Arlan Hamilton’s life experience and the trajectory of her career and accomplishments are nothing short of extraordinary.
In less than 5 years, she went from homelessness, sleeping on the floor of the San Francisco airport, to being the only Black Lesbian to successfully build a venture capital (VC) firm, from the ground up.
Today, Arlan is launching her highly anticipated book, It's About Damn Time! We’re honored that she took the time to talk bravery with us! This interview shares some juicy insight into what it takes to bravely step into the notoriously homogeneous world of Silicon Valley VCs.
We learn how Arlan took a seat at the table, as a leader and an outlier. Incredibly, she did it with a laser-focus on shifting the firmly entrenched paradigm of white male dominance of the start-up funding game.
If you’re wondering what it takes, we’ll give you a hint… it starts with curiosity.
Paving an unconventional road to success
In 2015, Arlan was on food stamps and dealing with extreme housing insecurity. In the midst of all of that, though, she had big dreams and aspired to start her own tech company. She never allowed difficulties to dampen her curiosity. She stayed focused on the motivation to do big things.
What Arlan chose to do was to start researching start-ups, Silicon Valley, and the venture capital space. This would allow her to “know what the investors know” when she started raising capital for her own business. Her research highlighted the startling fact that over 90% of capital is awarded to straight white men. According to Black Girl Ventures — who’s founder, Heather interviewed here — and a study by American Express, Black women are starting new businesses at a rate of 6 times the national average, yet receive only a tiny fraction of VC funding. White men, on the other hand, constitute less than ⅓ of the US population, but they capture nearly all VC funding.
Discovering this fundamental lack of fairness set Arlan on a path where she asked herself three important questions:
- What would it look like if the person writing the checks was a Black, Gay woman from Texas?
- Would the people getting checks start to look different?
- And, would that change things for the better?
The past 5 years of Arlan’s life are proof positive that the answer to these questions is yes, yes, and HELL YES! Her company, Backstage Capital, has funded more than 130 companies in the past 4 ½ years and averages approximately 20-30 per year. Her company focuses exclusively on funding companies led by people of color, women, or LGBTQ. In an amazing twist of fate, Arlan regularly receives attention from celebrities, politicians, and powerful VC players. This has forever changed the landscape of who and how companies get funded.
In another “small world” conscience, Heather Vickery’s, sister Robyn Ward from Founder Forward has personally known Arlan for many years. In a private conversation, Robyn shared that “Arlan has a slot in the history books for changing the conversation (and hopefully the ratio) for black and brown entrepreneurs.”
Mastering the practice of Boundaries
Arlan admits to being “a year behind” the emotion of her accomplishments. She emphasizes the importance of celebration and prioritizing self-care. In fact, she has an entire section of her book dedicated to self-care, and, in this interview, she fully endorses our favorite topic, BOUNDARIES, as one of her most important priorities. Practicing this important skill has helped her to guard what she considers our most valuable asset as entrepreneurs, our TIME.
An open invitation from Arlan
While it certainly is no easy task to acquire funding and build a successful business, Arlan and her team operate with refreshing transparency that makes the task accessible to minority businesses that are routinely shut out of the process. We encourage you to check out the Green Room at Backstage to get to know Backstage Capital and find out more about how to work with this incredible team. And, of course, buy her book, which is available right now! The book walks you through taking bold, brave action to do big things and make your dreams a reality!
Connect with Arlan
Learn more about Arlan and how to work with Backstage Capital.