Backstage Capital's Arlan Hamilton on building by deconstructing - Technical.ly

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May 21, 2020 7:04 am

Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton on building by deconstructing

In the keynote to close out Introduced|Virtual, the investor focused in on authenticity and superpowers.
Arlan Hamilton speaking at Introduced|Virtual.

Arlan Hamilton speaking at Introduced|Virtual.

(Screenshot)

When Arlan Hamilton went about building Backstage Capital, it was from a different lens than venture capital firms typically start.

For one, it was a different place. She was in Texas, which is miles from the industry’s center in Silicon Valley.

She also didn’t have money of her own or funds from friends and family.

And she wanted to invest in groups of people that are typically overlooked by the broader VC industry: founders who identify as women, people of color and LGBTQ who typically receive just a fraction of nationwide VC funding.

“To be quite honest, I looked at Silicon Valley, I looked at the guys who were running funds and had hundreds of millions of dollars under management, and even as a gay Black woman in Texas who had no connection to that, I said, ‘Give me a few years and I can become that,'” said Hamilton.

So she went about understanding their business, and how it evolved over 70 years. Then, she built her own by deconstructing all of those norms.

There was the strategy: She took the approach that venture capital is a tool to get resources into the hands of people overlooked groups.

“Venture is the break-in and the breakthrough,” she said.

And there were the tactics: She remained authentic to herself, right down to the purple hoodie and sneakers that she wears. Hamilton said she got advice to blend in more. But ultimately, she arrived at the question: “Do I do a disservice by trying to be cookie cutter?”

Hamilton, the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, talked about her journey from food stamps to funding companies during a virtual event as part of  Philadelphia-based CreateXChange’s Next Best Thing Speaker Series, in which she was interviewed by Kathryn Ross of Accenture Ventures, the venture arm of the consulting giant.

It was the keynote to close out Technical.ly’s Introduced|Virtual conference and came in the same week Hamilton released a new book with lessons she’s learned along the way called “It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage.”

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Los Angeles-based Backstage Capital has invested $7 million into more than 120 founders, and also has an accelerator model which had cohorts in four cities including Philadelphia last year. Though it hasn’t been immune to the model tweaks of many new ventures, it has become internationally known for bringing diversity to the conversation alongside returns, and attracted a share of notable investors.

Throughout the talk, it was clear that Hamilton’s own path has also been about finding a voice.

After a break from the keynote using Zoom’s breakout rooms feature in which attendees discussed their superpowers, the group reconvened to hear about Hamilton’s thoughts on the question. Her answer: “Your uniqueness is your superpower.”

“The fact that every single human being is their own person. There’s no one exactly like you. That is huge to me,” she said. “That is what gives us the edge. You give yourself the edge by being authentically you.”

It’s a lesson that can apply to startups, as well as life.

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