Chris Hollod has been a well-known figure in the L.A. venture capital ecosystem since becoming multi billionaire Ron Burkle’s venture partner in 2009. He also ran A-Grade Investments, a prolific venture fund with Ashton Kutcher, making early investments in a variety of consumer technology companies, including Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Square, Box, Shazam, Duolingo, and Spotify.
He ultimately launched his own investment and advisory entity, Hollod Holdings, in 2017, and most recently, was co-founder and CEO of Tailwind Acquisition Corp., a public investment company that acquired two frontier technology companies. After completing his successful stint in the public markets, he is eager to fully delve back into the private investment world with the support of his fiancée, Bianca Vierra.
Vierra, who grew up in Silicon Valley, is a fashion model with a love for innovation and all things health and wellness. Represented by top L.A. modeling agency Photogenics, she has modeled for a variety of brands, including Lexus, Bebe, Anastasia Beverly Hills, K-Swiss, Mary Kay, and Anine Bing. Before becoming a full-time model in 2018, she worked with a few different technology startups as well as a digital agency, where she helped celebrities manage their digital presence.
The trendsetting couple got engaged last year, and over the course of their now seven-year relationship, have developed a shared, deeply authentic passion for angel investing in consumer brands and products at the convergence of culture and wellness, including such companies as Magic Spoon, MUD\WTR, JuneShine, AMASS, Goodmylk, Recess, GEM, Jinx, and De Soi.
The CSQ team sat down with this dynamic duo to gain a better understanding of their unique work-life balance, favorite trends and investments, personal health and wellness routines, and a glimpse into their aspirational shared life at the base of the Hollywood Hills.
HOW DID YOU MEET?
Hollod: We actually first met on a plane en route to Cannes Film Festival 2016. In addition to being Ron’s venture partner, I also traveled full time with him for six years, so we were always on the road together balancing his endless business meetings, social activities, and deals. Ron is an extraordinary man and has been such an amazing mentor to me! He’s so generous and always enjoyed having friends join his bigger trips, so Bianca serendipitously got invited on the trip through a mutual friend. When I boarded the plane, Bianca was literally the first person I saw, and I guess you could say the rest is history!
Vierra: I always let Chris tell the story, since it sounds so surreal. You definitely don’t expect to meet a handsome stranger on a plane to the South of France. Sounds like a movie scene! But we do live in Hollywood, and I guess life does occasionally imitate art no matter how cliché it sounds. We became great friends on that trip, and then Chris eventually asked me out on a date once we got back to L.A.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR SHARED INTEREST IN STARTUP COMPANIES?
Vierra: I was raised in Silicon Valley where my dad was the CTO of a few different tech startups. I grew up testing websites and watching my dad build computers in his home office. Technology and startups were always a part of my life, but I didn’t learn about venture capital until I graduated from UCLA and started working for a fintech company in Silicon Beach that was raising money. I then quickly received a first-class VC education when Chris and I started dating. I still joke that he has the best job on the planet since he gets paid to meet with smart people who are passionate about what they are doing with their companies and lives. It’s incredible to support the next generation of innovation as a career!
Hollod: By the time I met Bianca, I had already done more than 150 deals across several different entities, but I wanted to start investing my own money and adjusting my focus toward consumer brands and products as opposed to predominantly consumer tech. I definitely credit my budding relationship with Bianca for both inspiring and propelling me into my own investment company in 2017, only one year after meeting her.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR SHARED JOURNEY AND ACTIVITY WITHIN THE ENTREPRENEURIAL ECOSYSTEM
Hollod: It all started so authentically and organically about five years ago. Bianca started DMing me brands on Instagram and helping me bolster my digital presence in order to promote existing portfolio companies and source new deals. She then started sampling and comparing new products with me, which is honestly one of our favorite pastimes, and sitting in meetings with entrepreneurs. Once you reach a certain point in the VC world, one good intro always begets another good intro, so it becomes a virtuous cycle of new product samples and new investor decks, which we enjoy reviewing together. Brands, trends, and startups eventually became some of our favorite conversation topics over dinner!
Vierra: As Chris mentioned, I was already active on Instagram, so it was a natural extension to start following brands and products in addition to my friends. I probably follow more brands than people at this point! I started identifying the ones that were making better-for-you alternatives and out of my own excitement as a consumer, I’d share these companies with Chris, telling him we needed to meet them and get involved. Our digital behavior quickly translated into the physical world, as we’d bounce between various health shops and grocery stores in West Hollywood just to meander through the aisles together and discover new companies. As a model, I also started to gravitate toward new female-founded fashion brands in L.A., where I could actually form a direct connection with the founders and learn more about their aspirations as opposed to merely being a face in one of their photos. I love working with creators, whether it’s someone creating art through photography, a new fashion line that addresses a unique market, or a product that makes a cleaner, better alternative.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR MEETINGS WITH ENTREPRENEURS AND HOW THEY DIFFER
FROM A MORE TRADITIONAL VC SETTING?
