Tinder’s Sean Rad: Paging Mr. Freud


For all the fuss over Sean Rad’s interview with the Evening Standard — culminating in Match Group being forced to make an SEC filing about sodomy — there’s one aspect of the story that, understandably, hasn’t received much scrutiny.  

Tucked away in a paragraph about a fancy watch and an ugly car, we learn the identity of Rad’s personal art expert: Matthew Freud.  

So far he’s been too busy for extravagance (apart from his gold Audemars Piguet watch and $ 115,000 black Mercedes G-Class SUV) but says he wants to start an art collection with the help of PR Matthew Freud, with whom he had dinner last night.

Matthew Freud certainly knows a thing or two about art: His office is lined with works by “Hirst, Banksy, Warhol, Francis Bacon and the Chapmans.” He once co-owned the art concept restaurant, Pharmacy, with Damien Hirst.

Freud also happens to be the nephew of Lucian and great-grandson of Sigmund, making him an ideal mentor for a CEO whose app facilitates the sharing of naked portraits of one’s lovers and who told the Standard that “the last woman he shared a bedroom with was his mother.”

But Freud great-grand fils is better known as one of Britain’s most skilled media manipulators – described by Adam Curtis as a “star” of the “new culture of public relations and marketing in politics, business and journalism.” His agency, Freud Communications (now just “Freuds”) was founded in 1985 and specializes in “advising chief executives and business owners, in situations including crisis, management of change, strategic direction and reputational challenge.” Until recently, Freud was married to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth. Oh, and he’s related – through his great grandmother – to Edward Bernays, aka “the father of public relations.”

It’s surprising then, and no small measure ironic, that just hours after dining with Freud in London, Rad would commit suicide by journalist in the pages of the Evening Standard, by appearing to threaten a female journalist:

Rad is “defensive” and still “upset” about the article, muttering  mysteriously that he has done his own “background research” on the writer Nancy Jo Sales, “and there’s some stuff about her as an individual that will make you think differently.” He won’t elaborate on the matter.

Surprising, certainly. Ironic, perfectly. But unprecedented – not entirely. Several journalists, including yours truly, have pointed out similarities between Rad’s veiled threat towards Nancy Jo Sales, and the threats made by Uber exec Emil Michael against Pando’s Sarah Lacy and her family.

What most reporters have missed, though, is how Freud’s involvement in the story takes the coincidence much deeper, and much weirder.

Rad made his threat against Sales hours after attending a dinner hosted by Freud. As I wrote back in May, Emil Michael made his threat against Sarah during a dinner hosted by another British PR guru: Ian Osborne.

Freud and Osborne are both affiliated with the infamous “Chipping Norton Set” – a gang of upper middle class Brits who flit between each other’s Oxford and Surrey homes, ride each other’s horses, and otherwise behave exactly like characters in an Evelyn Waugh novel. Both Obsorne and Freud are tight with the Murdochs, and also with British Prime Minister David Cameron. And both have recently made their services available to American tech execs needing some PR help.

Osborne has advised Uber, Sean Parker, and Marc Benioff and is a partner in Yuri Milner’s DST. Freud’s clients include Cisco, Bill Gates, and Blackphone but he recently told a reporter for (guess where!) the Evening Standard that he’s trying to better understand technology, admitting “my generation isn’t au fait with all this YouTube shit.” He was recently seen giving a tour of his home to YouTube celebrity Alfie Deyes, and now there’s the dinner with Rad.

No one at Tinder or Match will talk – on or off the record – about whether anyone else from the Chipping Norton Set was present at the Rad/Freud dinner. They are too busy spinning, privately to journalists and publicly on television, that Rad’s comments were taken out of context and that really he just meant he had Googled previous work by Sales and only meant to smear her professionally. Nor does anyone I’ve spoken to in London seem to know who else was present. The closest I’ve come to an answer so far is that several “important” people were in attendance.

One tech exec quoted threatening a female journalist after being wined and dined by a member of the Chipping Norton Set may be regarded as unfortunate. Two looks like carelessness. But absent any evidence to the contrary – and I’m going to get a copy of the attendee list for that dinner if it’s the last thing I do – we have to chalk it down to coincidence.  

What I do know is this: Not long after Emil Michael made his horrifying comments about Sarah, Uber decided to hire Chipping Norton Set-er (and friend of Ian Osborne) Rachel Whetstone as the company’s new head of communications. Similarly, Rad could do a lot worse than asking Freud or one of his cronies to take control of Tinder’s disastrously incompetent press machine.

After all, we Brits might not be au fait with “all this YouTube shit”, but when it comes to getting you into the newspapers, and then helping you back out of them, nobody does it better.

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Douche ex machina: “Silicon Valley” –and Pied Piper — find their savior in the show’s very own Sean Parker



Both Silicon Valley and its protagonists’ startup Pied Piper may have found their savior — and it arrived in a McLaren the color of a Flintstone Push-Up Pop, blaring Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie.”

At the end of last week’s episode, Richard and the rest of the Pied Piper team faced one of two seemingly inevitable fates: Either the company could fight the baseless lawsuit brought against it by the Google-esque company Hooli and likely go bankrupt in the process, or sell the technology to the tech giant and receive hefty buyout checks, stock options, and cushy jobs.

But while I’m sure showrunner Mike Judge — who also made Office Space — would have little trouble spinning a hilarious show out of the day-to-day drudgeries of working for a massive conglomerate, killing off Pied Piper so early would be akin to Breaking Bad obliterating Walt in a meth lab explosion in the first season.

