Nvidia’s major stock rally has seen it become one of the world’s most valuable companies this year—but in spite of its success, the tech firm’s cofounder and CEO Jensen Huang is adamant he wouldn’t start the business if he was given his time again.
During a wide-ranging interview with the Acquired podcast that was published last week, Huang, 60, was asked what sort of company he would think about starting if he could go back to being 30 years old.
“I wouldn’t do it,” was Huang’s immediate answer.
His reason for rejecting the option to build a company from the ground up if he could have a do-over was “quite simple,” he added: it’s just too grueling.
“Building Nvidia turned out to have been a million times harder than I expected it to be—than any of us expected it to be,” Huang 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.”
Nvidia’s rollercoaster ride to success
Stanford graduate Huang cofounded Nvidia—which makes computer processors that are used in data centers, autonomous vehicles and gaming—in 1993, and has built the firm into one of the most valuable publicly-listed businesses in the world.
The company has enjoyed a major share price rally in 2023 thanks to a boom in demand for artificial intelligence, with its earnings smashing Wall Street estimates and Huang publicly declaring his bullishness on AI.
So far this year, Nvidia stock has gained around 190%—cementing its position in the elite trillion-dollar valuation club, comprised of a select few companies including Apple, Microsoft, Saudi Aramco, and Google parent firm Alphabet.
Huang himself has been a beneficiary of the company’s success, with his net worth currently standing at almost $37 billion, according to Bloomberg’s real-time tracker of billionaires’ wealth. That makes Huang the 31st richest person on the planet.
But it hasn’t been decades of smooth sailing for Huang and Nvidia.
In 1995, Nvidia almost went bankrupt after its first chip, the NV1, failed to attract paying customers. The then two-year-old start-up had to lay off half of its employees. The firm was saved by the success of its third chip, the RIVA 128, which was rolled out in 1997.
More recently—in 2022—the company had to contend with underwhelming earnings guidance, which forced it to slow hiring and clamp down on expenses.
Last year also saw Nvidia’s $40 billion takeover of chip designer Arm fall through following mounting pressure from regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, and charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) related to disclosures around its cryptomining activity. Nvidia settled the latter with the SEC for $5.5 million.
Huang told Acquired hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal that “the superpower of an entrepreneur” was actually their ignorance around how difficult spearheading a company could be.
“They don’t know how hard it is—they only ask themselves, how hard can it be?” he said. “To this day, I trick my brain into thinking, ‘How hard can it be?’ Because you have to. You have to get yourself to believe it’s not that hard, because it’s way harder than you think.”
The experience he had built up throughout his career would be enough to deter him from starting over if he could go back in time, Huang added.
“If I take all of my knowledge now and I go back, and I said I’m going to endure that whole journey again… I think it’s too much. It is just too much,” he said.