Bonfire Ventures Co-Founder Agitates ... on Los Angeles, on Venture Capital, on How to Win His Backing

March 25, 2019

By Miranda Myers(opens in new tab), 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(opens in new tab) 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(opens in new tab),” 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(opens in new tab).

Established in 2017 with the goal of increasing the amount of capital available in Southern California, Bonfire invests in early-stage (seed round)(opens in new tab), 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(opens in new tab) 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(opens in new tab) 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(opens in new tab) 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(opens in new tab), 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(opens in new tab), because you can be sure Mullen’s doing his.

For all of this and more, tune into the full podcast episode on Apple Podcasts(opens in new tab), SoundCloud(opens in new tab) and YouTube(opens in new tab), and as always, don’t forget to rate, review and subscribe. 


 More on venture capital:  

She Heard No 133 Times. Now Ann Winblad Runs One of Silicon Valley’s Top VC Firms(opens in new tab)

What You Should Know About Early-Stage Venture Capital Before Pursuing It(opens in new tab)

Female Founders Fund is Bucking VC Trends to Close the Gender Funding Gap(opens in new tab)

NetSuite has packaged the experience gained from tens of thousands of worldwide deployments over two decades into a set of leading practices that pave a clear path to success and are proven to deliver rapid business value. With NetSuite, you go live in a predictable timeframe — smart, stepped implementations begin with sales and span the entire customer lifecycle, so there's continuity from sales to services to support.

Sales Chat

How is your business adapting to change?

Start chat