Sunday, May 6, 2018

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Gilfoyle Proposes a Key Change to Pied Pied's Business Model in 'Initial Coin Offering'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 5.07 "Initial Coin Offering"

As the Pied Piper guys prepare to close on their Series B funding, Richard receives unsettling news. Gilfoyle suggests a risky proposition and Monica gets blunt with Richard. Dinesh goes to great lengths to compete with a coworker. Jared keeps close watch on Richard's new assistant. In search of a better deal, Gavin tries to charm small-town America.

Early on this season, there was a joke about Gilfoyle tracking the rise and fall of Bitcoin with a loud alarm annoying the rest of the staff at Pied Piper. It wasn't a great joke or story. It mostly just showed that Gilfoyle's expertise may no longer be required at this stage of the company. Of course, he's still stayed around as a character because Richard appreciates the close bonds that upper management has. He is more than willing to go to a celebratory dinner with Gilfoyle, Dinesh, Jared and Monica. Sure, the guys spend all of their time together anyway. They'd much rather get work done than actually treat themselves to an evening away from their jobs. But it's also important to be aware that Gilfoyle is the one aware of the changing world as it pertains to cryptocurrency. This season has received some criticism as of late because it no longer seems to be in touch with the issues of Silicon Valley as much as previous seasons were. And yes, I will concede that this season has yet to produce a real standout moment or episode. It mostly feels like an aging show where the pieces are all still the same but it's no longer as amusing or inventive as it used to be. It's still an objectively funny show to watch. There are still some pointed and strong commentaries about this particular world. The satire can still be absolutely bitting. But it's also not doing storylines that could be ripped from the headlines of the real world. This venture into cryptocurrency is one of the few instances where the show has looked ahead to the future and the possibilities of this new business. In fact, it manages to find a way to incorporate it into the business model of Pied Piper so that the company completely changes from the way it has always operated. That's exciting. And yet, it also feels like the inevitable twist that happens near the end of each season that proves that none of these characters can actually maintain success for a long period of time. It's just their latest crushing defeat.

Of course, it's really exciting to see Gilfoyle be so passionate about cryptocurrency. He even has a PowerPoint presentation he would like to show Richard about the origins of currency and why this new business model is disruptive to the future and perhaps very beneficial to their company. Richard is very tentative about all of this. The previous episode with the Bitcoin joke showed just how volatile the exchange rate can actually be. Plus, cryptocurrency only has value if the world agrees that it does. Gilfoyle is able to express that by saying that green pieces of paper with markings on them operate in the same way. This is just a new way to have money in the digital space that is truly protected for the users' best interests. Sure, it's a business with a lack of regulation at the moment. The industry is still finding the best way to handle this new kind of technology. In some ways, it could be very monumental and change the systems of the world. Over time, it just seems rife for abuse and corruption. The tricks used in get rich quick schemes have been applied to this industry without the regulation to properly monitor it to ensure that no one is abusing the system and hurting people's lives in the process. It's still in its infancy. And yes, there are people working against it. Venture capitalists see it as the new aspect of this industry that could make them completely irrelevant. That's why it is a promising idea to Richard and Gilfoyle. It means that Pied Piper would be completely their own. They wouldn't have to hand over more and more board seats to Laurie who could fire any of them at a moment's notice.

All of this does sound promising to Richard. He already has a Series B term sheet from Laurie that would secure another $30 million in funding for his new internet. He is trying to completely revitalize the world. He's being disruptive to the systems in place because those systems are outdated and antiquated. He sees a better way of running the internet that would allow it to be free and open for everyone around the world. He sees this as the future. And now, he is given a proposal to raise his own money simply by creating his own form of cryptocurrency. As soon as a Piper coin reaches a certain price, he could have just as much money as the offer from Laurie. Laurie is able to come up with all of this money despite her recent set back with Eklow. She still has connections in the valley that are so crucial to running this business. Monica thinks this is a horrible plan for Pied Piper. Richard comes to her as friend. And yet, he is foolish for doing so because that would essentially ruin the business relationship between them. Monica doesn't see them as friends. She just sees a man who is largely self-interested. It's good that the show produces this moment that proves that Richard and the guys really don't know anything about Monica. Of course, it's also a criticism of the show itself for never really allowing Monica to become more than her brief description as the connection between the company and the VCs. The show is criticizing the characters for that when it's mostly a meta joke about how thin a character she can still be. As such, it's not all that effective. It mostly just gets Richard to second guess his decision because this new way of raising money is still incredibly volatile and dangerous.

