Silicon Valley – Weekly TV Show Commentary

A lot of these guys come in here and they can do all the engineering stuff, but they get all hung up on technicalities, they can’t just tell you what their vision for the company is. […] You need both halves of the brain: the Jobs and the Wozniak. –Ron Laflamme

A Startup Needs Vision

Richard meets with lawyer Ron Laflamme and is confronted with the fact that his idea is just one among many. According to Laflamme, Peter Gregory has six or eight compression plays on the burner.

You know how sea turtles have like a shit ton of babies because most of them die on the way down to the water? Peter just wants to make sure his money makes it to the ocean. –Ron Laflamme

Richard’s has a shot at success only if his “Vision” differentiates him from the others. Of course, he does not have one. This becomes clear when he fails pathetically in communicating his plan for Pied Piper to Monica at Peter Gregory’s toga party.

Well… Pied Piper is a compression and we all know that so we don’t need to talk about that, but uh, I could because I’m the CEO. Pied Piper takes the data and to smaller… to smaller formats and also there’s more… It compresses the data overall. –Richard Hendricks

Dinesh points out it’s the CEO’s job to lead the company, something Richard obviously does not have a handle on. But while Richard seems to have a handle on the potential of his algorithm, he proves woefully incapable of delineating an action plan and selling strangers on his idea.

I do… sort of. It’s like trying to tell someone how to get somewhere even though you don’t know the exact address. Like how do you do that because you can’t just say go to 415 and Elm Street because you don’t even know what that is. So you have to say go straight down that big road and take a right at the ‘weird thing’ but you can’t just describe what the weird thing is because you just know it as a weird thing in your head, you always have. –Richard Hendricks

No question, leadership is tough, especially for startups who are often in the position of charting a course in untried waters. It’s certainly a sentiment that many startups can relate to.

Richard’s leadership capabilities have been questionable since the beginning of the series. Aside from his algorithm, not much else entitles him to the role of CEO. What’s more, he’s picking up the leadership skills way too slowly. So what’s an aspiring leader to do? Find a partner who’s strengths complement his weaknesses, of course!

Building a good team can be tough. People tend to prefer the company of people with similar outlooks. A great CEO understands that differing outlooks can actually enrich a company. They surround themselves with intelligent dissenting opinions and aren’t afraid of having productive disagreements.

A lot of these guys come in here and they can do all the engineering stuff, but they get all hung up on technicalities, they can’t just tell you what their vision for the company is. […] You need both halves of the brain: the Jobs and the Wozniak. –Ron Laflamme

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are, of course, the quintessential, oft-cited example of the efficient power coupling between the technological mastermind and the PR maestro. Great companies usually boast a good balance between technological innovation and the ability to intuit and communicate a clear value.

Richard faces the genius’ dilemma. Does anyone know you’re a genius unless you’re able to somehow communicate it to them? It’s like the sound of one hand clapping or a tree falling in an empty forest. What Richard needs is someone who is capable of the “elevator pitch”.

Strategic Team Building

After drunkenly naming Erlich to his board, Richard at first feels he’s made a massive mistake. So far, Erlich’s contributions to the company have been slight, if not downright detrimental. Sensible, quiet, Jared counsels him that it is not too late to revoke the decision, and Richard plans on following that advice.

Do you really want Erlich on the board, because I’ll support you…? –Jared Dunn

However, Jared only hesitantly voices his opinion in wavering tones. While Jared’s cautiousness and sensibility might lead him to less conflict with Richard, his perspective is not truly valuable to the team. This is made obvious during Richard’s meltdown when he can do little more than silently observe and offer a pair of dry pants.

Erlich, on the other hand, despite his impulsiveness, seems to have a clear idea of the company narrative and an awareness of public perception. We can see from the group photo session that he is capable of envisioning and telling the Pied Piper story.

Erlich: Gilfoyle, off to the centre a little bit, like your personality. No no no, Dinesh leave it unbuttoned, we want you to look like shit, makes for a better before photo.
Gilfoyle: But you’re wearing a jacket
Erlich: Yea because I’m the genius marketer, not a code freak like you guys, besides I’m wearing sandals so I am ‘iconoclasting’ a little bit. Oh good, Jared, right over here, like you’re sort of a late addition who might not stick around for the entire duration of the company.

Later, he proves to both Richard and Peter Gregory he has value to bring to the team, prompting Richard to put Erlich on the board of directors.

Today’s user wants access to all their files from all of their devices, instantly. That’s why cloud-based is the Holy Grail. Now Dropbox is winning, but when it comes to audio and video files, they might as well be called Dripbox. Using our platform, Pied Piper users would be able to compress all of their files to the point where they truly can access them instantly. We control the pipe, they just use it. That’s the vision in Richard Hendrick’s head. –Erlich Bachmann

Building a board, like building your startup team, requires different types of skill sets who’s strengths and weaknesses complement each other. Though they sometimes butt heads, Erlich makes up for Richard’s shortcomings and truly has his back.

A great leader takes measured risks, keeps track of where a company’s weaknesses and strengths are at any given moment and makes plans for how to make the best of them. A leader needs to have vision and to inspire both within his team and those he needs support from outside. A great leader, perhaps most importantly, knows whether he needs help and will seek it out.

Our Thoughts 

Vivien – A TV shows’ primary function is to entertain, not to advance progressive social agendas. However, pop culture plays a definite role in shaping our conception of the world, and in light of the lack of minority representation in Silicon Valley, the portrayal of minorities is especially crucial. (Click here for an awesome interactive infographic!)

So, I can’t help but take issue with the inclusion of an Asian-American character that is meant only to be the butt of jokes for his accent and lack of social skills. It’s a cheap and not particularly funny. We’re well past the age of Fu Manchu (I hope), so let’s stop perpetuating the idea that accents and racial differences should be played for laughs.

It is interesting to note, however, that Jian Yang’s character is played by comedian Jimmy Ouyang who speaks English perfectly and who’s work often plays up these stereotypes.

Brendan – Personally, this is my favourite episode to date, not because I enjoyed it the most, (it was truly hilarious), but because the theme is so crucial and relevant to the startup world. Way too often startups drop by our office and when asked “What is … ?” it always amazes me how few are capable of explaining what the company is and does. It’s not just an elevator pitch or value proposition, it’s more than that, it’s the companies identity, their true self and envisioned future. Imagine if, for example, on LinkedIn you couldn’t define the first and most crucial step of setting up your account, your “summary”. “My name is, uh, and I do things … uh … uhm ..” Yeah, good luck with that.

Finally, the whole Jobs, Wozniak thing. This great and so true. Successful startups need more than just an engineer or coder at the helm, they need someone who can see the bigger picture, the business picture. I’ve met many a founder who’ve ended up hiring CEOs to run their company, because vision and people skills are absolutely essential to success.

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