Jensen Huang made Nvidia a $3 billion juggernaut. But the path to success was filled with ‘despair’ and ‘torture’

Nvidia has been holding a clinic in shattering expectations. The company’s market cap has increased 160% in the past six months, up to $3.10 trillion, as the rush to cash in on A.I. has launched the chip maker into position as the third most valuable company in the world, trailing only Apple ($3.30 trillion) and Microsoft ($3.25 trillion). 

For Nvidia’s CEO, Jensen Huang, it’s been an equally meteoric come up. Huang’s wealth surged more than $62 billion this year, up to $106.1 billion, and he leapfrogged fellow tech star Michael Dell to become the 13th-richest person on the planet. 

But the man at the helm of Nvidia’s historic rise hasn’t sugarcoated how difficult the road to success was, either for himself, or the company he founded more than 30 years ago. 

When Nvidia started in 1993, Huang, along with co-founders Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem, began with an idea of creating chips that would enable realistic 3D graphics on personal computers—or graphic processing units, specifically for video games. 

But speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in 2018, Huang told audience members that he always believed GPUs could have broader applications in society, otherwise there would have been “no point in starting a company.”

“It’s incredibly hard to start a company; it’s incredibly hard to start a business,” Huang said at the conference. “The depth of despair, the suffering, the torture—balanced by the great joy of doing something the world has never done before—is beyond words can describe. So unless you believe you’re going to make a real contribution to society it’s going to be incredibly hard to start that journey.”

The reason Nvidia got its start in gaming, Haung said, was that video games were the only area in technology where the computational potential was incredibly advanced, but there was also an enormous demand among consumers. 

Once they realized the potential scale of GPU servers, Huang said they were able to move into workstations, supercomputers, self-driving cars, and ultimately A.I. But all of that was only possible because of PC gaming.

“3D graphics and video games are the engine of innovation in our company, the engine of [research and development] scale,” he said at the conference. 

Huang has made other, more recent comments that paint a picture of entrepreneurship that is far from idyllic. 

During an interview on a podcast in the fall of 2023, Huang was asked what kind of company he would think about starting if he could turn back the clock 30 years, and the engineer-turned-executive had a somewhat surprising response. 

“I wouldn’t do it,” he said. 

“If we realized the pain and suffering [involved] and just how vulnerable you’re going to feel, the challenges that you’re going to endure, the embarrassment and the shame, and the list of all the things that go wrong—I don’t think anybody would start a company. Nobody in their right mind would do it.” 

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