As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And, in Silicon Valley, where startups rely on billionaire angels to bring their networks, devices, apps, platforms, and wearable technology to market, there’s no such thing as a free launch.
This week’s episode of Silicon Valley, “Bad Money,” introduced a new character so filthy rich that his first-world problems include scratching a $200,000 car with the rivets of his high-fashion dungarees. Russ Hanneman, deftly played by Chris Diamantopoulos, not only serves the plot — it’s the end of the line for Pied Piper and they need investors, like, yesterday — but he also embodies the worst of Silicon Valley’s ‘bad money.’ His best idea was “bringing radio to the internet” in the ’90s and he’s been rolling in the dough (and rubbing said dough in everyone’s faces) ever since. And as Rotten Tomatoes learned from the show’s co-showrunners Mike Judge and Alec Berg, there are a lot of Russes in the Valley.
“We met with tons of startups and incubators, and the one thing a lot of them talk about is bad money,” Silicon Valley Judge told Rotten Tomatoes. “There are a lot of outsiders, people who are completely outside Silicon Valley that are not respected by Silicon Valley, and don’t respect it in return. We just kind of looked at a lot of people like this, outsiders.”
For Russ, whose character was literally known as Bad Money until Judge and co-showrunner Alec Berg gave him a name, the inspiration came from a number of anecdotes they heard while visiting the Bay Area. “There’s a guy who is a rug merchant and actually has a store in Palo Alto,” Judge said. “I mean, he is a foreigner — he’s not really like Russ — so it’s a combination of a lot of things.”
As for Berg and Judge’s feelings about the tech paradise of the Valley, there is no hard line between good and bad — though bad money is certainly good to poke fun at.
“It’s funny,” Berg said. “People kept asking the first season, ‘Is this a poison pen letter or a love letter to Silicon Valley?’ I don’t know why it has to be one or the other.”
Judge elaborated, “There are certain things about that business and the people that work there are amazing, and some of the stuff that’s being developed there is changing lives vastly for the better. But there’s also the reality that is it’s a business.
“I don’t know that Henry Ford or Cornelius Vanderbilt were walking around saying, ‘You’re welcome, America,’ in a way that these people are. There really is this attitude of like, ‘Yeah, I just made $7 billion, but I did it all because I’m essentially a well-paid volunteer. I did it to make people’s lives better.’ Okay, then why don’t you give all that money away?”
As for the guys of Pied Piper, they now have the money they need to keep the business going. We’ll just have to see how Russ’ bad money is going to affect their bottom line.
Season two of Silicon Valley airs Sunday nights on HBO at 10 p.m. See reviews here.