Sam Altman’s most recent project is a fund to launch the start-up “Moonshots”
Sitting at their table growing up, Sam Altman and his brothers dreamed of space travel. “We all grew up as a little cheesy math and science kids talking about spaceships,” says Altman.
Years later, when Altman was president of Y Combinator from 2014 to 2019, his brother Max continually – and heavily – criticized him, says Altman, 35, for using this particularly powerful platform. in the startup ecosystem so as not to help Moonshot startups take off. , but to launch wave after wave of mobile applications. Max Altman was fed up with seeing doctors and doctoral students he knew spend months working on elaborate grant proposals for $ 100,000 or $ 150,000, while entrepreneurs more plugged into the venture capital ecosystem. were looking for $ 100 million. “It looks like a broken system,” says Max, 32.
At Y Combinator, deep tech or “moonshot” companies fared better than expected, but there were relatively few of them, says Sam. Helion Energy, working on fusion energy, orbital rocket company Relativity and the biotech Ginkgo Bioworks unicorn as examples. “The batting average was phenomenal, there just weren’t enough batsmen,” he said.
Teaming up with their younger brother Jack, 31, the Altmans debated the reasons for a relative lack of funding for such projects – projects may seem too capital intensive; their potential founders may not have had any ties to venture capitalists or were from Silicon Valley circles – and ultimately decided to act. They launched a new fund called Apollo, with the explicit aim of supporting more moonshots.
How the Altman Brothers Group will operate: Max will lead day-to-day operations and oversee Apollo full time. Sam and Jack Altman, who are full-time CEOs of two startups, artificial intelligence firm OpenAI and work software firm Lattice, will join Max on Apollo’s investment committee to approve new companies and provide assistance to its supported founders and identify them and connect them with advisors.
Apollo will invest $ 3 million in companies, taking a 20% stake in each. Founders who participate will also have the opportunity to participate in an optional share swap with other Apollo founders. The Altmans are looking to support a first batch of “beta testing” of five startups by July 11.
Any warm introductions sent to the Altmans will go back to Apollo’s open application process, Sam explains. “People tend to have networks that look a bit like them,” he says. “If you really want to diversify Silicon Valley, one of the ways to do that is through the application processes.”
What will Apollo consider a “moonshot” project? Sam Altman highlights rapid response vaccines, carbon-free energy, new approaches to education and housing. “It’s a type of business that I think is very important and that traditionally has not been served very well by Silicon Valley,” he says. Apollo is unlikely to support startups that are primarily software companies, Max says, because “people are already playing this game very well.” The potential impact will also serve as a criterion; where the startup is based, no matter how far away from Silicon Valley, is not a problem.
Asked about a list of existing startups that might have been suitable for Apollo, Sam Altman provided ten: Helion, Ginkgo Bioworks, and Relativity, but also Oklo, Boom, Aspen Neuroscience, Spring Discovery, 1910 Genetics, Neuralink, and Tesla.
While Y Combinator ultimately added a large-sized going concern fund to invest in its breakout companies later in their growth, Sam Altman says Apollo has no plans to do so; instead, the fund will work to connect and identify companies with tracking dollars down the road. Today representing the capital of Altman’s personal fortune, Apollo also has no immediate intention of engaging outside investors.
By offering the optional share swap, Apollo hopes to be able to spread the risk felt by its entrepreneurs across its founding group, so that they work more closely together and benefit more from any collective success. His other selling point will be his promise to pair every entrepreneur who takes their investment with a top advisor to work more closely with the startup for at least its first year. None of these leaders are aligned yet, Sam says; get to know the companies and their fields better first, and then match them with the most valuable potential helpers.
A look at Altman’s personal investment portfolio – Airbnb, Instacart, Pinterest, Soylent, Stripe, and many more – suggests these advisors could include founders or tech executives that entrepreneurs would typically go to great lengths to find. meet. But Altman says it’s possible the sectors where the best advisers come from could come as a surprise.
As he described past projects, Sam Altman calls Apollo an “experience, but thrilling.” “We are prepared to see it fail completely. But if it works, then I think this long-held view of Silicon Valley that only software companies work, it would be great to shatter that myth once and for all.