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...
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.
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.
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.
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 SiliconValley 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 SiliconValley 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.
The U.S. had a pretty toxic and deadly week in landscape reads. We learn how, remarkably, tourist poop is flown by helicopter out of national parks, how Silicon Valleyexports toxic waste all over the country, how poison lurks in old televisions, and how the land can just fall away in the form of Washington’s deadly mudslide. More »
To celebrate Women’s Day, we hobnobbed with 24 year-old Silicon Valley-based high-tech startup founder Meredith Perry. She’s audacious, persistent, resourceful and a game changer in every sense. Perry’s start-up, uBeam, develops technology using ultrasound to wirelessly charge devices. In 2012, Mike Arrington hailed her demo as the “closest thing to magic” he had seen in a long time. Since, SiliconValley powerhouses such as Marissa Mayer, Peter Theil, and Andressen Horowitz have invested in uBeam.
Perry designed the early prototypes of uBeam’s technology without any engineering degree, relying on in-depth Internet research and “begging professors to teach her extra concepts after class.” When she first brought her idea to experts and engineers she was met with point-blank responses along the lines of ‘you are trying to do the impossible; it will never work.’
Our three takeaways from Perry’s seemingly unlikely success:
#1 Persist through naysaying by pursuing open-minded research
In her TEDx talk, Perry reported asking herself, “how can I get this to work” rather than a binary, “will this work or not?”
When experts diagnosed her designs with insurmountable challenges, Perry turned to tangentially related research — from acoustic weapons to musical instruments — to find new solutions. For example, a professor told her she could never transmit enough power through sound to charge a phone, but she kept moving forward with the idea because of the research she did on acoustic bombs. After she’d put considerable effort into research and thinking up out of the box solutions, many of the experts she spoke to came back and said, “hmmm, actually that could work.”
Perry was pursuing a degree in Paleobiology with a focus in Astrobiology, and had no background in electrical engineering, but her dedication to thorough and open-minded research embodies the axiom that crazy ideas are revolutionary ideas yet to be fully explored.
#2 Hire the experts
Through persistent, open-minded research, Perry was able to communicate competence and rally engineers to help her realize her designs — beginning with a fellow student who wired the first proof of concept model. She won University of Pennsylvania’s student invention competition. She then found an engineer in Indiana who helped to dramatically increase both the power output as well as the range of her prototype in just under a month to demo on stage at All Things D.
By continuing her dogged research efforts, Perry is now working with engineers at the top of their fields — several of whom were authors of the papers she was reading in her early stages of research. When we interviewed her, she said, “It was most efficient to go directly to the source. It was relieving to finally be able delegate to people who knew a lot more than me after working on the technology independently for over a year.” Now, uBeam will be able to go beyond parts found on the shelves and create its own specialty parts for its product.
#3 Root out the investors likely to support your vision
Initially, Perry had difficulty finding willing investors for uBeam. In 2013, the New York Times reported that she decided to researchinvestors who had financed “crazy things.”
In her interview with us, she recommended “seek[ing] out specific investors online interested in your startup’s space versus just trying to get in front of the ”top investors”. Again, an out of the box approach proved successful. “Prior to raising my first seed round, I went on AngelList and searched for investors that invested in things as unusual and crazy as wireless power (i.e. aerospace startups, hardware startups, etc).” Her efforts paid off, attracting support from Founders Fund, the venture capital fund from former Paypal founder Peter Thiel. Perry soon after gained the support of Yahoo’s CEO, Marisa Mayer within a record-breaking 12 minutes!
In conclusion, as Perry rightly blogs, “Never, never, never give up. If you believe in what you’re doing and you’re not breaking the laws of Physics, then it can be done. It’s just a matter of how and when. Pull as many teeth as needed to get there.”
International Women’s Day (March 8th) began in the early 1900’s as a way to advocate for women’s rights. Now it is a celebration of women’s achievements in order to inspire continued progress towards equality.
When it comes to preparing for South by Southwest, there’s a lot that attending companies can learn from the zombie apocalypse.
Surviving the environment
1. The days are long. The nights are longer.
If you’re looking for a work-vacation, you’ve come to the wrong place. A typical company day at SXSW starts around 6:00am and ends at 3:00am.
2. Carry reliable weapons If your cell phone is on the fritz or your laptop is unable to hold more than a 1-hour charge, upgrade. If you rely on it, it has to work. It’s also a good idea to carry a charger with you, just in case.
3. Take sleep where and when you can Remember: SXSW (and the zombie apocalypse) is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to make your energy last, so be sure to budget time for sleep.
4. Carry or secure your possessions There’s no safe place to “set something down” during the zombieapocalypse or SXSW and it’s a long, crowded way from the show floor to your hotel room. Bring an appropriate bag to carry everything. There are sometimes rentable lockers near the registration area. If you can’t use a locker, lock your valuables up at the booth.
Your Personal Health
5. You will become infected Everyone gets sick at SXSW. It’s a cluster of contagion, so be prepared. Bring your cold medicine and include some flexibility in your team’s schedule.
6. Comfortable shoes are a must
Whether you’re running from zombies or walking the endless show floors and sidewalks in Austin, comfortable shoes are a must. No heels or painful shoes allowed.
7. If you drink, you still have to function While water is a necessity to surviving SXSW or the zombie apocalypse, alcohol is not: especially if you have to function. If you’re going to drink at SXSW, only have a little, and only when you can relax out of the public eye. You’re representing your company—even when you’re not at the booth. Make sure your team also understands this.
