My Conversation with Sam Altman

January 28, San Francisco, 5:30, register here.

So what should I ask Sam Altman?


A lot of the new research on entrepreneurship shows that older founders are better entrepreneurs and more successful than younger ones [0]. It would seem even unicorns are more often founded by older entrepreneurs [1].

Given that that's the case, why does YCombinator--presumably a data-driven organisation--admit younger entrepreneurs more than older ones [2, 3]?

0 -

1 -

2 -

3 -

Because more younger entrepreneurs apply to YC than older ones. There's no systemic bias here unless you are a social justice warrior looking for something to be outraged about.

It's a great question nevertheless.

It could be older founders don't need the help, supply-and-demand, discrimination, the ability of YC partners to understand the attributes of younger founders over older ones (e.g. youth founders may be more about raw ability, age about experience which can be harder to ascertain), a belief that risks like that are best taken at 20 and not 40, or a whole host of other things, and an answer would be interesting to hear.

Not true.

The systematic bias against older workers in tech is an open secret. The goose that lays the golden eggs is a nasty one - it bites but does produce the eggs. Hence, it's behaviour is tolerated.

The tech industry loves young, single immigrants on an H1b leash. Without a family, they can be worked mercilessly. Once they marry and have kids, things change a bit - they have skills, experience, and thus more leverage.

The loser is the one that never gets the opportunity to be exploited - the older worker that tries to reinvent herself by learning a new coding skill.

So this would be a good topic for dicussion. What about older workers and career changers? Is it true that the industry is closed to them like everybody says? Please explain.

We don't discriminate against old people. We just want you to drop everything in your life and move into our dorm for 3 months, and then move out.

I remember in their podcast 'How to Start a Startup', they say this very same thing (that older founder have greater chance of success). They even encourage people to see the world, get experience and come back.

in what u.s. city are you most likely to get shot in the head by a non violent drug offender ?

sociologists say baltimore maryland again

"shot" "non violent"

His thoughts, if any, on the effective altruist movement.

Yes, this one. And perhaps also what he sees as the potential future philosophical movements on the American left

doble yikes!
¿Estás casi terminado con la cabra

I'd be curious to hear whether the controversy surrounding his "E Pur Si Muove" post has had a chilling effect on his willingness to speak publicly on sensitive topics.

"E Pur Si Muove"

My respect for Sam Altman just shot through the roof.

SF is the beating heart of the whacky radical left. Like a malignant melanoma, it's outrage du jour can pop up anywhere in the cultural body. In the end, it will kill the host.

Oh please, there was no controversy over that post. There is so much manufactured snowflakery that lacks any self-awareness on the right lately that it's frankly astounding.

> Oh please, there was no controversy over that post.

Google it. ”Sam Altman E Pur Si Muove"

Ask him how comfortable he feels discussing uighurs in China compared to San Francisco.

He just has to kowtow to his communist masters in all matters.

“Always where underwear,” one lunch at a Subway during the Leuven International Short Film Festival after Vivendi and RTL Group agreed to be a supplier of inventory. The slogan for a client was donated by Justin anonymously. This angered Jonathon and the anger was a breach of his own policy.

(if me and him talked about HOW MUCH GOD LOVED BERLIOZ on a summer night at a party (in the Hamptons, in my case, on the outskirts of Paris, in the case of our beloved composer) where neither of us wanted, for those few moments (COR AD COR LOQUEBATUR) to talk to anyone else (moments that quickly faded away, but moments that were made for eternity, as all moments are) he would have let drop (in medieval French there is a nice idiomatic equivalent for that, I decline to cite the beautiful modern French equivalent which roughly translates to " would have allowed that it could be noticed") ... he would have let drop, because he knew he was talking to someone who cared about his eternal soul, that
"he was happy to be human and loved whoever created the people he loved)

For God's sake if you have ever loved anybody or been loved by anybody in this world you know what I am talking about

and if you haven't
ever been love by anyone in this world
wake up
God loves you

wake up

you are God's chosen

I know what it to be the scapegoat, the unloved child, that one guy or gal who has never heard a single word of love


Eternity starts today
(It actually started yesterday but I am TRYING TO BREAK THE NEWS TO YOU SLOWLY God loves you, and God did not create all that many people (Take my word for it I understand so-called prime numbers better than Ramanujan, when I am focused on that)
God did not create all that many people, here I am on the "internet" telling you that
But God has infinite love and there are a finite number of us
Do the Math, my young friend

Des Moines 1996

"The particular creature we love is never God's Rival" (Think about it)

"What ends in apostasy" (rivalry with God) is something different than love and concern for a specific human being. (Don Colacho)

Eternity starts today. You never did anything wrong by feeling honest and kind love and concern for a specific human being. But - you know this - you probably, UNLESS YOU ARE A SAINT, tried to rival God when the questions were not about people you cared about as much as you should have.

