Tech incubator Y Combinator (YC) co-founder Paul Graham has addressed speculation surrounding former president Sam Altman’s departure in 2019. Recent discussions online painted Altman’s exit as a firing, a claim Graham disputes.

According to Graham, Altman wasn’t fired.  He clarifies that a conflict of interest arose due to Altman’s involvement with OpenAI, a nonprofit research company focused on artificial intelligence (AI) safety. Altman co-founded OpenAI in 2015 while still working at YC.

Graham explains that YC leadership felt a full-time commitment was necessary for the president role. They proposed Altman choose between focusing solely on YC or on OpenAI.  According to Graham, Altman “agreed” to step down from YC to dedicate himself to OpenAI.

This explanation contradicts earlier reports suggesting tension between Altman and YC partners over his divided focus.

The differing narratives highlight the complexities surrounding high-profile departures. While Graham emphasizes a mutual decision, some may question whether pressure from YC played a role.

Regardless of the exact circumstances, Altman’s departure marked a shift for YC.  His successor would need to navigate the ever-evolving startup landscape while maintaining the incubator’s reputation for fostering innovation.

The incident also underscores the challenges of balancing personal ventures with established roles.  For future YC presidents, a clear understanding of potential conflicts and commitment expectations will be crucial.