Hollod: Before COVID hit, I took 100% of my meetings at our house, and every entrepreneur would meet Bianca and our little dog, Gary, who’s our chief culture officer. It was super intimate and totally antithetical to a transactional meeting in some sterile boardroom somewhere. We’d sit in our living room or in the backyard by the pool. Our fridge and pantry were always packed with Hollod Holdings’ portfolio companies, so we’d constantly trade products with new entrepreneurs that came by the house. When you back an entrepreneur, I think it’s critical to form a strong personal connection before making any type of investment. Also, since Bianca and I are so active on social media, I feel like entrepreneurs are able to get an honest, real-time glimpse into our lives, which augments our personality as compared to some of the larger, more homogenized, faceless funds.
Vierra: I think at one point we were endearingly referring to our kitchen as “C&B’s Pantry” since no one left a meeting without drinks and snacks! And when Chris does leave the house for meetings, we always try to turn it into a little adventure or fun date. One of my favorite memories is when we first went to the MUD\WTR Hut to hang with the co-founders, Shane and Paul, and we serendipitously witnessed them hitting their one-thousandth customer, and now the company has skyrocketed!
WE’VE HEARD THAT BIANCA HAS A KEEN EYE FOR NEW SELF-CARE, BEAUTY, AND WELLNESS BRANDS. HOW DOES HER EXPERTISE INFLUENCE INVESTMENT DECISIONS?
Hollod: I’d like to think that Bianca is the aspirational customer for most consumer brands, so I rely heavily on her personal feedback, especially as it pertains to the countless, high-growth feminine sectors. As investors, we all have our own personal blind spots, so the more honest feedback and info you can garner, the better. Bianca also has such great connectivity in L.A. and can leverage feedback from her modeling agency, clients, and friends. A lot of beauty and self-care brands organically reach out to her as a customer or ambassador, and she sees an endless flow of new products at shoots and castings, so she’s really developed a discerning eye. VC is as risky as it gets, so it’s incredibly valuable to be able to get an honest second opinion on new opportunities.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP BIOHACKS AND WELLNESS ROUTINES?
Hollod: Bianca is definitely the queen of health gadgets and new biohacks, while I’m admittedly quite monomaniacal about my wellness routines. Jay-Z has a famous trainer who first introduced me to weighted jump ropes, which I now contend is the absolute best workout on the planet. The corresponding app plans your workouts and is linked to the ropes via Bluetooth, so it monitors everything. As a numbers guy, when I combine that data with the various metrics from my smart scale and iPhone, I can really track my health progression. As they say, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. I also love resistance-band training, fasted morning workouts, hikes in the hills, freezing-cold showers, and our vibrating foam roller. Before I met Bianca, my skin-care routine was basically nonexistent, but after some gentle coaxing, she’s gotten me hooked on a really solid regimen and also introduced me to the benefits of retinol.
Vierra: I believe in the power of habit stacking to make sure that my wellness routines become an effortless part of my daily life. We’re fortunate to have gadgets at home and in our garage gym to support our wellness goals, but we also love the emergence of innovative wellness social clubs like Remedy Place, founded by our friend, Dr Jonathan. One of my favorite biohacks at the moment is the combination of red-light therapy with our vibration plate while I listen to a podcast. Since these are all hands-free activities, I love incorporating my skin-care routine into this time by utilizing my microcurrent or EMS device. Speaking of light therapy, we just ordered a new infrared sauna. I love heat so much that I even have a wearable infrared therapy belt for when I’m getting ready. As for skin-care, I take my routine pretty seriously and have created bespoke routines for Chris and his family. After applying all of my products, I conclude my routine by using a heavy-duty ice roller. We have an embarrassingly full vitamin drawer at home that I’m always rummaging through. I love brands like GEM, Elysium, Lemme, Cymbiotika, and O+. Lately, I’ve been raving about glutathione injections, which is a master antioxidant that supports the body’s natural detoxification process. For sleep, I’m a huge fan of Cymbiotika’s magnesium spray. It’s a game-changer for sleep quality while also easing muscle tension.
AS TRENDSETTERS IN L.A., WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE CURRENT TRENDS IN THE HEALTH AND WELLNESS SPACE?
