Nick O'Neill

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Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, As Real As It Gets

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If you read the large number of technology and startup bloggers who covered Bravo’s latest “startup-focused” T.V. show, you might think it was a complete disaster, however after watching the first two episodes, I have a completely different take.

The Relevant Parties

Without watching the t.v. show, you have to wonder what the expectations should be. The expectations and subsequent impact of the show depend on who you are. There are a number of relevant parties.

The Producers

The most important party here is Bravo and Zuckerberg Media. They will be the ones who determine whether or not this show goes on. All they should care about is whether or not the television show can garner a large enough audience to become an ongoing series. Frankly, the people running the show probably could care less what people in Silicon Valley think about the show. They just care if people are watching.

My Take
Props to Randi Zuckerberg! She’s producing a television show! When was the last time you could say that? As for how the show is performing, I don’t have the data. However my initial take before the show started was this: most people don’t know what a “startup” is. Take a look at Google Trends chart. More people search for the term “entrepreneurship” than “startup”. Now think about those two words for a second. “Entrepreneurship” is a challenging word for most people to spell yet it still outperforms “startup”, a word that is both easy to remember and spell.

While “startup” may soon become mainstream, it isn’t yet. I’ve been at events around the country and if I’m not at an industry event, people look at me funny when I say I “run a startup”. Many people are being introduced to the concept of startup through this television show. In contrast to Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and other housewives cities that have had time to build a brand prior to the launch of “Real Housewives of __________”, startups in general may not have had enough time to do so.

Who cares though? You don’t need “startups” to be branded if you run one. You need your own brand to be well known. The media doesn’t cover “startups”. They cover “Facebook” and “Twitter”.

The Entrepreneurs

Another important group of individuals are the entrepreneurs and the network of people who support them. This group also has a straight-forward objective: they want startup culture to get more coverage. This is because it’s a challenge for startups to get decent press coverage. If the culture is viewed as sexy by the media, more people who are in it should get exposure, right? This network absolutely hates to see “undeserving” individuals or companies get coverage. It is painful for this network to see those who don’t represent the average hard working startup culture get excessive coverage.

The theory is work hard, build something spectacular, and then receive your well deserved attention. Those who skip to the front of the line and get attention without putting in the daily grind of coding, bookkeeping, and other mundane activities are hated. A show that sensationalizes this group, or portrays a group of deserving entrepreneurs as individuals that skip to the front of the line is not wanted.

My Take
Let’s be honest, the way the new T.V. show portrays the individuals in the show is as vapid people who do nothing more than schmooze and ask people for checks. In many instances I think they may be wrong, however that doesn’t matter. The reason the show does this is well described in the video, “Why doesn’t MTV play music videos anymore“.

People want to feel good about themselves and watching people fail is much more entertaining than watching people code. Take this guy who suggests a different show:

Imagine a show that actually explained to the general public, Mythbusters style, what churn rate, SaaS, and other startup terms mean as they go about following and documenting the journey of a few founders.

Seriously?!? You think the masses gives a crap about SaaS, churn rates, and other business terms? No. People watch The Apprentice to see people get fired. People watch Mythbusters to see things get blown up.

Silicon Valley Pundits

This group loves associating Silicon Valley with entrepreneurship and has theories on the way this Northern California geographic region should be represented in the media. This is because that media portrayal will theoretically determine the number of new companies started in the area. Their primary concern appears to be a misrepresentation of the way things work in the Valley. This might lead to more people creating “unworthy” companies. This point of view is nothing but snobbery.

My Take
Here’s the reality: if you create a business that doesn’t make money, it won’t survive very long. Being concerned about too many “wantrepreneurs” is not really a legitimate issue. It’s only a problem for a people that write about startups, they’ll get more press releases for companies that suck.

The Viewers

This is the most important group. They will determine whether or not the new Bravo TV show continues on. It doesn’t matter what the pundits or entrepreneurs think.

Conclusion

I happened to enjoy watching the show. It’s not intellectually stimulating and I didn’t expect it to be. It’s entertainment and when I’m tired of coding away on my project, I love taking a break. Watching the show was a good break. I hope it does well.

As for all those startup founders out there hopefully I won’t be the first to tell you that the masses don’t care that you run a startup. It’s your job to make them know your brand. So get out there and build it! This show will have absolutely zero impact on your ability to do so.

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