‘Silicon Valley’ Highlighted Every Problem with the Startup World (in a Montage)

‘Silicon Valley’ Highlighted Every Problem with the Startup World (in a Montage)

In case you missed this week’s hilarious episode of ‘Silicon Valley’ on HBO, here’s what captured perfectly.

In Sunday night’s (hilarious) episode of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ the Pied Piper team traveled to TechCrunch Disrupt to compete in the Startup Battlefield. In a brief, two-minute or so montage, the show brilliantly captured everything that is wrong with the startup world and probably made a bunch of buzz-word happy programmers rethink their pitch. (Disclosure: I have, on multiple occasions, used several of these terms and my laughing at the episode was a form of pseudo self loathing.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Disrupt Startup Battlefield, it is a showcase during the tech mecca where new companies enter to win a (not so important) cash prize of $50,000 and the (very, very important) grand prize of the Disrupt Cup. For anyone who has dabbled in the world of startups, a few problems are abundantly clear right from the get go, not the least of which is the fact that everyone describes their product in the exact same way.

The big problem with startups from a recent episode of 'Silicon Vallet'.

The terms ‘revolutionary’, ‘game changing’ and ‘groundbreaking’ are used ad nauseam to describe products with simplistic (if not unnecessary) functionality. People talk about ‘making the world a better place’ by launching an app that communicates directly with a dog collar. In recent years with the success of products like Instagram and WhatsApp, the startup market has become incredibly over-saturated, and ‘Silicon Valley’ took advantage of the hilarity that results from bandwagoning.

What was so funny?

In the episode, as we observe a brief montage of startups pitching their often idiotic products – like the jacket that emits microwaves to heat individuals instead of turning on their heaters, thereby ‘making the world a better place’ – we see that the rhetoric of every hopeful is virtually indistinguishable. Whether it is a mobile yoga app or algorithms for consensus protocols, everyone touches on the three most important points: their product will ‘revolutionize’ industry X, it somehow makes the world a ‘better place’ and, of course, the company is completely SoLoMo, or MoLoSo, or they have gone from MoSoLo to LoMoSo (variations of Social-Local-Mobile).

Perhaps the funniest part of the montage came at the end, when the judges, sick of listening to dozens of the same presentation, tear apart the maker of the microwave jacket, telling him that no one will ever be convinced to use his product. And therein lies one of the few problems with the startup world highlighted by this episode of ‘Silicon Valley’.

What are the problems?

As noted above, this brief montage highlights the over-saturation and, quite frankly, monotony that has swept over the startup world. While every product might be unique (in some way, if only barely) and offer a niche a value added, not every one is going to change the world.

The problem with startups is they all sound the same.

What’s more, terms like ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘revolutionary’ are so greatly overused, that the moment we hear them we jump immediately to the conclusion that a product’s USP is not good enough to stand on its own. Penicillin was groundbreaking and revolutionary – an app that allows you to start your coffee maker from your phone is not. (OK – bad example. But you get my point.)

What to do? What to do?

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with hoards of young entrepreneurs looking to make something new and innovative, I just think that the grandiose notions associated with these microscopic applications need to be scaled. There is a lot of great, exciting stuff happening out there. But when it comes to the tech world, not everyone is sitting on the next Google, WhatsApp or Facebook.

Not long ago, while working as a marketing consultant for a startup, I decided to do some due diligence to learn more about the app development world. I spoke with a number of developers and one gave me some advice that I immediately passed on to my client. Here are the three things to remember when creating the ‘next big thing’:

  1. Shut up and take criticism.
    Anyone who has spent enough time with any app developers (or, as noted above, watched the painfully awkward Q & A with the microwave jacket app in ‘Silicon Valley’) knows that most app developers can’t see anything wrong with their products. And why would they? They have worked tirelessly to build something. If someone told you that your child wasn’t suited to do something, wouldn’t you defend him or her to no end? That’s how developers feel about their products and that’s a barrier that needs to be broken before any success can be reached.
  2. Start small and work your way out.
    Facebook wasn’t designed with the idea of one day hosting the third largest population on Earth. Dell and Apple were garage projects that seemed like a neat idea. Google was just a simpler, easier way to search through online content. Think of the micro version of the solution you are offering and start from there. The beauty of this market is that expansion is limitless as long as you consistently offer a product people want and can navigate easily. You can always add functionality as your product grows.
  3. Please don’t say ‘revolutionary’.
    Even if your product is the next step in the evolution of computing and your CEO is Jobs incarnate, you’ll lose the respect of plenty of people when you start throwing around buzz words to boast your product’s capabilities. Instead, just let the product do all the talking.

P.S. If you haven’t watched ‘Silicon Valley’ yet, I highly recommend that you do.


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Corey Padveen is a data-oriented marketing professional with a focus on statistical analyses of human behavior. This specialization has led him to speak and present at dozens of conferences around the world, to write for a variety of reputable online and print publications, and recently, to publish ‘Marketing to Millennials For Dummies’ as part of the world-renowned ‘For Dummies’ series. He regularly shares real world examples and findings from his research, and discusses how members of society are evolving as consumers, communicators, and a global network as a whole.
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