Eric “Astro” Teller
About Astro Teller
Eric “Astro” Teller is that rare sort of person, the kind who inspires both belief and awe. His grandfather on his mother’s side was Gerard Debreu, a Nobel Prize–winning economist. His paternal grandfather was theoretical physicist Edward Teller, who is often called the “father of the hydrogen bomb.” Teller may have hit the genetic jackpot as far as genius goes, and he hasn’t wasted a single neuron. He attended Stanford University, where he earned his bachelor’s of science in computer science and his master’s of science in symbolic computation. He went on to obtain a doctorate in artificial intelligence at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. He is a self-described entrepreneur, scientist, inventor, author, and intelligent technological expert. In 2010, after starting several companies, Teller joined Google X—now known simply as X—which, describes itself as “The Moonshot Factory.” On its website, the company states:
“X is a diverse group of inventors and entrepreneurs who build and launch technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people. Our goal: 10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement. We approach projects that have the aspiration and riskiness of research with the speed and ambition of a startup.”
A Preview of His Refounder Story – Chapter 2: Reimagining What’s Possible
I spoke with Astro about the X team and their approach to solving the world’s biggest problems. In his words, “The goal of X is to maximize both goodness in the world and value for Alphabet” (their parent company). So, he explained, if there are two moonshots on the table, both of which could make both a significant impact in the world and return a profit, they examine the reward-risk ratios. And even if one of those moonshots is riskier, if it has the potential to create more goodness in the world and more profit, they can pursue the moonshot, even if it sounds a little crazy.
Teller and his X team are reimagining the world. And with an almost acerbic tone, he tells me that most of corporate America has it wrong. The idea that profit and purpose are at odds is a “bad meme in the world,” and X is setting out to disprove that meme. And that’s when I asked his biggest idea, the moonshot that maximizes both profit and purpose. “I’m sorry to go meta on you,” he said, “but it’s what we’ve been talking about. I believe it’s possible to build an organization that has a much more virtuous cycle with its employees, generates more value for its investors or parent company, and produces more goodness to the world—all at the same time.” Then he put it straight: The moonshot he’s willing to sacrifice all other moonshots for is inspiring other companies to do exactly what X is doing.
To read Astro Teller’s Refounder story in full, order the book.