Yesterday, New York scribe Kevin Roose asked the question, “Why can’t Silicon Valley take a joke?” Roose was referring to Bravo’s new reality show “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley,” and calling out its denizens for their public hand-wringing about it, noting that no matter how ridiculous the show may wind up being, their overly serious reaction is itself absurd. In fact, Roose argued that such widespread criticism is evidence that Silicon Valley “desperately needs to be taken down a peg.”
I agree with Roose that many entrepreneurs and investors take themselves far too seriously. But having watched the show last night, I don’t believe it’s an annoyance that Silicon Valley needs to laughingly endure. In fact, I think it’s a slight positive for the Bay Area startup ecosystem.
For starters, the show really isn’t as loosely rooted in reality as many critics have suggested. So it depicts attractive twenty and thirtysomethings who want to be famous and/or rich and are — at least in the case of a couple of characters, including Carsabi co-founder Dwight Crow – also smart. Aside from the fact that all of them are white, how is that so afield from the truth? Silicon Valley has long been a bastion of social Darwinism, with plenty of attractive, well-educated young people filling out the landscape. While many of them undoubtedly overestimate the benefit of their contributions, the “reality” is that the smartest, the most creative, and best connected usually do progress through fierce competition while eventually, everyone else finds something else to do or somewhere else to go.
As for portraying Silicon Valley as a little outrageous, I’d argue that’s not such a terrible thing for a region that wants to be considered among the most compelling in the world, and that has to compete more vigorously with growing tech centers like New York.
Sure, some toga party scenes and the characters’ apparent determination to get wildly drunk within them seemed like a stretch. But anyone with half a brain appreciates that reality TV aims to entertain. And as Bloomberg observed in its review of the show, zeroing in on Silicon Valley’s day-to-day customs wouldn’t necessarily be a recipe for captivating television. (“On next week’s episode, our favorite programmer, Bill, taps away on his computer for 14 uninterrupted hours, while down at Sand Hill Road, a principal at a tony venture capital firm is asked to ghostwrite a blog post!”)
Keep in mind, too, that while some viewers might be interested in a deeper dive into the world of venture capital (and less interested, say, exploring the relationship between siblings Ben and Hermione Way, cast members who are apparently reality TV regulars), Bravo is not TechCrunchTV. It has to appeal to a broad audience. At least it’s educating viewers about some of what goes on out here. (How many of those watching last night, for example, have seen an entrepreneur pitch a venture capitalist, as when the Ways visited Dave McClure of 500Startups? How many learned the difference between venture capitalists and angel investors?)
Frankly, I don’t think Bravo’s new show is worse — or even much different — than the countless fawning cover stories about founders that have been churned out in recent years, stories that have probably gone a long way in making people think harder about entrepreneurship as a career path and about relocating to Silicon Valley in particular. Certainly, if I don’t watch the series again, it will be because I have better things to do with my time, not because I find the whole thing unconscionable.
Mark Suster told Roose for his story that Silicon Valley “needs to get over itself.” And he was right. There are “plenty of hard-working engineering folks” toiling away at Bay Area startups. ” But “let’s be honest,” he added, “there’s a lot of bulls—, too.”
Photo: Image courtesy of Bravo.