Posted on Jul 7, 2014

Not Every Startup is HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and Why It Should Not Be

Not Every Startup is HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and Why It Should Not Be


It’s natural to look at a new television show based on a particular part of society and ask the question: is this realistic? That has certainly been the case with the new sitcom from HBO, Silicon Valley. It has been a topic of conversation for those involved in launching or running new tech companies as well as those who don’t. The general consensus is that startup companies are not like the one depicted in Silicon Valley.


In case you haven’t seen it yet it is about a brilliant programmer and his friends (who are also programmers). They create an algorithm that is potentially worth millions and set to work on building a company and attempting to make their fortune. The man behind the show is Mike Judge who is also responsible for television programs like Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. He has also made movies including the cult classic Office Space.


It is not hard to guess the makeup of the characters even before you see the first episode – socially awkward, intelligent, naïve. Some of the jokes are aimed at techies. And watching an episode is a reasonable way to spend 30 minutes. But back to the original question – has it anything to do with real life?




Like many sitcoms the characters are a combination of personalities that you might find in the real world. Usually this involves taking the strangest and most questionable elements of several individual’s personalities and putting them together to create a character for the show. Do the characters resemble real life? The answer is both yes and no as you will recognize some parts of the personality but not others.


But here is the thing – the people who you find in most good tech startup companies are more interesting and odder that those depicted in the show. They are sometimes eccentric and almost always more brilliant – and they are nicer. And while some of them are socially awkward that is not a prerequisite for those who are intelligent or even genius. So while the characters on the show are amplifications of normal people, you’ll usually still find that reality is stranger than fiction.


Oh, and of course women exist in tech startups. That said there is a bias towards men in the real world. But Silicon Valley the sitcom has also chosen to amplify this fact beyond reality which is disappointing.


A Real Startup


But what about the industry? No two startups are the same. For that fact alone it is impossible to simplify the industry into eight 30-minute shows. There are similarities though and those involved in startups have enjoyed pointing them out – or rather, looking in the mirror.


There are several things that it doesn’t get right. For example, just because you have a brilliant idea does not mean you are going to have success and get rich. Life doesn’t work this way. And the tech industry certainly doesn’t either. Instead you need a lot of pieces to fall into place at the right time. This involves skill, tenacity and lots of luck. But that does not make good TV – good TV is the stories of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Otherwise known as…success stories.


In this regard Silicon Valley is not much different to other programs on TV. Take the television show 24 as an example. In real life those scenarios would play out over months or even years and involve hundreds of operatives. In the TV show, it all has to take place in hours and one man has to save the day.


When you watch 24 you probably marvel at the technology and enjoy the action but you do not think “this is what it must be like to work for the CIA.” Similarly you should watch Silicon Valley and enjoy it for what it is – a sitcom, not a documentary.