Silicon Valley Recap: What’s My Company Name?

Photo: Jaimie Trueblood/HBO
Silicon Valley
Episode Title
Articles of Incorporation
Editor’s Rating

“What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Shakespeare wasn’t thinking about Richard’s company when he wrote those lines, but the Bard put more thought into naming conventions than Silicon Valley’s budding young CEO did. Not only did Richard fail to check if “Pied Piper” was trademarked to another company, he also neglected to read the story of Hamelin’s most notorious visitor. In the business world, we call that “doing one’s due diligence.” In “Articles of Incorporation,” it becomes more and more apparent that Richard hasn’t done his.

A Pied Piper company already exists in California, but before I get to how that strengthens Richard’s leadership skills, let’s talk about the Pied Piper legend. The details vary from storyteller to storyteller, but the gist is this: The Pied Piper strolls into Hamelin to offer a deal to its townspeople. Hamelin is overrun by rats. In exchange for payment, the Pied Piper will play his magic flute to lead the vermin out of town. The deal is struck, and the Pied Piper starts playing. His horn music is so bad that the rats immediately evacuate.

“Thank you, Kenny G!” the townspeople cheer.

This wouldn’t be a children’s story if something horrible didn’t happen to children. When the townspeople refuse to pay the piper, he uses his magic flute to lure their children away from town forever. Remember this the next time you hear R. Kelly refer to himself as “The Pied Piper of R&B.”

My old Peter Pan Records version of this tale told me that the Pied Piper just stole the children. Jared destroys my childhood with the more accurate account.

“It’s about a predatory flautist who murders kids in a cave,” he says.

Compare that baggage to the baggage carried by Hooli’s attempt at reverse-engineering Richard’s compression algorithm. I’ll wager that Hooli even spells its product name Newcleus, like the guys who sing the rap classic “Jam on It.” Gavin gets his “Wicky-Wicky-Wicky-Wicky” rap chant equivalent on at the beginning of this episode, appearing in a commercial for his upcoming product. “Small is the new big,” he says before smugly intoning “If we can make your sound files smaller, we can make cancer smaller. And AIDS.”

When Richard points out that Hooli has an inferior version of the algorithm than he currently does, Dinesh reminds him that it’s all about who gets to market first. “Inferior products go out all the time,” he says. And they have better names, too! “Pied Piper” simply won’t do, especially after the team sees Richard’s new logo. “Are we an Irish pornography company?” asks Erlich after seeing the green travesty of a Pied Piper T-shirt Richard ordered for the team.

Erlich is the biggest detractor vis-à-vis the company name. “A name defines a company,” he says. “It has to be primal, something that you can scream out during intercourse.” Proving that Silicon Valley has the greatest idea in the history of product placement, the team grunts out the names of several companies, all of which are more orgasmically appropriate than Richard’s high-pitched ejaculation of “Pied Piper.”

Before Richard can comfortably splooge while moaning his company’s moniker, he has to buy it from the owner of the Pied Piper Sprinkler Company. He makes a $1,000 deal. The owner is a gruff older man who hates that server farms are popping up on his land instead of actual farms. The owner also says the one word I’ve been waiting to hear on this show. “You’re just like my son,” he tells Richard, “He’s got Asperger’s, too.” Richard denies it, but truth be told, a lot of IT people have some form of Asperger’s syndrome, yours truly included.

Peter Gregory can teach a master class in Asperger's symptoms. His corporate-funding subplot feels like a standalone set piece but is actually one half of this episode’s look at how Richard’s two mentors solve problems. Erlich uses some magic mushrooms to bring himself to a state of unfiltered, continuous stream of consciousness. Peter Gregory’s brain is already there by nature, though his latest solution-making process is triggered by a different kind of drug: fast food.

I don’t know how much Burger King paid for this episode’s product placement, but it was money well spent. Gregory’s sudden curiosity about the burger chain sends him down a Whopper-encrusted wormhole of seemingly useless details. This occurs at the same time one of his business owners appears to make a desperate plea for more funding. If Gregory doesn’t stop meditating on BK Doubles by midnight, a company in his stable will go under.

You may feel suspense as this plays out, but I was never in doubt that Gregory would save that company. The teleplay by Matteo Borghese and Rob Turbovsky provides a great example of how a programmer’s mind works. It’s all about allusion and fixation. You become zoned on a particular detail, and that becomes a simple prop to occupy your time. Writing code, you get from point A to point B by sometimes traveling through points X, M, and Q. It’s like being possessed, and when you finally get to a solution — that moment where you click the mouse and the damned thing runs and a beam of light shoots down from the sky accompanied by angelic choruses — you often don’t even remember how you got there.

I look at my code and am constantly amused by a particular comment I’ve used throughout my career. Regardless of the syntax of the language I’m using, the comment always says, “This looks wrong, but don’t touch it.” Peter Gregory’s cicadas-and-sesame-seeds rant looks wrong to all spectators, but it works out to the tune of a $68 million profit. This, my friends, is how the sausage is made.

Richard’s other mentor, Erlich, uses a more Steve Jobsian method to reach a solution. In an attempt to come up with a better name than Pied Piper, he eats an entire bag of mushrooms and sets out on the Vision Quest that doesn’t feature Madonna singing “Crazy for You” on the soundtrack. His hallucination is the show’s funniest moment so far, a mishmash of every computer company logo in existence that ends with Erlich’s disgustingly rendered revelation that Pied Piper is an appropriate name after all.

It’s a good thing Erlich comes around, because Richard comes into his own by launching a Tina Turner–esque fight to wrest his company’s name from the very angry sprinkler guy who has come to kick his ass over a monetary misunderstanding. Before Sprinkler Guy arrives, Jared warns Richard that “if you keep screaming your name, it forces your assailant to acknowledge you as a human.” I suppose if you scream your name passionately, your assailant will buy your product. Neither type of scream is necessary, as Richard elicits cheers from the viewers by using a mixture of creativity and pity to seal the deal and buy the rights to Pied Piper.

This is the best episode of the series so far, broadening its humor to include jokes about White versus Brown People Immigration (the "illegal immigrant" in Richard’s group is not who you think) and the perils of believing everything you hear on the internet. I eagerly await Richard’s next company move and Gavin’s attempt to squash it.

By the way, the name of this site fails the “shouting out during intercourse” test. Do not ask me how I know this.