Your zombie apocalypse team
8. Only go with people you trust
Your SXSW company team should be a tight-knit group that trusts each other. This is not the place to bring loose cannons.
9. The best teams have a plan Staying current and connected is key to survival. Know what each team member is doing throughout the show, review daily, and make sure you team has everyone’s contact information.
10. Frantic activity does not equal survival SXSW is an easy place to stay busy, whether going to late-night parties, film screenings, or running from one thing to the next…but you need to stay focused. Have a goal for every event you go to. It’s not enough to collect 50 business cards. You have to connect with real people—hopefully, the right people, and it has to mean something.
Caption: An anti-tech poster in San Francisco's mission district
Despite its mantra of disruptive innovation, SiliconValley has become an institution. Venture capital has matured, IPOs have stabilized, and incubators are reliably churning out generation after generation of paradigm-shifters.
But some say that SiliconValley remains incapable of maturing at a pace commensurate with its influence. Entrepreneur and professor Vivek Wadhwa points to the tone-deafness of the region’s movers and shakers in the face of skyrocketing housing prices and burgeoning inequality as signs that the region is overly absorbed in its own self-congratulation.
Wadhwa was one of many speakers raising these concerns and this year’s State of the Valley conference, which serves as a regional think tank identifying issues and challenges unique to the Valley. Indeed, inequality was the buzzword of the event, which took place Friday.
“SiliconValley has always been this arrogant, but the public patience for it has come to an end,” Wadhwa said. “The world is now expecting the Valley, and the boy’s club in particular, to grow up and behave like a responsible group of people who are sensitive to the needs of society.”
Wadhwa’s comments come in the wake of certain out-of-touch statements made by Tom Perkins, a major figure in the world of venture capital. This year’s State of the Valley conference attempted to broach the topic of inequality multiple times during keynote speeches but avoided proposing private sector solutions.
“The only people who can enter this economy now are high earners,” Russell Hancock, founder and president of Joint Venture, which hosts the conference, told the crowd of Silicon Valley’s business elite. “We used to be characterized by middle class professions. Now we’re the classic hourglass economy.”
Dr. Emmett Carson, president of the SiliconValley Community Foundation, followed Hancock’s admonitions with his own call-to-arms.
“Economic success is not enough. Rising tides do not lift all boats,” Carson said. “We have to have intentional public policy. It doesn’t just happen because the market is growing.”
“When the publicsector can’t fill needs, the private sector steps in,” Grose said, referring specifically to the much-maligned Google Buses that have become a focal point of anti-tech industry furor. “If anything, these buses are symbolic of the breakdown of the publicsector and its traditional roles. They’re being asked to do more and more with less and less.”
The SiliconValleypublicsector has been struggling with the burdens of reduced tax revenues and expanding populations for some time now, and Wadhwa says that it’s high time for the SiliconValley technical class to exercise some corporate social responsibility.
“It isn’t happening fast enough. SiliconValley isn’t giving back,” Wadhwa said. “It has to realize that it has a social responsibility; they have to start volunteering, donating money to fund new shelters, being active in the local community. “
Hancock says that it’s unrealistic for the region to expect social advocacy from corporations, however.
“By definition, a corporation is not an entity with a conscience,” said the JointVenture founder. “It exists to maximize return value to its shareholders. People might say that a corporation has certain responsibilities, but it’s a lot of well-wishing in the face of financial reality.”
Financial reality is a lot harsher for some inhabitants of the SiliconValley area, though. The average home price in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties is over $ 700,000, and that figure continues to rise steadily. Income discrepancies between racial groups continue to widen, and the median income of women in the region is astronomically lower than that of men — for an individual with a bachelor’s degree or higher it’s the difference between $ 136,000 and $ 78,672. 2013 saw the construction of over 8,000 new housing units, but it also saw the influx of 33,000 new residents.
These are all statistics pulled from the annual JointVenture Index, and the message behind them looks poised to gain even more traction.
“You’re seeing resentment growing,” Wadhwa said. “People are speaking up and expecting more, and making things miserable for the old guard. Corporate social responsibility is the only way to stop this, but [Silicon Valley] doesn’t have any clue as to what CSR means.”
University of Southern California professor and author Manuel Pastor pointed out that it is in the tech community’s best interests to invest in the region that houses it, and critiqued the community’s shortsightedness during his keynote at the State of the Valley conference.
“The reason we should do something about this isn’t just liberal sentiment or moral values,” Pastor said. “The old conventional wisdom, that inequality was good for economic health? Turns out it’s not. Studies are showing that countries that are more equitable sustain more growth over time.”
[VentureBeat's Christina Farr contributed to this story.]
Emil Chimali O’Flaherty-Vazquez is a Stanford Journalism graduate student and a current VentureBeat intern.
It looks like The Big Bang Theory has some geek comedy competition as HBOreleased a teaser trailer for its new comedy series, Silicon Valley, on Friday.
Created by the man behind cult classics like Office Space, Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill, Mike Judge’s new HBO series was inspired by his own experiences working as a Silicon Valley engineer in the late 1980s.
According to Re/code, the show will follow introverted, social misfits living in the “Hacker Hostel,” a “startup incubator” owned by a dot-com millionaire in Silicon Valley as they discover and develop a valuable search algorithm for a website. Read more...