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The Latest San Francisco-Based Reality Show Lets You Watch Techies Suffer Miserably

It's the best thing that can be said about Bazillion Dollar Club.

Dave McClure and Brady Forrest of 500 Startups.

 

If you’ve ever wanted to watch precocious young techies fired out of a cannon into intractable problems and industry contempt, well, Syfy has just the thing for you. Bazillion Dollar Club, which will premiere next Tuesday, September 22, at 7 p.m., is another one of those E!-style cable reality shows with the hiccup-y editing and the principals talking straight into the camera, video-confessional style. Only this time, it's all about tech. Not sold? After previewing the first two episodes, neither are we.

The stars of the show are VCs from 500 Startups, a local startup accelerator that's invested in some 1,200 infant companies, among them the billion-dollar-plus unicorns Twilio and Credit Karma. Each episode, the investors take a new pie-in-the-sky startup idea under their wing and give ambitious young entrepreneurs their version of an '80s training montage, which mostly involves pointing out the problems with their company in a you-can't-be-serious tone. The startup kids put up with the sarcasm in hopes of finding the secret route to the bottomless oasis of cash out there for anyone who dreams up the next big thing.

Episode one is about Ivee, a group of guys trying to raise $1 million for a voice-activated device that runs your Smart Home (you have one, right?). Episode two is about Vango, a group of guys who want $1.5 million to become the iTunes of the art world (huh?). This is the formula we know from these sorts of shows: Guys have a plan; guys encounter adversity along the way; guys just barely pull it off in time for the end of the episode. Rinse, repeat.

What’s different about BDC? Well, it’s got 500 Startups founder Dave McClure, a man who we’d guess has watched The Wolf of Wall Street almost as many times as Scorsese himself. He’s not malicious on a Jordan Belfort level, but he does seem to find perverse glee in taking the people who come to him for help and cutting them off at the knees. He even throws things at one poor schmuck practicing his sales pitch. Along the way, such sage wisdom as “$1 million will move this company forward” gets passed along to the startups noobs. (No shit, guys. Dump a million dollars on any situation and it’s probably going to get better.) Later, McClure avoids praising a founder’s salesmanship because “You don’t want to tell the quarterback he’s too pretty.” What does that even mean? 

But the biggest problem with the show isn't the doltish advice, it's the subject matter. Over on, say, Million Dollar Listing, dudes are just trying to sell a house, something most of us understand even if we’ve never done it. Bazillion Dollar Club involves software and hardware development and the ins and outs of raising venture capital. Even when streamlined down to toothpick width for the sake of making 43 minutes of TV, it’s all a little opaque.

BDC does have one thing going for it, though: We’re all vaguely aware that making it in Silicon Valley is hard. We know that 90 percent of startups fail, usually fast and hard. But BDC shows us why and how: These are kind of jerks that startup founders have to deal with; these are the stupid logistical problems and screwups that dive-bomb your company into oblivion for no reason; these are the weird carnival barker–meets–Glengarry, Glen Ross pitching styles you need with investors. 

For certain viewers, these examples will be inspiring. For others . . . well, let us ask, do you want to watch techies suffer through sleepless nights and belligerent overlords? Do you want to watch them mash their smartphones in despair? Then you're in for a treat.

 

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Email Adam L. Brinklow at tamlinearthly@gmail.com
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