Vierra: Overall, Chris and I love the increased awareness around the concept that less can be more. From skin care to nondairy milk, so many items contain countless ingredients that are totally unnecessary, when it comes to creating an effective or enjoyable product. So I love how brands are starting to highlight the fact that they formulate their products with only necessary or active ingredients. For example, Deciem, the umbrella company behind The Ordinary, does an excellent job of this in skin care. I’m also really passionate about beverages and am like a detective when it comes to companies adding sneaky ingredients. I’m militant about my nondairy milks and love how more founders, like our friend Brooke from GoodMylk, are drawing attention to all of the unnecessary ingredients, like canola oil, binders, and natural flavors, in most non dairy options. We can even see this “less is more” shift across social media where the paradigm used to be to post frequent, perfect, and carefully curated content. I think Gen Z has done an amazing job of leading this online trend of being more authentic and transparent, even to the point of intentionally posting imperfect photos. While I love my coffee, I also recognize the importance of cycling through different caffeinated and adaptogenic drinks like matcha or MUD\WTR to prevent a dependency. We’ve really cut back on our wine consumption, and it’s amazing to explore alternatives like nonalcoholic wine and nootropic cocktails. I’ve even started exploring the benefits of microdosing, and from an investment perspective, Chris has been tracking the legal landscape and emerging studies on psychedelics, ranging from MDMA to psilocybin to ketamine. I realize it sounds so “L.A.,” but several of our friends are now opting for some type of microdose instead of a nightly glass of wine, and I think this trend will continue to grow as the stigma is removed.
CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR INVESTMENT PROCESS AND WHAT YOU LOOK FOR IN
BOTH A COMPANY AND FOUNDER?
Hollod: Most importantly, I only invest in strong founders. I want to see hustle, grit, accountability, and unflinching determination, and I want to back entrepreneurs that are authentically solving problems as opposed to merely chasing profits. When you pursue purpose, profits usually follow; however, the formula doesn’t typically work when you invert it. Second, I only invest in companies that Bianca and I would actually consume ourselves and store in our house or on our phone and promote on social media. It has to be truly authentic all around. I’m always drawn to innovative startups that are purpose-built to solve a pain point, replace an outdated incumbent product, or create a new behavior. The theme that I’ve personally coined over the years for my investments is “intuitively disruptive.” That is, I like a simple, succinct elevator pitch that evokes a visceral reaction. And it doesn’t hurt to have exponential revenue growth, strong gross margins, and a massive total addressable market.
Vierra: While Chris can heavily focus on the quantitative aspects of a business, I love the qualitative side of companies. I look at branding, messaging, digital strategy, and product portfolios. After looking closely at ingredient labels, I also really enjoy sampling competitive products and finding the best flavor profile or functional benefit. And if Gary excitedly greets an entrepreneur when they first enter our house, that’s always a good sign!
COULD YOU SHARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE INVESTMENTS AND WHY YOU CHOSE. THEM?
Hollod: While I was running A-Grade, our two top investments were Uber and Airbnb. We now take these companies for granted, but back in 2011, they were extremely innovative and polarizing. Those two investments changed my life! With my partner, D. A. Wallach, we backed Upside Foods at an early stage, which is now the leading cellular agriculture company. I’m very passionate about the overall food-tech sector and love a compelling sustainable or eco friendly angle. During my recent stint as the CEO of a public investment company, I focused on frontier technology sectors like space tech, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, automation, machine learning, and AI, because those sectors include the most transformative tech companies at the moment. We eventually acquired a leading small satellite manufacturer as well as an industrial laser company that powers 3D printers. And with Hollod Holdings, I gravitated to healthy consumer packaged goods and was an early investor in several high-growth brands like Magic Spoon, MUD\WTR, JuneShine, AMASS, Jinx, and De Soi. In regards to my “intuitively disruptive” thesis, just walk down the cereal aisle of your local grocery store, and you’ll be confronted with endless outdated brands that are riddled with sugar and other horrible ingredients. So I backed Magic Spoon, a company that is quite emblematic of my thesis. The company is a rocket ship and should eventually get bought by one of the massive conglomerates that would rather acquire Gen Z and Millennial brands than struggle to create them in-house.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE VENTURE CAPITAL LANDSCAPE EVOLVING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS, WHAT IMPACT DO YOU ANTICIPATE THESE CHANGES HAVING ON INVESTMENT STRATEGY AND APPROACH?
Hollod: In general, I think investing and fundraising will slow down to a more sustainable level, and a lot of first-time fund managers will sadly not be able to raise second funds, while a portion of the growth companies will have to raise down-rounds. The last two years were just crazy! I was joking with Ron Burkle last week that I think the L.A. cliché has changed—that is, I no longer meet any aspiring actors, I only meet aspiring investors. It really does feel like everyone has a fund now, and frankly, the data supports it. Venture capitalists collectively raised a record-setting $163B of new funding last year across 769 funds. I’m baffled by these numbers. How were there literally two new venture funds raised per day, every single day last year? Ashton Kutcher used to talk to me a lot about the signal-to-noise ratio, and using that reference, it does feel like there’s a lot of noise in the ecosystem at the moment. But invariably, the best investors will always find the best entrepreneurs and vice versa. Regardless of the stalled IPO market, unpredictable M&A activity, SVB failure, and abundance of capital, I’m going to continue to exclusively focus on what I can control, and that’s investing in early-stage, pioneering entrepreneurs that are building the next generation of startups.