It figures that the idea around which “Customer Service” revolves—that the Pied Piper crew finance the development of a “new Internet” by pre-selling their data storage product to customers—is a business concept that your grandfather would recognize, yet it’s perceived as a radical idea in the tech world. You want to sell something? To people? For money? Get out of my office.
This being Silicon Valley (the show), they arrive at this idea not because it’s actually a reasonable way to get a company airborne—and a path to becoming a sustainable zebra instead of a flashy unicorn—but because they’ve burned every bridge in town. The last of which is billionaire “radio on the Internet" guy Russ Hanneman, who’s angry about not getting credit for the “new Internet” idea—even though he was standing right there when Richard came up with it. “It’s always about my money, isn’t it?” “Well, you are an investor, so what else would it be about?”, says Richard.
Going it alone and bootstrapping the company by selling to actual customers would be their best chance at success, but for two mistakes that will surely come back to bite them: Richard both awkwardly and accidentally seduces their first customer, and an error in their code doesn’t bode well for their product’s reliability or security. This sets up the rest of the season for many things to go horribly wrong, all at once.
It’s about time the Pied Piper crew turned away from investors and the venture capital model, at least for the health of their business. Nearly everything that the outside world finds funny and absurd about Silicon Valley (the place) is a byproduct of the logic of tech investing. Venture capitalists bet that one in a hundred ideas they fund could be the next Google or Facebook, and while they believe their investment thesis gives them a marginal edge in picking the winners, they ultimately don’t know for sure. So they spread their bets across a wide range of ideas, just in case, and some of those ideas look flat-out ridiculous. (They’re doing this with your parents’ pension money, BTW.)
The result is an industry that calls companies that aren't focused on exponential growth and market domination mere “lifestyle businesses,” while lavishing funding on the Juiceros and mayonnaise disruptors of the world. Hanneman himself laid out the unicorn-hunter’s mindset for us back in Season 2. (But, to be fair, #notallstartups.)
As the gang charts a new path with their sane and rational business strategy, Erlich is at a loose end. He’s outlived his usefulness at Pied Piper, there’s nobody left in his incubator, and he’s failed to secure a job at Bream Hall. The fact that he even tried to get a job with Laurie and Monica was a reminder that we’re going to miss his complete lack of self-awareness—HBO announced this week that TJ Miller will not be returning next season. It also gave us one of the better lines of the episode, as he lays out his demands: “I’ll need an attractive assistant, and paternity leave if that goes well, and an umbrella insurance policy if it does not."
But before he goes, his character has one last chance to use his only apparent skill: To be in the right place at the right time, and weave his dumb luck into gold. Mistaken for an actual venture capitalist at a coffee meeting, he charms and lands a whale for Bream Hall: The young and brash Keenan Feldspar, a white-hot VR entrepreneur whose character seems based on the aptly-named Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey. (Luckey leveraged a $2.4 million Kickstarter project into a $3 billion sale of his VR headset company to Facebook. Fun fact: If you pledged $25 to the Oculus Kickstarter in 2012, you got a t-shirt - but if you’d invested $25 in the company, your shares would be worth a few grand today.)
“Customer Service” puts us on an interesting glide path for the season’s 4 remaining episodes—we’re just waiting to see exactly how each plot will explode. Erlich seems headed for an entertaining series of disasters at Laurie and Monica’s new firm. Richard and the gang are gearing up for the first real-world deployment of their still-buggy compression app at a company where they have some sordid history with the personnel. Dinesh and Gilfoyle have escalated their slow-burning conflict, due to a bug that temporarily gave them full access to one another’s phones. And it’s been a few seasons since Jared has gone completely off the rails. It’s a lot to cover in just two hours of television, but it should be fun to watch.