A Startup To Watch In 2014: HBO's Silicon Valley


With startups like Nest and WhatsApp being bought for billions these days, it was only a matter of time before we saw a TV show dedicated to the geeks who create them. Well, enter Silicon Valley, a new HBO series created by Mike Judge, the mastermind behind other comedies including 1999's Office Space and MTV's long-running animated series Beavis and Butt-head.

On the surface, Silicon Valley, which debuted Sunday night at 10 p.m., is a thinly veiled jab at the over-the-top antics of the Valley's most elite. In the opening scene [SPOILER ALERT], a Palo Alto start-up just acquired by Google for $200 million throws a lavish party for guests, who munch on "liquid shrimp" hors d'oeuvres and joke that Kid Rock, the night's entertainment, is the "poorest guy in the room."

And then there's Hooli, Judge's not-so-subtle take on Google, whose founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), is a running parody of tech bigwigs with larger-than-life mantras and claims that their products will save the world. "Hooli is about innovative technology that makes a difference, transforming the world as we know it, making the world a better place -- through minimal message-oriented transport layers," Belson says in a Hooli commercial, likely provoking a few eye-rolls from Valley viewers who have heard a similar spiel before. "I firmly believe we can only achieve greatness, if first, we achieve goodness."

[Related: The 10 Coolest Startups Of 2013]

But on the other end of the Silicon Valley spectrum, Judge reminds us, is a sea of well-intentioned, t-shirt-wearing nerds working tirelessly to be the next Belson -- or, at least, a less obnoxious version of him. Among them is Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch), a programmer who lives in a half-apartment, half-tech "incubator" with his equally as geeky friends. A Hooli employee by day, Hendrix's real passion is Pied Piper, a web site he started that lets musicians search a library of recorded tracks to make sure they aren't infringing any copyrights.

The site itself is the subject of more than a few jokes, but Hendrix, without even realizing it, stumbles upon a cash cow: Pied Piper uses a unique algorithm that lets it search huge amounts of compressed files in super-fast speeds.  

That's where the storyline kicks in. Once Belson catches wind of Hendrix's algorithm -- something he says could take technology innovation to new heights -- he wants it for its own. So much so, in fact, that he offers Hendrix $10 million to buy it outright (an offer that sends Hendrix running out of the room to vomit).

But on the heels of Belson's offer, Hendrix gets a phone call from VC billionaire investor Peter Gregory (played by Christopher Evan Welch, who passed away in December from lung cancer), who encourages Hendrix to keep the technology and grow it on his own, offering him $200,000 for a 5 percent share of his company.

The episode ends with Hendrix ultimately opting for Gregory's bid (he couldn't swallow selling off the site completely), and making a call to arms to his keyboard-pounding friends. "Let's just think different -- wait, don't 'think different,' that's Apple. Let's just do it -- no, that's Nike. F*ck it, I don't know," Hendrix says, "let's just make it happen."

All in all, Silicon Valley is a hilarious watch bound to get a chuckle out of anyone, technology lover or not.  So far, no mention of the channel -- but, hey, it's only episode one. 

PUBLISHED APRIL 7, 2014