By Alyssa Bereznak, Vanity Fair
Tonight, Randi Zuckerberg will premiere her new Bravo reality TV show, Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, in which six geeky fledglings who also happen to be very nicely shaped try their hand at launching a tech company. Think The Real World, but with more tech jargon and white boards. Despite initial hesitance from her peers (one of whom described the show as "Silicon Valley Boo Boo"), Zuckerberg is powering full-speed ahead in her new behind-the-scenes role as the show's executive producer. VF Daily talked with the former Facebook marketing director about her critics, what her brother Mark thinks of the show, and the emoticon manicures she got with Zooey Deschanel. Highlights from our chat:
VF Daily: How did you come up with the idea for Start-Ups?
Randi Zuckerberg: We saw The Social Network win Oscars. There are shows now like The Big Bang Theory that really glorify geek culture that win a million Emmys. You have Shark Tank, a show that's kind of like American Idol for angel investing. It's become apparent to me that technology is at the center of pop culture in this country right now, and when I thought about it, there really had not been a show that really casts a light on Silicon Valley, where all of the action was going down.
Most of Silicon Valley's successful start-ups all began in suburban areas like Mountain View and Palo Alto. Those neighborhoods don't really have the nightlife settings that reality TV shows often require. Is that why your cast spends a lot of time in San Francisco?
Half of the cast lives in San Francisco, and half live in Palo Alto. One of the issues that we address in the show is: Where is Silicon Valley, exactly? Is Silicon Valley physically a place? Is it kind of like Palo Alto, San Jose? Or is it an entrepreneurial mindset that's now shifting more toward San Francisco?
What sets apart the San Francisco companies?
They tend to attract hipper employees who value going out and living close to where they're working. I think the companies down in the peninsula have an ethos of just work really, really hard and make an awesome company as quickly as you can.
What do you think makes a brand new company different from one that's been acquired or gone public?
There's always really interesting co-founder dynamics that make for compelling television. A lot of start-ups do something that we call out here "pivot[ing]," where you change your mind a lot of times before you finally decide what your start-up is actually doing. It's fun to be at a company that grows into something tremendous like Facebook, too, but there's something really magical about being at a company from Day One.
People have been talking a lot about Facebook's shares lately. Do you think that when a company has to deal with a volatile stock price that it's harder to be as free with company decisions?
It's pretty challenging to win every single thing that you launch--you see it immediately play out in a 10-cent, 20-cent change in a stock price. For a lot of companies, I think it makes them much less likely to take risks, because they're going to immediately see that affected in the stock price.
I think you are starting to see more hip, cool companies that are keeping their culture very strong, are reminding employees they're more than just a stock price. The Facebook campus, the new one, is so cool. They have a burger shack, a burrito bar, employees can get free food all day, and there are coffee shops that people hang out at. It definitely does not feel like a corporate I.P.O. company. That's a really good lesson for other companies going public.
Has Mark been supportive of the show?
My whole family has been so awesome. They've known for a while that my dream has been to produce content, especially to produce for television, and so everyone has been really supportive.
A former Facebook colleague of yours tweeted that she thought it would turn Silicon Valley into a "laughing stock of an industry." What do you think about that?
People need to realize that this is a reality show, not a documentary--if we were filming a documentary of Silicon Valley, the footage and the casting would be significantly different. But we're not. We're filming a wonderfully guilty-pleasure Bravo show. You look at shows that are on air--you have shows like Honey Boo Boo and Storage Wars and Hillbilly Hand-fishing. Surely it's time for a show that glorifies women and technology and entrepreneurship.
From the previews, the female characters of the show don't necessarily have the same vibe as Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer. They're comparing Silicon Valley to high school.
If you showed women who were at the very top of their careers already, that's very aspirational to people, but it's not always relatable. Highlighting young women that are just making a start of it in Silicon Valley for the first time is something that people who are struggling in the economy and this country can relate to.
Tell me a little bit about your "creative lounges."
I was reaching out to really strong women in different industries who are starting something in tech. Jessica Alba has the Honest company, Zooey Deschanel has HelloGiggles, and Mandy Moore is doing really active online work to end malaria for the United Nations. For each of those women I hosted an event, and I got 20-30 women in Silicon Valley to come, and we just had a great discussion about the challenges you face in a start-up.
Usually we try to have a little special touch at each of them. For Zooey Deschanel, her thing is nail art, so we had a station where you could get emoticons printed on your nails. We try to take a little twist on what we know that person likes, and put a geek touch on it. So who knows? Maybe if Kristen Wiig came we'd have a geek comedy sketch for her.
Would you perform in it?
I mean, I have been known to perform a few times.
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