During Thanksgiving, two days after Altman reached an agreement with OpenAI to return to the company, he met with Adam DAngelo, one of the company's directors who had been involved in ousting him a week earlier.
The few hours of the meeting, which Altman described as "very pleasant," underscored D'Angelo's unique role in the corporate drama that fascinated Silicon Valley, and the importance of their relationship in bringing stability to the world's best-known AI startup. As part of the conditions for Ultraman's return, the board of directors will be completely reshuffled, with one exception: D'Angelo will remain in office.
This may come as a surprise to some, as D'Angelo was involved in the removal of Ultraman on the grounds that he "did not always maintain his honesty when communicating with the board." Vinod Khosla, one of OpenAI's earliest investors and founder of Khosla Ventures, said in an interview during the leadership turmoil that while the move angered investors and employees, he was confident that D'Angelo would stick to his decision. However, after almost all OpenAI employees threatened to resign, D'Angelo became a key figure in negotiating a return with Ultraman.
D'Angelo's involvement in the OpenAI affair has brought new attention and scrutiny to the longtime Silicon Valley insider. He is the co-founder of Quora, a Q&A website, and an early senior official at Facebook, making him well-known in the industry. When Kevin Systrom started Instagram and had technical problems, he wondered, "Who's the smartest person I know I can go to?" and he later said that that person was D'Angelo. But those who have worked with the Quora CEO consider him a deep-seated, scheming leader who has had a history of abrupt dismissals at the company.
His position on the board has also raised eyebrows, as the competition between Quora and OpenAI's best-known service, ChatGPT, has become increasingly direct. At the beginning, powerful AI chatbots that can answer questions in a matter of seconds showed signs that they would at least partially weaken Quora users. Shortly after OpenAI launched ChatGPT a year ago, Quora launched Poe, a platform where people can ask questions to various AI chatbots, including ChatGPT. In late October, Poe offered developers an option to monetize custom robots built with the platform's tools. In November, OpenAI announced that users would be able to build custom versions of ChatGPT and make money from their work in the new GPT store.
McElhaney, who teaches a course on corporate social responsibility at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, said the situation was extraordinary. McElhaney said OpenAI's board of directors was a nonprofit when it was formed, and nonprofits typically don't have the same well-vetted fiduciary constraints as for-profit entities. While D'Angelo remained, one of the other directors left on fear of a conflict of interest. Hoffman, a venture capitalist and co-founder of LinkedIn, left OpenAI's board earlier this year, citing his growing portfolio of AI companies.
McElhaney said: 'It feels like trust has collapsed. In some cases, you could say that the board is not focusing on the goal. And now, no one knows what the goal is and where it is going. ’
Altman posted on X that D'Angelo was "always clear" about possible conflicts and "did what he should have done (recusing himself when appropriate, and even offering to leave the board when we deemed necessary) to properly handle the situation and avoid conflicting decisions." Quora is a big customer of OpenAI, and "we find it helpful to have customer representatives on the board," Altman said.
In the announcement, a Quora spokesperson said that Poe is a "neutral platform." The service "provides consumers around the world with access to AI models from OpenAI, Anthropic, Google, Meta, and many other developers," the spokesperson said. ”
After Ultraman's dismissal, D'Angelo barely made a public statement, but as rumors of conflict and motivation swirled around him, he retweeted a post by Replit CEO Massard on X. "I've known Adam D'Angelo for many years," Massard wrote, "and while I haven't spoken to him in a while, it seems wrong to think that he's crazy or that he's holding a grudge because of some overlapping features or other rumors." ”
While Altman's ouster shocked the industry, it wasn't the first time D'Angelo had suddenly removed the company's leader. In 2012, his co-founder of Quora, Charlie Cheever, was also ousted. In response to a question on Quora about Cheever's practice, D'Angelo said "we believe" that it was "the best decision" to take the co-founder out of the company's day-to-day business.
According to a person familiar with the matter, Cheever was almost unaware of the breakdown in the relationship. It happened so suddenly that employees cried and went to Cheever's home to ask why he had left. The person said there appears to have been no communication about the decision or the reasons for making it, not even for employees. Since then, the two co-founders have all but lost contact.
Over the next 10 years, D'Angelo continued to build Quora as a platform for sharing knowledge — albeit in 2010 when Quora investor Keith Rabois said that "Quora will be the most valuable company since 2005." There is still a long way to go in setting out ambitious goals. Quora has raised about $300 million from Silicon Valley bigwigs, but it has yet to go public or be acquired after nearly 15 years of operation, according to PitchBook. According to PitchBook, the company was valued at $2 billion as of 2019.
Six years ago, in response to a question on Quora, D'Angelo said that as technology "gets more powerful," he expected AI to help his startups "in a variety of ways," including helping "people write better answers." But he also said that if AI develops to the point where it "can do anything that a human can do", then everything will become uncertain.
"I think some form of knowledge sharing is going to be very important in that world, but the security of AI is the bigger issue," he wrote, "and I think it's good that some people are thinking about security now, but I personally don't think it makes sense to be apprehensive about that world rather than adapting to it as it approaches." The following year, he joined OpenAI's board of directors.