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VC Corner Q&A: Paul Martino of Bullpen Capital

Paul Martino is the General Partner at Bullpen Capital. Paul founded Bullpen in 2010 and has led several of its key investments including FanDuel, Namely, Ipsy, SpotHero, Classy, and Airmap. Paul holds a BS in Mathematics from Lehigh University and a Masters in Computer Science from Princeton University.

He is the holder of over a dozen core patents covering social networking and big data. Prior to forming Bullpen, he was an active angel investor and personally invested in the first rounds of Zynga, TubeMogul, and uDemy.

— What is Bullpen Capital’s mission?

Our mission is to invest in the Post-Seed round, the $3–5m round after the Seed round and before Series A. More broadly, it’s to find founders who are ignored because of their background, category, or location. If you feel unloved by the VC ecosystem, come see us.

— What is one thing you’re excited about right now?

We’re pumped that the Supreme Court legalized sports gambling on May 14. We’re investors in eight gambling and lottery companies. And we’re especially excited about Post-Seed financing because we help founders achieve their goals while providing more flexibility and control and less dilution.

— Who is one founder you think we should watch?

Keep an eye on Jon Dishotsky, CEO of Starcity. They’re making co-living spaces in cities that no one can afford to live in anymore. Jon, a true real estate guy, is innovating the co-living business and financial model. Other VCs underestimated Jon because his resume is nontraditional. We think Starcity will be one of the best companies we’ve ever invested in.

— What are the top 3 qualities of every great leader?

First, they’re introspective. Great leaders don’t kid themselves when their head hits the pillow at night. They’re honest with themselves and admit when something is going poorly.

Second, they’re decisive. Paralysis is the enemy of good leadership. I’d rather invest in a decisive founder who makes the wrong decision than a founder who sits around agonizing for three weeks.

Third, a great leader is not afraid to be wrong. Add these qualities up, and you get a reflective leader who takes action and owns the results whether they’re good or bad.

— What was your very first investment? What struck you about them?

In 1997, I met Matt Ocko from Data Collective. I was 24 and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I thought I should trust someone smarter than me, like Matt. In 1999, Matt said to invest in a company I didn’t know anything about. We all lost our money. There’s a happy ending to this. Matt introduced me to Mark Pincus, who was my co-founder at Tribe, which gave birth to Aggregate Knowledge and Zynga. I’ve invested with Matt many times since. The lesson for me is to always be an independent thinker when investing.

— What’s one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?

Why am I the only person who sees this? Bullpen invests in contrarian things, and generally no one else is doing the deal. That’s always the last question our partners get asked. If they can’t answer it, we don’t invest. That mentality is the exact opposite of almost every other VC’s. Most operate on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

— What’s one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?

Why would I want to work with this investor? Fundraising is a huge, time-consuming pain in the ass. The brand name on the VC’s door doesn’t matter. Understand the value of the investment team and how they’ll support you over the long term.

— What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?

The late Bill Campbell, who coached legendary Silicon Valley CEOs, including Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Page, taught me two of the three priorities: #1 Hire and fire well. #2 Exercise good business judgment. Later I added #3, the Martino Addendum: Don’t run out of money. Bill grudgingly agreed to it.

— Favorite business book, blog, podcast?

For tweets, everything that Matt Ocko from Data Collective has written. Listen to The Twenty Minute VC with Harry Stebbings; Read Randy Komisar and Jantoon Reigersman’s book, Straight Talk for Startups.

— What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

Playing poker. The more exotic the type of poker, the better. I enjoy any kind of casino gambling, which is a good thing since we have eight companies in the gambling space.

— Who is one leader you admire?

I have always admired Galileo. He wasn’t afraid to take on the establishment. Being a contrarian is a difficult and frequently solitary assignment. Even though his point of view wasn’t popular, he didn’t back down. That kind of conviction is at the heard of great entrepreneurship.

— What’s one interesting thing most people don’t know about you?

I collect hippopotamuses. Seriously, I own thousands of them. People walk into our office and ask, “What’s with the hippos?” I love hippos because they’re a victim of bad marketing. People say they are dangerous, but really, aren’t they just lovable and cuddly?

— What’s one piece of advice you’d give every founder?

Know your numbers. Don’t go to a VC meeting to paint a picture of how wonderful your idea is. How much revenue? Users? Churn? Where will you be in two years? I don’t care how big the idea is. If you don’t know the numbers, you won’t run your business the way it needs to be run.

— Anything else you’d like to share?

If you’re a founder with an odd background, in a weird location, in a category that everyone says is awful, get in touch with us. We want to hear from you.

Ready to make a pitch? Startups looking for an opportunity to pitch Bullpen Capital can apply here!



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