5 Startup Lessons You Can Learn from HBO’s Silicon Valley
If you enjoy watching comedy series, or you’re a tech enthusiast, chances are that you have heard about HBO’s Silicon Valley. The story is about a startup in Silicon Valley, called Pied Piper, and the struggles they face to fulfill their goal, which is to change the way we browse the internet. While this comedy show is a hilarious work of fiction, there are some very real startup lessons hopeful entrepreneurs can learn while watching.
Startup founders can learn a lot of invaluable lessons from their mistakes and failures.
But there are also lessons they can glean from an internationally acclaimed satirical TV show called Silicon Valley. The series is inspired by real-life tech culture, with creator/executive producer Mike Judge having worked as an engineer and lived in the real Silicon Valley in Southern California. Furthermore, to maintain its authenticity, the show’s writers and producers did research trips to the tech hub to get further observations on the real-life interactions in the startup scene.
What’s great about Silicon Valley is that it draws its comedy from a lot of real life startup anecdotes.
Things like what it’s like to raise a round of funding, how to negotiate a salary, and the ways a company’s board can have a huge impact on operations. Sure, the show isn’t exactly true to life in all aspects, but there are some real lessons buried beneath all of the dick jokes that are valuable for anyone who has ever considered taking the entrepreneurial plunge.
Are you setting up a business? Follow these tips from HBO’s Silicon Valley.
HBO’s Silicon Valley mixes business with comedy while providing startups with valuable lessons. As outlandish as the plot may be at times, the exploits of Richard Hendricks and his team can teach us valuable lessons about life as an entrepreneur. It’s a fun watch, but aside from that it can teach people a lot about the reality of running a startup in the world of today. There are so many nuances that you have to take into account, and this post is going to show you what you can learn from it.
So if you’re interested in running a startup, here are some useful lessons that you can learn from HBO’s Silicon Valley.
The HBO original series, Silicon Valley, revolves around tech startup, Pied Piper and its employees. The fictional crew’s antics are more outrageous than most real-life scenarios, but several startup lessons from the show can be applied to the real business world. What is great about the show that it gives you real-life lessons for budding entrepreneurs and I will share the top 5 lessons with you.
Startup Lesson #1: Focus on Your Core Competencies
While you’re working on perfecting your product, a new, great idea might come up. Many entrepreneurs have jumped over to chase a new idea over their original, which from time to time isn’t always the best business choice. Try to avoid distractions, because you will lose focus on your core idea, and as time passes by, you might lose energy and resources. If you put too much effort into side projects, you might never fulfill your main idea.
Silicon Valley is all about knowing what you want to be.
One of the main characters, Richard Hendricks, and his friend, Erlich Bachman, almost fall into the trap of deeming their company the ‘Airbnb for something’. And that’s something a surprising number of entrepreneurs fall into. Companies need to know who they are through a comprehensive vision statement, rather than just thinking they are a different version of some other company. When Hooli defended Gavin Belson’s image using the online reputation industry, they did so because they didn’t want their image to be compromised. They didn’t want to be someone they weren’t. Simply put, you need an original image and you have to stick to it. If your brand can’t be original with your vision statement, your product or service won’t be able to either.
The core defines what you made of, and how you are going to grow.
The core defines how your startup will withstand extreme pressure and competition — and survive and win. Strong startup core starts with strong vision. Why do you exist? What is your purpose? Why do you get up every day? What is your true north? Having clarity around your vision is the foundation of having clarity around execution, hiring, fundraising and every other aspect of your company. Vision is the very foundation of the company’s core. The second thing that helps shape the core of your company is your values. It can be speed. It can be exceptional customer service. Values help you shape the culture. They provide the blueprint for the kind of people you may or may not hire — and for the kind of company you may or may not want to become.
Core competencies are the business processes or unique abilities that are transferable to numerous markets or products.
Core competencies are not necessarily product-based, but are determined by the capabilities of your entire organization; these competencies are something that your organization does exceptionally well across all divisions. Examples include Avon’s door-to-door sales techniques and Honda’s process for manufacturing small engines. Core competencies set your organization apart from your competition and will give you a competitive advantage in the market. Determining your core competencies will require you to think about your company’s skills, knowledge, technology, and experience that make you stand out from your competition. Once you have determined one or two of your core competencies, you will be able to think strategically and respond to changes in the market and maintain a competitive advantage.
