- Arlan Hamilton founded venture capital fund Backstage Capital in 2015. Since then, the company has invested over $US5 million in 100 companies.
- Backstage Capital looks for startups lead by those who are underrepresented in tech – women, LGBTQ+, and people of colour.
- Before entering Silicon Valley, Hamilton worked as a tour manager for artists like Jason Derulo and Toni Braxton.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
If you were anything but a straight, white man you were honestly not even getting into the room.
I’m Arlan Hamilton, and I’m the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital.
Backstage Capital has invested $US5 million in 100 companies
Backstage Capital is a boutique venture fund that invests in underrepresented founders, and that means that we put $US25,000 to $US100,000 to work into companies that are startups, mostly tech enabled, across the country. We are different in that we invest in the underrepresented and the underestimated, whereas in most of venture capital, less than 10% of all venture capital funding goes to the very people that we invest in.
Being underrepresented myself has helped me relate to the founders that I’m investing in. It helps me understand part of their journey, you can’t understand them all, but as a woman, as a person of colour, as an LGBT person, it really helps relate to the founder and to know the different pain points, and the different resources that they may need that’s slightly different than what someone else might need.
On the road to entrepreneurship
I grew up in Dallas, Texas with my mum and my brother, Alfred, my mother, Earline. I didn’t go to college. I’m a very curious person and I tend to try to learn as much as I can from all sources. It just didn’t fit for me, and so I went out and I sought mentorship and other resources in different ways. The life experience that I got and the way that I had to hack my way through things has given me an edge.
When I was a kid I wanted to work in live music as someone on a tour, and actually ended up doing that for quite a long time as an adult. But I never wanted to be a venture capitalist. When I was around 21, I found this really cool Norwegian pop-punk band online. And I wanted to see them play live, so I got in touch with them and asked them if I could book a tour for them so I could see them play. So I booked a tour for them around the country, became their tour manager. A lot happened in between. I ended up taking that information, that knowledge and experience, and working on arena-sized tours for people like Jason Derulo and Toni Braxton.
From the music industry to Silicon Valley
I had been working on these great tours, and I was having the time of my life. It’s not a very stable career though, so I was looking at other types of jobs. I was still on the road. I was getting really great at my job I think. And I realised I had been an entrepreneur my whole life, and so the thought crossed my mind about starting my own company, starting my own tech company. And once I did more research about how that worked, I wanted to go all in. But there was not really anyone there for me to reach out to who could understand me as a person, and if they were there I just couldn’t find them. That’s when I learned that if you were anything but a straight, white man you were honestly not even getting into the room.
Getting the first “yes”
A few years ago I didn’t know what a venture capitalist was, but once I learned more about it and understood that the type of capital that venture capitalists put into companies was used for innovation. I knew that the women and people of colour and LGBT founders that I knew, and those that I had seen needed to be part of this, and they were being left out at the time. And so it made all the sense in the world to me that that capital needed to go to them, and over time I told people, I wrote about it, I knocked on doors, but no one was really listening to me. So I decided to start a fund on my own and bring to light a lot of these companies that had already been there, had already been gaining traction, but just needed a little bit more of a push when it came to capital.
When I was just starting I had no money, I had no personal money. I was also like really broke and half of the time that I was raising for the first three years, I didn’t have a place to live. So I was like bouncing around from different family member’s couches, or friend’s couches. In some cases less than that. And so my average week would be focusing on that, making sure I was ok, and the other part would be reaching out to a countless number of investors in Silicon Valley that I, and elsewhere, that I would research and learn about, and then try to talk to them on an individual basis.
It took about three years of constantly asking and going around and talking to people, mostly full time, before I got my first “yes.” So it took three years to get the first $US25,000.
In five to 10 years I hope that Backstage Capital is obsolete because we are no longer needed. And that people of colour and women are not considered underrepresented in tech. I personally hope that I’m still working with founders at the earliest stages. That’s where I get most of my energy from and where I’m most excited. And that hopefully I’ve had some impact.
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