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As Richard Hendricks, the coding genius-turned-struggling startup CEO in the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, actor Thomas Middleditch navigates a backstabbing tech world where everyone claims to be making the world a better place.
In the past year, he has begun to invest in Silicon Valley tech companies himself—likewise, looking for ideas that will make the world a better place. As the show’s fourth season gets under way, we caught up with the Canada native to find out how he makes the most of his VC money.
When did you first think about investing in tech?
Last year. We have a couple of consultants on our show and I asked them who I should meet with. I’m a pilot, so I can fly up to the Valley whenever our schedule allows it. For me, getting a meeting with the various decision-makers in Silicon Valley is an email away. This round I had more meetings than I could keep up with.
How do you decide what to invest in?
My new approach was, OK, people, here are my areas of interest. One is aviation, but the main thing was the environment. Like creating good delicious meatless patties like the guys over at Beyond Meat that I might be getting to work with. Or WaterFX, a startup solar desalination company which is turning brackish groundwater into potable water that I’m a founder of. I invested in a company called Wright Electric. They’re doing electric-powered short-haul passenger aviation to go in the 400-nautical-mile range: D.C. to New York, San Francisco to L.A. But I can’t hear pitches 24/7. I found a guy at Kleiner Perkins, Brook Porter, who started a green-conscious fund. It will be my first adventure into being a VC and we’ll see how it goes. In two years I could be like, “This is a total mistake.” Actually, it would take longer. It’ll take seven years. But you’ve heard stories about people who did this and now they have nothing.
You’re not just hearing stories like that. You’re telling that story every week on TV.
Exactly. It’s about having a diverse portfolio. I get real estate, I understand it. That’s where a majority of my money is going to. I have some in some stocks in an IRA. But by the time I retire, the market will have crashed once or twice. It’s insane there. It’s just getting more deregulated. I don’t trust it. I don’t really like mutual funds either. You rarely know where the money is going unless you do a really deep dive on all the stocks involved. And I don’t want to be giving my money to the Koch Brothers or Shell that I think are moving the needle backwards in society. All the best if you don’t care where your money is going, but I do. I like the innovation and altruism in Silicon Valley.
Isn’t the whole lesson of the show not to invest your money in Silicon Valley?
No. There is a lot of risk. But what I’ve learned is there’s a lot of money there. There is more money to invest than good things to invest in. There are so many drones and virtual-reality plays. I wanted to meet industrialists. I’m totally happy with being a nearly unnoticed water utility.
What’s the one tech company you wish you had invested in?
Tesla. Because what Elon Musk is doing is the epitome of what a progressive industrialist would do. I have Tesla stock and I bought more today even though it’s higher than it’s ever been. It would have been a cool company to be on the ground with. His ambitions to go to Mars are a little insane, but f— it, he’s a big crazy rich guy. He can do whatever he wants.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve been pitched?
After the first season of the show, we were at TechCrunch in New York. I wasn’t trying to invest at the time. But some guy pitched me an app that prays for you on your behalf. I didn’t investigate further because I’m a militant atheist and I was with T.J. Miller who is also a militant atheist and I could see him gearing up to eviscerate this kid. So I said that’s not for us and got us away. But I imagine there’s a drop-down menu of deities.
Are there other people from the show investing in Silicon Valley?
Amanda Crew, who plays Monica, has already invested in a couple of companies. I’m not sure if any of the other guys are doing it.
What can you bring to a startup besides money?
Hopefully it’s connecting dots, outside of the smaller money I’m investing because I’m competing against Saudi princes. They’re giving $100 million. And I’m like, “I’m comfortable with about $25,000, thank you.” I’ve surprised a few people with the ease in which I’ve been able to shake a few hands.
You can introduce people easily?
I’m by no means the glue that binds Silicon Valley, but it’s a lot easier for me than even for people who have been there for years and years to sit down with some people. But there’s also a hurdle of me having to prove that I’m not a total dummy.
How do you do that?
If I were in a show that’s not related in any way would be a bigger hurdle. At least I say the lines that make me seem like I know what I’m talking about.
It reminds me of the Rob Lowe show where he played a lawyer for long enough on television that he decided he could be an actual lawyer. I don’t have that illusion. If someone is taking the meeting, at the very least they want a selfie.
Every company you invest in is going to want you at all their announcements, parties, Christmas card shoots. It’s going to be endless.But they’re doing me a favor. Beyond Meat is up and running. They don’t need my minimal amount of money, but they’ll make room for me.
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