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This is the story of an unlikely VC who's moving the needle on diversity in tech.
But first...meet 76% of VCs. White, male. Probably heterosexual. Graduated from a notable college.
(91% of VCs are male.)
Now, meet Arlan Hamilton.
She's a Black woman from Texas. She didn't graduate from any college.
Oh, and she's hella gay.
Arlan faced hardship throughout her life. But she demonstrated a resilient, entrepreneurial spirit.
She founded an entertainment magazine.
She worked as a Production Coordinator + Tour Manager for artists like Jason Derulo, Toni Braxton, Janine, goldenboy, and Kirk Franklin.
At 28 years old, Arlan hit the lowest point in her adult and professional life.
But something happened that sparked a new, unexpected passion in Arlan.
She learned that entertainment notables like Ellen, Ashton Kutcher, Troy Carter were investing in tech startups.
In addition to owning their own companies, they were buying pieces of other companies like Airbnb and Spotify, and generating even greater wealth.
From a blow-up bed on the floor, Arlan absorbed everything she could find online about how to become a VC.
She hung out at Barnes & Noble and read books she couldn't afford to buy.
Determined to break into VC, she sent over 100 emails applying for apprentice jobs.
And got over 100 NOs. 😒
She started connecting worthy, underestimated founders to investors.
But despite numerous reasons for passing on investing, NO was always their answer.
She had discovered a huge weakness in the "pattern matching" of VCs.
They couldn't see great deals when the founders didn't look like Mark Zuckerberg.
Arlan saw underrepresented founders did more with less. What could they do with even a little funding?
They were being overlooked, and deeply undervalued.
Arlan decided her thesis would be to invest exclusively in underestimated founders that were like her (Black, person of color, woman, and/or LGBT).
Backstage Capital was born.
Arlan set a seemingly impossible goal: invest in 100 high-quality companies led by underrepresented founders by 2020.
She started pitching LPs.
("Limited Partners" — the investors who invest in investors.)
She had over 100 meetings.
And got over 100 NOs. 😠
Until, finally, one day...an angel investor named Susan Kimberlin decided to take a chance on Arlan, and wrote the first check investing in Backstage Capital.
Without missing a beat, Arlan began deploying capital.
Her first investment was in Kairos, a facial recognition software startup.
She continued to raise and invest money.
She started recruiting a team.
A.k.a. the Crew.
They created content to serve the 97% of founders that Backstage couldn't invest in.
As the portfolio grew, the Crew grew to support it.
Arlan promoted Christie Pitts to Investment Partner + Chief of Staff.
Backstage threw a 2-year anniversary party to celebrate 50 investments.
Backstage Studio, a venture studio, launched to further support Backstage's founders, a.k.a. Headliners.
The Backstage Deal Flow Team was assembled to manage the open application process, and grow investment input beyond the Partners.
A year and a half early, Backstage reached the goal - 100 investments in exceptional companies led by underrepresented founders.
Just like our founders,
we've done a lot with a little.
But, we're just getting started. 💜
Thank you for your attention. 👊🏾