Dan Murphy: All A-Twitter Over Alt-Meat

Twitter co-founder tells CNBC his willingness to cash in on Beyond Meat’s recent IPO is the result of his commitment to veganism. ( Farm Journal )

Twitter’s billionaire co-founder shares an inspiring story about how his investment is saving the world, while saving his real satisfaction for the high-flying IPO on which he’s cashing in big time.

Oh, I’m so happy for one of the fabulously wealthy — and incredibly enlightened — members of the elite 1% of Americans who have to hire a team of accountants just to accurately total up all their money.

Because now, this person’s not just going to be super-rich, ultra-wealthy or however you want to categorize a multi-billionaire’s net worth, in his own words, he’s now cashing in on a “phenomenally lucrative bet” he made on alt-meat manufacturer Beyond Meat.

I’m talking about Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, and I say good for him. I’m happy that thanks to his business genius his family can finally have some financial security. After all, a billion dollars doesn’t go as far as it once did.

Equally important, Williams told CNBC.com that his willingness to cash in on Beyond Meat’s recent IPO is the result of his commitment to veganism.

Williams claimed that his experience as a vegan was what led his venture capital firm to make an investment in Beyond Meat, which went public earlier this month.

Obvious Ventures, which Williams co-founded in 2014, owns a stake in Beyond Meat now valued at close to $350 million, following the stock’s 200%-plus increase in value since the company’s IPO earlier in May.

Of course, to hear Williams talk, it’s all about saving the world from the scourge of animal agriculture, as he explained that his investment group focuses on what the partners like to label as “world-positive investing,” initiatives aimed as addressing “big systemic problems in society.”

It’s a conceit common to many folks who’ve accumulated vast wealth, a status that gives them the freedom to toss around millions investing in “lucrative bets” that can also be positioned as altruistic efforts to help out all of us little people struggling with the financial demands of daily living from which “high net worth individuals” are completely divorced.

Let’s be honest: Billionaires, no matter what their politics, don’t invest in ventures that aren’t poised to deliver an acceptable ROI. That’s how they got to be billionaires!

For example, Williams’ firm has also invested in the electric bus manufacturer Proterra, which is capitalizing on municipal governments’ focus on powering public transit with clean energy, as well as funding a supplements company called Olly, which — surprise! — he’s planning to sell for a tidy profit to consumer products giant Unilever.

Pumping up the potential

Along with all the happy talk about accomplishing more good for humanity than a roomful of Nobel Laureates, the super-rich just can’t help complimenting their financial savvy.

“The response to the Beyond Meat IPO, which has been so gratifying, is that people are paying attention to this plant protein company that most people wouldn’t have predicted would make such a big blip,” Williams said at a business conference last week, as reported by CNBC.com. “I think it’s a lot of people seeing the potential.”

Of course, many of the investment analysts who are salivating over the potential of the alt-meat sector are simply doing what they’re paid to do: pump up the perception of a stock offering prior to the firm going public.

Yet despite all the crowing from Williams, the idea that Beyond Meat and the other alt-meat companies are destined to shortly be generating mountains of money along with their plant protein products isn’t an opinion universally shared on Wall Street.

Consider the following comments published on CNBC.com shortly after Beyond Meat’s IPO.

  • “We initiate coverage of Beyond Meat with a Neutral rating and $67 [as a] 12-month price target, implying 16% downside potential,” according to Goldman Sachs.
  • “We think the stock’s valuation already factors in a best-case scenario for the company’s growth rate over the next six years, without taking into account typical near-term execution risk for early-stage start-up companies,” according to Credit Suisse.

Of course, Williams’ end game, as is true for virtually every ambitious entrepreneur, is to “disrupt the market,” in this case for conventional meat and poultry products, and address a “huge environmental need,” due to the carbon footprint of the meat production.

It’s a nice, accessible mission statement, one aimed squarely at the affluent 5% to 10% of Americans who can afford organic produce, imported specialty foods and alt-meat alternatives to beef and pork.

Oh, by the way? Williams himself, while loudly proclaiming his (alleged) “vegan commitment,” acknowledged that he enjoys eating fish, which for the most part are harvested in highly non-ecologically sensitive ways by industrial trawlers operating in seriously depleted fisheries.

Not exactly a “world-positive” industry, but then again, who cares about a bunch of seafood companies unable to cause a “big blip” from which investors like Williams can reap their profits?

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, an award-winning journalist and commentator.

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