The Hit Show "Silicon Valley" Gets Startups Right

I love television. But, probably not for the reasons you think. What I enjoy is watching a show (or movie) that makes me think and reflect on what’s happening in society from a different perspective or lens. I like television programs that challenge me as a viewer.

So, when I heard that HBO was premiering a show titled “Silicon Valley” I knew immediately that I would not like the show. How could a team of Hollywood writers, producers and directors really understand what it’s like to work in a startup especially in the tech-centric world of Silicon Valley?

But, alas, I have been surprised. I think they got inside Silicon Valley and other tech hotbeds like it.

It provides a sometimes ridiculous view of what could really happen if you founded a startup. To many it seems like fiction, but the hilarity of it is that the reality of Silicon Valley is often even stranger.

It shows the challenges, conversations, and humor that many of us embrace every day. The following are four things the show got right about starting a company in Silicon Valley.

Building first, finding problem later
In all startups, the founder has an idea and starts building. In successful startups, the founder turns that idea into a meaningful solution to a real problem. In the show, the main character discovers that the underlying algorithm that he developed for his product is really the most valuable part of his application because it solves a different, but thorny problem. This is not the ideal approach to building anything, but it’s often how great companies are created.

Raising capital when you’ve stumbled on ‘gold’
Anyone with an idea can start a company, but at some point, you need money or funding to get it off the ground (assuming you have no revenue). There is a scene in one episode where the main character is being pursued by two potential investors at the same time — each trying to outbid the other. Although real-time bidding wars rarely happen, the role of venture capitalists and investors play a large part in the success or failure of a startup. And when a company or technology is considered hot, the competition to fund it can be frothy.

Naming a company when it seems like every name is taken
One of the more subtle aspects of starting a company is finding a name that describes its value, vision and purpose — in one word or concise statement. And when you do that, good luck securing the URL. On the show, the main characters debate the value of keeping their initial name “Pied Piper”. As they discuss the value of the name, they discover a local sprinkler company already has the brand “Pied Piper” and does not want to give it up without a fight. In the end, they negotiate to buy it and get their name (but at a cost).

Pursuing your passion, whatever your background
One of the necessities of starting a company is the entrepreneurial spirit. There is an ethic of open-mindedness, freedom of expression, and free thinking which allows people with a great idea to have the vision to believe in and create something amazing. The show depicts this spirit within the characters while also portraying them as the underdog you want to root for on the show.

The show “Silicon Valley” depicts many truths about Silicon Valley and how hard it is to build a company from scratch —some that make me laugh and others that make me cringe because I have seen them in action over the last 15+ years.

If you work in a startup and are doing what you love every day, you’re one of the luckiest people in the world. And, that is the most important thing the show got right.

What are your thoughts on “Silicon Valley” or Silicon Valley?

About Keith and Aha!

Keith is a product marketing pioneer. He is the VP of Marketing at Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap and marketing planning software. Previously he blazed new trails in customer acquisition strategy at RealPage [RP], a top 10 SaaS company with more than 60 products worldwide.

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