HBO’s Silicon Valley Is (Often) Wrong about Tech Startup Life

Sharon Muniz
October 9, 2020
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HBO’s Silicon Valley Is (Often) Wrong about Tech Startup Life

I dont know about you people, but I dont want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do.” — HBO’s Silicon Valley

One idea. Instant millionaires. It’s the dream, right?

Perhaps this has happened in the past. And it’s certainly true that every once in a while, a gold-mine idea and relentless hard work can result in seemingly-miraculous success.

Unfortunately, that’s not the norm.

Shows that satirize the tech boom, such as HBO’s Silicon Valley, can provide some comic relief for CEOs weathering their own startup sagas. However, it’s vital to remember that these shows aren’t documentaries.

In fact, their characters often operate (and succeed) in a wildly unrealistic dreamland…which can make reality seem devastating in comparison.

Don’t get caught up in that fantasy! Here’s what Silicon Valley got wrong about the tech industry:

Eager investors are everywhere

Somehow, the characters on the show were always able to find hapless extras to provide them with investment capital. That definitely won’t happen in real life—at least, not without hard work on your part.

Focus on the product, not the customer

If you’re the head of a company, and you want to succeed in the tech industry, you need to have a customer-focused approach. What value are you bringing to your customer? How are you serving your audience? The answers to these questions should guide every facet of your business. Some shows give the impression that you can concentrate on your vision for your product and ignore the market entirely. This strategy won’t get you far (at all).

Invest in fads and trends

The show follows a Silicon Valley startup as it continually changes its business strategies based on an ever-changing cultural environment. In real life, it’s probably a better idea to stick with one timeless need and investment plan.

Failure is fashionable

While it’s true that every company will have its ups and downs, sometimes failure is genuinely devastating—and not a character arc solved over the course of a 30-minute episode. As Silicon Valley’s own Gavin Belson said, “Failure is growth. Failure is learning. But sometimes failure is just failure.”

Going solo as a CEO is the only way to get ahead

As Inc. notes, “A startup won’t succeed without a solid team, and a team won’t succeed without great leadership.” In many cases, viewers of Silicon Valley watch as the CEO of the storyline’s startup tries to wear too many hats. For a real business to succeed, you’ll need a leader to run day-to-day operations as well as a creative leader…and no, these shouldn’t both be one person.

While these foibles may instigate drama on the show, they also represent significantly bad decisions you could make.

Silicon Valley and other shows like it can provide some great laughs to help reduce the stress of startup life. You shouldn’t assume its storylines offer anything more than amusement.

Use shows like these to take a break—and use data and real-life success stories for inspiration and strategy.


About the Author

Sharon Muniz

Sharon Muniz established her software development consulting firm in Reston, VA after 15 years of working in the software industry. NCN Technology helps clients implement best practices and software to drive their business to success. Ms. Muniz is skilled at strategic planning, business process management, technology evaluation, project and agile software development methodologies.

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