Distraction and a lack of focus can slay any business, stopping it dead in its tracks.
At the rate that startups fail, you don’t want to risk your business with a lack of focus. Sharp focus is critical to your startup’s success. Maintaining your goals and your objectives for both short- and long-term gains can help you build a successful startup. Do you have trouble staying focused? If so, it might be because you don’t actually care about what you’re working on. Not being passionate about your work will make it very hard to focus. This fact is very hard for many people to accept and to realize about themselves. When your work is for something that you believe in, it will trigger your passion and your drive. Aligning your values with your work will make it much easier to focus.
Startup Lesson #2: Don’t Grow too Fast
Due to Pied Piper’s success, Richard and his team managed to grow their business, and hire new employees and move to bigger offices. If you’re going to expand your start-up, it’s better to not hire everyone at once but to hire people that you need for a specific role. A big marketing team might seem a good idea at first, but if you haven’t made a great impact yet, it might backfire and eventually lose even more money. If there is no major reason to expand, then there’s no reason to risk losing money because of a failed expansion.
Each time it seems like Richard and team have figured out the financing of the company, something happens that leads to growing the Pied Piper team.
While hiring new employees for a business can make sense, growing for the wrong reasons can lead to terrible financial problems. To grow the right way, only hire when there is a specific role with a specific business need to fill. Hiring a big team of marketing staff and salespeople may see smart until you notice your burn rate has skyrocketed and you hardly have enough cash to continue regular operations.
Fast growth can hide a lot of weaknesses and deficiencies.
If you’re attuned to your business and actively identifying mistakes as you grow, you’ll be better equipped to build a sustainable enterprise. There is a reason that many startup companies never make it to the third stage of enterprise maturity, where they are entirely self-sustaining. Increased growth can be an illusion of success that simultaneously amplifies errors in the weakest part of your organization. Growth itself is exciting. You’ve met a customer demand, or come up with a successful solution. But given the failure rates of startups and small businesses that focus all of their efforts on rapid growth, it is important to have a scalable plan in place. Wherever you are in your current business, it is time to take a step back. Consider all your resources and be prepared to re-strategize once your business starts to grow again. That way you can work slowly and steadily in the direction of self-sustained growth.
Expanding too fast can put too much stress on your startup, harming your ability to operate efficiently and please customers.
The expansion of your startup will inevitably come with an expansion of your workforce. But hiring new people is a costly and time-consuming process, meaning you need to be careful and thoughtful about how you do it. Startups that grow too quickly often don’t have time for this, which leads to over-hiring. They see they don’t have the people power for one task, so they go out and get someone, not stopping to think how existing staff could be better organized. This creates a very wasteful scenario. Not only are you spending tons of money on recruiting and training, but you’re also risking bringing people in and then not having enough for them to do.
When a business is growing too rapidly, it significantly increases the demands on each individual employee, and on your team as a whole.
This can easily lead to stressed-out employees, low morale, and fighting among the members of your previously unified team. If employees are asked to do more than they are capable of because the demands made of your business are suddenly skyrocketing, some of them may decide to leave, which will only increase the workload of those left behind. If you are consistently losing valued employees or valued customers and always struggling to make ends meet, your job could become a constant crisis management scenario that you dread walking into every day.
Startup Lesson #3: Tie Yourself to a Large Boat
If you are new to the tech industry, you may want to find someone who can give you advice and show you the ropes. Or you may be looking for a silent investor who doesn’t interfere in decision-making. It is important that you lay out your terms before you take anyone on board or you will find yourself in the middle of arguments and disagreements over trivial matters. The wrong investor can send your business spiraling by controlling how things are done. You also want to stay away from preying sharks who only want to swallow your idea and make it their own.
Align yourself with someone who can support you and offer the stability needed to grow and go to market.
