Burstin’s return to L.A.-based Mitu comes following the layoff of around 30% of its employees in July, as the company shut down its longer-form, premium productions and cut its marketing team. As part of the refocusing, CEO Herb Scannell — who had been hired 10 months earlier — resigned, while president and co-founder Beatriz Acevedo stepped down to serve in an advisory capacity.
The layoffs were part of “a decision to try to narrow the focus of the company, to do the things we do best to try to drive the business to profitability,” Burstin told Variety. “We were making a pretty big bet on premium projects.”
The $10 million in new funding was led by San Francisco-based LEAP Global Partners, which describes itself as a cross-border Latino venture-capital fund, along with participation from prior investors including Upfront Ventures. Previously, Mitu had raised $42 million from investors including Upfront, Comcast, WPP, Verizon Ventures, AMC Networks, Chernin Group and Awesomeness (now owned by Viacom).
At this point, Burstin said, Mitu’s mandate is to drive revenue from branded content and programmatic advertising, aimed at young, U.S. Hispanic audiences. The company also is expanding efforts to generate revenue from commerce.
“I was excited to come back. The market opportunity is just as real as when we started,” Burstin said. “The opportunity is to continue nurturing our brand with the audience. What gives us the right to cater to these audiences is the authenticity of the brand — the team that creates the content is our target audience.”
Currently, Mitu has about 65 full-time employees. The company remains based in downtown L.A. “The reduction in personnel has not restricted our ability to generate revenue,” Burstin said, noting that most of the staff let go over the summer were dedicated to longer-term premium productions.
Burstin had left Mitu in September 2017 after serving as CEO for more than five years when the company brought on Scannell, a TV industry veteran who once ran Nickelodeon and BBC Worldwide North America. Scannell had planned to grow Mitu’s business with bigger-budget TV and movie projects and events.
“Premium content can be profitable but it’s hard to scale,” Burstin said. He cited Verizon’s shutdown of Go90 this summer and Comcast’s phasing out of Watchable — both of which had been buyers of Mitu original series — as precipitating the company’s decision to exit the business of producing longer-form programming.
Mitu is expanding its offerings “for more brands to interact with us,” including by growing its programmatic ad stack, according to Burstin. “We’re rolling out traditional media products for which there’s a lot of demand,” he said.
The company’s second emerging revenue stream is from merchandise. Mitu started with T-shirts and hats, and in September it launched its first “Barrio Box,” which included a variety of merch including a plush Guacardo, Mitu’s popular animated avocado character (who has his own Instagram feed). The Barrio Box costs $40 for a single shipment; Mitu also offers a $140 annual subscription for a four-times-per-year box. The company also has launched a package with Latino-themed pins and stickers, starting at $18, delivered every two months.
“I see the opportunity to evolve Mitu from a strictly content brand to a cultural brand,” Burstin said. “The unifying thread is, it will speak to you as a Latino.”
Acevedo has no formal role with Mitu at this point, but, Burstin said, “Once a founder, always a founder. She is definitely cheering us on and helping us.”
After leaving Mitu last year, Burstin served as entrepreneur-in-residence at Upfront Ventures. Before Mitu, he was co-founder and CEO of Go Sports Media, a sports-media business based in Bogotá, Colombia.