The mobile app of OpenAI’s ChatGPT has been downloaded more than 110 million times globally since its launch in November 2022. The artificial intelligence chatbot has become a daily essential to millions of users. But it’s actually not the most reached-for app on OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s phone, he said in an interview with Bill Gates aired yesterday (Jan. 11).
In the latest episode of Gates’s weekly podcast Unconfuse Me, the Microsoft (MSFT) cofounder asked Altman which mobile app he uses the most, and the answer was surprising. “Slack,” Altman said, “I wish I could say ChatGPT…and way more than email. The only thing that I was thinking possibly was iMessages, but yes, [I use Slack] more than that…I’m on Slack all day.”
Gates shared that his most used app is Microsoft Outlook. “I’m this old-style email guy. Either that or the browser,” he said.
Altman said he uses Slack mainly to coordinate work with his colleagues at OpenAI, which now has about 500 employees. Gates was surprised at how small the organization is given the impact its products have made in the tech industry. “That’s tiny, by Google, Microsoft, Apple standards,” Gates said. Since ChatGPT exploded in popularity, almost every Big Tech company has begun developing rival A.I. chatbots and other generative A.I. applications.
OpenAI was founded about eight years ago by Altman and Elon Musk first as a nonprofit research lab. Over time it has evolved to have a for-profit branch. “We have to not only run the research lab, but now we have to run a real business,” Altman said. OpenAI’s annualized revenue topped $1.6 billion in 2023, The Information reported in December.
Altman added that OpenAI is also “an older company than average” where a lot of employees are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. “It’s not a bunch of 24-year-old programmers,” he said.
“So it’s not the early Microsoft and Apple, which we were really kids,” Gates chimed in.
“I’ve reflected on that. I think companies have gotten older in general, and I don’t know quite what to make of that,” Altman added. “I think it’s somehow a bad sign for society. But I tracked this at YC [Y Combinator]. The best founders have trended older over time.”
Before serving as OpenAI’s CEO in 2019, Altman was the president of startup incubator Y Combinator for five years, funding and advising startup founders on how to grow their companies. Altman said that experience was “super helpful” but noted that OpenAI is distinctly different than most of the startups he’d incubated at YC.
“OpenAI did a lot of things that are very against the standard YC advice,” he said. For example, Altman and his cofounders started OpenAI without a specific product idea and it ended up taking 4.5 years to launch the company’s first product. “I still don’t recommend that for most companies,” he added. “But having learned the rules and see them at YC made me feel like I understood when and how and why we could break them.”
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