"Grapefruits. Postcards. Hugs." We're introduced this week to one of what will be many efforts to market Pied Piper, an ad (below) that also illustrates the problem the company faces, one that could be its final, for-real-this-time-you-guys undoing. "What does Pied Piper do, anyway?" It's tough to communicate to would-be-users, and ads like this, full of meaningless non sequiturs, aren't helping. Observe.
As Richard summarizes the sitch to Monica at a "deeply weird" party held by Laurie Bream, "Pied Piper launches and everything is great and we spent a fucking bazzilion on the tables ad and now we are almost at 500,000 installs."
So, what's wrong? "Well, as you know, installs isn't really the metric that matters," adds Richard, "we need daily active users, people that come back to the platform." With just 19,000 "DAU"s, something becomes clear about the revolutionary product Richard and company have built. While the engineering types — Richard's cohort — who tested the beta were totally impressed, everyday users are baffled, just as Monica was. Since most of the world doesn't consist of engineers, Pied Piper has been playing to the wrong audience.
"We have created a product so far ahead of its time people are having trouble wrapping their heads around it," Richard later continues, and to test that hypothesis, the company goes into focus group testing. There, users are "freaked out" by the platform: it appears to legitimately frighten and upset them. Frustrated, Richard barges in on one one baffled test group from behind a one-way mirror in an attempt to set the record straight. The scene here becomes sort of sweet: While we expect Richard to fail in his explanatory attempts starting the second he begins writing on a whiteboard, he in fact succeeds, and the focus group is excited about Pied Piper after all.
But Richard can't do this every time with every user. After setting up demo booth after demo booth — from CES to Radio Shack — with little success, the expanded Pied Piper team is losing faith. They can't even try to dumb the platform down, Richard explains, "If you build an airplane and people are afraid of anything that flies, you can't just take the wings off it, because, at that point, all your left with is a really slow super expensive shitty bus."
This opens up the floor for Erlich to deliver a battle cry. "Your tepid response to our intrepid boss makes me ill," he crows. His plan, will it work, mmm-mm, almost certainly not. All of you will likely look back at this time in your lives and realize you wasted a whole year with nothing to show for it, but if this company is a plane, then this is Richard's goddamn plane, and if he wants to fly it into the side of a fucking mountain, that is his prerogative, and it is our duty to climb on, strap in, and have a fiery death right behind him."
This isn't entirely inspiring, and a few employees quit on the spot. One finds his way to Hooli to interview for a position there, where Gavin Belson has been demoted and is dining al fresco with his spiritual advisor. Their exchange, over wine, is that there are some things too painful to endure. When Gavin suggests quitting to go build orphanages in Haiti, his spiritual advisor nearly spits out his wine.
So, tipped off to the former Pied Piper employee's presence, Gavin interviews him and, we're made to understand, finds out about the DAU shortage. That leaves Gavin to approach the Hooli board again, now with "Action" Jack Barker in tow. Gavin claims he knew any such platform would fail and wasn't even really building a platform with his supposed Pied Piper competitor Endframe/Nucleus, but instead making, that's right, a box. And perhaps boxes are easier to sell than vague platforms, because Gavin is shortly reinstated as CEO.
Richard's last-ditch attempt to help users is Pipey, something dreamt up by a marketing firm: It's an animation that's a clear dig at Clippy, the Microsoft nightmare of yesteryear. The team hates it — seriously, who wouldn't — and Richard is totally discouraged. So Jared, who has been in some ways the character to watch this season, comes to his aid as he's sulking, fully clothed, in an empty bathtub. "Being too early is the same as being wrong," Richard says, but Jared, who has been putting a positive spin on everything and getting pegged as a liar by Gilfoyle all episode, offers some encouragement. "We have a few weeks of runway," he tells Richard, and though Richard is prepared to split that money among the remaining team and pronounce the company dead, Jared makes a truly mendacious move: He hires paid users from a click farm in Bangladesh, which we're shown in an extended cutaway, to make it seem like the product is succeeding
The nerdy engineers of the Pied Piper team have always had difficulty communicating themselves to more "normal" types, a breakdown that's been played to comic effect. That's why it's so fitting that such difficulty is now affecting the viability of their product. Pied Piper, a vague compression algorithm, does sound useful to viewers of the show, just not necessarily the most compelling consumer-facing thing in the Valley. That, I think, is an interesting and smart choice. While the show could have made it so, it's not a fad app, it's a useful thing, just hard to explain, offering another opportunity for comic miscommunication.
Anyway, we're coming up on the last episode of this season, which has been a total joy to watch and talk about — more so than last season, in my opinion. And the show's finale next week should be a good one, because this writing team has a way with finales, as they proved in seasons one and two.