“I’m tired of getting kicked in the balls” Truer words were never spoken about entrepreneurship
There are always the little things with HBO’s Silicon Valley.
That a company valued at $50 million with half a million downloads would never have a single appearance on Bloomberg West, much less be on there every week. That even a struggling, yet, technically brilliant founder as hapless as Richard would keep a CEO job. I mean, he seems to get actually worse at this, the more experience he gets. He has no idea how stock transfers work at his company, only asks one person without a computer science degree for feedback on his beta and rejects solely that feedback, has no clue how much money he has in the bank, and recovers from a near-fatal mistake Erlich made by giving him the worst possible job of PR director. (The guy who threw a grenade on his credibility before even asking the reporter what rumors she’d heard. That’s the guy you want as head of PR.) That Richard rarely seems to…. Work.
At the beginning of episode nine it’s dawning on everyone-- Hooli, Richard & crew, the press-- that this compression war that’s spanned three seasons may well be like other brutal fights to win a market… that doesn’t wind up being much of a market after all. Widgets. Daily deals. Flash sales. Subscription commerce.
Need I go on?
But all of the annoyances of the show are made right by scenes like the one in episode 9 where Richard is laying in a gross bathtub, distraught. Jared comes in to comfort him.
“It’s over, Jared,” he says. Followed by: “We’re dead. We fought Gavin Belson, Russ, Hooli, the lawsuit, that fucking box, all so we could build our platform the way we wanted to and we did. But I guess you just can’t fight public opinion except for one woman named Bernice. Face it, Jared: Being too early is the same as being wrong.”
Jared replies, “Hey, we’ll figure it out.”
“I don’t know if we will. Besides I think I’m tired of getting kicked in the balls.”
A version of this has happened at nearly every company I know-- including ours. In my case, I’ve sulked on a bed or a couch or the floor, never an empty bathtub. Paul has been the Jared, typically. This is why co-founders are useful. Everyone will hit those moments where they just want to lie in a dirty bathtub and cry and give up, sick of getting kicked in the balls. (Or whatever the gender neutral equivalent of that line is.)
What makes the difference is what you do next.
The quote I’ve lived by for the last few years was one I heard from Naval Ravikant: “Companies only go out of business for two reasons: The founder gives up or it runs out of money.” And really, he added, the latter was a consequence of the former.
As long as you are still in business, anything can happen. That’s the case with a content company like ours, and certainly the case with a company that has actual defensible cutting edge technology like the fictional Pied Piper. That’s why VCs say they invest in “people.” Because no one can know if a product will resonate, particularly a consumer product. What makes or breaks companies is simply how many times and for how long you’ll be willing to be kicked in the balls.
There is always a way to buy more time. Somehow.
And we see that in the next scene. Richard is ready to shut the company down, instead suddenly he’s met with the news that DAUs are growing. (That’s right, true to shit-CEO form, he has no idea, and gets informed.)
Of course there’s a dark but all too realistic twist: Things didn’t just turn around. There was “a way” but it was shady: Jared is paying a Bangladeshi click farm.
A short term fix that can’t possibly work? Uh huh. But there’s always a way. Remember Mark Pincus (featured in a cameo in episode 8!) and that talk about doing anything to get revenue?
This is the flip side of Ravikant’s quote: Sometimes the founder should give up, because the last thing it can do is stepping over a line or just stalling the inevitable. You can always find a way to live to fight another day. And things can always change as long as you are living to fight. But that doesn’t always mean it’s the right move.
I’ve always had my quibbling issues with Silicon Valley. But scenes like this make the show worth it. If nothing else, it makes entrepreneurship seem just as ugly as it actually is.