A Leading Venture Capitalist On Racing And Human Performance

Features, Lifestyle I By Tom Martin I June 11, 2019

Sam Altman is Chairman of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm known for funding Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Reddit and DoorDash. Y Combinator's portfolio has an estimated value in excess of $80B. Maybe he knows some things of value. He happens to be a racer, so we naturally were even more interested in his thoughts.

We recently heard Altman hold forth on a variety of subjects as part of the excellent podcast series Conversations With Tyler hosted by Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University. During the Sam Altman edition of the podcast, it became obvious that a central part of Y Combinator's approach is understanding how to assess human capital, particularly that of company founders. But it is also obvious that Sam Altman has thought deeply about human performance. Here's what he says about racing specifically:

COWEN: I’m from the Northeast. When I watch racing cars, I see a bunch of little things on TV go around and around the track, and I’m totally bored. What am I missing?

ALTMAN: It’s not that fun to watch, but it’s very fun to drive.

COWEN: Fun to drive.

ALTMAN: There are very few activities that are high enough adrenaline to totally stop thinking about work, and racing cars is certainly one of them. But watching it is not that fun.

ALTMAN: A surprising number of YC’s best founders are also into some sort of extreme physical something.

COWEN: Why do you see that correlation? What do you think?

ALTMAN: Something about focus and determination and drive to win and perform at your highest level. I think one thing that is a really important thing to strive for is being internally driven, being driven to compete with yourself, not with other people. If you compete with other people, you end up in this mimetic trap, and you sort of play this tournament, and if you win, you lose. But if you’re competing with yourself, and all you’re trying to do is — for the own self-satisfaction and for also the impact you have on the world and the duty you feel to do that — be the best possible version you can, there is no limit to how far that can drive someone to perform. And I think that is something you see — even though it looks like athletes are competing with each other — when you talk to a really great, absolute top-of-the-field athlete, it’s their own time they’re going against.

The rest of the interview covers an array of interesting subjects including how long it takes to evaluate people, nuclear fusion, universal basic income, Napoleon, Peter Parker, Luke Skywalker, Open AI and more. Check it out here


The Guide to Road Racing: Winding Road Magazine's ultimate guide to getting your start in racing.

Table of Contents

Related Articles

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Ferrari

Help the Ferrari enthusiast in your family get to know Enzo a little closer with this definitive biography by Luca Dal Monte. “Drawing on years…

November 22, 2023
Track-only Hyper Cars?

What’s your take? This is a beautiful example of what Hyper Car OEMs have to offer. “Tailored specifically for on-track driving, the [Bugatti] Bolide must…

November 22, 2023
BaT Find: Photoshoot with Larry Chen

The collaboration introduces an exclusive photo shoot experience with the highly acclaimed automotive photographer, Larry Chen.

November 13, 2023
Isotta Fraschini Unveils Street-Legal Le Mans Hypercar

Isotta Fraschini has surprised the automotive world by announcing the launch of the Tipo 6 LMH Strada – a street-legal Le Mans Hypercar.

November 13, 2023
Las Vegas GP: A Chilly Surprise in the Desert

Formula 1 seems to have overlooked a crucial element when scheduling the late fall Las Vegas GP – the biting cold of a desert night.

November 13, 2023


Get the latest driving and racing news straight to your inbox.

no thanks

Begin typing your search above and press return to search.