Partner Mary D’Onofrio on growth and helping founders make their mark in the cloud economy

When Mary D’Onofrio joined Bessemer, there were several things the firm hadn’t formalized just yet that she was determined to bring to fruition. The first was to build the growth investment practice. The second was to professionalize the firm's tracking of the meteoric growth of both private and public cloud companies. Since joining, Mary has helped build the metrics that private cloud founders leverage to benchmark their businesses and to grow the public BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index into what it is today.

“The compounding power of cloud computing has been building for 20 years, and this is the most powerful megatrend in all of technology right now,” says Mary. “The Cloud Index is a manifestation of the success of cloud companies, and it’s a visible reminder to cloud founders, to cloud operators, and even to ourselves as investors to some extent, just how big those outcomes can be.”

As a dedicated growth-stage investing partner at Bessemer, Mary has invested in and is active with Hyperscience, BigID, GetInsured, and Contractbook, and works closely with Bessemer portfolio companies Forter, LaunchDarkly, and Zapier. The software businesses she serves span subsectors including data infrastructure, cybersecurity, vertical software, and developer platforms. However, as a co-author of Bessemer’s annual State of the Cloud Report, she proselytizes the power of the cloud model and what it can create for visionary founders looking to scale their technologies around the world.

In growth investing, boldness wins

Bessemer has a long-standing tradition of investing in the ambitious visions of early-stage founders and helping them realize their goals of using technology to change the way people live and businesses operate. When Mary joined Bessemer three years ago, she and her fellow Partners knew that part of helping build enduring and category-defining businesses meant investing in exceptional leaders at every stage of their growth. That’s where Mary and Bessemer’s growth team saw they could have a lasting impact for founders.

“In growth investing, boldness wins."

“In growth investing, boldness wins,” says Mary. “The daring founders with big visions and strong execution are the ones that change the world.”

Mary joined Bessemer to become the first dedicated growth-stage investor, bringing experience in finance and operations to bear when evaluating later-stage companies. “What emerging cloud companies need to do to grow ARR from $1M to $10M is often very different from what they need to do in order to grow ARR from $10M to $100M and beyond. I work closely with our founders to scale in that second phase, generally with an outsized focus on product roadmap and go-to-market efficiency” she explains. “Last year, Bessemer led follow-on investments in our portfolio companies LaunchDarkly and Toast; those rounds are testaments to our conviction in the founders and the incredible work they and their teams have accomplished.”

Every inflection point in company-building comes with its own challenges, such as finding product-market fit and revving the sales and marketing engines. But it is here, working to help scale businesses and realize founders’ goals, where Mary thrives.

She describes her daily work as “a flywheel of learning”—helping one company untangle a thorny problem generates insights that help her identify more investments. For example, after the firm’s HashiCorp investment, she spent a lot of time with technical leaders and purchasers of technical software and saw their feature-management issues firsthand. That inspired her to advocate for Bessemer's investment in LaunchDarkly.

The founders she works with may be the ones building tomorrow's greatest software for enterprises, but Mary’s work stretches across the entire cloud industry, including her involvement across Bessemer’s 210+ portfolio companies, to uncover and illuminate the patterns and trends that help these companies achieve unicorn status and beyond.

On the importance of charting your own success

“I’ve always been inspired by a founder’s ingenuity to build something new in order to make change happen within an industry. The goal of the frameworks and metrics that I create for public and private cloud markets can help these founders make strategic decisions and chart their own success.”

Mary’s original research, especially her latest on Growth Endurance and Cash Conversion Score, are what many venture-backed cloud businesses now use to gauge the next phases of their growth and as industry yardsticks of success. In addition, the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index has become the industry standard for public cloud company performance.

However, this isn’t the only time when Mary has led new initiatives in large, enduring institutions. Mary’s career began in government when she interned at the United States Department of the Treasury, for the Treasurer of the United States herself, Rosie Rios. While there, she worked on the project to place Harriet Tubman on the face of the $20 bill. She then turned to the private sector and had her first exposure to tech, working at Morgan Stanley as a tech-focused investment banker and raising capital for companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Forescout; she later worked at Apple in semiconductor procurement. Her combination of experiences led her to a few realizations: She wanted to make an impact, loved technology, and wanted to help businesses grow. Blending these goals with her experience in finance and dealmaking, she became a venture capitalist.

Dozens of investments and two growth funds totaling $1.3 billion later, Mary has become a go-to VC on growth-stage cloud software, but she is also acutely aware of her responsibility to the next generation of female VCs.

“As a female partner at Bessemer, I hope to make the path a bit easier for the next set of women who come up after me,” she says. “I care tremendously about diversity and inclusion and am especially proud to work on such a diverse growth team at Bessemer.”

And if Mary could reinforce one message for women founders it is to bet on themselves. “There are going to be so many ‘no’s along your journey, but none of them matter: You just need one ‘yes.’ Continue to bet on yourself. The only person who should determine if you’re the right person to solve the problem you’re tackling is you.”

As a partner, Mary is in the position to lead investments and write checks for founders who have huge visions — and she knows that many of these founders will be women.