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42 Fun Facts About Sam Altman You Probably Didn't Know

Sam Altman is an interesting guy for sure, but how much do you actually know about him? Here's a mix of facts we put together about him
Updated December 15, 2023
Photo of Sam Altman, made with Midjourney
Photo of Sam Altman, made with Midjourney

It is no secret that OpenAI has made significant contributions to the field of artificial intelligence ever since it started back in 2015. It was founded by several high-profile figures in the tech industry like Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, and others.

One of the most known figures in this list is Sam Altman, who was recently unexpectedly fired by the company’s board. And then hired again… like a few days later. Yeah, it was weird.

But behind all the drama, who exactly is Sam Altman? And what are some things the general public doesn’t know about this visionary tech entrepreneur and investor who continues to dominate the tech & AI industry?

Here are some facts about Sam Altman that you’ve probably never heard about:

  1. Sam Altman was born on April 22, 1985, in Chicago, Illinois.
  2. He co-founded a location-based social networking app called Loopt at the age of 19.
  3. Altman is best known for his involvement with the startup accelerator program Y Combinator, where he served as the president from 2014 to 2019.
  4. He has been the CEO of OpenAI since 2019.
  5. Altman has been involved in groundbreaking artificial intelligence research through his work with OpenAI.
  6. He is a firm believer in the apocalypse and is always prepared.
  7. Altman grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and learned how to program and take apart a Macintosh computer when he was 8 years old.
  8. He came out as gay to his parents when he was 16.
  9. He attended John Burroughs School, a private, non-sectarian college-preparatory school in St. Louis.
  10. Altman's mother is a dermatologist.
  11. He attended Stanford University, where he studied computer science, but dropped out after two years.
  12. He has been compared to tech visionaries, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
  13. Altman is known for his belief that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will be able to do anything that humans can.
  14. He grew up as the oldest of four siblings in a middle-class Jewish family.
  15. Altman is a vegetarian.
  16. Altman is a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.
  17. He lives with his partner, Oliver Mulherin, an Australian software engineer.
  18. Altman is a fan of racing cars and flying planes. He has a pilot's license and has raced cars in various competitions.
  19. He has expressed that he dreams of starting his own airline someday.
  20. Altman has been a partner at Y Combinator, a start-up accelerator that has helped launch thousands of companies, including Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit.
  21. He has worked with some of the biggest names in tech, including Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Microsoft, and Amazon.
  22. Altman has been termed as a modern-day Gutenberg, ushering in an information revolution that humanity has never seen before.
  23. He has been involved with Worldcoin, a crypto startup.
  24. Altman has hosted tech-friendly gospel at his San Francisco house.
  25. He has donated $250,000 to a Democratic Super-PAC supporting Biden.
  26. Altman has received Indonesia's First Golden Visa.
  27. He has been involved with the development of a supersonic airplane.
  28. Altman bought a prepper house in Big Sur and stocked it with guns and gold.
  29. He has raced in his McLarens.
  30. Altman's father had a heart attack and died at the age of 67.
  31. He has three siblings: Max, Jack, and Annie.
  32. Altman's father was a real-estate broker.
  33. He started fixing the family VCR at age 3.
  34. Altman's family played games like "square root" and 20 Questions during dinner.
  35. Altman is a co-founder of Hydrazine Capital.
  36. Altman encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to take risks, learn from failures, and persist in pursuing success.
  37. He was the face of OpenAI, which released the ChatGPT chatbot.
  38. Altman was fired from OpenAI in 2023.
  39. He was the CEO of Reddit for eight days in 2014 after its CEO Yishan Wong quit.
  40. Altman is one of the most prominent figures in the AI world.
  41. He has been instrumental in shaping the tech landscape through innovation and leadership.
  42. Altman's early life and education may have been instrumental in shaping his path toward becoming a tech industry titan.

He’s Been An Entrepreneur Since Birth

He’s not just like everybody else when he was a college student. He co-founded Loopt, a location-based social networking app that provides information to users about their friend's whereabouts and what they’re up to. He did this while also studying computer science at Stanford University.

