HBO’s Silicon Valley, the fictional chronicle of a startup crew struggling to make their mark on the world, rounds out its outstanding first season with Episode 8: “Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency.”
ReadWrite screened the final episode at a movie theater in downtown San Francisco, thanks to our friends at fellow tech new site TechCrunch, whose Disrupt conference plays a big part in this season’s plot.
We see the Pied Piper team make their way straight onto the bloody stages of TechCrunch Disrupt’s startup battlefield, where tech giant Hooli’s copycat app makes a play to steal Pied Piper’s spotlight.
The episode opens with a playback from Episode 7’s cliffhanger: Disrupt judge Dan Melcher (Jake Broder) pummels Pied Piper frontman Erlich Bachmann (T.J. Miller) on stage at the preliminaries, a fistfight erupting over Erlich’s sordid affairs with Dan’s new and old wives.
A TechCrunch representative informs the Pied Piper team, Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Jared (Zach Woods), and Erlich that Dan has been removed as a judge because of his behavior, and that to avoid a lawsuit, TechCrunch will send Pied Piper directly to the final round to compete for the grand prize. Erlich asks the publication to sweeten the deal by getting the whole team a new swanky hotel suite.
The crew makes their way back to Disrupt to watch Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) present Nucleus, a cloud compression app with an algorithm that was more or less ripped off from the work of Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks.
Belson shows Nucleus having ten times the amount of functionality and a Weissman score (a fictional rating from the Silicon Valley universe that measures compression rate and speed) matching that of Pied Piper’s at 2.89. The Pied Piper crew thinks their time at TCD is officially over.
Bathed in the lime-green light of Disrupt after Gavin’s presentation, the Pied Piper team sulks over what they believe to be a losing fight against Hooli.
Erlich, ever optimistic, believes Pied Piper still has a fair chance. Picking up on this, Jared encourages the team to “pivot,” or completely change its business, a strategy he says was taken by the likes of Instagram, an app that used to be a location-based service that pivoted into a image-based social network and sold to Facebook for $1 billion. ChatRoulette, Jared says, used to be social networking until it “pivoted to become a playground for the sexually monstrous.” (The joke works because it’s sad and true.)
Jared’s attempt at “pivoting” to find Pied Piper’s new goal included him approaching strangers and asking if they would want an app about acquiring rodents, tracking children, or finding statistical probability of getting into heaven or hell.
Still convinced that Pied Piper can claim the grand prize, Erlich rallies the team in their hotel suite. What starts off as a joke about the time it would take to give a handjob to every man in the TCD audience unravels into the Pied Piper team whipping out equations and formulas like “Mean Jerk Time” in an effort to actually solve the invented math problem.
Richard passively listens to Jared, Erlich, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle slave over this problem, until eventually overhearing the team mention the phrase “middle out.” In a moment of inspiration, we see Richard zero in on that phrase until he bolts from the couch and into the bedroom. There, he spends the rest of the night coding on his laptop. The rest of the crew has no idea what his end goal is, but they see him deep at work and decide to leave him to finish what he’s working on.
The final round begins the next day. Richard barely makes it out of the hotel room with the Pied Piper team. They’re shuffled onstage as the last group to present, and Richard reveals to the crew that he has deleted everything from the Pied Piper app except the core compression algorithm.
Despite his earlier protests that he’s no good at public speaking, Richard realizes there’s no time to explain what he’s come up with to Erlich, and insists that he’ll present instead. Once on stage and with microphone in hand, Richard stumblingly tells the enormous crowd that Hooli essentially made Pied Piper’s same cloud compression app, but better.
“We can’t compete,” says Richard.
But, Richard continues, upon gaining inspiration from the words “middle out,” he deleted all his work so far and rebuilt the entire engine from scratch. Pulling out paper from his pocket, which Dinesh helpfully places on a projector, Richard shows the audience his work through simplistic hand-drawn images. It’s an homage to the old back-of-the-napkin sketches that once got startups funded in Silicon Valley in simpler times.
Richard’s paper slideshows and off-the-cuff delivery represent the way Pied Piper has operated the whole time, a stark contrast to Hooli’s pressed suits, flashing lights, and slick presentations.
Now, Richard says, Pied Piper boasts an even higher Weissman score of 3.8—meaning it can shrink files to a smaller size than Hooli’s Nucleus.
The judges hand Richard a 3D video file to compress, a file type that Pied Piper has had trouble with before. To the team’s surprise, the file compresses effortlessly, showing an unprecedented 5.2 Weissman score.
Elated, the team wins the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield contest, and with it, a $50,000 prize—”not that they’re going to need it”, states a judge, given the likely interest from investors.
Monica (Amanda Crew), venture capitalist Peter Gregory’s assistant, joins Richard after their big win, and expresses excitement for Pied Piper’s bright future. In her glee, she tells Richard that he has big things in store, perhaps even managing thousands of people.
Growing more and more uncomfortable from the reality that the Disrupt win was just the beginning of something even more massive, Richard excuses himself. In the last shot of the episode, we see Richard going outside and throwing up in a dumpster.
Like in the very first episode where Richard throws up after being given giant offers to sell Pied Piper, we see that not much has changed for the app and its founder.
HBO has picked up the show for a second season. We’ll be there to report every last pivot of Richard’s stomach.