Written by Jim Fowler
Last night I was hunting around on Amazon (AMZN) Prime for something interesting to watch and picked Season 21 of Survivor (a CBS show). There are now twenty-eight seasons of Survivor. This show certainly lives up to its name.
I haven’t watched Survivor since Season 2, and it hasn’t changed much except that they now put stars on the show. Jimmy Johnson, famous football coach, is on Season 21. In this season they have the normal twenty contestants – ten of whom are under age thirty and ten of whom are over age forty. They put the youngsters in one camp and the old folks in the other. Watching how differently the two groups approach their problems and challenges is truly interesting.
I was struck by how Survivor, and Season 21 in particular, in many ways mirrors what is going on in the Silicon Valley today. I heard Tim Chang of Mayfield Fund speak at an industry event a couple of years ago and he said he likes to invest in consumer start ups only if the founder is under thirty, and only invest in B2B start ups if the founder is over thirty. (I’m not sure if Tim came up with this concept but I’m going to give him credit as I heard it from him first).
How Survivor is like Silicon Valley:
- Most of the “camera time” is focused on the young sexy players, not the oldsters.
- The Tagline of the show is Outwit, Outplay, Outlast. (Only Outwit doesn’t really work for me as a Silicon Valley analogy. We don’t have many stupid people here. There are certainly some nitwits on Survivor.)
- One person wins a million dollars and nineteen others get nothing. Silicon Valley is definitely a winner-take-all kind of place.
- The youngsters are portrayed as never working. The cameras focus on them looking pretty and doing work that seems effortless. The oldsters are always filmed collecting firewood or fixing the shelter. This portrayal is undoubtedly wrong, just like in Silicon Valley, but the perception that it happens fast and easy for youngsters is present in Silicon Valley.
- The only way to get immunity from failure is to win challenges.
- Brains are more important than beauty, but beauty doesn’t hurt.
How Survivor and the Silicon Valley differ:
- There’s not as much drama or backstabbing in the Silicon Valley. (Hard to believe, I know, but watch one episode and you’ll agree.)
- In Survivor they vote off the biggest perceived threats early. You can’t vote your competitors off the island in the tech business.
- The competition doesn’t end after six weeks. In the Valley, competition never ends.
- We eat much better in the Silicon Valley than they do on Survivor.
While clear differences between Survivor and Silicon Valley exist, the goal of each individual competing in the television series – to outwit, outplay, and outlast each of his or her competitors – is at the core of every startup. Without the drive to be the best at what it does, a startup cannot survive in the grueling competitive landscape known as Silicon Valley.