And if you are a saint ---

where were you when I wanted and needed your help, in Des Moines in 1996?

Sit down you are rocking the boat

Whether economics could and should have more influence in Silicon Valley, and if yes for what benefit?

What research can learn from startups and the other way around

Sam mentioned a startup in one of his interviews that was trying to take over the role that Churches have traditionally played in our society. What does Sam think the role of Churches will be in the future? What can churches offer that start-ups have not yet been able to replicate?

Like Google shifting income to Bermuda in the name of diversity, churches offer a tax free pool of money for social justice.

Amazing how a 30 something that hit it big because he started coding at 8 is now a guru about everything.

What about Dunning- Kruger?

Peter Thiel famously said there is too much investment in companies working with bits, and not enough inventment in companies working with atoms. What is Sam's opinion?

Wonder how much Thiel has invested in companies dealing with Atoms. May be the Bits add up more in the bank or Bit-coin accounts?

Thiel should stop censoring conservative thinkers at the very startups that he is a board member of or owns significant fractions of. Libertarian he is not.

Why not relocate or start a new branch of Y Combinator outside of the Bay Area?

Peter Thiel has made comments about how the concentration of VC money in the Bay Area has made start-ups much more expensive because so much money must be spent on rent. New start-ups need to be near the money, so their costs end up being much higher than they would otherwise be in a different city. Y Combinator could do a lot of good (and tap new markets) by opening Y Combinator Tampa or Milwaukee.


Yes, please move to Iowa or Nebraska.
Give us all a break.

Because "you have to move to SF" is how people who have real estate holdings in SF ensure their holdings go up in value.

That pedal needs to be kept at 99+% all the time. If it ever lets up the crash will be so amazing you could see it from space.

What i happening in linux and AI? Does linux get most of the networked AI business? What does he think of Rasberry PI, the $50 linux boards? Will we see massive arrays of linux working AI problems?

As a good St.Louisian, the first question should be which high school he went to. when he says Burroughs, you smile and nod, as if it told you a lot about him.

Is he ever disillusioned by living in Silicon Valley? How does he prevent himself from being trapped in that subculture and makes sure he understands how the rest of the world operates?

Boxers or briefs?

1. What lessons do Silicone Valley / Venture Capitalists still need to learn from the Theranos scandal?

2. How does he get out of the SV filter bubble? Keep a fresh perspective?

3. What is he most excited about?

Silicone Valley is something different.

Yes, Silicone Valley used to be San Fernando Valley, until internet porn killed it. Creative destruction.

AI risk: is this the new Y2K or should I think about buying robot insurance?

Given his work with OpenAI, what specific policies would he like governments to implement to limit any AI related risks?

Is YC planning to fund long-term, high-risk projects *at scale*?

Ask him about the sexbots. Are they going to be as big as everyone thinks? And when are they getting here?

Politics in YC's home cities (Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park) are pretty unfriendly to new housing. This hurts the companies you sponsor, who need to pay $3000 rents. Why hasn't Y Combinator done more to support pro-housing politicians or zoning reform? For example, you could show up at City Council meetings, donate to pro-housing candidates, sponsor model legislation, etc.

Similarly, conventional media wisdom is that tech has something to do with the Bay Area homelessness crisis, or should have something to do with solving it. What is Altman's take?

What’s wrong with St. Louis? What can we do to improve it?

How do you stay optimistic about America when there are real discussions of 70% marginal tax rates?

I’m less concerned about the tax, and more about the lower status of people who create wealth

FAANG are offerring higher and higher salaries; I’ve heard 400–500K total compensation/year. How can startups compete with this?

Do you think Paul Graham’s Python Paradox holds true, and do you recommend startups choose non-mainstream technologies to make recruiting easier?

1) what is the current status of the YC cities project?
2) how does governance fit into YC thinking?
3) what are his thoughts on charter cities?

1) what is the status of the YC cities project?
2) is he interested in charter cities?
3) YC is interested in the startup model overseas, what role does governance of the host country play?

Sam has had a lot of projects over the past few years. Politics, basic income, Open AI, YC Research.... Not all of these are or will be raging successes (which is a sign of good risk taking).

