Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley TV series has been a phenomenal hit over the past two years. It has already completed two seasons and is well on its way to a third season, which will premiere this April. The show revolves around a group of sex young geeks and their startup in Silicon Valley. The organizations, characters, and startups portrayed in the show have been a constant topic of discussion among the audience as to whether they have any real-life inspirations. Quite frankly, the resemblances are often quite uncanny. But, as to the question whether they are actually based on real-life people and organizations, the answer is more complex than a simple yes or no. So, let’s delve into this a bit more.
The one thing that Pied Piper and PayPal may have in common is that they are or will be great successes. Apart from that, there is no common storyline connecting the two. In fact, PayPal was founded after the merger of two separate companies, Confinity and X.com, and evolved in a much different way than Pied Piper has been portrayed on the show. However, that doesn’t mean that the show does not share anything with the hugely successful international payment system. Read on to find more.
I hope you remember the billionaire genius, socially awkward, and possibly slightly (arguably) creepy investor, Peter Gregory? The character was a regular in the first and second season, until Christopher Evan Welch, who played the part, died in real life, succumbing to lung cancer. Peter was the first investor in Pied Piper and can be considered quite eccentric person. It is widely believed that the character played by Welch was actually based on Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal. Well, there could be more truth to this speculation than can be shrugged off as audience’s curiosity gone wild.
I am sure you recall that Peter Gregory was the first investor in Pied Piper. Well, Peter Thiel was the first institutional investor in Facebook. Yes, Facebook! Thiel had a knack for finding exceptional talent in its bud and nurturing it. He used this ability (or you can easily call it a superpower?) to fund the dreams of alpha geeks, who were more than willing to drop out of colleges to work on their own ideas.
That’s not all. Anyone who has ever known Thiel would corroborate that he is quite nervous among people, and tends to make eccentric statements every now and then. Moreover, Thiel has a habit of speaking in a halting style, which is exactly what Peter Gregory on the show does as well. If that hasn’t convinced you about it yet, well, this should. In the first episode of the show, Gregory’s assistant, Monica, finds Richard (Pied Piper) and meets him outside a doctor’s office. Richard is surprised as to how she found him and she casually replies that Gregory has invested in a company that tracks people using their phone GPS. We felt that it was creepy and so did Richard. If you thought that the scene was more of a gimmick to show off some tech that would never happen in the real world, then you can be excused for thinking so. Sure, it did show off, but the “non-existent” part is not so. In real life, Peter Thiel was one of the investors in a company called Palantir. Guess who was on the investors list of this company? “Freaking CIA”. Bonus points if you guess what Palantir did. Nope, not location tracking. Palantir could monitor criminal activity by using the phone and a lot of other devices through facial recognition. There was some speculation that Palantir was also a part of the NSA’s much-maligned PRISM program, although there is no proof of that. Of course, we don’t have any proof. There is a reason for the placement of the word “covert” in the term “covert intelligence agencies”. That’s the story of Peter Thiel, Peter Gregory and PayPal for you.
The resemblances would seem to firmly establish that Peter Gregory is in fact Peter Thiel. But that is not what Mike Judge agrees with. Judge says that the bits of character traits which prompt the audience to link Gregory to Thiel are actually not that rare. He says that these are the most common characteristics of Silicon Valley techies turned businessmen. According to him, these people think way faster than they can
talk and consequently, when they are asked something, there is an initial delay followed by a machine gun fire of sentences. Since Gregory is a Silicon Valley billionaire, he exhibits these characteristics and there is no one-on-one correlation between him and Thiel.
No doubt, Judge’s explanation makes sense too. After all, he has seen enough of Silicon Valley himself. For those of you, who do not know, in the 80’s Judge spent some time there honing his coding skills. At the time, things were not as bright there as they are now. So, he left all of it to pursue his career in show business. So, he has met his share of these wide-eyed socially awkward young geniuses. Moreover, he has spent considerable time with people at Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and the likes to understand the way these people talk, think and behave.
So, now, it is up to you to decide whether Peter Gregory was enough of Peter Thiel or was a just enough of an average techie genius out there. Whatever you believe, one thing is clear. Silicon Valley, the show, is not biographical, satirical or a spoof. So, it is not important for the producers to make the characters as similar as the real-life people or the characters from other shows and movies. This could be why he has no motivation to liken the character to Thiel. However, that doesn’t mean there is not real-life inspirations. For instance, the tech giant in the show, Hooli, which is full of programmers, with access to a universe of snacks, is almost certainly Google!! Go figure. Check out Silicon Valley on HBO, which is included in cable TV plans from Comcast XFINITY.