IMAGE FROM HBO'S SILICON VALLEY
HBO's "Silicon Valley" managed a rare feat: It turned the fictional struggles of a tech company — Pied Piper — into an entertaining 30 minutes of television. The show is now on track for a fourth season and whatever's next for Richard, Erlich, Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle, it's sure to be a wild ride. But is the "Silicon Valley" TV show a reasonable facsimile of real life? In some ways it's a smoky mirror of the tech startup experience and in other ways it completely misses the mark. Here's a quick hit list.
IT pros can relate: Big-money communication technology doesn't always work as advertised. And that's exactly what happens in Season 1, episode 5 when, as Mashable notes, former Pied Piper employee Big Head has an "in-person" meeting with Hooli exec Gavin Benson. Benson appears in hologram form, using state-of-the-art technology that cost "20 million $#%ing dollars." The only problem? It's a complete and utter failure.
While the show nails much of the venture capital (VC) and startup atmosphere that pervades Silicon Valley, it doesn't always get the details right. Consider the show's riff on an app named "Bro," which, as you might suspect, lets people text the word "Bro" to other users. In the show, the idea barely makes $50,000 on Kickstarter, but the real-life app that inspired it — Yo — grabbed $1.5 million from investors, according to TechCrunch.
For many fans, the more screen time owned by T.J. Miller's Erlich Bachman, the better. And although the character often goes over-the-top, his hard-partying ways are based on Napster creator Sean Parker. And his hacker hostel? Also real. A company called ChezJJ let early-stage startup founders share rent on a combined living and working space — at least until it was shut down in 2015.
Sometimes, truth is worse than fiction. As Gizmodo reports, that was the case with a first-season montage that was inspired by TechCrunch Disrupt and that did not include any shots of women. After the episode aired there was backlash from female programmers — until it came to light that all the Disrupt footage was from the actual event. Ouch.
According to Forbes, one prevalent myth in the real Silicon Valley — and many tech companies — is the idea of "failing better," or faster, or more often, which often happens to the guys at Pied Piper. The truth? Failure sucks and companies are better off finding ways to become more resilient rather than failing over and over.
At the beginning of season 3, a robot-car collision occurs when two of the Pied Piper gang crash into "Bambot," a four-legged automaton with antlers developed by Stanford Robotics. In reality the damaged "Bambot" is a walking robo-dog named Spot, created by Boston Robotics.
Are unicorns real? In the world of VC, you bet — they're companies valued at $1 billion. According to Erlich in season 3, if he could just get Richard to come back to Pied Piper they could transform into a "decacorn": a startup worth $10 billion. These are also real: Airbnb, Dropbox and Snapchat all belong to the $10 billion club, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As noted by CNBC, there's a problem with season 3, episode 4 when the lead VC, Laurie Bream, decides she's going to "exit Jack Barker" as Pied Piper's CEO and leave the chair empty until further notice. While it makes for good TV, even pure tech startups can't get away with this kind of leadership break — at a minimum, they still need a figurehead or caretaker CEO.
You can't make this stuff up. Writer Carrie Kemper told Gizmodo that GoogleX head Astro Teller ended his meeting with her by "standing up in a huff." But a quick, angry exit wasn't in the cards since he was wearing Rollerblades, forcing him to wobble off and then awkwardly try to open the door. While hilarious, the TV show writers decided to pass on the joke since it was "too hacky."
Bottom line? Overall, the "Silicon Valley" TV show isn't that far off the mark. As IT pros, we can all relate to some of the madcap situations the show's heroes find themselves in. And, of course, we can also have a laugh when the show really drops the ball, even if no one else gets why we're laughing.
View all posts from Doug Bonderud on the Progress blog. Connect with us about all things application development and deployment, data integration and digital business.
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