This story also brings Russ Hanneman back to show the personal cost of focusing solely on cryptocurrency. He has always been a very amusing character who is obsessed with being a billionaire. And now, that was thrown in jeopardy because he made all 36 of his companies invest in this new business model only for all but one to fail. So, he still has a lot of money. It's just forever lost on one thumb drive that happened to be thrown away in the trash. The dump is such a random and weird place for Russ to meet with Richard and Gilfoyle. It shows just how desperate he is to succeed in this new technology because he has burned all of his bridges with the rest of Silicon Valley. He does so in the hopes of adding another comma to his personal fortune. He wants to become the first trillionaire. That would prove everyone else wrong. It would prove that this is a business that is worth investing in. It presents a new way forward for the world to grow. It just means he has a dozen men digging through mountains of garbage in order to find this money on one thumb drive. It's certainly an amusing visual. It shows just how dangerous this new field can be. Richard is cautioned to stay away from launching an ICO because he doesn't want to end up in the same position. He just has one company. He would be risking everything in order to do this. He can't fail. He needs to reinvent the internet. He has this vision and doesn't want anything to compromise it. He is completely willing to sign the term sheet that Laurie sends over for the Series B funding. Monica just cautions him not to once she learns that Laurie plans on forcing ads and data mining onto this new internet. That's something that Richard doesn't want to do. And so, he ultimately decides to create a cryptocurrency in order to be the most disruptive he could possibly be.

Richard wants to be famous as the guy who changed the world. He always seems on the verge of making that great achievement too. Yes, the people around him get easily excited as well. They see a future in this company that is worth investing in. His employees are already spending the money that would come from their bonuses. But now, that new influx of cash doesn't come because the ICO has an extremely soft launch. Richard believes he is being smart by hiring Monica to serve as his business consultant for how to continue to navigate this ever-shifting industry. He needs her expertise in order to safely launch this new product. He needs the connections that she can bring to this field. It's her leaving one profession for its direct competitor. It just happens to coincide with the reveal that Laurie has never seen them as equal partners in their new business. Laurie is always the one ultimately making the decisions. Monica's opinion is never really valid. As such, it's easy to understand why Monica leaves. It's just such a jarring decision that ensures that everyone is onboard Pied Piper just before the crushing reveal that this new cryptocurrency isn't as lucrative as Gilfoyle first suggested. He says that it will just take time for it to grow. The money will come eventually. But right now, Pied Piper has bills to pay and a product to launch. They need this new financing in order to compete with Gavin's Signature Box and the rival Chinese internet. It certainly leaves the company in a precarious state heading into the season finale. But it's also a familiar position for the show because it once again seems like everything is crashing down just as Richard was on the verge of changing the world. He'll continue to survive because he always does. But it's also a pattern that has grown very familiar over the years.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Initial Coin Offering" was written by Clay Tarver and directed by Mike Judge.
  • Monica is fully expecting Laurie to be upset that she left their partnership in order to steer Pied Piper directly into an ICO. It's her basically saying that Laurie and her way of conducting business is no longer necessary to make this company succeed. But Laurie doesn't take it personally. She still sees them as friends. Of course, that's immediately followed by the reveal that she too has joined the rival Chinese internet. As such, it seems inevitable that Richard won't be the grand inventor of this new internet.
  • Monica doesn't see the guys as friends. That's an important distinction. She sees them as business associates. The show has sometimes followed through on that belief though it's made Richard and Monica have romantic tension in the past. And yet, she does personally care about them as well. She cares about that relationship so much that she's willing to fight against Laurie's plan to place ads on the new internet.
  • Gavin hates how increasingly regulated the rest of the world has become when it comes to safe working conditions for factory workers. As such, he is able to roll into a North Carolina town and bully the mayor into giving him the precise deal he wants. And yet, it's so horrifying and funny to listen as Hoover details that the cuts to city funding to approve this deal lead to the city not being able to save the factory from burning down or the citizens from looting the machinery inside.
  • Dinesh is so petty this week. He hates that the Series B funding inspires some of the other employees to go out and buy Teslas too. He wants to have that superiority over them. That was a financial decision that nearly bankrupted him. And yet, he still is proudly committed to it knowing that it's all that he has. But now, he finds himself screwed once again because the ICO isn't as lucrative as the Series B funding would have been.
  • Jared has always been very protective of Richard. As such, it's understandable why he would be so suspicious about Richard's new assistant and if he is doing a good job. Richard couldn't care less. He appreciates the work that Holden is doing. It's just menial tasks. But Jared places so much importance on them and makes Holden feel so anxious and nervous about the job. Of course, it's also a story that ends pretty abruptly with Jared just being a stalker while following Holden around.