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Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - November 23, 2012

Fired up over 'Start-Ups'

Peninsula pair star in Silicon Valley reality show

by Nick Veronin

A new reality show centered on the lives of several young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs has locals buzzing. Two of the people profiled in the show "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley" say that they, and their business, are serious, but Valley denizens are expressing doubts.

The show, which kicked off Nov. 5 on the cable network Bravo, has Randi Zuckerberg as executive producer — she's Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's sister. The show features a main cast of six attractive young men and women working to get their fledgling, tech-oriented businesses up and running.

In addition to showing vignettes to introduce the cast members, the first episode follows brother-sister duo Ben and Hermione Way as they attempt to secure a half-million dollars in start-up money for their company, Ignite Wellness, in a pitch meeting at Mountain View's 500 Startups.

Ignite makes a small piece of hardware that users stand on while it links to accompanying smart-phone apps, which may run the user through a series of exercises and Wii Fit-like video games, or just weigh them and help them keep track of their fitness goals.

"It's definitely our experience of trying to make it in Silicon Valley," Ben Way said in an interview. He and his sister said none of the show was scripted and that they were handed no favors from being on it. In fact, Ben said, when it came to raising capital he estimated that half of the venture firms they approached said no simply because he and Hermione had cameras following them around.

Some locals are shaking their heads at the program as well.

"When I first heard of a reality show coming out on Silicon Valley, me and most of the people I know were a little apprehensive about it," said Priyanka Sharma, product marketing manager for Outright, a Mountain View-based financial management applications company that began as a start-up and was recently acquired by

Sharma said she has lived the start-up life, and that there is nothing glamorous or all-too entertaining about it. That's why she said she was disappointed with the premiere of "Start-Ups." While Ben and Hermione set out to seek venture funding in the first episode, they did so only after a long night of drinking at the glitzy mansion they share with other techies in San Francisco.

"I have to tell you, I couldn't even complete the episode," Sharma said.

Hermione said the mansion — which they call The Villa — isn't a perk of the show but an emerging trend. If she is going to pay the notoriously high San Francisco rent, she wants to get more out of it than a one-bedroom. She and Ben decided to rent a much larger house with four roommates. The arrangement means they have a yard and laundry facilities, while having the added benefit of bouncing ideas off of their tech-minded roommates.

Sharma, who is currently on the hunt for a place to live in the city, agreed that it is not uncommon for people to look for a house and bring together a load of roommates. Even so, The Villa and the costume party Ben and Hermione threw during the first episode seemed very "Beverly Hills," she said.

As someone who has lived and worked in Silicon Valley for seven years, Sharma said the entire episode seemed "fantastical and unrealistic." At times it even seemed scripted, she said.

She said she worries that some may get the wrong idea about the tech industry, thinking it's a place where anyone can waltz in with a half-baked idea, score some venture funding and then get rich. "Somebody working in manufacturing in the Midwest might get the wrong idea," she said.

Ben and Hermione see things differently. "Unfortunately all the drama is actually real," Ben said. "Everything you see on the show — it's not scripted in any way. It couldn't be scripted if they tried."

They all work hard, he said, and there are very stressful aspects to their lives. But there are also social aspects — "going out and enjoying yourself," as Ben put it. "What Bravo wanted to show was both sides of that."

Hermione said she would be pleased if the show inspired someone from Middle America to give it a serious go in Silicon Valley. She said she has received messages from some of the show's fans, particularly fellow women she has inspired, who may may end up doing just that. "I'm a woman in a male-dominated industry," she said.

"There is a worldwide interest in what is going on out here right now," she added.

Sharma said it is good for those who have the requisite drive to try their hand at starting a business in Silicon Valley, but that she worries the show makes everything look too easy. It may be less likely to produce serious tech entrepreneurs and more likely to bring out people who aren't sufficiently prepared for the tough reality of the start-up scene, she said.

Ben actually tends to agree with Sharma on at least one score. "There's not that much glamour" in what he does, he admitted. But he doesn't worry that the show is going to cause a mad rush of unqualified people to head for Silicon Valley.

"A lot of people have been saying, 'Oh my God, we're going to have so many wannabe entrepreneurs coming to Silicon Valley.' But there is no such thing as a wannabe entrepreneur. If you don't have what it takes, you just won't make it," he said.

Network officials aren't entirely surprised by the push-back that "Start-Ups" has encountered, according to a Bravo spokeswoman. The network has produced a lot of reality shows about industries and subcultures, and whenever it does, there is almost always some backlash from the community the show is focusing on.

One of the most pointed criticism of "Start-Ups" is about the way the cast looks. The show's three men and three women all appear young, attractive, physically fit and white.

