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Hard-partying tech geeks get their own reality show

'Start-ups: Silicon Valley,' a new series about the lives of six young entrepreneurs, will debut on the Bravo network.

November 02, 2012|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times
  • Hermione Way, left, and her brother, Ben Way, are two of the six young entrepreneurs in "Start-ups: Silicon Valley," a new reality show on Bravo.
Hermione Way, left, and her brother, Ben Way, are two of the six young entrepreneurs… (Bravo )

SAN FRANCISCO — It was only a matter of time before reality show producers trained their cameras on Silicon Valley. High-tech's promised land has money, power and more ambition per square foot than just about anywhere on the planet.

"Start-ups: Silicon Valley" is a new series chronicling the lives of six young entrepreneurs that will debut on the Bravo network Monday. But tech insiders here are fuming that the reality show is more silicone than silicon.

Unlike New Jersey, which has embraced the tequila-chugging, spray-tan zeitgeist of Snooki and the 'Jersey Shore' gang, or Southern California, where every waiter is a reality-show wannabe, Silicon Valley takes itself seriously. Previews that show the telegenic "Start-ups" cast cavorting in nightclubs and at toga parties have some people cringing.

Silicon Valley reality show: An article in the Nov. 2 Business section about the new reality TV show "Start-ups: Silicon Valley" misspelled the first name of TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis as Alexa.

"Here Comes Silicon Valley Boo Boo," snarked TechCrunch co-editor Alexa Tsotsis.

Quiz: How much do you know about California's economy?

"It is quite literally making us look like 'The Jersey Shore,' only without the tans," raged Silicon Valley blogger Sarah Lacy after watching a preview for the show.

What made Lacy even madder: This wasn't just entertainment industry types, looking to make a quick buck, but also a connected Silicon Valley insider.

Randi Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg's sister and an early Facebook Inc. employee, signed on to the show as an executive producer. Now she's taking heat for selling out Silicon Valley to Hollywood.

Zuckerberg says she's not surprised at the prickly reaction. "This is the first show that has flung open the doors of this community that tends to be very insular," she said.

Her message to critics: Lighten up already. It's cable TV, not a PBS documentary, Zuckerberg said. Viewers expect over-the-top drama; otherwise they wouldn't tune in. But that doesn't mean the show can't inform and inspire, she said.

She promises a mix of the high-tech drama that comes from the tough business of building a start-up from scratch and the claw-your-eyes-out drama that has made rich housewives and master chefs so popular in prime time.

"At the end of the day, we want to make great TV," Zuckerberg said.

The reality-show formula calls for beauty, style and colorful personalities — and "Start-ups" has all three in spades.

Cast member David Murray is a former Google Inc. employee who, at the ripe old age of 29, has had multiple plastic surgeries, including a hair transplant and a nose job. He moonlights as an opera singer.

Then there's Sarah Austin, a 26-year-old blogger who provides much of the show's tension by having a romantic dalliance with one cast member and a falling-out with the rest. Her diva cred is established in the first episode, when she's shown staying at the Four Seasons hotel in East Palo Alto and ordering a room-service hamburger for her Maltese dog, named Juniper.

Entrepreneur Ben Way, 32, is a British transplant who rents a $17,000-a-month villa with his 27-year-old sister Hermione, also a cast member, and four roommates in the hills above San Francisco's Castro District. The 1930s Spanish-style home features dark woods and white marble, a heated pool, a theater room, decks on three levels with city views, even its own Twitter feed. (The rest of the cast lives on their own in more modest abodes in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, resisting an initial push from producers that they all move in together.)

Still, the "Start-ups" members insist that they are no different from others who have come to the Bay Area to pursue the Silicon Valley dream — just luckier. More than 7,000 people tried out for the show.

"Probably half of those who auditioned are the ones who are making negative comments about us now," Way said.

He and his blogger sister give mainstream America a road map to becoming successful entrepreneurs, he said. The pair raised $500,000 in funding to build a fitness gadget and app during filming.

"That's how we are different from 'Jersey Shore.' We're doers," Way said. "We don't just drink and party all the time."

Murray, a programmer who is gay, said he wanted to champion the cause of marriage equality and promote his app, which helps people develop more healthful habits. He insists that there's far more reality in the Bravo series than skeptics think. CNNMoney crowd-sourced a drinking game for the show that would have players swill the whole bottle when someone actually writes a line of code.

"They had better get ready to have their stomach pumped. I am coding all the time," Murray said.

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