Though Richard made the tough decision to turn down an immediate $10 million payday and buyout for his startup, he may have made a more sound choice in taking less funding from a VC who offered guidance while allowing him to retain majority control of the company. There will always be people or partners in the industry who have more experience in some aspect of running a business than you do. Don’t shy away from pragmatically bringing them into the fold.
You don’t have to be good at sports to swing for the fences, but you’ll need good investors on your team if you really want to play ball.
Some investors might offer you nice gifts or throw flashy parties, but it might be wise to pick them last. It’s more important to have investors that care about your company and the overarching mission, even as cool as it might be to hang out with the Winklevoss twins. Entrepreneurs need support from bigger fish to succeed. When Richard turns down an immediate buyout from his company, he accepts some funding from a venture capitalist, which also comes with business guidance. Rather than trying to make a quick buck, he decided to associate himself with someone bigger. Partners in the industry can be a major saving grace.
Even though a capital infusion can help your startup grow, you eventually have to give back the money you took from investors.
And since you’ve lost equity by shareholders, it’s much more difficult to get profit, and much easier to lose control over your own company. A good investor can have the role of a mentor, an experienced professional of the tech industry who can guide you with advice on how to run a startup company. A bad investor can give you good publicity and money, but might not add much to the table, or even worse, get involved with your job and eventually ruin your company. In Silicon Valley, Pied Piper deals with a lot of different investors, such as Peter Gregory, Laurie Bream, and Maximo Reyes.
You should choose investors who genuinely care about your company and its mission.
You just might be the next Steve Jobs (or Wozniak) to roll into town, but that doesn’t give you the merit to step on people on your way to the top. The Pied Piper crew make this fatal mistake when shopping around their product to various VC’s (venture capitalists.) They decided that the best way to get a large investment was to neg each firm, to appear as though they didn’t need their money. This ends up coming back to bite them later, and they are left with very little options.
Startup Lesson #4: Quality First
Gavin Belson, the main antagonist of the series is the founder of Hooli, decided to launch the Nucleus project, which eventually was Richard’s Pied Piper compression algorithm. As it was a rushed project, whose purpose was to launch before Pied Piper, the product failed miserably. This shows that companies should put quality first before they launch a project.
Giving time to a project to make the best of it, is super important.
You have to ensure that there are no quality issues or bugs before the launch, and remember that the main focus is always to have quality over quantity. You want to put in enough time and energy to ensure your customers are getting the best possible product experience. Whether it’s creating blog content or running your social media campaign, it’s better to focus on quality over quantity. Taking shortcuts is never the way to go. Gavin Belson is the main antagonist of the series, and his company sucks. Every startup should be spending their time testing their products and making sure that they are the best they possibly can be.
Quality matters, even if you are a startup: not putting focus on the quality and finding an excuse of being a startup to compromise it.
Back in 2012, Apple launched its own maps which were a complete failure because they couldn’t guide people to their destination. When Google launched its maps, it made sure that the navigation system was accurate. People now use Google maps every day to get around, and nobody even remembers about Apple maps. Ensure that your product is free from bugs and quality issues before you launch it. Your product/service will only sell on the basis of its quality. Compromise on quality means you are compromising on the product’s sales.
The devil is in the details. Be careful of the little details.
As always, in Silicon Valley, what appears as an obstacle can often lead to an unexpected discovery. After Richard goes around Dinesh and gains access to the user data, he discovers a big problem for Piper Chat regarding the age of the platform’s users. An seemingly small oversight about asking users for parental permission poses a big hurdle for the startup to overcome. PiperChat was a disaster, which could lead to a $21 billion penalty by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). When setting up a business, the resources will be all over the place, which means you won’t be able to focus on everything at the same time. Move on a slower pace if necessary, so you can fix every minor detail, bug, or difficulty that might set you back. Better safe than sorry.
There’s an opportunity for everyone to stand out if you do your best.
Instead of trying to grasp a larger market share, focus on the quality. Learn to hear the clients and provide the solutions they need. Be responsible for your work. For a business that is not yet well established, their path to success lies in providing the best quality of their services and products. Businesses value quality over quantity. No matter which industry your organization belongs to, the way your business speaks determines how you attract your customers. The performance and sustainability of a business depend on the quality of either the services, products or the data that a business share.
