How To Be Successful

I don’t remember reading OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s post How To Be Successful when it was posted four years ago. Today I saw it in my LinkedIn feed and think Sam’s 13 points is a very good read.

I find his writing on hard work to be very relevant when founding and running a startup that aims to be a very large company. (Or, I guess, being an athlete competing at Olympic level, being a top level politician or CEO.)

You need to be smart, work hard and work most of the time. And you need to figure out how to not burn out. The trade-offs are real and it’s rational to not want to be a founder.

Quoting Sam:

“You can get to about the 90th percentile in your field by working either smart or hard, which is still a great accomplishment. But getting to the 99th percentile requires both—you will be competing with other very talented people who will have great ideas and be willing to work a lot.

Extreme people get extreme results. Working a lot comes with huge life trade-offs, and it’s perfectly rational to decide not to do it. But it has a lot of advantages. As in most cases, momentum compounds, and success begets success.”

“You have to figure out how to work hard without burning out. People find their own strategies for this, but one that almost always works is to find work you like doing with people you enjoy spending a lot of time with.

I think people who pretend you can be super successful professionally without working most of the time (for some period of your life) are doing a disservice. In fact, work stamina seems to be one of the biggest predictors of long-term success.

One more thought about working hard: do it at the beginning of your career. Hard work compounds like interest, and the earlier you do it, the more time you have for the benefits to pay off. It’s also easier to work hard when you have fewer other responsibilities, which is frequently but not always the case when you’re young.”

Author: Henrik Torstensson

Partner at Alliance VC. Investing in Nordic early-stage tech startups.

Leave a Reply