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Serial founder Patrick Sullivan talks exits to Google, Facebook and new venture, Bonsai, in Raleigh

RALEIGH — Three-time founder Patrick Sullivan is passionate about building companies.

His first company, a licensing and royalty technology for artists, record labels and distributors, was acquired by Google in 2011. At the time of acquisition, RightsFlow serviced over 20,000 music labels, distributors, and digital service providers and managed licensing for over 30 million recordings tied to billions of transactions.

The now 49-year-old followed that up with Source3, a data driven company in the copyright licensing space, which Facebook snagged in 2017.

In total, his businesses have generated billions of dollars in revenue and helped raise over $50 million in capital.

Now, this native New Yorker who now calls Raleigh home is determined to start a company with a social impact.

Last week, he officially launched Bonsai, a new online platform that launched out of private beta today connecting individuals seeking career advice with professionals doing relevant work through 1:1 video chats.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently got to chat with him and get the scoop on his startup success. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Briefly tell me about your first two startups, and how they got started.

When I think back to my previous start ups I think about the first one, RightsFlow I needed to do and the second one Source3 I wanted to do.  RightsFlow was founded with the idea and burning desire that we could build a technology that could simplify music licensing at scale for companies like Google and YouTube.

In less than three years with a bootstrapped mentality, I personally funded the company from inception and went all in with my life savings of $225,000, liquidating everything during the financial crisis time period of 2008 onwards. My wife Chastity, who is my rock, also liquidated her 401k and became an investor in the company as well all while she worked full-time supporting the family. We eventually raised a seed round of $1.5 million from Originate Ventures in Pennsylvania, along with a $1m million debt round of financing led by Silicon Valley legends Maurice Werdegar and David Wanek at Western Technology Investment (WTI).

With the fresh capital, we were able to build and grow the company servicing over 20,000 music labels, distributors, and digital service providers and managed licensing for over 30 million recordings tied to billions of transactions. YouTube and Google Play, at the time, were our customers and we supported music licensing at scale for both companies.

Eventually Google and YouTube realized the impact of RightsFlow on turning on advertising inventory and music monetization and they acquired our company in December of 2012.  As part of Google, RightsFlow became an integral part of YouTube’s music monetization allowing for a substantial expansion of the scale of Content ID.

After spending around three years at Google, I got the itch again and the idea that I could do it again and founded and personally founded Source3 initially with a $1.1 million personal investment to get the company off the ground. We eventually raised an institutional seed round of $4 million led by Bob Greene at Contour Ventures and follow on investments from Wanek, Western Technology Investors, Autodesk, Correlation Ventures. (That is where I met my cofounder at Bonsai, Jake Rosenfeld, who was running Correlation’s NYC office), 645 Ventures and a bunch of high profile angels in NY and Silicon Valley.

Within two years from funding, we became laser focused on building a technology and company that would create value in solving music licensing problems at scale for companies such as Facebook that acquired our company in August 2017.  It was a quick ride, but well worth it for Source3 has become the global music content operations for Facebook and Instagram enabling music access at scale.  I’m very proud of what we accomplished there.

  • Why did you decide to found Bonsai?

We believe that social capital is the key to career success, but the playing field is very uneven in terms of opportunity given to pre-professionals to access the right social capital needed to launch a lucrative professional life.

In order to level the playing field, we built a marketplace connecting advice-seekers (college students and young professionals) with advice-givers (professionals and executives across various industries). Bonsai learns about the professional interests and goals of advice-seekers, pairs them with relevant experts in the workforce, and facilitates affordable 1:1 video chats centered around specific career topics. Advice-givers are able to set a price for their 30 minute sessions, approve or deny booking requests, and host paid 1:1 video chats that fit into their schedules. After each 1:1, advice-givers follow-up with advice-seekers by sharing industry resources, re-booking subsequent 1:1s, or making referrals to job openings or other professionals in their networks.

Building Bonsai is near and dear to my heart, as someone born and raised in the Bronx without any business connections to lean on as I launched my own career.

Here’s something i wrote about my upbringing:

I was born rich…

Rich in health.
Rich in family.
Rich in dreams.

As a rich kid growing up in the Bronx, I would sit at home at night and dream about all the things I could be when I grew up. Except my dreams were not connected to my reality.

We were building superintendents, and my dad worked three jobs from 5am through midnight every day. There were drugs and crime all around us. People were being killed in our neighborhood.Violence was a way of life.

So how does one succeed with all of these barriers? Well, I am the anomaly … one of the very few lucky ones. But what about all of those kids out there today growing up in the Bronx? How can we help them develop, progress, and find paths to better lives?

This time around, I am building a company to make an impact and level the playing field when it comes to accessing social capital needed to kickstart a strong professional life. We are here to build a new experience. With Bonsai, we will empower and equip those kids and every learner with a path to fly.

  • Tell us about your family, and how they’ve weighed in on some of your decisions — like moving to NC.

We love love love Raleigh. First time my wife came down here, she fell in love with downtown and North Raleigh where we live. We both identified with the kindness and the community focus of the area and all that it has to offer. Amazing food and restaurant scene which we continue to support locally buying take out on a regular basis.

  • How are you holding up during this crisis?  

Our family feels very blessed and thankful during this period. Having a house with nice property and views has been a blessing. Like all families, we have our challenges and ups and downs but work to all get along. One thing that has positively kept me busy is I sit on several non-profit boards focused around hunger (WhyHunger) and education (Here to Here) and given the times help is hugely necessary on both fronts. Here to Here is an entity that is the operating foundation of the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation. Jamie (CEO of JPMorgan Chase).

  • If you could give advice to your 20-something self, what would it be?

Always try to surround yourself with people smarter than you and help elevate you to a better place. I was fortunate growing up in the Bronx to be around Street minded people that helped me better position my critical thinking skills in business.

Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire