Jensen Huang tells Caltech grads to pursue 'zero-billion-dollar markets' — hopes to inspire the next big tech leaders

Jensen Huang giving a commencement speech for the CalTech Class of 2024
(Image credit: caltech / YouTube)

Earlier in the week Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang spoke at Caltech, as the keynote speaker at the Class of 2024 Commencement Ceremony. Huang, one of the richest people in the world, talked about how Nvidia used to build products that “would be incredibly successful, generate enormous amounts of excitement. And then one year later, we were kicked out of those markets.”

The fabled graphics and acceleration computing company went through several rough patches in the 90s. This happened so much that its unofficial corporate motto, which it still uses internally today, is, “Our company is thirty days from going out of business.”

These setbacks forced the company to look for markets with no customers. “Because one of the things you can definitely guarantee is where there are no customers, there are also no competitors,” said Huang. The Nvidia CEO calls these “zero-billion-dollar markets”, which are markets that aren’t worth anything right now, but will be worth billions in the future — like GPU accelerated computing was when Nvidia got started.

Unlike general computing chips from Intel and AMD which can do everything, accelerated computing processors are more focused upon a particular purpose. This led Nvidia down the GPU path; since graphics processing is like other computing-intensive processes, the raw horsepower of its video cards made them ideal for the raw computational horsepower that other industries need.

Nvidia’s investment in accelerated computing (which initially focused on consumer GPUs) paid off. Its RIVA 128 GPU, which launched in 1997, sold a million copies in four months, allowing the company to reinvest its profits in further research and development.

At the time of Nvidia’s founding, Huang hadn’t yet thought of artificial intelligence as the primary driver for the company’s growth. In his speech, he said, “No one knew how far deep learning could scale, and if we didn’t build it, we’d never know.” He also added, “Our logic is: If we don’t build it, they can’t come.” This was a clear reference to Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, when the main character heard a voice telling him ‘If you build it, he will come.’ 

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Jensen Huang told the Caltech graduates, “Prioritize your life and you will have plenty of time to do the important things.” They should pursue their craft — their life’s work — with excellence, grit, and dedication. Setbacks will always happen, and they shouldn’t treat it negatively. Instead, they should look at it as an opportunity to follow a new direction, opined the Nvidia CEO.

“I hope you believe in something. Something unconventional, something unexplored. But let it be informed, and let it be reasoned, and dedicate yourself to making that happen,” Huang said. He also added later in the speech, “The world can be unfair and deal you with tough cards. Swiftly shake it off. There’s another opportunity out there — or create one.”

Jensen Huang’s Caltech speech contained a few pop culture references, and he’s also known to be a man of the people, with his trademark leather jacket. He was even able to convince other tech leaders to go out with him to a night market before Computex 2024.

Jensanity

These characteristics made him the darling of the press, sparking 'Jensanity' in Taiwan, but he’s also known as a good leader within his company and allows his team to be the best version of themselves. Although some employees reported being extremely stressed during meetings with Huang, they said it was often because of his extremely high standards — not only for his people, but also for himself. One staff member even told the China Times, “If you haven’t been yelled at by him, it means he doesn't care about you.”

Nevertheless, despite Jensen Huang’s meteoric rise, powered by Nvidia’s AI global leadership, and the 'Jensanity' fever that spread throughout Taiwan during his stay there for Computex 2024, the Nvidia CEO remains humble. After his introduction by the Caltech Chair of the Board of Trustees David Thompson, he began his speech with, “It really makes me cringe listening to all that... I hate hearing about myself.”

Jowi Morales
Contributing Writer

Jowi Morales is a tech enthusiast with years of experience working in the industry. He’s been writing with several tech publications since 2021, where he’s been interested in tech hardware and consumer electronics.

  • CmdrShepard
    “If you haven’t been yelled at by him, it means he doesn't care about you.”
    If that's not Stockholm syndrome I don't know what is.
    Reply
  • kristoffe
    His advice is trash. He's becoming the older Jim Carrey of tech. So is Musk.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    kristoffe said:
    His advice is trash.
    I don't know, but it does bug me to hear successful people give out advice as if there wasn't a huge amount of luck and good timing that enabled them to finally break through.
    Reply
  • Li Ken-un
    bit_user said:
    I don't know, but it does bug me to hear successful people give out advice as if there wasn't a huge amount of luck and good timing that enabled them to finally break through.
    The system sort of self-reinforces. People want to believe in the dream that grit and hard work is what it takes to be successful (and the anti-corollary being that unsuccessful people are lazy). When you’re successful, and you have an audience who wants to hear how you did it you can:
    Tell them how your breakthrough and subsequent success largely depended on factors you had little agency over; or
    Tell them the romantic tale of how you took the reins of your own destiny into your own hands and that your hard work paid off.In my opinion, it’s neither purely luck nor hard work, but a lot of places one gets to will be because they were somewhere doing something at the just the right time. I didn’t start my current career with any advanced planning or inclination, but it happened due to a string of highly unlikely events that connected.

    I don’t have the opportunity to regale youngsters about career history. But the truth would be an affront to all that the American Dream represents. Yes, there is opportunity for success, but you do not have agency over many of the factors that will get you there. You may be bursting at the seams with merit, but never meet the right people or debut at the wrong time. And that is not a very sexy thing to say.

    its unofficial corporate motto, which it still uses internally today, is, “Our company is thirty days from going out of business.”
    For every company that’s able to adopt a cheeky motto such at this, there are innumerably more which have actually gone out of business thirty days after saying that.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Li Ken-un said:
    In my opinion, it’s neither purely luck nor hard work, but a lot of places one gets to will be because they were somewhere doing something at the just the right time.
    Agreed. There's the old saying: Chance favors the prepared mind.Heh, I'm just now reading it was actually Louis Pasteur who said that.

    I've long postulated that most wildly successful people probably would've been at least somewhat successful, no matter what. But it's only through luck & timing (or "factors outside their control", as you so eloquently put it) that they rose above the rest of their peers to such rarefied air.

    Li Ken-un said:
    You may be bursting at the seams with merit, but never meet the right people or debut at the wrong time. And that is not a very sexy thing to say.
    I have an older sibling who's probably smarter and definitely worked harder, early in life, and yet no more successful simply due the fact that my interests were better aligned with what the economy seemed to value, at the time.
    Reply
  • Kondamin
    A company 30days away from going under wouldn’t price their products out of reach of people buying them
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Kondamin said:
    A company 30days away from going under wouldn’t price their products out of reach of people buying them
    I think he was talking about the 1990's and maybe the early 2000's.
    Reply