Behind the scenes with founders making it in SV

This Easter Monday Channel 4 is broadcasting a show my company produced – ‘How to be a Young Billionaire’ – a documentary charting the ups and downs of three British techs entrepreneurs trying to grow their startups in Silicon Valley.

Tech is the most vibrant, fast-moving and exciting movement in business, and arguably humanity, right now – but look at the television schedules and where are the shows telling the incredible stories of these disruptive startups?

TV on the tech business is a sea of clichés. Many are quite amusing, like HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’, which paints the world as geeky parties, free workplace massages and the ‘brogramming’ culture. Some are daft and cringe-worthy efforts like Bravo’s ‘Start Up Silicon Valley’, which was just a series of embarrassing setup pitches and random toga parties. Then there’s the raft of shows that paint business as this evil cut-throat world like ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Dragon’s Den’. Having spent time with Silicon Valley VCs and startups I can say with certainty that if anyone behaved like Alan Sugar or one of the ‘Dragons’ they’d not last long in the Bay.

In our show we tried to tell a different story – one that’s closer to the reality – of hard work, entrepreneurial passion and single-mindedness, late nights, stress, occasional conflict, success and sometimes failure. But this reality is a tough sell to for those that control the TV schedules – people coding on their Macbooks into the wee hours, Skyping with investors, meetings with colleagues – it’s no Bear Gryls of Bake Off! It’s testament to Channel 4 that they took the risk.


Among the hopefuls taking on Silicon Valley is Robyn Exton, founder of lesbian dating app HER (formerly Dattch), whose hopes of scaling her business depend on raising $1m of investment. At first, it was hard to tell if she was eternally optimistic or just a formidable PR machine, but then you come to realise that it’s more than money on the line for her, she’s given up everything – her job, her savings, her security, her chance to have a normal social life and, somewhat ironically, the ability to have a longterm relationship – you realise if she doesn’t stay optimistic in the face of adversity then she stands to lose everything. The reality of Silicon Valley is 90% will fail on their journey – and I think this is why it’s so full of young people – because they have this unwavering belief and insane levels of energy to make it happen.


We also meet Josh Buckley, a 22 year old game developer who raised millions with his first game MinoMonsters in his late teens, but is facing a crisis as the game’s growth stalls and he is desperately fighting to raise more money to reinvest in a new iteration of his game. To film with someone who faces the risk of being a ‘has been’ at a mere 22 is quite something. Josh was a fascinating entrepreneur to film with – like a 40-year-old in a 22-year-old’s body in terms of life experience. We were there filming throughout one of the hardest phases of his business as one VC after the next said no to him – and yet somehow he managed to muster the energy to push on.

Finally we meet Julia Onken. She’s incredibly entrepreneurial, although unlike Josh and Robyn she is working for someone else’s company, heading up their marketing effort at just 21 years old. Julia’s story represents that of the hundreds of thousands of recent graduates starting out in their careers – of finding her way in life, learning how to cope with a demanding boss, to deal with the stress of work while also making the most of the social opportunities in California. She was a beguiling mix of adult confidence and childlike enthusiasm with a happy-go-lucky youthful attitude that allowed her to shrug off the long hours, low pay and uncertainty of her position for that feeling she wakes up with every morning: getting to pour her heart and soul into a job she loves doing. While things don’t go quite to plan for Julia, she is great example of dusting yourself off and trying again – that ‘fail fast culture’ in tech.

It’s with great trepidation that the show’s finally making it on air – and so it’s time to see if people really want to see a show that’s about the tech scene as it really is. If not, expect more shows like ‘Start Up Silicon Valley’ and ‘The Apprentice’ in its place!

‘How to be a Young Billionaire’ is broadcast 10:30pm on Easter Monday 6 April on Channel 4. Watch the trailer here.

By Jason Mitchell, Executive Producer, The Connected Set