HBO’s new satire “Silicon Valley” is extremely funny to anyone who has spent time in or near Northern California’s tech culture.
There’s an inside joke hidden within almost every scene, character and line of dialogue.
And it looks like the jokes won’t be stopping anytime soon. HBO last week said it was picking up “Silicon Valley” for a second season.
So, to help you better enjoy the humour, here’s an insider’s guide to the what some of the jokes really mean.
Peter Gregory is inspired by real-life billionaire investor “Peter Thiel.”
Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal, whose wealth skyrocketed from his early Facebook investment.
He’s known for his outspoken libertarian political views. Like Gregory on the show, he encourages young genius geeks to leave school and start businesses.
However, he doesn’t drive a strangely narrow smart car. He’s been known to drive a luxurious Mercedes SL500.
Hooli CEO Gavin Belson is inspired by billionaire Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.
On the show, the CEO of the fictional company Hooli is Gavin Belson, a hard-driving business man who hangs out with his spiritual guru.
While commuting on the Hooli bus, the startup founder and CEO protagonist, Richard Hendriks and his childhood best friend, Big Head, see a promotional video of Hooli. It shows Belson talking up the vision of Hooli while simultaneously saving children in Africa.
That’s taken from the playbook of real-life billionaire philanthropist Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce.com.
Benioff is known for his love of yoga and meditation. He also loves to talk about his vision for his company, the future of tech and the joy of the 1-1-1 model of philanthropy he created, where companies donate 1% of their equity, time and products to charity.
Benioff is even been known to speak out against other tech billionaires’ philanthropic efforts that don’t follow his 1-1-1 model.
Erlich’s partying ways is a nod at a real-life Valley legend
Erlich Bachman represents the entry-level rung of the Silicon Valley venture fund world.
He sold a startup for enough money to buy a house and now rents his house out as a hacker hostel. Bachman takes a percentage of each company housed there.
Hacker hostels are a real-life concept best represented by a firm called ChezJJ. At ChezJJ, founders of early-stage startups share a house, pay cheap rent, and live and work together.
Erlich’s favourite pastime, partying, is a reference to real-life entrepreneur and Valley legend Sean Parker.
Parker founded Napster and helped discover Facebook, joining as its first president. His stake in Facebook pushed him into the billionaire ranks.
Parker was once known for being a party animal.
Peter Gregory’s creepy GPS tracking company is a reference to real tech
During the first episode, when Gregory’s assistant, Monica, meets Richard outside the doctor’s office. Richard asks her how he located him.
She says, “Peter Gregory has invested in a company that uses GPS and phones to track people.”
Richard replies, “That’s creepy.”
Monica nods and says, “You don’t know the half of it.”
In real life, Peter Thiel has invested in a company called Palantir that’s also funded by the CIA’s investment arm. It helps agencies monitor for criminal activity and identify people through facial recognition software.
At one point, speculation circulated that its software was used by the NSA’s Prism program, but Palantir denies that.
That’s the word that Richard utters under his breath when two Hooli employees approach him in the break room.
A “brogrammer” is a macho dude programmer, not one of the more nerdy types who run around five-person packs on the Hooli campus.
A rock-star culture
In the Valley, the “rock stars” are the guys who built their own multibillion companies, not actual musician rock stars.
In Episode 4, Richard’s lawyer picks up a guitar and proudly shows that it was autographed by both of the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
That’s also a reference to an April’s Fool joke about Brin deciding to learn how to play blues guitar. He was said to be given lessons by music icons like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Ralph Macchio, TechCrunch jokingly reported in 2012.
Flash back to the opening scene in Episode 1 where an actual rock star, Kid Rock (played by himself), was singing at a private party, and being completely ignored.
“Making the world a better place”
The Silicon Valley ethos is that fabulous new technologies are developed in equal parts to save the world and get rich.
It’s very uncool to say, or even to think, that making money is the company’s primary goal, even though vast sums of money float around the tech industry for salaries, perks and acquisitions of unproven startups.
There’s one scene where Erlich puts himself into a drug-induced meditative hallucination to come up with a better name for Richard’s startup than Pied Piper.
But all he he winds up doing is chanting: “Making the world a better place. Making the world a better place.”
The symbolism in that scene, with real Valley logos floating in the background, is hilariously right on the money.