What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19?
As a venture capitalist, I’m most concerned about the financial health and viability of my existing portfolio companies. My job is to predict and track emerging trends and place bets on innovative and disruptive new companies, so by definition, the majority of my investment portfolio consists of early-stage start-ups. If the founders of these companies are not able to properly navigate this new uncertain economic landscape, their companies could disappear quite quickly, thereby wiping-out all investor money. Over the life cycle of a start-up company, most founders are forced to continuously raise new rounds of capital to fund growth and initial operating losses, so if the fundraising market contracts significantly, there could be serious ramifications for start-ups operating with small cash balances and operating losses.
What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation?
Given the current unstable nature of the economy, I have shifted my focus away from new investments in order to focus on my existing portfolio companies and advisory roles. I am fully confident that this unpredictable and erratic time will undoubtedly give rise to compelling opportunities for thoughtful investors, but for the time being, it’s time to hunker-down. Since I now simply invest my own money through my own investment entity, Hollod Holdings, I am luckily a bit more insulated from the economic threats, because I have way more control over my fate. As the sole decision-maker of my company, I fortunately have the luxury of sitting on the sideline, conserving capital, and waiting until the markets bounce back. I have been exclusively working from home for the last two and a half years, so thankfully “quarantine life” has not significantly altered my daily routines.
True winners leverage the uneasiness to their advantage in order to find more exciting and compelling opportunities.
Additionally, I have been a huge proponent of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands for the last 10 years, since my early-stage investments in Warby Parker and Casper, so I plan to continue to place a huge focus on DTC companies. If consumers physically cannot leave their homes or are too frightened to visit retailers, delivery is the only viable option. During this crisis, the DTC companies are still able to continue building upon their intimate relationships with customers. In fact, some of my DTC brands are experiencing their best weeks and months ever, in terms of revenue growth and customer acquisition. I am also a huge proponent of digital strategy and social media marketing, because they are the most compelling outlets to reach customers and articulate your brand identity and narrative. At this point, if a brand does not have an Instagram profile, I will not even take a call with them. This crisis has seriously bolstered my stance on this matter, because I see how my girlfriend and friends are significantly relying on social media to get through this quarantine.
How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?
Over the last few years, I started to deliberately decline invitations to networking events, speaking engagements, pitch events, and conferences in order to channel more of my activities through digital outlets. For instance, I now use Instagram to source and diligence the majority of my new investments. I think the aftermath of this pandemic will change the way in which investors do business. More investors will be forced to redirect their physical efforts online. There will be fewer in-person meetings and pitch events. At the beginning of 2019, I also decided to only take meetings from my home to avoid burning time on commutes. I anticipate more people will opt to work at home instead of an office environment. Not only have I found working from home to be more efficient and productive, it’s also demonstrably better for the environment and our overall health.
What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?
I learned so much from the 2008/2009 recession. I was a 25-year-old investment banker in Charlotte, North Carolina at that time, and my entire team was laid-off. It was admittedly a scary and unstable time in the moment, but I now tell people that getting laid-off was actually one of the best things that happened in my career. When I got laid-off, it forced me to reevaluate my priorities, think outside the box, become nimble, and take advantage of my newfound freedom. That lay-off actually propelled me in a new direction where I found my true professional calling and trajectory. I moved across the country to Los Angeles, took a new job in a new industry, and hit the ground running. During uneasy times, it’s easy to complain and feel self-pity; it’s easy to lose track of your daily health and wellness habits and spend more time on the couch. But true winners leverage the uneasiness to their advantage in order to find more exciting and compelling opportunities. Instead of looking at a potentially looming lay-off as the end of the world, I would encourage people to try to view it as a “reset button” that can potentially allow you to profoundly and positively reshape your career path.
Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime
As I mentioned, I’ve been working from home for the last two and a half years, so my schedule has actually not changed that much since the implementation of the quarantine. I always start each day with a healthy beverage followed by some exercise. I used to go on morning walks in the Hollywood Hills with my dog, but I’ve obviously had to cut-back on that activity.
I consider myself a big movie buff, so each night, my girlfriend and I rent a new movie on iTunes. I absolutely loved 1917, A Hidden Life, and The Gentleman. In regard to shows, I typically bounce between Netflix and HBO. I’m currently catching-up on Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as HBO’s newest show, Avenue 5. My girlfriend and I love the Netflix series Ozark, so we quickly binged the third season as soon as it was released. As far as guilty pleasures, I definitely binge-watched the entire season of Tiger King on Netflix, and it was gloriously entertaining. Lastly, I use YouTube every day to catch up on my favorite late-night shows, including Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Seth Meyers. Given the overarching anxiety in our culture, I much prefer to consume the majority of my news through these comedic lenses.
I have been re-reading a lot of my favorite philosophy books as well as some classic fiction. I have established some solid daily routines of reading non-fiction during the day and then some fiction at night before bed. I actually studied philosophy at college, so I’ve been dusting off some of my favorite books from the stoic philosophers, specifically Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. These stoic philosophers have so much impactful wisdom that can be truly leveraged during a time of crisis. I also really like Ryan Holiday, a contemporary stoic philosopher, who I think is one of the best writers of my generation. I am also re-reading one of my all-time favorites, Thoreau’s Walden, which I have found to be incredibly inspiring and comforting during this time of isolation.
What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
I’m currently in quarantine with my girlfriend, Bianca Vierra, and our puppy, Gary, and we’ve established some fun daily routines. In addition to reading, exercising, and binge-watching, we play a lot of games and have introduced an “art hour” into our afternoons. We play some old records and either draw or write in our various prompted journals. We’ve been using our ping-pong table a lot and love playing backgammon. At night, we take cocktail hour very seriously in our house, so we’ve been experimenting with some new recipes as well as learning more about some non-alcoholic alternatives. Lastly, Bianca is an amazing chef, so we‘ve been preparing some extravagant dinners in order to keep morale high. I can’t cook, but I’m good at picking out the wine each night! I’ve really been geeking-out over natural wines lately.
What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
I recently converted my garage into a gym, which I now realize could not have been a timelier undertaking, and I use it every morning. I have a treadmill and some free weights, but my favorite workout is with weighted jump ropes. In regard to mental health, I have been reading every day, journaling, and getting a lot of sleep at night. I’m also a big fan of daily meditation, although I’ve been a bit negligent in my practice lately.
Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
My friend’s family owns a beautiful hotel in Rome, so Bianca and I are definitely flying to Italy once it’s safe to travel again. My favorite places on the planet are the Italian Riviera and the Amalfi Coast, so it would be fun to hit those spots this summer as well. We’re also planning a trip to Mykonos to visit one of Bianca’s friends. But more simply, I miss spontaneous wine tasting getaways in nearby Santa Barbara as well as desert excursions in Joshua Tree. We love doing road trips around California. I’m also excited to get back to some of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles including Republique, Auburn, Gwen, Rosaline, Nic’s on Beverly, Manuela, and Inko Nito.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan C. Ward