There Is No ‘Next Silicon Valley’


It seems as though most every place that isn't actually Silicon Valley lays some claim to being the next Silicon Valley. Fair enough: Tech companies are the future, and it doesn't seem to be getting any harder to raise money to run new ones. Venture capital firms passed out more money at the beginning of this year than they have at any time since 2001, according to data released April 10, 2014 by investment researcher CB Insights. The CB data show that companies raised just under $ 10 billion in 880 separate deals over the first three months of this year.

But that doesn't mean a thousand silicon cities are blooming. California actually gained a greater share of total venture funding during the past year, both in terms of deals made and money raised. (Sorry, Silicon Prairie.) Here's the breakdown: Read more...

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HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ is the ‘Office Space’ we need for today’s tech world (review)

Above: HBO's Silicon Valley cast from left to right: Kumail Nanjiani as Dinesh; T.J. Miller as Ehrlich; Thomas Middleditch as Richard; Zach Woods as Jared; and Martin Starr as Gilfoyle

No one is more perfectly suited to lampoon the startup scene than Mike Judge.

The creator of classic comedies like Office Space, Idiocracy, and, yes, Beavis and Butt-Head, Judge also spent several months working for a Palo Alto, Calif., technology company in 1987 (before he, presumably, ran away screaming). Judge gets tech, he gets geeks, and most important, he gets the strange culture that’s so specific to the technology world.

All of that is evident from the very first scene in HBO’s Silicon Valley, which premieres Sunday night. Kid Rock is playing at a company’s launch party, and nobody cares. An overly excited entrepreneur loudly proclaims his love for esoteric and unsexy enterprise technology onstage. And Google chairman Eric Schmidt is there for some reason.

The series centers on Richard (Thomas Middleditch), an awkward, lowly programmer working at Hooli, a Google-esque tech company where employees ride Segways and hold bike meetings. Like many engineers, he also has a side project: an app that helps musicians and record labels figure out when someone is stealing their work. It’s the sort of niche and unmarketable startup idea we get pitched every day here at VentureBeat — but with one big difference.

It seems that amid developing his app, Richard also stumbled upon an ultraefficient method of file compression. (Judge consulted a Stanford compression expert on the technology, so the reveal doesn’t feel entirely like make-believe.) Like so many in the tech world, Richard is initially oblivious to the value of his own work. It takes a couple of tech-bro jerks to see the potential in his compression scheme.

The potential of Richard’s technology sparks an immediate bidding war among two tech titans: his boss, Peter Gregory, who wants to buy his company outright for $ 10 million (let’s call it the Zuckerberg approach); and Gavin Belson, who offers a $ 200,000 seed investment.

The way Richard confronts that choice likely isn’t far off from what many entrepreneurs go through today. Do you go for the quick paycheck? Or do you take the small investment and continue to build your own thing?

Part of the show’s genius, like Judge’s Idiocracy, is that it hits a bit too close to home. If you’re even tangentially connected to the tech world, you’ll know the type of people represented onscreen. Bigwig CEO Belson, played by Matt Ross, is hell-bent on abolishing higher education, which brings to mind investor Peter Thiel’s own anti-college campaign. And Richard is the sort of geek that prefers Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs — because, of course, Jobs didn’t code.

The tech culture references are spot-on and genuinely hilarious, but they’ll also make you feel a bit dirty afterward when you realize the show is probably making fun of you. (Perhaps that’s why I’m hearing about so many in the tech scene who seem to be actively avoiding the show.)

This doesn’t mean that Silicon Valley is only made for geeks. It has plenty of easily accessible humor, ranging from the very low-brow to ingenious wordplay. It also helps that the show has a strong supporting cast, including Martin Starr of Freaks and Geeks fame as a Satanist with “theist tendencies” and Kumail Nanjiani, who had a string of great segments on Portlandia and other shows.

While Office Space was a condemnation of ’90s-era office culture, where workers were trapped in tiny cubicles and worked on projects of indiscernible value, Silicon Valley casts a light on the modern cult of the entrepreneur. Richard starts off as a cog in Hooli’s vast corporate machine, but he ends up becoming “the man” as CEO of his own startup.

One scene in Silicon Valley‘s second episode is a direct reversal of Office Space‘s infamous “What do you do?” scene. Instead of having his job threatened by menacing consultants, Richard is forced to ask all of his friends what exactly they do for his company. And for his closest friend, that leads to heartbreak.

Silicon Valley is genuinely hilarious, but it’s also got plenty of heart to it. The show is more interested in how people exist within the sometimes absurd tech world, rather than just showing off its excess (which is mostly used for laughs). How do friendships withstand a sudden influx of money and power? And what kind of a leader would you be if you had the chance to run your own company? This isn’t just Entourage in Palo Alto.

