Mike Judge has done it again. A few months ago, I wrote about one of my favorite workplace flicks, Office Space, and the dangers of pushing off uncomfortable employment issues (specifically Milt Waddams, a mumbly arsonist-to-be). Now I’m hooked on Mike Judge’s latest project, HBO’s Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley chronicles the ups and downs of life in a tech startup. The feature characters are all residents of an eccentric business incubator that allows them free room and board in exchange for 10 percent of their companies and some questionable business direction. One of the characters (Richard) suddenly scores the attention of several venture capitalists and potential acquirers for his company, Pied Piper, and its revolutionary compression algorithm. From that point, the show does a brilliant job of showing that initially successful tech startups are a bit like the dog who chased the car—and caught it.
After multiple suitors woo Richard with various offers, he chooses to turn down a $10 million cash offer for Pied Piper. Instead, he signs up with a quirky genius of a venture capitalist who seeds him with $200,000 in exchange for 5 percent of the company. He hires on the rest of the guys (all of them are male, reflecting a well-worn concern about the tech sector) in the incubator to grow the company and go to market. He soon realizes, however, that he’s in over his head and his efforts to play catch-up give each episode plenty of creative tension to move the series along.
For instance, Richard’s first meeting with his VC is a disaster—he has no business plan or the slightest clue how to get Pied Piper to market. In fact, there’s a big doubt whether it will go to market as Pied Piper (a California irrigation company already has the name, and Richard learns how to negotiate on the fly to convince a leathery farmer to sell him the name). Later, word spreads about his discovery, and established tech giants and thieving competitor startups try to trick him out of his IP. Ultimately, the second season concludes with Richard prevailing in a high-stakes arbitration against a tech giant that claimed ownership of his IP; even better for me, the arbitrator gave Richard the victory because the tech giant overreached and included an unlawful restrictive covenant in his prior employment contract with the company.
If you work for an early-stage enterprise or are looking for a fun way to see the pitfalls common to startups, Silicon Valley is a great way to spend some time. Each episode is going to cover something from my practice—trade secrets, arbitration, and litigation, working some diversity into a close-knit company, and transitioning from a freewheeling group of man-children in a den to a disciplined operation. Season 3 starts in February—I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.