The cast of Silicon Valley
“Due? This is not college. I’m not going to be giving you a course syllabus” – Peter Gregory
Last week, the new HBO show Silicon Valley stirred up some interesting discussion in the office about life in tech startups. Aside from providing a colourful cast of characters that many people will surely recognize in their own workplaces, it was also a great opportunity to discuss the common pitfalls of running a startup. So, we decided to share it with you all on our blog! This is the first of a weekly commentary of our thoughts on each episode and what some local startups think.
Brief episode 1 recap
In the first episode, Richard, gets the deal of a lifetime, something most startup developers can only dream of. He turns down a $10M buy out and opts for a $200,000 investment for 5% shares and the opportunity to grow his own company. It is this starry-eyed idealism that leads to an inevitable confrontation with the realities of running a business.
Season 1 Episode 2 : The Cap Table
Richard arrives at his first meeting with Peter Gregory with no pitch, hands open and vacuously expecting a check. When he’s asked about cap tables, investment decks, and business plans, his wide-eyed response is that he didn’t realize “that stuff was due yet”.
“Due? This is not college. I’m not going to be giving you a course syllabus. [...] What is this company? What did I buy?” –Peter Gregory
Richard is upbraided by Peter and told he has 48 hours to produce a cogent pitch. Leaving the office, Richard comments on how Peter was being “kind of an asshole”, but Elrich corrects him: his reaction made total business sense. The business world is no place for training wheels, you need to know what you’re doing and fight for a place at the table.
“You’re being a complete tool right now, I need you to be a complete asshole right now. If you’re not an asshole, this company dies.” –Erlich
Being an asshole, seems to be the shows succinct way of describing the qualities needed to be a good businessperson: an enigmatic mixture of ability, assertiveness, and personableness. You can’t make business decisions based on being friendly and nice.
Soon we discover that Richard may well be the only one who hasn’t yet grasped this concept. As Jordan Dunn leaves Gavin Belson to join their team to help Richard build his business plan, they sit down for individual meetings with the members of Pied Piper. Dinesh and Gilfoyle both confidently enumerate the ways in which they contribute to the company and state outright that they think they deserve more shares than the other. Big Head, Richard’s best friend, reveals himself to be a totally nonessential player.
After mulling it over for a long time, Richard eventually decides to go out on a limb for his friend and keep him in the company, giving him the same amount of shares as everyone else, despite his lack of value, only to realize that while he was trying to defend his integrity, Gavin Belson’s ability to be an “asshole” had already thrown a wrench in his plans by stealing his friend away with a promotion.
“So you’re like the VP of spite?” –Dinesh
This episode plays on many themes, the key theme being in order to survive in business you need to be and asshole – of course that is up for debate in the real world. But in Richard’s act of standing up for his friend, we see a glimmer of hope for camaraderie in the startup world of business. It’s important to be aware of the dangers of being too nice, but that does not absolutely refute the value of having integrity – can an asshole have integrity?
At the end of the episode, we are reminded that, in business, you can’t rest on your laurels, the next challenge is always right ahead. Check in hand at the bank, Richard realizes that he cant even deposit the sum without a corporate account, while Gavin Belson is already in the process of reverse engineering the valuable algorithm he developed.
Vivien - It’s interesting that Big Head ranted about the sexism inherent in his app “Nip Alert”. The show, at the moment, has only one main female cast member with a grand total of three lines in this episode and the first woman of colour to appear on the show is a stripper. I look forward to seeing how Silicon Valley will tackle the issue of the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the tech industry. Here’s a great article which develops this thought further.
The Poet – I think there’s a big difference between being arrogant, being a jerk and being an asshole. In my opinion the first 2 have no merit in the business world, but being an asshole can be very beneficial – trust me, I’m an asshole. I’ve worked for many asshole CEO’s who I still admired and who were still able to have meaningful relationships with their employees – I think you can still be likeable as an asshole – sometimes you just need to get your point across and make a decision wether people like it or not.
and a commentary from a local startup founder …
Josh McRae, Co-Founder of MTL Blog - I don’t think you need to be an asshole in order to be successful yet having a stern non-friend approach is certainly a benefit in the end. People need to respect you. If there’s no respect for you or the company, the company image and deadlines are at risk and procrastination reigns.
Got something to say? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re a startup and would like to weigh in on the commentary for a following episode let us know.