It’s hard not to like Randi Zuckerberg. She smiles a lot. She looks you in the eye. And even in an artificial setting--say, sitting across a conference table surrounded by publicists and journalists with recording devices capturing her carefully chosen phrases--she manages to seem both natural and unflinchingly on point. And yet, the 30-year-old former Facebook marketing director and budding media mogul--and, it almost goes without saying, big sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg--has made a lot of people very angry.
She’s fine with that.
"Sometimes it’s better to elicit passion from people than just to elicit a lukewarm response," she told Co.Create on a recent visit to New York to promote Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, the reality show she produced for Bravo that’s premiering on November 5. "I talk to a lot of brands about social media and I always tell brands you can’t let the haters bother you. There’s opportunity in haters. People would not go out of their way to post something unless they were passionate about it."
"Passionate" is definitely one way to describe the response Zuckerberg received when Bravo announced Start-Ups in April and, more recently, posted a two and half minute trailer for the show. The clip, which came with the provocative title, "Geeks Are Definitely the New Rock Stars," featured tech-attractive young people talking about ambition, business, and life in the tech trenches amid scenes of partying in togas, hanging around pools in bikinis, and coding in tank tops. Oh, and line dancing. That last one was probably the least infuriating to certain tech watchers.
"[W]hat Randi Zuckerberg has done to Silicon Valley in producing this TV show for Bravo is just unconscionable," wrote Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy in a post from April 5. Calling Zuckerberg "a legitimate insider," Lacy went on to say "she has sold her industry and her generation out, and there’s little any of the real entrepreneurs can say other than sit there, mouth agape, wondering why the hell she would do this." Lest the personal nature of Lacy’s post fly past readers, it was headlined "An Open Letter to Randi Zuckerberg: How Could You Do This to Real Entrepreneurs?" Even though the premiere was seven months away, Gawker’s Ryan Tate wrote, "the show’s a clear signal that ridiculous, highly public interpersonal drama will continue to swirl around the Zuckerberg clan for some time to come." (It’s worth noting that Zuckerberg did not conceive or create the show, but was brought in by its production company, Den of Thieves, to offer suggestions and a dose of, well, reality during the shoot and edits. It also can’t hurt to have someone with the name "Zuckerberg" out in front for the publicity swing including a chat at Fast Company’s HQ.)
All of this culminated in a high profile page one story in The New York Times headlined, "A Reality Series Finds Silicon Valley Cringing," in which reporter David Streitfeld wrote, "One former Facebook colleague of Ms. Zuckerberg’s took to Twitter to say she was 'terrified’ that the series would turn Silicon Valley 'into a laughingstock of an industry.'"
Well, haters, Zuckerberg has something she wants you to know. "First of all, it’s a reality show, not a documentary. Let’s get real," she says, smiling. "This is like a guilty pleasure television show that we think is gonna be extremely entertaining while hopefully also educational about the community. But at the end of the day: reality show." And not just a reality show, but a reality show on Bravo, the cable network that turned the word "housewife" into a signifier of high living and even higher drama and has done its best to find the sex appeal in flipping real estate.
Of course there would be attractive people, fights, crying, and parties because, really, would you or several million of your friends, want to watch Start-Ups otherwise? The real reality of a startup is more like long days (and nights) working in a cramped, borrowed office, attempts to raise funds from investors who change your company’s position weekly, and the constant risk that someone will beat you to the market or make your idea redundant. Does that sound like a recipe for entertainment to you?
"You’re not going to see the 36-hours in a chair, you’re not going to see probably the 400 venture capital meetings before you hear your first 'yes,'" Zuckerberg says. Besides, "People do throw parties in Silicon Valley. I’ve been to some crazy launch parties for companies."
As she prepares for her own launch (Start-Ups is just the first of many projects she’s planning with her nascent production company, Zuckerberg Media), Zuckerberg wants to be clear that there’s a lot reality in her show. She’s quick to note, for example, that one of the companies featured in the series was acquired by Facebook during the course of filming. (The real story seems to be that the two founders of the company were acquired not the company itself.) "That was incredibly validating," she says, pointing out that her little brother had no idea Bravo was following the company or its founders before the acquisition. "Facebook wouldn’t acquire a company that wasn’t legit."
While Randi Zuckerberg declined to say which company it was (" I have to leave a little drama!"), it’s probably worth noting that in October (Spoiler Alert!), Facebook hired the two founders and sole employees of Carsabi, a used car pricing site. One of those founders is Dwight Crow, one of Start-Ups: Silicon Valley’s stars. Bravo’s website calls the 26-year-old Crow a "programmer, entrepreneur" and describes him as "Wild, crazy and absolutely brilliant… When he’s not intensely coding next to his tenth cup of coffee, he’s out partying with his hacker buddies and solving complex algorithms while playing beer pong."
If that’s exactly the sort of description that’s sure to raise the hackles of other, less successful or telegenic Silicon Valley aspirants who’ll no doubt take to Twitter and Facebook on November 5 to comment on Start-Ups, Zuckerberg isn’t worried. "In some ways, a lot of that controversy is some of the best marketing for the show," she says.
"Sometimes I read [criticism] and I do think 'Oh, that’s kind of a bummer that someone feels that way.' But then again," she continued, smiling as always, "I see ratings also."