Sharma said she thought this was the most ridiculous aspect of the show. "Silicon Valley is an incredibly diverse place," she said, adding that many of the people working hard at a start-up have neither the time nor the inclination to stress too much about their appearances.

Ben and Hermione said they never expected everyone to love the show, and that they expected that some within the industry would be critical. The backlash has added extra stress to their already stressful lives, the two said, but they aren't going to change who they are because of it.

"We're not trying to pretend to represent all of Silicon Valley," Ben said. "We're just trying to represent our experience."


Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm

ick and awful. But then, I think ALL "Reality" tv shows are idiotic. God help our society.Persuading our young (and uneducated) to idoize wannable "stars."

Like this comment
Posted by Ed Hill
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm

The show is uh...boring...! These kids have zero clue as to what it really takes and basically even a "blind squirrel" finds a nut every once and awhile. So much ego and and all that start up cash go right to their's a damn shame!

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Is anyone else offended that this show uses an all-white cast to represent Silicon Valley? At every Silicon Valley tech company that I have worked at, more than half the employees are non-white. Is this show supposed to be some kind of Republican fantasy?

Like this comment
Posted by reality bytes
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 19, 2012 at 5:13 pm

"Is this show supposed to be some kind of Republican fantasy?"

No. If it was, it would be about Bain slashing jobs and shipping production off to China or India.

Oh, wait a minute....

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm

"Juvenile" and "pathetic" are the two words that occur to me after watching Episode 1 of Start Ups.

Any venture guy, or 'entrepreneur' for that matter, who takes a meeting under these circumstances is after TV notoriety pure and simple. Glad to hear half the VC's passed before this crew ever got in their doors.

Randi Zuckerberg is acting the part of an out-of-touch transplant cashing in on her brother's, and Silicon Valley's, rep. This ridiculous 'show' is destined for 8 episodes max. I would love to see it disappear sooner.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm

The era of funding the young and inexperienced is long gone-never to return.

VC companies now install their own seasoned managers and take most of the equity in the few firms start up firms they are now funding.

As you will get very little-if any equity/ownership-why bother to beg for VC funding

Better to get a job with an established Tech, Energy, Biotechnology or Defense company.

Nobody is taking risk with their money these days so both the private and institutional investors are staying clear of start-ups

End of an Era

Very Sad but very true-

Like this comment
Posted by Lachlan
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm

If I were Zuck, I would never speak to my sister again. This show makes Silicon Valley look like it is all adolescent parties, with no real work being done. Nothing, but nothing, is further than the truth. I would be surprise if no lawsuits were filed over this.

Like this comment
Posted by StartUpMyNap
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2012 at 9:45 pm

The biggest failure of all is the show itself. it is just plain boring. I watch to see where they filmed and if any familiar faces show up (2 have so far). Other than that, I find it hard to pay attention to this drivel. Romantic tiffs, people getting spray tans, toga parties. Looks more like Jersey Shore West, without a Snookie.

Like this comment
Posted by why oh why oh why oh?
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2012 at 6:09 am

Yep to the above comments.LOL Now they can go home and claim Silicon Valley experience. The show does not reflect my many years at both startups and fortune 500 firms of working with people from everywhere around the globe. Of course many who work here for a few years will leave without the sheen of sucess since they were not in the right place at the right time no matter how hard they work or how smart they may or may not be or how old they are or where they are from ( Yes , Virginia there is rampant age discrimation )


Has anyone looked at the incredible weekly rise in the local rental market due to the flood of incoming newbies? My rent went from $1700 plus all utilities to $2495 this year. Studios are starting at $2000, so putting several people into a place is not unusual. My earnings didn't increase to match the rent increase and will I do not believe in rent control, I do see price gouging happening all over the bay area.

Like this comment
Posted by Brendan
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 20, 2012 at 9:13 am

This "reality" show is basura just like everything else on Bravo. Next story,,,

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I was so disgusted by the behavior exhibited in the first episode. The woman who crawled under a conference table at a VC's office to take a nap while waiting for her meeting...ridiculous and would NEVER actually happen here.

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Unbelievable program. Don't know what they were hoping to represent
because this does not reflect the life in Silicon Valley.
I watched twice to see the incredibly bad behavior of these kids and
wonder what went wrong in their lives to bring them to these rude
and derelict behaviors.
Watching no more-

Like this comment
Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Ducatigirl is a registered user.

Now I know why people in Texas hated the show "Dallas" all those years ago. It made them look like immoral, greedy parasites. This show does the same to us! How dare Zuckerberg's sister do such a thing. If she were my sister, I would disinherit and disown her.

The rent gouging is happening because most people can not qualify to buy a house, therefore have no choice but to leave or pay the exorbitant rents. Landlords have these people over a barrel, and it is sickening.