Bullpen Capital will ride the wings of super angels

There’s a new venture firm called Bullpen Capital launching today with a very specific investing model — managing partner Paul Martino told me he wants to provide small second rounds of financing to startups that were originally funded by “super angels”.

Martino, who is the founder and executive chairman of Aggregate Knowledge, and who is launching Bullpen with Duncan Davidson and Richard Melmon, said the idea came out of his conversations with a number of super angels (a term for high-profile angel investors who raise small funds from outside investors). After the super angels invest, Martino said startups often reach a point where they need a small amount of cash to keep going, but they’re not really ready to raise a large second round.

At that point, two things can happen. The company can raise a larger round from a traditional venture firm at a high valuation, meaning that it needs a home-run acquisition or initial public offering in order to pay off. Or the company might be “prematurely shot in the head” because the initial investor won’t support it. As an illustration of the issue, Martino pointed to investor Mike Maples Jr.’s story about investing in Chegg (a textbook rental startup that has since turned into a home run).

With Bullpen, on the other hand, a startup could raise a $2 to $3 million “Rational (Series) B,” rather than a larger $6 or $8 million round. That gives the company more time to prove its model, then it can raise that bigger round if it wants to (and then go for the home run), or it can look for a small-but-still-lucrative acquisition. Martino said it’s really an extension of the super angel model into later stages of investing.

“If super angels were just a flash-in-the-pan, then we’re really just a niche firm,” Martino. “But we’re betting that they’re a long-term structural phenomenon.”

To that end, Bullpen is raising a $50 million fund to make those second round deals, as well as follow-on investments. Like super angels, Martino said he’s interested in backing capital-efficient Web startups. One particular area that Martino said he’s interested in is the “consumerization of enterprise,” which involves bringing consumer technology, like social networking, into business tools. Bullpen’s first investment was Assistly, a customer relationship management application that focuses on social media.