Certain cinematic moments are enshrined in our memory. Who can forget Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in “A Few Good Men” (“[Y]ou want me on that wall, you need me on that wall”)? Or Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross” (“Coffee’s for closers”) or Michael Douglas in “Wall Street” (“Greed … is good”).
Until recently, the tech industry has not had its moment either on the small or silver screen. Sure they have been occasional gems like “Office Space” or “Startup.com” but “Silicon Valley” on HBO is quickly becoming the defining show of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Now in its third season, the show captures the trials and tribulations of a start-up named Pied Piper, which is taking on a larger more formidable rival named Hooli (loosely modeled around Google). Pied Piper’s founder, Richard Hendricks (played by Thomas Middleditch) is the quintessential brilliant eccentric founder who is trying to build a company based on his compression technology, while navigating around venture capitalists, lawyers, billionaire angels, competitors and his own employees.
Season 2 ends with Richard Hendricks being fired by the board of directors at Pied Piper just after the company unexpectedly wins its intellectual property lawsuit against Hooli. The first episode of Season 3 was about the hiring of the new CEO, Jack “Action” Barker, and whether Richard will take the role of CTO working for Jack. Episode 2, which aired on Sunday (titled “Conjoined Triangles of Success”) is about the classic conflict between product and sales organizations. The product folks want to build world-changing technology regardless of its commercial possibilities while the sales folks want the easiest path to short-term revenues without worrying about the long-term impact.
There are plenty of places where you can get a critical review of the episode but my goal is to (hopefully) give you an inside baseball perspective on it from the lens of an active venture capitalist. As a managing director at one of the oldest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Menlo Ventures, my partners and I have seen almost everything in tech land from Siri to Uber.
The core conflict in episode 2 around product vs. sales is authentically captured on screen. The professional CEO, Jack Barker, has hired the “best sales team” in the valley and they frustrate Richard because they want to cut all the “cool’ features from the product so that it is easy to sell.
Here are my quick notes on episode 2 in that context:
Best unicorn name drop: I have been AirBnB’ing it (my condo) to cover the mortgage.
Most natural product placement: HarmlessHarvest Coconut Juice
Most obvious missing snack in kitchen: Kind Bars
Most authentic line in the episode that you do hear around start-ups:
Richard Hendricks: Don’t you think because they are such amazing sales people that it would be OK for them to sell the harder stuff?
Jack Barker: No, it does not work that way. The way you keep the best sales people is you need to give them something easy to sell. Otherwise they just go somewhere else.
Most authentic line that people think but don’t say:
Jack Barker: Pied Piper’s product is its stock. Whatever makes the value of the stock goes up is what we are going to make. Maybe sometime in the future, we can change the world and perform miracles and all of that stuff. I hope we do. But like I told you before, I am not going to mortgage the present for that.
Best outdoor location shot: Great shot of the Stanford Red Barn equestrian center.
Most clichéd phrase used: Business at the speed of light.
Image credit: CC by Gage Skidmore