Last updated on June 13th, 2016 at 12:51 pm
It is extremely rare that a television show, let alone a comedy, would take on the business tech world in relevant and insightful ways. Tech knowledge and experts move at a pace seemingly too fast for television and the content itself is so complex how could a television show string viewers along if they don’t have that knowledge or the tech-speak necessary to follow along?
HBO’s “Silicon Valley” has the answer – create a show with compelling enough characters and storylines that viewers will root for them even if they don’t always understand what they are talking about.
It’s not exactly re inventing the wheel, we already do this constantly within the fantasy and sci-fi genre (do you seriously know what characters on Game of Thrones are always talking about?) The major difference here is that instead of cheering for heroes and mythical creatures, you line up to root for the socially awkward coders who are brilliant but lack the social skills to show it and capitalize on it.
HBO’s Silicon Valley follows this group of coders as they break away from a major tech company once they realize the importance of a compression algorithm they have created. Mentored within a small frat like “incubator” set in Silicon Valley, we see these 5 friends develop brand ideas, compete in the tech world, secure funding, all the while fighting to keep some authenticity to their vision. In its third season, the show is crass and immature, but it also puts a human face on a world that still isn’t accessible to many and deals head on with so many themes and issues within the business tech world.
For those who haven’t seen the show yet, here are some B2B themes that Silicon Valley covers.
Big Data and B2B v B2C
After securing funding for his company Pied Piper, the main character Richard Hendricks is forced by the new CEO Jack Barker to pivot from his consumer-facing compression platform ideas to building business-facing data storage boxes for big data centres. The move would push them to their second stage seed funding and start a revenue stream, but it would also put them behind competition in releasing their consumer platform. There is a great scene in Season 3 Episode 3 where Richard and his team tour a data storage facility, meet people inside who appear as prisoners and get lost in the giant maze of the facility. In the end, Richard gets his way as a competing platform is bought up by the competitor, Hooli, and a price is introduced into the market. That price foundation allows his funders to shift back to platform development and away from data storage.
The show is a constant study of millennials in business tech. It is a lot more enjoyable to just watch Silicon Valley then to read hours worth of articles about millennials in business tech environments. This saves you time and is a lot funnier. Richard’s interactions with former Pied Piper CEO Jack Barker is classic millennial vs Boomer conflict in business tech and the show also deals heavily with retention and recruitment of millennials in current business tech.
Similarly, for an introspective look into B2B sales culture and how people can come across in meetings watch this early Season 3 episode clip where Richard is forced to talk about his compression technology to sales people. They might as well be speaking different languages.
The tech great man myth
Richard’s biggest competitor, his former boss and Hooli CEO Gavin Belson, is an amazing takedown of the Tech Great Man. Unaccountable, horrible, selfish and willing to throw anyone under the bus to while taking any credit available, Gavin – and the worship he gets regardless of all this – is brilliant in this show. The character is amazing because the Great Tech Man myth is probably the most accessible business tech narrative that currently exists – (seriously, how many Steve Jobs docs/bio pics do we really need?) Gavin hiring back long time engineers he had just fired, without any idea of it, is a great comment on business tech culture.
Depending on who you talk to app development is either a long term boom business or a long term bust business. Silicon Valley nails the absurdity of app development and the inability to gauge what will hit or miss with the public; an app that puts different mustaches on your face, a text app called “Bro” along the lines of “Yo!,” a tinder app for breeding your dogs, and even Richard’s company, Pied Piper, was formed out of an app idea originally meant to help artists recognize copyright. The point is, no one really knows what they are doing. Lots of great ideas die in the early stages or when they hit market, lots of goofy ideas spin off to success or somehow become a hit when they go to market.
Gentrification, racism and misogyny
The show doesn’t shy away from the negatives of tech culture both in how it’s priced working class people out of their neighbourhoods, encouraged rampant exploitation, competition and racism, and how “bro” culture has invaded Silicon Valley and influenced it. This isn’t a B2B specific theme, but diversity, representation and the negative effects of tech are all too commonly left out of the B2B discussion.
The show is dealing with business tech themes that television has never really touched on with a lot depth AND they are doing it with a lot of laughs. In its 3rd season they are still driving up viewership and everyone in the business world should be watching this show. It’s a great reflection of business tech culture, while also shaping broader mainstream perception of this world in new and creative ways.