By now it is well-known that Elon Musk hates HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”
He doesn’t think the show, which skewers the more ridiculous and cult-like elements of startup culture, “gets it.”
“Silicon Valley” premiered April 6 on HBO. HBO also put the first episode up on Youtube.
“I really feel like [show creator] Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley. If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it,” said Musk in Re/Code’s launch party recap.
All-star venture capitalist Marc Andreesen loved it, and tweeted out quotes from the show.
Elon Musk is an amazing guy. Tesla. Paypal. SpaceX.
But his response is exactly the kind of thing that the show pokes fun at. It sounds like he’s channeling Gavin Belson, the show’s villain and the the fictional head of Hooli – a self-obsessed, petulant man who flies his personal spiritual adviser in from the Andes when things don’t go his way.
Over the past few days, I’ve been involved in a spirited rolling debate/discussion spurred by whether some of the backlash against the startups — spurred on by some of the same excesses and less-than-sincere elements in the community that HBO’s show tends to focus on — is fair or not.
Keep in mind. This is in Iowa. The excesses of our local startup scene are, it is fair to say, modest.
One of the most energizing aspects becoming involved in the startup community, for me, has has been the brutal honesty at its heart. You can rationalize that your product is great all you want. But in the end it either works or it doesn’t.
In a corporate setting, people can and will try to rationalize away a failed project. And it often it works. Politics, unclear accountability, resource competition, an obstinate culture — all of these are factors that can muddy the water. The problem isn’t so much the failed projects — if no projects ever fail then no risk-taking is going on. The problem is that all the rationalizing frequently means there’s no learning from the failure. Nothing changes, and potential value is lost.
That kind of rationalizing happens in the startup world, too. The difference being that the rationalizing doesn’t matter. Fail, don’t learn from it, and before too long you cease to exist. Scary and refreshing.
And that’s why shows like HBO’s “Silicon Valley” are so necessary.
Poking fun at the startup community’s silliest excesses, its poseurs, the pretenders who use jargon to obscure the truth, the occasional runaway egos — all of this is healthy. Self-awareness and honesty are critical to what makes startups work. Applying the same ethos to startup culture as a whole is good.
This doesn’t, by the way, mean it’s bad to be weird. Weird is OK. Actually, weird is necessary. You have to be weird to try and start up something from scratch, to look for that space to find something different from what everybody else is doing.
But it’s OK, as they say, to stick a pin in things sometimes.
And that’s what the show does. It takes some of the air out. We need that.
Thomas Middleditch, the actor who plays Richard Hendriks, the painfully socially awkward underdog hero of “Silicon Valley,” was at the same premiere party as Elon Musk. He was quoted in the same Re/Code piece that quoted Musk, only that Musk’s quote was at the top and Middleditch’s somewhere near the bottom.
“The Valley is a place that takes itself too seriously, and it has yet to be properly lampooned,” he said. “So it’s time for … it’s time for a wedgie.”