Loopt was among the apps, being one of the early ones to harness GPS technology on mobile phones, drawing in millions of users and investors alike. Then, in 2012, Altman pulled off a major win by selling Loopt to Green Dot Corporation for a whopping $43.4 million, turning him into a millionaire before hitting 30.

He Dropped Out Of College

Sam joined Stanford University. After dedicating two years to study computer science, he embraced the common path of many tech entrepreneurs by leaving college and committing to full-time work. During this period, he, as well as his two classmates, established Loopt, the same company mentioned earlier.

He’s A Bit Scared Of AI

As Ironic as it sounds, the Co-founder of OpenAI is actually scared of what AI can do. According to Sam, when technology reshapes society, it poses significant risks. It highlighted that authorities and the public must be involved with technology to protect mankind from possibly bad consequences. Maybe that’s why he got fired… we’ll never know.

In a chat with ABC News in 2020, he mentioned feeling a bit scared about AI. Altman knows that AI can be tricky, especially if it ends up in the wrong hands or gets out of control. He's worried about governments with too much power getting into a race to build advanced AI, and that's something we all might want to think about. 

He’s a Young President

Y Combinator stands out as one of the most prestigious and influential startup accelerators globally, playing an important role in the launch of iconic companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, Stripe, and many others. Altman hopped on board the Y Combinator journey in 2009 as a partner, right after wrapping up his studies at Stanford and selling Loopt.

His ascent was fast as he became a standout mentor and investor, eventually taking the crown as president in 2014, succeeding the well-respected founder Paul Graham. During his time there, Altman started the remarkable growth and expansion of Y Combinator, backing hundreds of startups and elevating its funding and value.

Although he stepped down as president in 2019, Altman continues to contribute as chairman and advisor, ensuring Y Combinator's continued success.

His Insane Eye For Opportunities

If all the things he achieved at such a young age weren’t enough for you to say “Sam is the Man”, do you also know that according to Crunchbase, he's put his money into over 100 companies, and the list is impressive: Airbnb, Reddit, Dropbox, Stripe, ZenPayroll, Asana, Instacart, Coinbase, and a bunch more.

He has a talent for picking out winners in the tech world. He's got a nose for supporting startups that are taking on tough challenges and making a positive difference. His investment portfolio alone is sitting at over $500 million, solidifying his status as one of the most successful and wealthy angel investors in Silicon Valley.

He Likes Fast Things

Despite the stereotypes that people think those in tech are all nerds or never leave their house, Sam actually likes some really cool stuff. Racing cars and flying planes are his go-to hobbies when he's got a moment to spare. The guy's got a collection of five cars! Including two McLarens and a vintage Tesla.

And get this: he's into renting planes flying over California. What's even cooler? He's held a pilot license since he was 17.

He’s a Doomsday Prepper

Altman might be optimistic about where humanity and technology are headed, but he's not taking any chances when it comes to being ready for the unexpected. During a chat with Shypmate's founders, he revealed his survival toolkit, including guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, and gas masks from the Israeli Defense Force.

And just in case, he's got a sizable piece of land in Big Sur that he can jet off to if things get dicey. Altman shared that he's wary of three potential threats: a dangerous synthetic virus (which he predicted before the pandemic of 2020), AI turning against humans, or a nuclear war.

While he admitted to not dwelling on it too much, it’s still more than almost everyone else has prepared.

His Grand Vision

Worldcoin is one of the things Sam also initiated as a venture with a grand vision. Crafting a worldwide cryptocurrency that ensures equitable distribution for all. At its core, the company aims to establish a global identification system, introduce a universal currency, and develop a user-friendly app facilitating seamless transactions, purchases, and transfers through its proprietary token.

He’s a Big Advocate For Universal Basic Income & Other Social Issues

Altman is a vocal supporter of universal basic income (UBI). For him, it's a potential solution to tackle income inequality and job loss from automation. UBI is like giving everyone a regular cash boost, no strings attached.

