Startup maverick Sam Altman is going to be the CEO of a $3 billion company

Next month, Sam Altman, one of the founders of Silicon Valley start-up incubator Y Combinator, will be the CEO of a tech company. But he has a long way to go to match Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s success. Altman will be leading Lucid Motors, a $3 billion company that will build a new, premium electric car. The car, which Lucid Motors calls the Lucid Air, is just the beginning of what Altman is hoping will be a record-breaking career in startup and venture capital.

Altman is one of the longest-serving heads of Y Combinator, having held the position since 2006. He has helped start two car companies, Path and Treehouse, which were eventually acquired by Quora and online classifieds company, respectively. He is also the co-founder of the math-centric coding and education website The Hacker School. If you do a search for Altman’s name in Crunchbase, the online resources for data-rich startups, you’ll quickly see how much he is and has been involved in the startup world.

The CEO of Tesla aside, Altman’s career has been driven by an ambition to empower people to learn and do difficult things. That’s why he founded the Hackers on Planet Earth hackathon, which has grown to become the largest hackathon in the world, according to him. “It’s a couple thousand people going to MIT every year for 72 hours, staying up late, and collaborating for the purpose of programming,” he said, “and teaching people how to code well enough that they get better jobs, maybe their companies grow and they build something of value, maybe they get paid more than most full-time engineers.”

He also created The Hacker School, which is held in countries around the world. The purpose of the program is to train programmers, who then donate time, resources and money to charity. “We also basically try to find out what’s needed in our lifetimes,” Altman said. “So if we find out that there’s really very few scholarship opportunities for people who work at tech companies, so maybe we find a way to solve that problem.”

Altman is the most prominent person to be hired away from Tesla. The company had lost an unparalleled number of top executives after Musk admitted in April that Tesla could get away with producing only 500,000 cars in 2018. Altman won’t be the only well-known Silicon Valley character to work at Lucid. Earlier this year, Steve Jurvetson, a billionaire tech investor, founded his own company, Jetpac, which maps the physical world for people’s enjoyment.

But Altman sees himself as a traditional tech CEO as well. In February, when Musk tried to bring venture capital firms back to the table, he posted on Twitter that “sherpas” were needed to overcome the “old guard” — which indeed they do now. But Altman has few of those at his fingertips. Though he has become friends with the likes of Benchmark partner Bill Gurley, his father, a former director at Intel, can’t even tell you where Altman lives or who his friends are.

“I’ve learned that a lot of venture capital doesn’t actually involve co-founders and it’s hard for me to figure out how to get in front of them if they’re not going to come to Silicon Valley to meet me,” Altman said. “And then, if they do come to Silicon Valley, it’s difficult to have that meal when I’m working at Hackers on Planet Earth.”

It’s also the reason he will be the first Silicon Valley CEO to face a Silicon Valley startup visa crisis. Lucid’s new employees will need to obtain U.S. visas to work at the company and Altman thinks he can help the company get them. “I think we can help on that,” he said.

Read the full story at Recode.


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