By Miranda Myers, staff writer at Grow Wire
It’s always fun when your podcast guest warns you ahead of time that he’s prepared to (his word) agitate on the very thing he’s in the business of doing. But Mark Mullen has earned the right, after years spent in big-time investment circles and working on the inside in one of the biggest cities in the world.
On this episode of the "Grow Wire Podcast,” Mullen takes us through a career trajectory where he was a partner at an investment bank in the cable and telecommunications industry, the chief operating officer of the City of Los Angeles' Economic Office and is now a co-founder of the L.A.-based Bonfire Ventures.
Established in 2017 with the goal of increasing the amount of capital available in Southern California, Bonfire invests in early-stage (seed round), business-to-business startups. Bonfire focuses specifically on post-revenue companies, and prefers to lead most of the deals.
Mullen says there are two important factors the firm looks for when deciding which companies to fund: “The ability of the management team to execute and the ability of that management team to be special.” Typically, Mullen says, people starting B2B companies are a little bit older, with more experience in business anyway.
In particular, he’s not looking for founders interested in flash and being at all the right parties, but instead on those who are passionate about the business they’re creating.
Bonfire looks for all of these qualities using personal intuition and thorough background checks, primarily by spending lots of time getting to know the principles in the startups. Mullen believes his company can provide a positive atmosphere for fledgling entrepreneurs to flourish.
“We wanted to create an environment that allowed companies to think they could grow and thrive,” he explains. “I think the development and growth in Los Angeles is driven not by a government, but by entrepreneurs and companies and the people themselves.”
And he would know. Before getting into venture capital, Mullen held the titles of COO in the Los Angeles Economic Office as well as senior advisor to former Mayor Villaraigosa. Among his many projects, he worked closely with small business departments--another experience that prepared him to take on VC funding in L.A.
Finally, Mullen discusses the changes he’s seen in venture capital over the last several decades, which he believes have typically been beneficial for entrepreneurs.
“It’s a lot easier and cheaper to start a company now because everything is in the cloud,” Mullen says. Since most businesses have shifted from the physical to the digital, they aren’t as capital-intensive, so the startup opportunities are plentiful.
But Mullen is a self-described VC agitator, pointing out that venture capital is a small fraction of the investment landscape, even warning would-be venture seekers off. In other words, do your homework, because you can be sure Mullen’s doing his.
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