Born and raised in the Bronx, Bonsai Co-Founder and CEO Patrick Sullivan didn’t have any business connections to lean on when he launched his own career. So now, the startup founder has built and launched Bonsai, a platform to make an impact in leveling the playing field when it comes to kickstarting a strong professional life.
Bonsai, an online platform that connects people looking for career advice with relevant professionals over one-on-one video chats, launched publicly last Tuesday by emerging from a private beta.
Bonsai is New York City-based but Sullivan spends much of his time living in Raleigh, surrounded by the Triangle tech scene as well.
Before his time at Bonsai, Sullivan founded Source3, which went on to be acquired by Facebook. He also served as the CEO of RightsFlow, a leading licensing and royalty technology company for music, eventually acquired by Google.
Having served on a business leadership council in New York City, he teamed up with Co-Founder Jake Rosenfeld to create a platform to build network accessibility to help young people without these important pre-existing connections launch their careers. Rosenfeld had been an investor at Correlation Ventures, leading the firm’s investments in 17 companies.
“If you need to know someone who works at Google or Facebook or JPMorgan or Chase,” said Sullivan, “the probability is that in your early career, you likely have limited access to that network. So we were trying to solve the network-access problem.”
Sullivan said these entry-level jobs are publicly available for everyone, but there may be many hurdles to get there.
“The challenge is not only from just the college you went to, the alumni,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of family networks that some have but many others don’t. You’re probably prevented from getting access to those people that you need to talk to for informational interviews for everything from learning about the company to learning about the jobs before you graduate or post-graduation, so you can apply for a job.”
Even before its public launch, Bonsai had completed over 100 sessions matching people with career-advice coaching and mentoring. When using the platform, advice-seekers or learners can choose between areas of focus for advice, sort through professionals based on the roles and companies they’re interested in and then pay for an advice session from a professional. The average rate is $50 per session, of which Bonsai takes 25%.
Professionals come from a range of companies, including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Waze, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Universal.
Bonsai has also raised $1.5 million in a pre-seed round from angel investors, founders and executives from Google, Facebook, Sony Music, Columbia and Amazon.
With 150 learners already matched with professionals on Bonsai, the startup is also teaming up with the City University of New York (CUNY) in a partnership, providing the platform to CUNY students free of charge during these hard times.
More locally, Bonsai is also in the beginning stages of working with NC State.
“We feel confident we can make large impacts that career services and career development services are not doing effectively in this online virtual world,” Sullivan said.
Looking to the future, Sullivan said he hopes to increase the breadth of Bonsai’s industry professionals beyond their focused areas in finance, digital media and entrepreneurship to other industries like healthcare.
Covid-19 has affected nearly all businesses in some way, but Bonsai is a startup formed to help people with their careers, especially now. The relevancy and timing of having a virtual product that helps people with both career development and career placement has only increased during these challenging times, Sullivan believes.
“Not only our business, but businesses that are virtual and businesses that are helping are getting back and are benefiting,” Sullivan said. “We think we’re doing positive work. Our mission is to create a platform that connects people, and that to me is something that’s beneficial for anybody who’s seeking or potentially seeking a job.”