One of the reasons HBO’s “Silicon Valley” is such a hit rests in how effortlessly it skewers the tech scene.
The reality is often so ridiculous that the show even has to pull back sometimes, otherwise viewers would think it’s too absurd. Perhaps the show’s most beloved character is the extreme blowhard Erlich Bachman, played by TJ Miller, who takes credit for everything good that happens to Pied Piper while contributing little beyond platitudes.
Miller’s delivery and demeanor are priceless, and he claims the character is based on a particular person: Binu Girija, the founder of Way.com (or just Way).
“He really was an arrogant blowhard who had no coding skills, but just was a fairly good salesman who smoked marijuana a lot,” Miller told TechCrunch in 2014. “And that’s kind of where I got my character.”
Miller’s impression of Girija was based primarily on one chance meeting and an awkward pitch, Girija tells Business Insider.
Girija, in fact, does have a coding background, and studied computer science in university in India before working at Oracle and then founding a string of four startups. Two of them completely failed and two had mildly successful exits, he says.
Unfortunately, Girija says he put the money from his successes into one of his failures and ended up losing it.
“Whatever money I made, I lost it here,” he says.
But in 2013,Girija founded Way.com, which is what brought him into Miller’s orbit. Way, which raised a $1 million seed round half a year ago, is a “online marketplace for services.” Think about Amazon listing what you can buy from third-party sellers, and then apply that to things that aren’t just retail goods.
Girija explains it in terms of three things: time, location, and personalization.
“Let’s assume you are ordering lunch,” he says. “You have a time [you want to eat]. Then you pick a restaurant: location. And then you pick the cuisine, that’s personalization.” Anything that has those three elements, a vendor can list on Way, and Way will help connect them to the buyer. Way doesn’t produce anything in-house.
In explaining his ambitions for Way, Girija invokes grand marketplace comparisons, like Amazon and eBay, which might have contributed to Miller’s blowhard salesman impression of him.
Girija says he met Miller at a random event, and followed him.
Here’s how Girija describes the encounter:
“Hey TJ, would you have five minutes to talk ideas,” Girija asked.
“Who are you?” Miller replied. That’s when Girija immediately began pitching him Way. Miller began to walk away and Girija inserted the Amazon comparison.
“You’ve got three minutes,” Miller said.
But as Girija kept talking, it was clear that Miller wasn’t getting the idea, Girija says. So Girija pulled out his phone to try and show him, but the site was spotty and the screen was just loading and loading. Girija says he got nervous and kept talking fast, and his accent is, admittedly, a bit hard to understand at times.
“He might have thought I was high,” Girija laughs.
Girija is pretty good-natured about Miller’s comments. He did get free exposure out of it, after all. But he takes issue with one particular bit of Miller’s commentary. “I’m not arrogant,” he says. And indeed, he does seems much more self-deprecating than Bachman is in the show.
However, like Bachman, Girija is a bit prone to the sweeping statement.
One of Girija’s cofounders left the company as soon as the company secured the initial investment, he says. This is how Girija explains it: “There are some people who are born entrepreneurs. But some people purely look for an opportunity to get the money and run. Those I’ll call ‘the runners.’ [My cofounder] was a runner.”
That’s a mini speech I could definitely hear coming out of Erlich Bachman’s mouth.
Update: Binu Girija’s Way.com cofounder Pat Murray, who has since left the company, claims that he is the Way.com founder TJ Miller based part of the Erlich Bachman character on. Girija maintains that his account of the events is accurate, but acknowledges that Murray was present when he met Miller.
HBO provided the following statement to Business Insider: “The Erlich Bachman character, played by T.J. Miller, was created by the writers of Silicon Valley.”
Representatives for TJ Miller declined to comment.