Has the streaming peaked? Netflix stock fell 37% last week after the company lost subscribers, and CNN + was dead on arrival. Are viewers finally outrageous? Maybe it’s shows and content. It’s hard to find a movie, series, or newscast that does not push a social or political agenda, from “Bridgerton” to “Squid Game” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Even formerly family-friendly Disney gets too preachy. Elon Musk calls this the “awakened mind virus.”
The agenda list is too long, so I want to focus on the current rash of shows about entrepreneurs: Showtime’s “Super Pumped” about Travis Kalanick and Uber; Apple TV’s “WeCrashed” about Adam and Rebekah Neumann and WeWork; and Hulus’ “The Dropout” about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Their debuts coincided strangely with Netflix’s “Inventing Anna” about the deceiver Anna Sorokin. Hollywood seems to equate entrepreneurs with scammers, almost as if filmmakers have a vendetta against success.
When I saw these entertaining series, I mostly laughed instead of crying, knowing that this is how many people will think of entrepreneurs in the future. It’s a shame that the entertainment industry is intent on ruining Silicon Valley’s reputation,
which keeps Hollywood alive.
Watching these series was fascinating, but also a little creepy because I have known or met many characters in these shows. So it was fun to compare their real looks and personalities with the portraits. Most were not even close. The opening line in each episode of “Inventing Anna” could apply to all series: “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are completely invented.”
Here’s the common thread: Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are misogynists, teens, narcissistic tech bros who run cults – even Ms. Holmes with his black turtleneck and deeper voice. They only consume tequila, mysterious green juice or kombucha. Every company party has a bouncy house. Bankers are idiots and venture capitalists can be easily manipulated. Board members are rubber stamped cretins. Every startup founder travels on private planes. (Note to venture capitalists: If a startup uses a corporate plane, then you have invested too much money and lost control.) Finally, everyone’s motivation is the same: “We save the world” or “make the world a better place,” a generational delusion.Although there is always a bit of truth to tropics, these are all clichés.
Anna Sorokin was a scam woman. Mr. Kalanick, on the other hand, was a hard-running founder who was unaware of how to move to the next level. Ms. Holmes started with good intentions, but was too stubborn to fail and turn. Mr. Neumann was a huckster who eventually believed in his own BS. WeWork, with its goal of “raising the world consciousness”, hid losses behind “society-oriented” earnings. The jokes almost write themselves – and that’s why there was so much fodder for HBO’s fictional 2014-19 series “Silicon Valley”.
The root of the problem is that these companies got way too much capital to spend. It’s as if these founders had stolen Grandma’s checkbook or had a seat in Congress. SoftBank told Uber and WeWork to “use to grow” and “grow or die.” SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son once told Bloomberg Businessweek that no one “wants to strike a blow with a crazy guy” and famously told Mr. Neumann and his co-founder that they “were not crazy enough.” It turned out that they were – because they trusted that Mr. Son continued to lead good money after bad money.
And it was not just Uber, Theranos and WeWork. So many companies got long runways facilitated by the Federal Reserve’s decades-long zero interest rate policy, which made capital virtually free. Valuations boomed and founders were in control. Some reached march height; most did not. Why? Because what in Silicon Valley is known as flash scaling – becoming the largest first – only works with high-margin, zero-margin cloud companies such as Google and Facebook.
When the rubber meets the road – or the office or the blood test – friction slows down real-world growth.
And hey, where’s the series about Quibi, the mobile video disaster that burned through $ 1.4 billion and was only live for six months? It will not happen. Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is one of Hollywood’s own.
Like fictional series like “Billions” and “Succession,” which always seem to conclude that any capitalist is a criminal, I am offended by the yellow vision of Silicon Valley because we should celebrate success, the products and services that contribute to society far more than the delusion of “changing the world” mantra. I even think we should celebrate those who (legally) fail, even though I know it might not provide six to eight hours of entertainment. Silicon Valley is a meritocracy, but it goes through periods of loose money when venture capitalists drop their guard and wannabe visionaries sneak in.
“WeWork is not a business, it’s an emotion,” says TV Rebekah Neumann, played by Anne Hathaway. The same for Hollywood, which needs to behave more like a company, kill the anger virus and delight viewers instead of preaching to them.
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