|My Nov. 11, 2012 column on the recently departed Bravo reality show “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley:”
A Reality Check for Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs
For me, the birth of reality TV pretty much marked the end of human civilization.
I don’t see how we could go much lower in our never-ending search for banality and time-sucking dreadfulness. In short, I’m not a fan.
But I’m fascinated by Silicon Valley’s culture. So when I heard that the reality TV gods at Bravo were training their cameras on the valley, I knew that one day I’d watch “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.” That day has come.
I refuse to join the brutal bashing of the show featuring young and beautiful entrepreneurs (sometimes even fully clothed and sober) struggling against personality conflicts and market forces to launch the next tech home run.
“Silicon Valley is just balls to the wall, ” says Dwight Crow, 27, who has a Puritan work ethic for work and partying. “It’s not something you want to do if you don’t want to roll the dice. So if you’re not aiming for something $1 billion or larger, why waste your time?
But again, no hater here. (Besides all the good snarky lines have been taken. Get this tweet from TechCrunch co-editor Alexa Tsotsis: “Here Comes Silicon Valley Boo-Boo.” ) So rather than make fun of a show that surely someone finds entertaining, how about we try to learn? Yes, there are lessons in “Start-Ups” for all those many entrepreneurs who, like the shows’ stars, are working to raise buckets of money to create the next app to help you reach your goals, or track your real-time life expectancy, or upload videos of your fabulous life for all to see.
In that spirit, I’ve picked through the first episode of the show for pearls of wisdom.
First a funding primer from Hermione Way, 27, who with brother Ben, 32, is working on the life-expectancy app. (And if you must know, Hermione is mortal enemies with Sarah Austin, 26, who lives for free at the Four Seasons Hotel in East Palo Alto in return for blogging about the place, and kind of has a thing for Ben.)
“In Silicon Valley there’s a number of ways to get cash for your startup, ” Hermione explains. “There is angel investors, which is like a rich person that now wants to invest in the next best thing. There’s venture capitalists, also known as VCs. They’re kind of like more corporate, bigger rounds of funding.”
Lesson: What the heck. Go for the bigger rounds. How hard can it be?
Next, let’s talk about dressing for success. OK, it isn’t done in Silicon Valley — unless you’re on a reality show.
“Bloody hell, ” Hermione, who is from England, says one morning while getting dressed. “This is the worst outfit ever.” Now, I’m told Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg is often heard to say the same thing. Well, yeah, he wears the outfit anyway, but, you know.
The truth is the “Start-Ups” kids seem really lost on this fashion question. Take this from Sarah: “On a typical day it takes me two hours to get ready for work.”
Lesson: Honey, if you want to look good, go for it. I’m just saying, you tack a two-hour commute onto that two hours getting ready and you’ll never have time to create that $1 billion company. Balls to the wall, remember?
Now a word on networking. Hermione has got this down.
“Nobody goes clubbing here, ” she says. “It’s about costume parties at people’s houses.”
So, next time you’re invited over to some VC’s place to schmooze, be sure to rig up a costume. Togas appear to be big. Or take a tip from Sarah (who says she’ll take three to four hours to get ready for a party) who showed up at a bash wearing what looked like two fig leaves covering her breasts.
And, of course most importantly, some pointers on the pitch. Hermione actually got herself and Ben a meeting with Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups and an A-list tech investor. How’d she do it?
“I sent him a message with this, ” she says saluting the camera with her middle finger. Really, flipping the guy off? I wondered about that one. But Hermione explains: “He says, ‘If you’re not upsetting someone in business, you’re doing something wrong.'”
I’m just wondering whether your prospective funder is the one you want to be upsetting.
Anyway, the kids got the meeting and of course they had to wait quite a while in McClure’s office. “VCs always make you wait, ” Ben says. “It’s their little power game. They want you to sweat it out, so they can take control of the meeting.”
Lesson: The VCs already have control of the meeting. You want money. They have money.
Finally, it’s best to never waste valuable time. Sure Ben and Hermione had to wait around, but not to worry. Hermione, you see, was terribly hung over from that toga party the night before. Why not use the wait to catch a little nap, in McClure’s conference room, under his conference table? Talk about madcap!
Suffice it to say McClure was not amused. His advice: “Don’t sleep under my (expletive) table anymore.”
Lesson: Just hope he was joking.
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.