investment empire is valued at over $2.8 billion, starkly contrasting his modest salary of $65,000 at OpenAI. His family office manages this empire, which oversees his extensive and diverse portfolio.

Building An Investment Empire

According to the Wall Street Journal, Altman and his venture funds have invested in more than 400 companies. His investment empire dates back to 2012, when Altman sold Loopt and used the profits to create his first venture fund, Hydrazine.

Don't Miss:

By 2014, he had already invested in 40 companies, and as he mentioned in a personal blog post, “Five of them are in the ‘really good’ category — a current value of ~100x or more, based on the valuation of the last round or last offer.”

He also headed Y Combinator from 2015 to 2019. The tech incubator is famous for providing seed funding to Stripe, Airbnb, and Dropbox. Altman also served as an angel and VC investor to over 100 startups, including Asana, Reddit, Instacart, and Pinterest. 

Among his most exciting investments is certainly Stripe. With a valuation of $65 billion, the company is now the third-most valuable U.S. startup, trailing only SpaceX and OpenAI. Altman initially invested $15,000 for a 2% stake in the company. Although Altman’s stake has since decreased to less than 2%, it remains his most successful investment. Last year, Stripe also announced a partnership to help commercialize OpenAI’s technology.

Trending: A groundbreaking energy company plugs into the $400 billion EV industry and is seeking investors.

Altman got a loan from JPMorgan Chase to support his investment activities, using his growing collection of investments as collateral. This deal allowed him to invest large amounts of money in startups, increasing his influence and ownership in these companies. While this strategy is risky because startups can be unpredictable, it has worked well for Altman, allowing him to grow his investments and take advantage of new opportunities.

Influence And Wealth

It’s now obvious that Altman’s investments have made him much richer than his job at OpenAI ever did. His skill in building a big investment portfolio while running a major AI company stresses his unique influence in the tech world.

His stake in Stripe, now worth billions, shows his investments’ success. Over time, his portfolio grew, making him a substantial fortune. This wealth has allowed him to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle typical of a Silicon Valley mogul, with vacation homes in Napa Valley and Hawaii, a collection of luxury sports cars, and extravagant hobbies.

Potential Conflicts Of Interest

However, Altman’s dual roles create potential conflicts of interest. His significant investments in companies that work with OpenAI could lead to personal financial gains that might affect OpenAI’s business choices. Even though he has stepped back from some negotiations to reduce these conflicts, his overlapping roles remain under scrutiny.

“Is he going to have OpenAI acquire these companies at high prices? Is he going to leverage OpenAI resources to help his other companies? That’s what you kind of really worry about, especially if he owns zero of OpenAI,” said Louis Lehot, a corporate governance advisor and partner at the law firm Foley and Lardner.

For example, Helion Energy, a nuclear-energy startup, is chaired by Altman and received the largest startup check he ever wrote — $375 million. Conversely, OpenAI is in talks to purchase large quantities of electricity from Helion to power its data centers.

Another example is Humane, the maker of Ai Pin, an AI-powered virtual assistant that relies on OpenAI’s software. Altman’s holding companies own 15% of the company's equity, a larger share than that held by each of the company's founders, Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri.

In 2019, OpenAI agreed to buy $51 million worth of AI chips from Rain AI, a startup Altman supports. Because Altman has financial interests in Rain AI, there might be a bias toward choosing their products over better or cheaper options. This situation raises concerns about whether Altman’s investments influence OpenAI’s decisions.

Altman’s Hypocrisy

Sam Altman’s way of handling his investments while leading major organizations has led to accusations of hypocrisy, especially from other venture capitalists. His ability to run his venture fund, Hydrazine, alongside his duties as the president of Y Combinator, was seen as an unconventional and controversial arrangement.

While president of Y Combinator, Altman set rules that stopped other partners from running their venture funds. This was supposed to ensure they focused on making money for Y Combinator instead of their interests. However, Altman kept managing his fund, Hydrazine, which allowed him to profit from the startups Y Combinator supported. This double standard led to accusations of hypocrisy and caused dissatisfaction among the other partners.

Keep Reading:

  • The average American couple has saved this much money for retirement — How do you compare?
  • If there was a new fund backed by Jeff Bezos offering a 7-9% target yield with monthly dividends would you invest in it?
Market News and Data brought to you by Benzinga APIs
Posted In: GeneralSam AltmanStartups Access
Benzinga simplifies the market for smarter investing

Trade confidently with insights and alerts from analyst ratings, free reports and breaking news that affects the stocks you care about.

Join Now: Free!