The women of HBO’s Girls may have reminded many viewers of their most self-obsessed friend, but no one ever looked at Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet) and said, "She's definitely inspired by XZY person in the news." The same can’t be said for another one of HBO’s comedies, Silicon Valley. The soon-to-return series lampoons actual California tech culture so, well, it has to be based on someone or some company, right?
Like with the big questions of The Leftovers before it, the answer is "kinda." While Silicon Valley and the characters leading fictional Pied Piper definitely borrow ridiculous plot points from lots of real-life moments, it’s not like we’re watching Girlboss, which is a “real loose” adaptation of Nasty Gal’s true origin story.
To explain who our favorite Valley characters are based on, tech consultant Rex Sorgatz made a bunch of handy charts on BackChannel.com. The industry insider theorizes original Silicon Valley angel investor and best character Peter Gregory (the late Christopher Evan Welch) is almost entirely a fictionalized version of “eccentric libertarian billionaire” Peter Thiel. Both men have their own islands, offer fortunes to students who will drop out of college, and are angel investors.
David isn’t the only Pied Piper investor who has a real-life counterpart. Remember Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos)? Although he has the cringeworthy attitude of Instagram king Dan Bilzerian, Russ’s actual billionaire backstory is all Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban. Both guys made their billions in in similar ways — Russ sold “radio on the Internet;” Mark sold Broadcast.com — and offer three comma club paraphernalia, as Sorgatz points out.
However, lead character Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) isn’t so cut and dry. The Pied Piper founder and sometimes-CEO bares the most resemblance to Twitter creator Jack Dorsey, who was ousted from his company in 2008, only to return triumphantly in 2015. Richard is de-throned in season 2, replaced by a new, older CEO, and then retakes his seat after a few episodes. This makes a lot of sense since everyone in the Silicon Valley writers' room has read “Hatching Twitter” by Nick Bilton, the history of the app.
They also hired Dick Costolo as a consultant on season 3. Costolo just so happens to be the guy who took over as Twitter's CEO in 2010 and lost his seat at the table when prodigal CEO Dorsey returned.
“Once, they were debating what should happen next in a story arc. [Creator Mike Judge] asked the room, ‘Didn’t they face a problem like this in the Twitter book? What did they decide?’" Costolo tells The New Yorker. “Someone had to point out, ‘Mike, one of the people from that book is in the room. Let’s just ask him what happened.’”
That means Silicon Valley and its data compression company Pied Piper isn’t based on a 140-characters-or-less social media app like Twitter, but it’s being shaped by the people and stories behind it at every turn. Let's just hope we’ll never, ever have to hear local Satanist Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) say “Hashtag TBT.”