4 min read

The Best Sam Altman Quotes on Building a Business

This post doesn’t list every single quote Sam Altman ever made.

Instead, I have selected and organized quotes by the most important principles he used to help entrepreneurs build valuable businesses. These are the principles he used to advise over 3,000 founders as they launched successful companies like Airbnb, Coinbase, DoorDash, Instacart, Quora, Reddit and Stripe.

Put together, these are a masterclass in starting and building a business.

Let’s get to it.

Sam Altman Quotes on Company Building

“The best companies are almost always mission oriented.”

"No matter what you choose, build stuff and be around smart people.”

“If you don’t love and believe in what you’re building, you’re likely to give up at some point along the way.”

“All you need is a great idea, a great team, a great product, and great execution. So easy! ;)”

Sam Altman Quotes on Running a Business

“A CEO has to:

  1. Set the vision and strategy for the company,
  2. Evangelize the company to everyone,
  3. Hire and manage the team, especially in areas where you yourself have gaps,
  4. Raise money and make sure the company does not run out of money, and
  5. Set the execution quality bar.”

“One of the most important tasks for a founder is to make sure the company builds a great product.”

“The best companies usually have the tightest feedback loops.”

“Great founders don’t put anyone between themselves and their users.”

“It really is true, the company will build whatever the CEO decides to measure.”

“Being a CEO is lonely. It’s important to have relationships with other CEOs you can call when everything is melting down”

Sam Altman Quotes on Building Great Product

“Your job is to build something that users love.”

“In general, it’s best if you’re building something that you yourself need.”

“If you don’t need it yourself, and you’re building something that someone else needs, realize you’re at a big disadvantage.”

“It’s much much easier to make a great product if you have something simple.”

““Product” includes all interactions a user has with the company.”

“Until you’ve built a great product, almost nothing else matters.”

“PR, conferences, recruiting advisors, doing partnerships, you should ignore all of that, and just build a product.”

“Learn about a lot of different things. Practice noticing problems, things that seem inefficient, and major technological shifts. Work on projects you find interesting. Go out of your way to hang around smart, interesting people. At some point, ideas will emerge.”

Sam Altman Quotes on Growth

“One way you that know when it is working, is that you’ll get growth by word of mouth”

“If you make something that people love, people will tell their friends about it. This works for consumer products and enterprise products.”

“Breakout companies almost always have a product that’s so good that it grows by word of mouth.”

Sam Altman Quotes on Competition

“In the words of Henry Ford: "The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.””

“Don’t worry about your competitors raising a lot of money, and what they may do in the future, they probably aren’t very good anyway.”

“Very few startups die from competition, most die because they themselves fail to make something users love.”

Sam Altman Quotes on Entrepreneurship

“No matter how successful you are, the haters will never go away.”

“There are at least a thousand times more people that have good ideas than people who are willing to do the kind of work it takes to turn a great idea into a great company.”

“If you can't figure out what kind of work you like, pay attention to what's easy to concentrate on and gives you energy vs. what makes you tune out and feel tired.”

“Life is not a dress rehearsal—this is probably it. Make it count. Time is extremely limited and goes by fast. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled—few people get remembered hundreds of years after they die anyway. Don’t do stuff that doesn’t make you happy.”

“One mistake that CEOs often make is to innovate in well-trodden areas of business instead of innovating in new products and solutions. For example, many founders think that they should spend their time discovering new ways to do HR, marketing, sales, financing, PR, etc. This is nearly always bad. Do what works in the well-established areas, and focus your creative energies on the product or service you’re building.”

Sam Altman Quotes on Long-Term Thinking

“Long term thinking is so rare anywhere. This is a huge advantage if you do it.”

“It’s worth some real upfront time to think through the long term value and the defensibility of the business.”

Sam Altman Quotes on Execution

“Great execution towards a terrible idea will get you nowhere.”

“Even though plans themselves are worthless, the exercise of planning is very valuable.”

“Great execution is at least 10 times more important and at least 100 times harder than a good idea.”

“If it takes more than a sentence to explain what you are doing, it’s almost always a sign that what you are doing is too complicated.”

“A successful startup takes a very long time—certainly much longer than most founders think at the outset. You cannot treat it as an all-nighter. You have to eat well, sleep well, and exercise. You have to spend time with your family and friends. You also need to work in an area you’re actually passionate about—nothing else will sustain you for ten years.”

“What I’ve found works best for me personally is a pen-and-paper list for each day with 3 major tasks and 30 minor ones, and an annual to-do list of overall goals.”

“What makes a great founder? The most important characteristics are ones like unstoppability, determination, formidability, and resourcefulness. Intelligence and passion also rank very highly.”