The Risk Factor
Entrepreneur|May 2017

On April 23, HBO’s Silicon Valley fires up its fourth season of roasting and toasting the tech industry. For actor, comedian, and writer Kumail Nanjiani, the show’s success also validates a lifelong philosophy: You’ll never get anywhere by playing it safe.

Dan Bova

The new season of Silicon Valley is airing now. How have people who work in the real Valley reacted to the show?

They never think it’s about them. They think it’s about the people around them. They’re like, “Oh, yeah, you guys are so right—these people are crazy.” And we’re like, “No, you’re crazy.” Which is kind of perfect. No one is offended, but everyone thinks it’s accurate.

Is it true you were part of the tech world before you got into comedy?

Yeah. I worked at the University of Chicago for a couple of organizations that did research on public schools.

Like what?

Well, there was one charter school where their whole thing was technology. Every sixth-grader had their own MacBook. These kids who had never had a computer suddenly had these computers they were banging around and pouring apple juice into. It was my job to keep them functioning.

How’d it go?

It was an impossible job from the beginning. There were way too many computers. I was one guy, and these were kids—they were reckless with them. And the curriculum depended on these computers working. Everything was sort of stacked against me. Plus, I was really bad at the job. They never had a shot.

Good thing you switched jobs. There are a lot of parallels between being a comedian and being an entrepreneur, one of which is having a pretty high tolerance for risk.

Yeah. You have to take that leap of faith and be like, All right, this is risky, and I’m probably going to fail a bunch of times. You just have to hope that the failure-to-success ratio is something you can withstand.

Any advice for someone looking to make a big change?

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