Startup Lesson #5: Take Care of Yourself
Launching a start-up company is usually a stressful procedure. Meetings, deadlines, decisions, and revisions, can take their toll on someone’s mental health. You need to take care of your mental and physical health, as ignoring your body and mind will eventually lead to burnout or other worse problems.
Be always sure to have a good sleep, and keep your nutrition to a balanced level.
You should try exercising if you’re able to. These little details will benefit your career in the long term, and you will avoid many obstacles, such as stress, exhaustion, and lack of motivation. Looks like you have a case of the night sweats. It’s important to look after your own personal and mental management, or those night sweats might turn into bed-wetting. Personal health, nutrition, and sleep are crucial to making the best middle out algorithm on the market. This will make you more effective in your business, and you won’t have to worry about being an adult who wets the bed.
Entrepreneurs who run startups are obsessed with the health of their companies. Yet what they are never obsessed about is their own health.
They are not concerned with their personal and mental management. This may be fine for a short time, but in the long-term if you don’t take care of yourself it will grind you down. The pressure of running your own startup can easily build up, which can lead to an increasingly stressful work environment. Working long hours, weekends and holidays are to be expected from a startup; however, it’s okay for you and your team to take a break to regain the project’s focus. Talk with employees, enjoy each other’s company or take a page out of Pied Piper’s book and just throw a ball around with one another.
Launching a start-up can be an excruciating process.
Chasing the investors, making decisions, last-minute revisions, following up and double checking everything can take its toll on your health. You need to look after your mental and physical health or those sleepless nights could turn into a potential health problem. Taking care of your health, diet and sleep will help you make the most out of the whole process. After all, you will need to be in good health to enjoy the benefits that come after a successful launch. Besides, in the fast-paced flurry of working life, we often forget to congratulate ourselves on our accomplishments. Every week or so, give yourself the space and time to acknowledge your contributions and own your successes.
YOU are responsible for YOU. Others will take care of themselves, but you need to take care of you.
Another reason is that you will perform better. If you don’t take care of yourself, work non-stop, drink, and don’t exercise, your performance will inevitable go down. Startups are marathons, and marathons are exhausting. You can’t sprint a marathon; that means you can’t work non-stop for years and years and be productive. When you aren’t well rested, when you’re not eating well, and you are sleep deprived, you will make bad decisions. When you are rested, energized, and clear- headed, you will make better decisions. You’ll be better and more effective in all aspects of your life.
Setting up a business is hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That being said, there’s plenty to learn from those entrepreneurs who have walked the path before you. Even TV shows like Silicon Valley offer up a few gems every once in a while. With intelligent use of technologies, unwavering commitment to communication, and a little help from the cloud, you can make life a bit easier on yourself.
Although Silicon Valley is a comedy, there are many lessons that can be applied to digital marketing and business in general.
In fact, I feel a lot of wisdom can be extracted from this show. Whether it’s learning to adapt in an ever-changing marketing world, learning from your mistakes, or simply refraining from being a douchebag, the lessons from Silicon Valley can make you a better digital marketer in many ways. Silicon Valley is an ecosystem fueled by innovation, entrepreneurship, and originality. The show reflects these qualities through exaggerated circumstances, but showcases that a little personality and a few business lessons go a long way on the path to success.
Silicon Valley may have been produced for entertainment purposes, but there are a lot of things entrepreneurs can learn about startups.
Whether you’re a young entrepreneur looking to fund the launch of your compression-algorithm company or just trying to open your own cheese-themed food truck, Silicon Valley and the Pied Piper crew present some perfect learning experiences that can help keep you out of similarly dire situations.
Remember: Silicon Valley is a mindset, not a location. If you stick to your vision for the long run, you can create your own path to success. Best of luck!
There, you’ve got five lessons to send you on your way to being the next big thing. If I were you, I’d start now, because there’s always going to be someone on your heels who’s looking to change the world. Ready to work at the next Pied Piper? With a little luck and a lot of hard work, you might even get to be a member of the 3 Comma Club.
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.