Altman thinks UBI could be a safety net, letting people chase meaningful work and contribute to society without constantly worrying about money. He's involved in the WorldCoin project, aiming to spread cryptocurrency as a form of UBI.

Beyond UBI, Altman cares about other stuff too, like climate change and making sure everyone gets a shot at a good education. He's all about using tech to tackle these big challenges.

He’s Not Married, But Might Be Soon

Is Sam Altman off the market? Well, marriage bells aren't ringing just yet, but he's got a special someone in his life – Oliver Mulherin, an Australian programmer. The duo made their public debut at a fancy White House event in 2023, a state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which included government officials, business leaders, fashion designers, and prominent Indian Americans.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, right, with his boyfriend, Oliver Mulherin, at a White House dinner in late June

Oliver's got a programming degree from the University of Melbourne and a knack for AI projects. Not just that, it gets more interesting. Sam's a vegetarian, but Oliver's got a soft spot for cows. There’s also been some talk about children but nothing has been confirmed yet.

Controversies & Criticisms

Even with a track record of achievements, Sam Altman has found himself amid controversies and criticisms. Some of his statements and actions, especially regarding politics, society, and the tech industry, have sparked skepticism and disapproval.

CEO In a Week

Sam Altman took on the hat of Reddit's CEO for a quick eight days, filling in after Yishan Wong, the then-CEO, decided to step down amidst a disagreement about a new office. Altman, in his role as a company advisor, spilled the details in his blog post, pointing to a clash of views on the office's location and lease budget as the cause behind Wong's exit. 

With the board rejecting Wong's plan, he gracefully bowed out. After Yishan Wong resigned as CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao was appointed as the new head of the company after Sam filled the void in the company. Alexis Ohanian, who had co-founded Reddit nine and a half years ago, returned as the full-time executive chairman. It's a short but notable episode in Reddit's executive leadership history. 

His First Computer

Did you ever wonder how Sam scored all those cool achievements at such a young age? Well, here's an interesting fact. He grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended the prestigious John Burroughs School. His journey into the tech and business world kicked off when he got his hands on his first computer at 8 years old, and it was a Macintosh.

Sam developed an early interest in technology, inspired by his childhood hero, Steve Jobs. He showed an early love for tech. He started tinkering with code laying the groundwork for a super interesting career in the tech industry.

His Awards

Back in 2008, Businessweek magazine had its eyes on Sam Altman, giving him a nod as one of the "Top Young Tech Entrepreneurs." Fast forward to 2015, Forbes magazine had him on their radar, naming him a standout investor under 30. And here's a cool one – Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, tagged him as one of the five most intriguing startup founders from 1979 to 2009.

In 2017, the University of Waterloo bestowed upon Sam an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. Why? Well, they appreciated his efforts in supporting companies through their Velocity entrepreneurship program.

His Massive Influence

If his awards are not enough to baffle you, did you know that Sam was named one of the top 100 most influential people in the world? The releases of ChatGPT and GPT-4 not only elevated Sam’s status in the tech world but also ignited some important discussions on AI regulation. 

Big players like the U.S. and U.K. even jumped into the conversation with top-priority AI plans. Sam is all about spreading the knowledge – he wants policymakers and everyday folks to team up and shape a future where tech has our back.

He’s Definitely An Interesting Guy

Sam Altman's journey from a college dropout to a tech titan is pretty cool to see unfold with every year that goes by. Despite recent problems at OpenAI, his legacy in the tech and AI industries is undeniable. Once a kid who had an early love for computers became one of the most known names in the technology industry of today. 

Despite some adversities he went through Sam remained strong when it came to his belief and what he thinks is the best for the public, especially when he shared the same concern of what AI could become in the future. As an entrepreneur and one of the most significant contributors to tech today, Sam influenced a generation that will remember his name for years to come.

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Written by Justin Gluska
Justin is the founder of Gold Penguin, a business technology blog that helps people start, grow, and scale their business using AI. The world is changing and he believes it's best to make use of the new technology that is starting to change the world. If it can help you make more money or save you time, he'll write about it!
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