Several months ago I wrote a pretty scathing post about the early glimpses of Bravo’s new reality show “Silicon Valley.” Our worst fears were confirmed when we got a look at the shooting schedule for the show. Spoiler: It’s a lot of female founders in scantily clad outfits giggling and drinking in a “villa” in the Castro district that used to be the home of San Francisco’s porn industry.
Because that’s what we all think of when we think of the early days of Intel, Apple, Google, and Facebook right?
But Bravo has a smart hedge on the entrepreneur-mania, a show about Ben Huh of Cheezburger Network. It’ll be entertaining — no doubt — because being around Ben Huh is entertaining.
Fortunately for Bravo, he’s also legit. He’s experienced failure in his career and has clawed his way back to build an empire based on making people happy for five minutes a day. This show has the opportunity to do what “Silicon Valley” can’t: offer a glimpse of a real entrepreneur at work building a serious company that has raised more than $30 million in venture capital and operates several of the largest brands on the Web. It’s ironic that of the two shows, the one shot outside Silicon Valley has the far better chance of capturing what Silicon Valley is actually about.
I hope the Ben Huh-centered show will be the one that makes it. It’s certainly the one I’ll be watching. Especially after this past weekend.
I spent several days with Huh in Utah at a 50Kings event, and although the show is filming now, the cameras weren’t following him. (This didn’t stop him from strapping a GoPro camera to his head half of the time.) He was reticent to talk about the show, although I squeezed some details out of him. For one thing he hates that working title of “Huh?” He also swore to me the show was not scripted — just a day in his life building a multi-million dollar company off of pictures of cats and misspelled words.
The lack of cameras didn’t stop him from doing outrageous things. He took over as the flight attendant on our flight, serving everyone beer and wine and pretzels and carrying a little tray up and down the aisle. He went slightly mental in a competitive game of Werewolf. (“You guys are all IDIOTS! I am totally the healer!!!”) He took insane risks driving a Razor to the edge of cliffs in the Utah desert and jumping off the corona arch.
None of us were at all sure he’d survive the arch — including him — so he wore a FailBlog t-shirt. Might as well get the page views and branding out there if he died. He botched his first jump hanging upside down, as he swung down in a harness several feet off the ground. He decided to jump again and do it right. When I joked on the flight home the next day that he would do anything to promote FailBlog, he started laughing and then grabbed his side wincing “ow, ow, ow.” He had sustained internal injuries but had no regrets.
Huh is like a smiley shark wearing meme t-shirts and hip beige glasses. His jovial nature belies the reality of an entrepreneur who plows through the waters ruthlessly-set on success no matter what the risks.
“Silicon Valley” producer Randi Zuckerberg’s reaction to my post said that this is reality TV, not a documentary — the message being we’re silly to expect some version of the truth. I don’t understand why the two have to be mutually exclusive. Entrepreneurship isn’t just people sitting around coding. One of the reasons I’ve spent my life covering entrepreneurs is precisely because the personalities are so interesting. You have to be willing to literally or figuratively jump off cliffs to do this job. I have no objections to entrepreneurs having fun. I object to a made up version of what that fun usually is.
And I have no objection to reality shows about entrepreneurship. I just want a reality show that’s actually about a successful entrepreneur. Think of all the people who have followed their dreams to be a chef or a designer or a singer because of reality TV. We love to malign it, but it’s not all bad. Done right, it can be aspirational and inspirational.
There’s a central, huge difference between “Huh” and “Silicon Valley”. Ben Huh has actually built a huge company. His company — not his abs — come first and foremost.
This show isn’t really about padding his ego or getting famous — although I’m sure Ben’s ego isn’t immune to those perks. It’s to further build his Cheezburger empire. Huh runs a media company and has always been at the forefront of leveraging traditional media channels to boost and cash in on his company’s huge online brand. He was the first of the hugely selling Web meme books and has aggressively experimented with how to quickly roll out sites that leverage the core brands. It’s not a silly distraction from doing something real. This show is building the next wave of his media brand.
[Photo Credit: Scott Beale]