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Wildly Successful -- Bravo TV's "Startups: Silicon Valley"

I do not watch much television and all of that is TiVo’ed so I can skip commercials and blow away shows that don’t hold my interest. But I was intrigued with a new reality show that promised to give the behind-the-scenes look at entrepreneurship in California’s fabled Silicon Valley.

It had all of the elements that were said to guarantee reality show success: the potential for endless spin-offs, low cost young telegenic people seeking media attention (complete with alcohol and sexual tension) who were pursuing the entrepreneurial dream of a “big money exit strategy”  – executive-produced by the sister of a uber-famous billionaire entrepreneur who turned a dorm-room project into the largest social media company on the planet

So, after having finished the season finale, I pronounce the program a wild success.

What Bravo managed to do is to replicate the tale of the dot com bubble and burst. Where sound accounting principles were thrown out the window and investors  literally gambled hundreds of millions of other people’s money (OPM) on companies that had never turned a profit, yet burned through tens of millions of investor dollars seeking a nirvana which did not exist. Using innovative accounting that monetized  “eyeballs” or “clicks on the page” as the equivalent of “bottom line” profits. With just enough companies earning staggering returns for their investors to entice others to gamble their hard-earned money for that golden opportunity which eludes 99% of the gamblers who bet against the house. Everything in that era was about the story, the pitch to attract money  – the previous accomplishments of the company’s founder, and the potential for untold riches. Where venture capitalists were prepared to lose 8 out of 10 times – with a single big hit erasing all of their losses and elevating them to the pages of Time, Fortune and Newsweek as geniuses able to see and grab the future.

It doesn’t matter that the program did a disservice to the entrepreneurial community, was tongue-in-cheek and over the top, or that there were no real success stories among the people covered. Or even that the ratings appeared to be abysmal – losing a significant portion of their lead-in audience and passing along less audience to the next program. But that may be a function of the Bravo programming staff and proper placement of programs.

All of the elements were there …

The telegenic cute girl next door who mastered entrepreneurial jargon and became a reporter – using the social media as her platform -- interviewing entrepreneurs and other interesting people. With transparent motives and a party girl feel as she attempted to “monetize” her tweets and appearances to benefit her own start-up social media/event-planning company. All through the series, I wondered why she wasn’t the local television weather girl.    

Being Bravo TV, also known as the “gay network,” the in-your-face gratuitous gay elements were present – a gay entrepreneur, complete with a visit to a San Francisco sex shop, a strap-on dildo worn as a joke at a birthday party, and shouts for lesbians to come forward and participate in a new product launch event.

The mysterious British brother and sister who seem to live well and have founded and operate a large number of “unspecified” companies. The brother, for this show, an entrepreneur who appears to gamble on engaging an expensive (100K+) design company knowing that he did not have the money to pay the firm – a classic definition of fraud and misrepresentation, which is openly alluded to as the entrepreneur is worried about being sued.

The smart cute girl with the driving ambition to dominate the fashion space for young affluent people.

The ideas behind the actual startups were all derivative and mostly trivial …

  • A “me too” used car listing service that screen-scraped (or api'd) and re-purposed the intellectual property of other companies for its own advantage. While there were a few nice sort features, there was nothing new, proprietary or sustainable about this project.
  • A fashion site that would place fashion in the context of actual events – a site for those wondering what to wear for a particular event. Nothing new, proprietary or sustainable.
  • A goal motivation tool that hooked you up with a paid “buddy” who holds you to account for your goals. Nothing new, proprietary or sustainable.
  • A scale device that was coupled with an iPhone to provide input to a system that would show you if your efforts were extending your life. Nothing new or sustainable. In fact one shoe manufacturer is said to be putting strain gauges in its shoes to allow your weight to be transmitted to your smartphone. Obsoleting the idea of a clunky platform coupled with a smartphone.

How it ended …

The cute girl reporter came across as a narcissistic drama queen bitch  -- easy on the eyes, but totally untrustworthy. Whether this is true in real life is debatable because of the compressed time frame and extensive editing of the program.

The gay guy launches his company and now awaits the possibility of monetizing his efforts. He appears to be the closest thing to a hard-working real entrepreneur.

The smart and cute fashionista (my personal favorite as an EILF) is moving out of the Silicon Valley to New York – having discovered that New York, not California, leads the fashion parade. Her  web site is nothing spectacular and is looking for sign-ups for the beta launch.

The guys with the car listing service have, according to the press release, have been “acqui-hired” by Facebook. In the Valley, the term actually applies to a larger company acquiring a smaller company to hire their people.  In this case the term is totally bogus -- the people were hired by Facebook, run by the executive producer’s brother, which did not acquire the company. The company was put up for sale and eventually acquired by another company; coincidently as they were being threatened by another fabled success story for appropriating their copyrighted content.

The Brits keep doing what they are doing – seeking OPM to build-out their own dreams.

Bottom line …

Impressive people with unimpressive ideas attract capital and support based on nothing more than the “story” and the promise of a golden future. With most of their efforts failing to impress anyone and everybody moving on to the next idea and venture. The encapsulated story of the dot com boom and bust.

In some ways, these people are con-artists. Convincing investors to fund their lifestyles and dreams based on little more than a biography and a pitch-deck.(PowerPoint presentation to sell investors on investing.) But we all do what we must to succeed.

With all of the drama and the lack of actual results, perhaps this program should have been called: "Startups: Silly-CON Valley."

-- steve

“Nullius in verba.”-- take nobody's word for it!

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”-- George Bernard Shaw

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