The show also reflects one of the real Silicon Valley’s pervasive issues: a stark gender imbalance. I saw only had two major female characters in the two episodes I watched — one an assistant to Belson, and the other a stripper (who uses Square to get paid for her services). This is something that may be fixed later in the season, but it’s a shame Judge didn’t see it as an immediate problem to address early on.

Ultimately, Silicon Valley is exactly what the tech world needs right now. It holds up a mirror that shows both the best and worst of the tech, and in doing so it forces us to confront issues that may be hard to see when you’re embedded in the Silicon Valley bubble.

The geeks are in charge now, but the business game is still the same.

VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Devindra Hardawar

How Silicon Valley trolled Mozilla’s CEO out of office

Above: Mozilla team members at the Mozilla Summit 2010 in Whistler, Canada.

Silicon Valley prides itself on being a place where failure is okay and diversity is celebrated.

But the tech community proved itself remarkably intolerant this week when it forced the resignation of Mozilla chief executive Brendan Eich.

Eich gave $ 1,000 to the California Proposition 8 campaign in 2008, a proposition that attempted to redefine marriage as being valid only if it was between a man and a woman. Prop. 8 passed, in large part thanks to vigorous support from the Mormon church and other religious groups, but was later found unconstitutional by a federal court, a decision which was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, to be clear: I found Prop. 8 repellent and hurtful, as it was an attempt to take away rights that had already been granted by the courts. I believe people should have the right to marry, without regard to gender, and I think Prop. 8′s supporters are on the wrong side of history. But that is my opinion — just as Eich’s opinion, no doubt informed by his faith, was that Prop. 8 was worth supporting.

Nevertheless, those of us who hold strong personal opinions are often able to bracket them in the public sphere. That is part of the definition of being a professional. Eich was a terrific example of that.

After being named the CEO of Mozilla, Eich came under fire from Mozilla employees and others who felt that his past support of an anti-marriage initiative was incompatible with Mozilla’s institutional values of inclusiveness and diversity.

But at no point did anyone suggest that Eich was actually opposed to those values. There is no record of him discriminating against gay and lesbian employees, resisting Mozilla’s policies of treating them equally, or attempting to diminish their standing within the organization. All he did was make that campaign donation in 2008.

In extensive interviews this week, including with VentureBeat’s J. O’Dell, Eich made it crystal clear that he was leaving his personal values at the door and embracing Mozilla’s progressive values in every way as far as his job was concerned.

Notably, he did not offer an apology for his earlier support of Prop. 8, nor did he state whether his views on same-sex marriage had changed. That’s probably because his views haven’t changed, and he didn’t want to be dishonest about them. He was simply trying to do the best job he could while remaining true to his own personal convictions in his private life.

So much for honesty.

The sustained outrage against Eich continued unabated, and on Wednesday, he stepped down from the CEO job.

There are a lot of reasons to be sorry about this outcome. Eich was a talented, committed technologist who helped create JavaScript and is one of the founders of Mozilla. He showed every sign of being a responsible, ethical CEO whose work values were in complete alignment with Mozilla’s.

His personal views are repellent to many of us, but his actions — apart from the donation — were on the level.

And if we’re judging people based on their donations to political campaigns we find repellent, there’s a whole lot more blame to go around. More than 1,300 people at a range of tech companies donated a combined $ 1 million to Prop. 8, William Saletan reports in Slate. Those companies include Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo. Are we going to boycott those companies? Force the resignation of all 1,300?

Needless to say, that’s a ridiculous approach, both politically and from a business point of view.

Politically speaking, the supporters of same-sex marriage would do far better to target the really big, and often anonymous, donors who have supported and pushed laws like Prop. 8, rather than vilifying the occasional small supporter. Going after people like Eich makes the same-sex marriage movement look petty, vindictive, and shrill — the exact opposite of the inclusive, tolerant message that they should be spreading.

“This is a repugnantly illiberal sentiment. It is also unbelievably stupid for the gay rights movement,” Andrew Sullivan wrote this week on The Dish. “It’s a bad, self-inflicted blow. And all of us will come to regret it.”

And as for the technology business, it’s just stupid to penalize people for their personal views and past mistakes, especially outside work. One of the reasons Silicon Valley has been so successful, many of us often hear, is because it has a culture of embracing difference and forgiving failure.

I believe that’s true. We are happy to overlook people’s personal values, their backgrounds or sexual orientations, whether they are pleasant people or complete jerks, and even their willingness to bathe — as long as they are contributing material value to their companies and to the world.

It’s time for Silicon Valley to re-learn that lesson. If we want to remain a place where outstanding technologists continue to create immense value, we have to think twice about hounding technologists out of jobs where they’re doing just that, just because we find their personal values objectionable.

VentureBeat » Entrepreneur
Dylan Tweney