What happens when the concept your startup is founded on is no longer viable? According to a sleep-deprived, drug-addled Jared, you pivot.
Instagram started as a location-based check-in service, Jared explains, but when Foursquare came along, it pivoted. Chatroulette was a social media company before they pivoted to… something else. As the Pied Piper team sits dumbstruck after Gavin Belson’s keynote presentation on Nucleus, Jared points at each member of the team, repeating, “Let’s pivot.”
Nucleus, Hooli’s competing compression platform reverse-engineered from Pied Piper, gets the full Google treatment during Belson’s keynote, adding connectivity to the full suite of Hooli products. It’s functionality Pied Piper can’t compete with. Richard still thinks his platform is better, calling Nucleus “a fancy car with a crappy engine,” until Nucleus’ compression algorithm hits the same 2.89 “Weismann Score” as Pied Piper.
Note: The “Weissman Score” is a fictional metric the show created that measures the efficiency of compression code. The “theoretical limit” of the score is 2.9.
(Last time on ‘Silicon Valley’: It’s showtime at TechCrunch Disrupt)
To avoid getting sued over the Startup Battlefield judge physically tackling Erlich during Pied Piper’s opening presentation, the folks at TechCrunch Disrupt agree to push Pied Piper directly through to the finals to compete for the US$50,000 prize. The season finale of “Silicon Valley,” “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency,” finds each member of the Pied Piper team trying to figure out how in the world to pivot so they have something to present to the judges and thousands of onlookers.
Jared, with his pastiest complexion yet, wanders around the conference polling random attendees about the viability of different “pivot strategies” for Pied Piper. After spending four days trapped in a shipping container out on an oilrig full of robot forklifts, with no sleep and subsisting on a diet of Adderall, here are the ideas he came up with:
• What if Pied Piper was an app that could attract rodents? Tagline: “We’re not here to tell you what to do with your rats; we’re here to get you rats… stat!”
• An app that tells you with statistical certainty whether you’re going to Heaven or Hell.
• Jared ambushes a couple with a baby in a stroller to harass them about an app that could track your child anywhere, which results in him being stopped by bicycle cops, deciding in his warped state of mind to show the cops his stash of non-prescribed Adderall, and then running away from said cops.
On top of planting the “pivot” seed in Richard’s mind, Jared’s deteriorating mental state after the self-driving car ride from hell has been mined for comedic gold.
While Jared is off on his warped escapade, Dinesh and Gilfoyle toy with the idea of jumping ship to a startup called Kwerpy that just received $20 million in seed funding… until a Kwerpy team member spills the beans that their beta crapped out, their funding is drying up, and that he’d really like a job at Pied Piper if they’re hiring. Them’s the breaks of the startup world.
Back in the penthouse hotel room Erlich finagled out of the conference as part of the agreement not to sue, the gang is in full-blown denial mode, deep into a ridiculous tangent—complete with complex equations and calculations—about a lewd sexual scenario involving Erlich and the thousands of people watching Pied Piper’s presentation crash and burn the next morning. For the purposes of this recap, that’s all the detail I can safely provide about this joke.
But amid this running sex joke, Richard has an epiphany: He knows how to pivot.
At the Startup Battlefield finals, Richard takes the stage himself. What starts out with his signature stammering and timid stares turns into a climax worthy of a show about programmers: an entire auditorium staring intently at a program running onscreen.
Richard spent the entire night deleting most of Pied Piper’s modules and re-coding the platform from scratch. His “pivot” combined the traditional top-down coding for compression algorithms with bottom-up coding to create what he calls “middle-out” coding. The moment of truth—a live test of Pied Piper on a 132GB 3D video file, supposedly Pied Piper’s Achilles Heel—shatters the theoretical limit of the Weissman Score with a 5.2, shrinking the file size down to 24GB with no file degradation.
Writing it all out, this sounds like maybe the most boring climax to a season finale in television history. Yet in the moment, the scene played just as tense and nerve-wracking as an epic face-off of a thriller or the final moments of a race. Only “Silicon Valley” could have audiences on edge with a live demo of a compression algorithm.
The first season of comes to a close with Pied Piper winning, in resounding fashion. Belson sulks out of the auditorium. Hooli’s brogrammers sit dumbstruck. Venture capitalists are lining up to invest in Pied Piper. The first of what is sure to be many battles between the two companies is a rout.
HBO’s sitcom about a bunch of geeky programmers successfully managed to introduce a mainstream audience to the decadence and irony of America’s tech hub and the quirky people who power it, while giving plenty of lessons in coding and an onslaught of raunchy gags and clever satire along the way. It was by no means a perfect season, but Season One was one of the strongest debuts of a comedy in recent memory.
Looking at this season as a video game of sorts, Pied Piper has completed level one. Richard has made the unwitting leap from a no-name cubicle-dweller at a faceless corporation to a resident genius and soon-to-be CEO. Monica’s monologue to him more or less spelled out what level two of “Silicon Valley” will hold for Pied Piper:
“It’s going to get pretty insane for you, Richard. You’re going to have more offers for funding than you know what to do with. You’re going to have to grow a business, hire staff, rent out offices, and get an assistant. People are going to take credit for your idea and try to sue you. How awesome is that?”
Richard, Erlich, Dinesh, Gilfoyle and Jared will be back next year managing thousands of employees, continuing to butt heads with Hooli and making 10 mistakes for every good idea. Season One brought Pied Piper from an innovative idea to a floundering startup to a VC darling to the next big thing. In Season Two, we’ll find out what happens once they’ve reached the top.
Monica said it best: “If you thought it was crazy getting to this point, you’re not going to believe what it turns into from here.”
Odds & Ends
—Hey, that judge with the moustache (Andy Buckley) is David Wallace from “The Office!” It would’ve been a nice reunion with Jared (Zach Woods), who played Gabe on the long-running NBC sitcom, if the sleep-deprived, brain-addled maroon wasn’t fast asleep on the floor of the hotel room during Richard’s presentation.
—Best innuendo of the episode: Belson, during his keynote on Nucleus, says, “No matter what you may have heard, size matters.”
—Mike Judge takes an opportunity to lambaste the fallacy of tech press events by ending Belson’s keynote with, “We have the speed, we have the features and we have… Shakira!” Reminiscent of a certain fruit-shaped company that in lieu of any groundbreaking product news at a recent event, trotted out Elvis Costello to sing a few songs instead.
—The one aspect of “Silicon Valley” that’s always seemed forced was the awkward romance between Richard and Monica. When it looked as if Pied Piper was toast and Monica was headed back to Palo Alto (she of course got back to the office then turned right around to make it back for the presentation), she gave Richard the green light to call her for a drink “because we’re not working together anymore.” Considering the monster success Pied Piper turned out to be, it looks as if that romance will go unrequited a bit longer. Still, they’ve never fleshed out Monica (Amanda Crew) enough as a character to make her any more than a one-dimensional love interest. Put that on the docket for Season Two, Mr. Judge.
—We did get a pretty good rom-com-worthy exchange out of it, though:
Richard: “You go on dates with failures?”
—Speaking of Monica, she mentioned that Peter Gregory is going to be a lot more hands-on and a lot tougher on Richard. Considering Christopher Evan Welch, who played Peter, passed away during filming, it seems like Mike Judge is really painting himself into a corner here. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there’s any way out of it but to tragically kill off Gregory, unless they recast him. Which would be a colossal mistake.
—Only “Silicon Valley” could turn the Mac’s spinning rainbow wheel of death into a thrilling plot device.
—Richard ends the season the way he started it: throwing up. That brings this series’ throw-up count thus far to four.