Last night marked the much-feared premiere of Bravo’s “Start-Ups: Silicon Alley“–a bikini clad-allegory about the startup world’s penchant for self-aggrandizing that vacillates somewhere between a light-hearted brother-sister romcom and “True Life: I Have No Fucking Clue How to Pitch a VC.” It’s your standard Andy Cohen clubhouse fare with the life cycle of an early stage company as a plot device.
But it’s hard for Betabeat, sitting pretty in New York City, to assess what, exactly, the show gets right and wrong about Valley culture. Is the primary mode of socialization really costume parties? Can you get humans to deliver room service to your dog just by saying “social media” three times? Thus we enlisted a native Spencer Chen to separate the real from the fake, borrowing from the recap format pioneered by chroniclers of that other cinéma véritée classic, “Gossip Girl.”
Last night my girlfriend and I hosted a viewing party for the premiere of Bravo’s latest reality show, “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.” (Yes, startups is spelled with a hyphen and mixed caps and that alone should have been a signal of things to come). It’s definitely one of the more polarizing things to hit the Valley recently because this time, it’s personal. Danny Trinh, a well-known product designer for Path, captured the general sentiment:
Now I know what the residents of Jersey Shore must feel like.
— Danny Trinh (@dtrinh) October 9, 2012
Most people in the Valley are very proud to be part of a thriving ecosystem that they helped nurture and build, hence the unease about being misrepresented in mass media. So we thought we’d invite 30 of our startup friends to our house in the Lower Haight to rubberneck the disaster.
Valley get-togethers are known for their high-flake factor. You’re lucky to get 50% of the people that say they’re going to show up to actually show up. This was not the case last night . . . everyone wanted to see what happens when our industry hit the spotlight. We had a nice cross-section in attendance–from senior staffers at TechCrunch, AllThingsD, Bloomberg, CNET to founders of well-known startups to VCs to early employees of companies such as Box, Foursquare, and Twitter, as well as your humble hosts: my girlfriend heads up marketing for Boston-based VC firm Highland Capital partners and I head up business development for a well-funded mobile enterprise startup, Appcelerator.
Suffice to say, not much was going to get past this crowd. So, how did the show do in eyes of the Valley?
Recap: The first episode was merely the setup introducing the cast members with clichéd proclamations like, “It’s a gold rush,” “The Valley is where dreams come true”, “You only live once!” (YOLO: drink.) There’s a number of unintended comical moments, mostly when Sarah Austin is moving her lips, but the premiere ends on a high note with a cameo from the always entertaining and very frank venture capitalist Dave McClure.
How Real? Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, start with a perfect score of 100% real and go from there!
Street Cred -20%
If you’re looking for established Valley personalities or any deep insiders, there’s none among the cast. I’m not just talking about personal cachet or individual fame, but actual projects or associations that actual Valley folks can identify with. The startup scene around here is highly integrated and relatively small . . . we’re all a couple connections removed from most folks, with the exception of these cast members.
Morgan Missen, a former top recruiter for Foursquare and Twitter, had the line of the night: “I escorted Hermione Way out of a party once and other than that I haven’t heard of any of these guys.”
Sarah Austin -30%
Okay, seriously, what the fuck? If there is one cast member that’s clearly here to fan the flames, it’s Sarah Austin. She’s the one every Valley person was afraid would be mistaken for the real thing, but looks to be a pure Hollywood creation, despite being born and raised in the Bay Area. She’s a “Lifecaster”, whatever that is (read: not a real startup job). She’s constantly spray tanning and it takes her fours hours to get ready for a launch party. It was very interesting that the Four Seasons in Palo Alto lets her stay there for free in exchange for her social media promotion. Must be those $10,000 tweets of hers. Sarah makes tech PR chicks around here look like the next Marissa Mayer. If you haven’t figured it out by now, nothing about her life actually happens in the Valley.
The Toga Party -15%
NO. Just no. Have you ever seen startup guys? They’re pasty as hell and the last thing they like to do is dress up as Roman Gladiators from the Castro. I’ve been invited to all of one costume party all year in the Valley. Maybe. Also, if the Valley were ever going to dress up, the folks here are way too dialed-in to pop culture to do something as hackneyed as a college toga party. See TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler who shaved his head to be Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” So badass. So Valley.
Dwight Crow and David Murray +10%
Based on the teasers, Dwight Crow definitely was the guy you wanted to hate coming into the show, but our group was starting to have a soft spot for him. Firstly, he actually looks like a developer. He also has the prototypical co-founder in the Valley, i.e. someone that actually looks Asian (or at least part Asian, we’ll take what we can get from this show). Also, a solid whiteboard session is what separates the real Valley folks from the fakers and you just can’t fake a good whiteboard sesh. Dwight seems to have decent skills there and even the content on the whiteboards looked technically legit. We’ll throw David Murray into the mix here too as a positive for the show; he was also filmed with actual developer tools on his screen rather than having a Facebook page up the entire time like the cast member in the ad sales industry, Kim Taylor.
Dave McClure +15%
Yup, that’s pretty legit there. Bravo stayed true to one of the real personalities in the VC community with the investor and founder of 500 Startups. The producer are self-aware enough to zoom in on Dave’s reaction to Hermione and Ben’s pitch. His WTF look that followed this nonsensical pitch was priceless: “So our product will enable people to see their life expectancy in real life.” Huh? However, the Valley is full of far out ideas that sound dumb when you say them out loud, so this is pretty true to life.
Tallying it up, we get a final score of 60% real Silicon Valley for Episode 1. Not bad considering the rending of garments that preceded the premiere. But ultimately, we all walked away feeling let down. It was disappointing to realize the show was, well, really boring as far as televised drama. But we haven’t given up yet. Hell, we have at least 5 more of episodes to see if Sarah Austin is going to completely implode. Stay tuned . . .