Bonsai raises $1.5M to help students get professional guidance via virtual 1-on-1s

As the world continues to lean more heavily on remote collaboration technologies, investors and entrepreneurs are growing more curious about how behavioral shifts will impact the future of work and education.

Bonsai, a new online platform virtually pairing students and young professionals with mentors in professional fields, is launching today with fresh funding. The startup’s founder and CEO Patrick Sullivan previously founded a pair of IP-management startups, one of which sold to Google, the other to Facebook.

“I felt the fundamental problem with job searching wasn’t the job offerings, because they’re democratized and everyone has access to those, but if you don’t have access to a network with the right information or the right guidance, you’re never going to crack that job entry point,” Sullivan told TechCrunch. “Particularly looking at getting jobs at a company like Google, that’s like a whole science.”

The platform is largely oriented around 1:1s, Sullivan doesn’t intend the platform to turn into a Masterclass-esque one-to-many instruction platform though he has seen interest from colleges in doing fireside chats with speakers.

Bonsai is aiming to scale slowly for now, ensuring that the students and young professionals who are onboarded to the platform are matched with the right network of resources on Bonsai’s end. The team has facilitated over 100 virtual meetings to date. Sullivan says that his company is in discussions with several colleges who can help market their services for an affiliate commission.

On the pricing side, Sullivan says that consultations cost an average of $50, a quarter of which goes to Bonsai.

The network of those giving professional advice relies pretty heavily on personal connections of Sullivan, who says that since the pandemic crisis began, there’s been much more inbound interest in doing pro bono work. Fundamental to the service is balancing paid services for those who can afford them with free services for those who can’t.

“We don’t want to charge inner city kids who don’t have access to the same opportunities, but obviously people that are from more affluent backgrounds are willing to pay for that access.” Sullivan says.

Bonsai’s team announced today that they’ve locked down $1.5 million in pre-seed funding from a network of angels including leaders at Google, Facebook and Columbia University.