The controversial founder and executive chairman of payment company Bolt slides into the CEO seat of an early-stage wellness startup.
Ryan Breslow, Bolt’s executive chairman, announced Friday that he’s taking the role of CEO and founder of a health startup called Love. In January 2022, Breslow, 28, sparked confusion and fueled conspiracy theories across Silicon Valley when he stepped down as Bolt’s CEO after eight years—and only days after raising $355 million from top investors at an $11 billion valuation. He’s heading up Love at a tumultuous time for Bolt, but he told Forbes he plans to remain company’s executive chairman.
Bolt reached decacorn status in early 2022 by promising to deliver the same seamless one-click digital-checkout experience of titans Amazon and Shopify to millions of mid-sized merchants. “My biggest impact at Bolt is not hands-on and time-intensive,” Breslow told Forbes in a video call from Miami. “It’s helping us land our biggest accounts, open doors, spur growth and fundraise.”
Love is still in its early stages, but in August it raised $7.5 million at a $180 million valuation from MaC Venture Capital and Human Capital. Despite his own stuffed wallet, Breslow hasn’t invested his own money in the startup. “I find value in having great external capital fund the startup,” Breslow told Forbes. “It adds legitimacy and more eyes and arms and legs to the business.”
Breslow is running a new funding round, raising another $10 million, this time at a $300 million plus valuation, according to people with inside information who requested anonymity. Adrian Fenty, the former mayor of Washington, D.C., and managing general partner at MaC Venture Capital said his firm was betting on Breslow because he can form a great team that comes up with the best innovations in healthcare. “He’s the type of entrepreneur that’s going to hire the right people and find the right strategies,” said Fenty, who invested in Bolt and Love. “But not be afraid to change strategies to build the best company.”
Breslow told Forbes that helming Love doesn’t mean he’s abandoning Bolt. In January, Breslow gave the title of Bolt CEO to his then-COO Maju Kuruvilla, a former Amazon executive, so he could focus on landing big retailer partners and top tech talent.
Since then, Bolt has been through some tough times. In March, one of its largest customers, Authentic Brands, sued Bolt claiming it had overstated its software’s capabilities. (The suit was settled in July; Authentic Brands remains a Bolt customer). In May, Bolt, which had earlier caused controversy by offering loans to workers so they could buy Bolt stock options, laid off some 200 employees, about a quarter of its staff. Meanwhile, Bolt’s attempt to raise new funds at a $14 billion valuation has sputtered as climbing interest rates helped spark a savage bear market for tech companies with lofty values. (The tech-heavy NASDAQ index is down 25% in 2022).
Kuruvilla told Forbes that he and Breslow had been discussing his shift to Love since Breslow made the January move to executive chairman. “Bolt has grown up and needs a different approach where it’s more enterprise-friendly. … Ryan’s superpower is building new things and democratizing new spaces,” Kuruvilla said. “He’s kind of a person who can have his finger on multiple things at the same time. I expect him to stay very involved with Bolt and me and help continue the journey.”
“I’ve obviously done my research on the healing benefits of psychedelics, and I think they allow you to have experiences of elevated consciousness to help you realize things in your life that you may not have realized before.”
What is Love? Breslow says the wellness company will act as a Kickstarter for clinical trials, crowdsourcing ideas and cash to run pharma-grade studies on the health effects of natural products—for instance, the power of turmeric to manage diabetes or coffee’s impact on reducing the risks of a stroke.
“Western medicine is extremely beneficial in severe cases of trauma and illness, but there are so many other alternative paths that are free, cheap and accessible,” Breslow said. “That being said, there’s no data. It’s all conjecture. Some people say homeopathy is a bunch of wackos, and many people say it really works. Our goal is to put an end to the age-old debate.”
Love will operate as a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, which will sell digital tokens to fund clinical trials. Each token gives its owner a vote on which natural product to study and which company will run the test. The more tokens an investor owns, the more votes they get.
“We hope that people will get involved who are charitable and aren’t seeking returns,” Breslow said. “The goal is data. In the future, there may be different iterations around commercialization and returns to the community. But version one is about impact—people putting in funds because they want data on the topic.”
Breslow said Love will take a fee for running the DAO, and later start a clinic that will bid alongside other contractors to conduct the studies. Love is also launching a marketplace to sell vitamins, probiotics, supplements and even psychedelic therapies under the Love brand and some third-party companies. Both the DAO and marketplace are slated to launch in December.
“I think my superpower is that I’ve never done health before.”
Love combines Breslow’s two obsessions—tech and wellness. The millennial is notorious in Silicon Valley for touting an extreme health regime and a mandated company-wide four-day work week. As Forbes wrote in an April 2022 cover story, Breslow “abstains from meat and gluten, caffeine and alcohol. No supplements or illicit substances, either. The strict routine is part of what he calls ‘working like a lion,’ a philosophy of executing in brief bursts of hyperfocus and intensity, similar to how the big cat hunts. … After sunset, he avoids electric lights and screens because they disrupt his sleep. Instead, he lights candles and plays a buffalo-skin drum.”
The same guy who swears off booze, caffeine and electric lights is now selling supplements and psychedelics. “I don’t take supplements,” he said. “That being said, I’m open to it. I’ve certainly seen supplements help many people in my life. And I would also add that I did take supplements while I was sick in order to get better.” He said he’s open to psychedelics, too. “I’ve obviously done my research on the healing benefits of psychedelics, and I think they allow you to have experiences of elevated consciousness to help you realize things in your life that you may not have realized before.”
For Love, being the new kid on the blockchain is critical. The supplement industry, which did $15.5 billion in North American sales in 2020, according to Fortune Business Insights, is crowded with traditional players and startups including GNC, Amazon, Ritual, Hims, Roman and countless newcomers selling on Instagram and TikTok.
Love is jumping into a murky area where top universities, health institutes and government agencies have long found shifting, often conflicting answers to questions like: Are eggs good or bad for you? How about red wine? And coffee? If so, how much?
“It’s purely about exploring data. We’re not seeking conclusions or outcomes,” Breslow said. “I think my superpower is that I’ve never done health before.”
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