Business

Sam Altman Principles: How to Become and Stay Successful

What about founders make them unique? At any given time, there are thousands of founders across the world, all of them looking for funding to create something new and exploring ways to scale and enter new markets. Most founders start off wanting to make a lot of money before deciding to create something important. For others it is the other way around, but more importantly, they set out to create a venture.

The following thoughts apply largely to anyone who is seeking to achieve success in their ventures whether by privilege or effort. These tips are adapted from Sam Altman’s note on Becoming Successful. Sam Altman is the chairman of Y-Combinator and co-chairman of OpenAI. As President of Y-Combinator, Sam Altman has worked with and financed thousands of startups from across the world. Hence, his experiences are quite invaluable when evaluating your chances as a startup founder.

1. Compound yourself

The positive effects of compounding are plentiful and this is really the key to wealth creation and generation. If you are not compounding, it does not mean you are not growing, but it does mean that you are not growing very fast.

Whether as an individual or a business you should aim for an increasing and positive track record. People might actually belie you to think that this is easy to achieve this, but it’s not because for every day that follows you have to work harder than you did the previous day.

However, one way to pursue your compounding goal is to try as much as possible to add another zero (0) to whatever metric you have set for yourself. Whether it is money or social impact – adding another zero or increasing your reach through multiplier mechanisms will keep you focused on your goals and mission.

Don’t get distracted or bogged down by slow and small opportunities. Instead, deep dive into those ones that will yield results that dwarf your previous projects. As you progress, you have to plan for the long-term with a cogent view of how all the various systems of the world around you will come together.

More importantly, you have to allow yourself to experience the magic of your originality.

2. Self-belief is a major key

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and came out of it deeply convinced about whatever it was they were proposing? That is the power of self-belief. Self-belief is immensely powerful. The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion. It is not rocket science but the more you believe in yourself, the more people will believe in you.

If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard to let yourself have contrarian ideas about the future. But this is where most value gets created.

Sam Altman

One of the biggest challenges of any venture is trying the manage your team’s morale and even your morale as a founder. Foundationally, any form of morale stems from strong self-belief and if this is lacking then everything else becomes slow and uninspiring.

A common misunderstanding is that self-belief is self-contained but it is not. It is definitely not the last junction – self-belief must be accompanied with self-awareness. You should be aware of your capacity to deliver results before evangelizing your proposals or ideas.

I have actually seen a lot of people who have garnered support for their ideas even before fleshing out the details. And all the support came from what people see in the founders. More so, in your quest to go from idea to profit it also helps to remain open to criticism because you learn faster as you evaluate your weaknesses on a continuous basis even as you find ways to fine-tune, iterate, and improve.

3. Think independently to create original work

To become a successful entrepreneur you have to do a lot of original thinking. According to Sam Altman, this is not something they teach in school these days so you have to develop this ability by yourself through effort.

Thinking from first principles and trying to generate new ideas is fun, and finding people to exchange them with is a great way to get better at this. The next step is to find easy, fast ways to test these ideas in the real world.

Sam Altman

If you have ever found a solution to a problem, no matter how small, then you will know the powerful feeling that comes with it. This is actually how grit is developed – through finding solutions to problems, getting knocked down and getting back up.

4. Learn sales and up your founder game

Self-belief alone is not sufficient—you also have to be able to convince other people of what you believe in.

Every good successful business has a good salesperson or sales team. Having self-belief is good and dandy but without the personality to sell whatever it is you have created, then you are sure to get stuck in static mode.

All great careers, to some degree, become sales jobs. You have to evangelize your plans to customers, prospective employees, the press, investors, etc. This requires an inspiring vision, strong communication skills, some degree of charisma, and evidence of execution ability.

Sam Altman

To sell, you have to be really good at communicating complex ideas in simple understandable terms. To achieve this is quite simple – you just have to make sure that your thinking is clear and straight to the point.

One of the most important aspects of any sales process is the belief in the product or service. You cannot truly sell something you don’t believe in. I mean you could but sooner or later you are going to get bored and uninspired to continue.

The steps to becoming good at sales are actually the same for any other skill – practice, practice, practice. With deliberate practice, you can become a stellar salesperson in no time. I remember quite vividly times when I wrote down sales pitches and presented them to myself before actually stepping into the conference room. My point is that learning the sales process is not impossible.

6. Focus

Most people waste a lot of time on things that do not matter. The most successful people on the planet are those that have invested their undivided attention in their ventures. It is true that ventures fail, however, when you focus you tend to fail quickly and learn faster.

Focus is a force multiplier on work.

Once you have figured out what to do, be unstoppable about getting your small handful of priorities accomplished quickly. I have yet to meet a slow-moving person who is very successful.

Sam Altman

7. Be bold

When it comes to building a startup or grooming your founder spirit it is actually harder to do an easy startup than a hard startup. If you think about it, people actually want to be part of something difficult rather than something easy.

The reason for this is that when you are solving complex and important problems people want to join in and help. It gives them a feeling of satisfaction for contributing to an important problem. The key point here is to allow yourself to be ambitious and unafraid to try your hands on that problem you have been thinking about.

Follow your curiosity. Things that seem exciting to you will often seem exciting to other people too.

8. Disrupt your technology to stay relevant

If you are not hard to compete with you will go out of business before you even know it. It will also interest you to know that companies are more valuable if they are difficult to compete with. Even the biggest companies in the world today continue to disrupt their own technologies to stay big and relevant.

The best way to become difficult to compete with is to build up leverage. For example, you can do it with personal relationships, by building a strong personal brand, or by getting good at the intersection of multiple different fields. There are many other strategies, but you have to figure out some way to do it.

Sam Altman

The bottom line is that if you’re doing the same thing everyone else is doing, you will not be hard to compete with.

9. Build a strong and talented network

Two heads are often better than one. Of course, you can do good by yourself, but to do great work you have to work with a great team. This can be together or remotely but when you work within a network of talented of people you are well on your way to doing great work.

One of the best ways to build a network is to develop a reputation for really taking care of the people who work with you. Be overly generous with sharing the upside; it will come back to you 10x. Also, learn how to evaluate what people are great at, and put them in those roles. (This is the most important thing I have learned about management, and I haven’t read much about it.) You want to have a reputation for pushing people hard enough that they accomplish more than they thought they could, but not so hard they burn out.

Sam Altman

Finally, remember to spend your time with positive people who support your ambitions.

10. You get rich by owning things

People do not get extremely rich from high salaries, they get rich from owning things. There are some exceptions to this statement of course, like the highest-paid entertainers, and corporate executives. However, in general, this is not the case.

You get truly rich by owning things that increase rapidly in value.

Sam Altman

Salaries are earned on the basis of time and time only scales linearly – this means that your wealth can only grow linearly. But when you own things like pieces of real estate, equity, natural resource, intellectual property et cetera – these things sometimes scale exponentially, hence your wealth.

The best way to make things that increase rapidly in value is by making things people want at scale.

Finally, there is no easy and fast rule for becoming successful. When you ask around people will tell you different things. You will finally define your success by performing excellent work in areas that are important to you and provides value for others.

The sooner you can start off in that direction, the further you will be able to go. It is hard to be wildly successful at anything you aren’t obsessed with.

Sam Altman
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