What has he learned from what's working and what's not? shows the things that YC is asking for. I wonder about a few:

1. Carbon Removal Technologies - what does SAMA see as the revenue model here? Market based? Government? Non-profit?

2. There is a lot of focus on the US - is there a path for startups focussed on poorer nations? Mpesa has arguably done significant amounts for extreme poverty, and I wonder if low GDP nation startups are something YC wants to do more of.

What is the most interesting or suprising thing you have learned or changed your mind on in the last 3 months?

1. Most startups fail. When a startup fails, what should it do to fail gracefully? (As opposed to imploding and stiffing employees and customers.)

2. How has money changed your friendships?

3. Is Silicon Valley culture truth-seeking?

4. Tech has had a stream of hits. The PC, the internet, the cell phone. What happens to Silicon Valley if there's nothing equivalently sized that comes after the cell phone? I.e., maybe AR/VR/wearables/blockchain/etc happen, but in niche or smaller markets?

5. You help fund OpenAI. How do you measure whether your money there is well spent?

6. Predictions. At what year do you expect:
(a) Self-driving cars to earn net profits?
(b) Self-driving cars to be available for sale to people?
(c) AGI
(d) Humans to go extinct

7. Do you think AGI is more likely to occur in semiconductor substrates (chips) or biological substrates (modified brains)?

'What happens to Silicon Valley if there's nothing equivalently sized that comes after the cell phone? I.e., maybe AR/VR/wearables/blockchain/etc happen, but in niche or smaller markets?"

VR use is expanding at about the same exponential rate in the U.S. and world-wide as the internet did in the early 1990s.

8. How has innovation changed over the years? What do you consider to be the most innovative year? The most innovative decade?

(My money is personally on the 1880s.)

9. When an industry matures and innovation slows in that sector, how should entrepreneurs respond, on average, in equilibrium?

1. Why is Sam qualified to give startup advice after his own startup (Loopt) was only a middling success? ($39m in funding, acquired for $43m 7 years after launch).

2. What are Sam's thoughts on the political monoculture that exists in the Bay Area? Does it stifle free and independent thought? If so, what are the implications for that on the Bay Area's future viability as the world's premier innovation hub?

3. Does Sam see any alternatives to the soul-crushing and complacency-inducing solution of UBI to ameliorate technological unemployment/zero-marginal product workers?

4. What does Sam think of seasteading, neoreaction, and efforts to create autonomous political zones that are free from the increasingly dysfunctional US government?

5. What does Sam think of Bitcoin? What about Ethereum? What does he think blockchains and cryptocurrencies will be useful for? Does he have any thoughts on security tokens?

In what ways can a startup improve the economics of a country better than improved public policy can?

And what can improved public policy do that a start up can't?

Is YC the tech version/closest thing to Michael Ovitz's CAA? (h/t Peter Zakin)

What is the difference between a startup and a politician? Why can't we select for scale politicians that resolve complexity and grow the pie instead of dirtying the waters? What do you think about the fundamental differences between market economics and representative government?

I'd like to ask him several questions about UBI, such as: What if we do all agree its a great idea, we implement it, and then we find it makes everything worse. What's the contingency plan? What does the failure mode look like?

Put another way, wouldn't even a successful UBI implementation make a more fragile world?

Are most of the problems of most people in the USA even really money-related? In terms of housing and food, most people seem to make do already without UBI, with our current welfare programs. It seems many of the largest sources of misery are not money-related at all.

I get the impression that intellectuals like Sama tend to think everyone could be as content as they would be living life in their heads or inventing their own destiny. Most people need to be doing something to feel satisfied and a potential UBI system addresses this need just as inadequately as disability checks do now. Cue drug epidemics. What about the non-money problems that people face?

I have written critically about UBI here, I would love Sama to address any of the concerns:

" ... people need to be doing something ..."

You're on to something. It isn't about money, it's about meaning, belonging, contributing but ... this thread is about questions for Sam, not answers from me.

So much of the UBI discussion in Silicon Valley is built on the idea that the robots SV makes will take over the world, and then we will need UBI. It's marketing for the robots, to make everyone accept it as obvious that the robots will take over, so of course people will invest in the robot companies.

I would love a better look at EITC or other efforts to improve the supply of employers at the low end. But that doesn't get you written up in Technology Review.

Is Alan Kay working on a new Xerox PARC type project at YC?

What basis does he have for being so bullish on fusion?

