After graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, Sam decided to try out earning to give. This approach — where he donates a significant proportion of his income to organisations aiming to make the world a better place as effectively as possible — is allowing Sam to have a pretty staggering impact. He has already donated millions to causes like animal welfare and the Biden campaign (and he’s even donated some to us, to help us help more people find high-impact careers). In July 2021, the FT estimated that he’s the world’s richest person under 30.
He plans to eventually donate most of his wealth, and is especially interested in high-impact charities working to safeguard the long-term future of humanity.
Our involvement started when Sam met Will MacAskill — co-founder of the Centre for Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours — in 2013. Will had just given a talk about some of the ideas behind 80,000 Hours, including the idea of having a positive impact through earning to give. Sam was convinced by the idea that it mattered less that he drove positive change directly than that he enabled positive change to happen. (Today, he remains a fan of our podcast!)
Having previously been undecided about what to do after graduating, Sam figured that if he could fund several people more qualified than he was to do work that made the world a better place, that might be better than trying to do the work himself.
Sam was introduced to others interested in this path in the effective altruism community, who told him about Jane Street Capital — a Wall Street quantitative trading firm that promised a high salary. Sam decided to test it out with an internship, and found that the work was an excellent fit for him: it involved using statistics and economics to create automated trading systems to place trades when the prices of two similar assets got out of sync, which matched his maths skills and betting mindset.
Our guess is that the impact of quantitative trading itself is socially neutral. But within a couple of years, Sam began to earn enough money to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to effective organisations — funding people to work on projects that promote animal welfare and seek to protect the long-term future.
In 2017 Sam realised that there might be even better opportunities to apply the trading techniques he learned at Jane Street within cryptocurrencies. Along with others who were also interested in effective altruism, he founded the cryptocurrency trading firm Alameda Research, which is now one of the largest global cryptocurrency market makers.
Sam is now a pioneer in decentralised finance, was named a Forbes 30 under 30, and runs FTX, a global cryptocurrency exchange specialising in derivatives that he began in 2019. FTX is one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges and routinely has a daily trading volume in the tens of billions. The FTX Foundation allocates 1% of net fees on FTX to effective charities, and has directed over $3 million so far.
In April 2021, Forbes estimated that his stake in FTX made his net worth around $8.7bn. (Though we would caveat that these figures are very volatile, and it would be impossible to sell the stake without reducing the price.) In July 2021, a $900m deal is estimated to have raised Sam’s net worth by a further $7.9bn to $16.2bn, likely making him the world’s richest person under 30. With this, he will be able to fund hundreds or even thousands of people working on the world’s most pressing problems.
Few people succeed as wildly as this, but earning to give is a great way for many people to use their strengths and have a big impact indirectly, by funding others with comparative advantage in working directly on pressing global problems.