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Why It's Impossible to Be the Nice Guy

In the second episode of HBO's 'Silicon Valley,' a familiar theme crops up: Making tough choices means not always being nice.
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The second episode of startup comedy Silicon Valley ventured into familiar territory for entrepreneurs: the terrifying first moments of starting a company. 

In this episode, the marble-mouthed protagonist, programmer Richard, has just accepted a $200,000 investment from a Peter Thiel-esque VC named Gregory. After a rather distasteful opening scene with a stripper (let's not get into gender politics here), the show follows Richard trying to figure out just what the heck starting a company is all about.

In his first meeting with Gregory, Richard mutters his way through not having a business plan, go-to market strategy, P&L statement, or company vision for his startup, Pied Piper. Finally, Richard says: "When you said you'd offer guidance, I thought this is the stuff that you'd guide us through." 

"I cannot guide you if I have nothing to guide," responds Gregory, quietly enraged. 

And there's the rub. When Richard actually starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together, he finds himself in front of one of the biggest challenges that define the life of the entrepreneur: tough decisions. 

To make these choices, Richard's oafish mentor Erlich keeps pushing him to "be an asshole." His logic: All the greats were assholes, and if you aren't an asshole, everyone is going to walk all over you.

Elrich has a point. For example, when Erlich refuses to help Richard come up with a business plan (what an a-hole!), Richard asks business dev guru Jared for help. As the two are reviewing the team of coders that will make up Pied Piper, it becomes glaringly obvious that Richard's best friend, Bighead, is absolutely not crucial to getting the company off the ground. 

This is when the "asshole" theme comes to a head. Richard is faced with doing the smart thing--being a jerk to his BFF and firing him--or the dumb thing and keeping the mediocre Bighead, a move that will anger the legitimately talented coders at the company.

The point in this episode, for me, was that as a founder, you are going to be an asshole. It's unavoidable. Your job is to just figure out what kind of an asshole you're going to be. 

How'd it end? Well, after making a big soapbox stand in front of the company to explain that Bighead is staying, Richard learns that, in fact, Bighead is jumping ship: another startup poached him for $600,000.

When Richard finally gets the check for $200,000 he goes to the bank to deposit it but can't--because it's made out to the company, which he hasn't even created in the eyes of the IRS. (This actually happened to Larry and Sergey when they got their first check for Google). 

So yeah, starting a company isn't easy, and can turn just about anyone into a big, bad asshole. 

 

Last updated: Apr 14, 2014

NICOLE CARTER | Staff Writer | San Francisco Bureau Chief

Nicole Carter is Inc.'s San Francisco bureau chief. She was previously an editor at New York Daily News, and her work has also appeared in Consumer Reports magazine.




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