So as Richard approached Hooli’s Mountain View office park, its depressingly sterile polygons suggesting a cold, corporate gravestone for the young CEO, he is cut off by that upsettingly orange sports car blasting rap metal like it’s 1999. The purple-shirted driver leaps out of the car chest-hair-first to offer Richard a third way. Call it douche ex machina.

Meet Russ Hanneman, Silicon Valley‘s inevitable Sean Parker analogue. It’s a little surprising that it took the writers this long to introduce a character mocking the notorious Napster cofounder and Facebook investor, considering he’s — rightly or not — become one of the biggest targets of ridicule in all the Valley. But Hanneman comes not a moment too soon, offering Richard a $ 5 million check to keep building Pied Piper on his own, while conjuring some of the funniest lines and gags audiences have yet seen on Silicon Valley.

From the moment he accidentally scratches his own car with the rivets on his jeans, Hanneman — played by Chris Diamantopoulos, who fans of the most recent season of Arrested Development will recognize as activist/ostrich farmer Marky Bark — is a hilarious one-man amalgam of everything worth hating about the new tech gentry. That’s true whether the hater is as anti-tech activist or a seasoned veteran of the Valley.

Hanneman is sexist and racist, telling Richard, “I got three nannies suing me right now, one of them for no reason,” and greeting Dinesh, a Pakistani-American, by shouting, “What’s up, al Qaeda?” Beyond these social grievances, Hanneman is a terrible businessman who got lucky and made $ 1.2 billion in three days for “putting radio on the Internet” twenty years ago. His net worth today, two decades later? $ 1.4 billion, which Richard tells him is the same rate of return he’d receive had he put that money in a Certificate of Deposit. “No one ever got laid putting money in the bank,” Hanneman responds, making his priorities clear.

But hey, $ 5 million is $ 5 million, right? Who cares if it comes from a guy Dinesh describes as “the worst man in America”?

Apparently $ 5 million isn’t $ 5 million… it’s a fixed payment every two weeks that Pied Piper will receive “unless you fuck up too badly,” Hanneman warns. Moreover, the flashy investor can and does dip into these checks at will to buy, say, 16 unneeded billboards for Pied Piper from an advertising company he owns. What’s worse, Hanneman has taken to hanging out at Pied Piper’s headquarters all day shouting expletives over the phone and inviting mysterious associates over to play video games. As promised, his approach is “hands-off” — that is, until Richard utters that dirtiest of seven-letter words: Revenue.

“Why would you go after revenue?” Hanneman asks. “If you show revenue, people will always ask, ‘How much,’ and it will never be enough.” He instead suggests that the company stay in a “pre-revenue” state, before asking the Pied Piper team if they know what ROI stands for. The group dutifully answers, “Return on Investment” before Hanneman corrects them:

“Radio On Internet,” he says. “Did you put Radio on the Internet?”

In addition to delivering some of the show’s funniest lines, Hanneman brings value to the show because there’s now less for the desperately unfunny Erlich (T.J. Miller) to do. There are now two brash, offensive assholes at Pied Piper, and when audiences watch Hanneman steal Erlich’s thunder they’re in fact watching Diamantopoulos steal Miller’s. Miller had all of a half a dozen lines in last night’s episode, most of which were delivered sheepishly and forgettably. And with Miller relegated to the sidelines, it’s no coincidence that last night’s episode was also the funniest of the season and possibly of the series.

Hanneman’s hilarious performance runs counter to one of the most common arguments used by fans of the show to defend Erlich, which basically comes down to: “He’s obnoxious! You’re not supposed to like him!” But as Hanneman shows — as do a number of classic television assholes from Richie Aprile to Pete Campbell to Eric Cartman — you can play an obnoxious, hatable goon and still have the audience love whenever you’re on screen. On the contrary, nobody “loves to hate” Erlich. They just hate him.

The episode, written by Alec Berg, also gave a great deal of screen-time to Hooli CEO Gavin Belson, another one of the show’s funniest and most spot-on performers. His subplot is a nod to legendary venture capitalist Tom Perkins who last year compared the treatment of billionaires in America to that of Jews during Nazi Germany. He quickly backpedals on his statement and tells a group of Jewish leaders, “In an effort to hardwire sensitivity into our corporate mind-space, I’m having a scale replica of the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem constructed right next to the bike shop.” Thereafter, one of his corporate lackeys approvingly says he came off as an “anti-anti-Semite.”

And finally, “Bad Money” features a subtle and smart piece of commentary on how companies are built in Silicon Valley, and why the lack of hierarchies at these firms aren’t always good things. Hanneman recommends that Richard hire 15 people each to assist Dinesh and Gilfoyle as the company scales. Even with the extra $ 5 million, however, Pied Piper lacks the cash to hire so many new employees, and the pair of co-CTOs are unwilling to accept any fewer than 12 employees each. Finally, Richard lays the hammer down and says they can have three each, a compromise to which both Dinesh and Gilfoyle quickly agree.

When Richard asks why they asked for 15 in the first place, Dinesh says, “Because we’re negotiating against each other.”

“No, we’re not,” Richard says. “We’re on the same team. We want the same thing.”

“Disagree,” Dinesh says. “I just got you to give me three guys for a job I could easily do with two.” Indeed, the open work relationships that have been a cornerstone of building companies in Silicon Valley since the days of Fairchild Semiconductor can often lead to internal jockeying for resources which in turn leads to inefficiencies.

With a script that plays up the show’s most entertaining characters — new and old — while highlighting the dangers of taking cash from the worst actors in the Valley, “Bad Money” is one of the best episodes of Silicon Valley yet. It also unearths a villain that practically any viewer can rally against in Hanneman, who exemplifies the worst traits of both brogrammers and billionaires. In the parlance of the show’s social media-addled audience, “More of this please.”

Grade: A

[illustration by Brad Jonas]