1. Tyler has described Silicon Valley as a productive monoculture. Sam, to what extent do you think a young engineer should buy in to SV monoculture? What should we be skeptical of, and what should we double down on?

2. YC in the PG era seemed focused on enabling hackers. YC in the SA era seems much more business-focused. When you think about YC's growth over the years, what has it gained, and what has it lost?

Startups are a field where being right is not very important. It's more important to be very right once in a way that pays for the nine failures, with a profit margin. Philosophy and policy are fields where being right is very important because there's no exit and reversing a blunder will take thirty years. Shouldn't the two arts be kept separate, like extremely separate?

There are historical examples of a portfolio strategy for basic research having a positive ROI. For example, it is believed that US government funded research eventually produces increased GDP, or Xerox Parc resulted in several trillion dollar markets. What size private fund do you think would be necessary to deploy investments into applied research and expect good returns over 30 years? I.e. would funding 20 modern equivalents of Bell Labs produce enough new industries to pay for the fund?

I don't have any substantial questions, to tell the truth, to suggest.
I would just like to say that I think it is extremely important to be, in one's own generation, the best of the best of those good people who were "effective altruists": I remember that Saint Paul wrote about that, as did Catherine of Siena, and many others, and in my very humble way, as did I, back in the day.

Off topic: the person who used to post as Efim Polenov does not comment here anymore, with this one last exception (January 8 2019), and anyone in the future pretending to be that commenter, either by using that commenter name or by quoting things E.P used to say, back in the day; well, of course it makes no difference, if they have something interesting to say: but they are not me. Just for the record. My Name is Life, and that is your name too, or one of your names, anyway. God loves you, at a minimum, as much as God loves me, and to the extent that God loves you more: remember, those of us who have once been friends will always be friends. God loves us all.

Hey Sam -- you've stated that you believe there's not a chance of 'some kid in a garage' building AI, because it would requires truly massive compute resources that only large organizations like DeepMind and OpenAI have access to [1].

What if you're wrong? It seems a fairly asymmetric opportunity to openly offer investment to anyone able to reach certain research milestones with data & compute limited to a level that you'd consider impossible.


Hey Sam -- you've stated that you believe there's not a chance of 'some kid in a garage' building AI, because it would requires truly massive computing power that only large organizations like DeepMind and OpenAI have access to [1].

What if you're wrong? It seems a fairly asymmetric opportunity to openly offer investment to anyone able to reach certain research milestones with data & compute limited to a level that you'd consider impossible.


1. What are your thoughts on 5G and it's potential?
2. Do you think SF Bay Area is still the best place to start a company, the past few years we've seen big tech companies continue to take up more and more real estate in the city offering employees crazy comp packages. Do you believe these golden handcuffs is stifling the number of people working on startups. Housing prices have also made it quite hard for startups to stay in the area. Many entrepreneurs today have told me they don't know how they would have been able to compete with hiring in today's landscape. I also was at a party held at a VC and a lot of VC's said this is their first time telling entrepreneurs to start their companies somewhere else.
3. How do you see the US and China conflict over IP theft playing out. Can there be a resolution?

In the religion of tech start ups, where Silicon Valley is the Holy Land and Stanford is the Temple, is achieving product market fit the equivalent of earning salvation? In a lean startup framework, PMF is only achieved by suspending one's preconceptions and iteratively gaining a clear understanding of one's own nature and society's wants and needs. YC is the seminary and the mid 20s graduates who have found PMF themselves and preach the true path on Youtube are the apostles.

a quick explanation of the importance of the original y-combinator in CS..

(maths is related to economics too, in fact : )

1. What do you think is the difference between value creation and value transferring industries today?

2. What is something that founders spend too little time doing that they should?

3. Is it possible to be outspokenly non-left-wing and succeed in Silicon Valley today? All of the prominent Peter Thiel, Palmer Luckey, Keith Rabois, Marc Andreeseen types have gotten significant blowback or have left SV. See E Pur Si Muove

4. Where will be the next engine of innovation that returns us to 5% GDP growth?

5. You are a big supporter of UBI. Does it make sense to extrapolate from results today, given that the economic conditions under

6. Is America too optimistic or pessimistic

7. Are we making too much horizontal progress and not vertical

How do you consider moral implications when investing? For example, vegan foods, clean energy etc..)

Traditionally Silicon Valley has favored and lauded pure tech / biotech / anything tech start-ups. In your experience, where is DTC (direct-to-consumer)'s - particularly in consumer goods - place in the current start-up environment?

What did Sam Altman think of the Elena Ferrante series?

Comments for this post are closed