For me, the turning point in watching HBO's Silicon Valley can be traced back to the Burger King subplot in the third episode.
That's when the broad caricature of Peter Thiel transforms from a smug, aspy(er)-than-thou venture capitalist—hates college, loves profit, take it or leave on human beings—into something exquisitely specific: delicious in its weirdness, but almost in awe of his intellect. Based on this article about Bill Gates and pea shortages in North America, Mike Judge's satirical take might not be that far from reality.
The sesame seed scene hinges on Peter Gregory, the lead investor behind Pied Piper, the compression software startup at the heart of the show. Gregory is maybe 75 percent Thiel, 15 percent Paul Graham, and 10 percent Quora questions. Another promising startup in his portfolio begs Gregory for an "emergency capital injection" of $15 million in order to avoid shutting down. However Gregory, played by the late great Christopher Evan Welch, is more consumed by a sudden curiosity about fast food.
"Have many of you ever eaten at Bur-gur King?
Well, I was just driven past one. And while I know that their market cap is $7 billion plus, I realize I am unfamiliar with their offerings. Is it popular among your peers? Is it. . . enjoyed?
And their selection consists solely of these bur-gurs of which they are presumably king [tiny laugh]?"
Only later in the episode do we see how Gregory's circuitous neural pathways lead him from hamburger buns to cicadas to Indonesian sesame futures, which will make him a tidy $70 million, enough for a $15 million bridge loan to keep the startup alive and save its employees.
In the real world, it's peas not sesame seeds and the investor is Bill Gates, judging by this Bloomberg report:
Because General Mills was early to recognize the potential of plant protein, the Betty Crocker owner has stocked up from suppliers like Canada's Alliance Grain Traders Inc. (AGT), creating a shortage that's left rivals rushing to catch up. How hot is this trend? Enough to attract investment from billionaires Bill Gates, Li Ka-Shing and Tom Steyer.
Gates being Gates, he's leveraging the "fashionable scarcity" of pulses (a branch of the legume family) to reduce climate change and improve animal welfare. One of his investments is Beyond Meat, a company that wants to produce "mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein." But that's what makes Silicon Valley so promising. Of course the venture capitalist would see an unexpected windfall as a chance to make a bridge loan.
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[Image and video via HBO]