Bullpen Capital, a now 10-year-old, venture fund in Menlo Park that focuses on what it calls post-seed investing — it backs startups that have already raised up to $5 million and “aren’t quite ready for a $10 million check but another $5 million would make them dangerous,” says firm cofounder Paul Martino — just closed its fifth fund with $130 million in capital commitments.
The firm also brought aboard a new general partner: Ann Lai, formerly of Binary Capital, a firm that has since closed its doors but where Lai, who has a PhD in engineering sciences from Harvard, developed a thesis around bringing in more diverse startups from both a startup and geographic perspective — work that, it turns out, is also a prime focus for Bullpen.
In a call with both Martino and Lai earlier this week, they pointed to the startup Hemster to illustrate how both Bullpen and Lai respectively think about startups, and why, soon after Lai brought the deal to Bullpen roughly a year ago, it knew it had found its newest GP.
Hemster was founded by a solo founder, who happens to be a woman (Allison Lee), who happens to be a first-time entrepreneur. In the traditional world of venture capital, that’s three knocks against the company.
What the company does — on-demand tailoring — doesn’t necessarily sound on its face like a venture-like bet, either. Martino admitted that his first reaction to Lai’s pitch was: Why would we fund this?
Yet what Lai saw, and Bullpen eventually did, too, is a company positioned well to seize on the continuing shift from offline to online shopping, where all manner of technologies have tried to map body types in order to guarantee a better fit for customers. But Hemster, by constructing data about customers and