Episode: Arlan Hamilton — Diversifying VC, Betting On Underestimated Founders, And Why The Issue Is the Pipe, Not the Pipeline


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Arlan Hamilton — Diversifying VC, Betting On Underestimated Founders, And Why The Issue Is the Pipe, Not the Pipeline

“If you have someone who’s 50+ who’s been doing this longer than the person saying the [pipeline] excuse, but they still are not in a leadership role, then you have to understand that it’s not the pipeline, it’s the pipe. It’s the problem itself, it’s the institution itself.” – Arlan Hamilton

 

Welcome to the Conscious Creators Show; where through intimate and insightful interviews with authors, actors, musicians, entrepreneurs and other podcasters, you'll learn tools and tactics to 10x your creativity and strategies to grow and monetize your audience.

 

Arlan Hamilton built a venture capital fund from the ground up, while homeless. She is the Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital, a fund that is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women, and/or LGBT. Started from scratch in 2015, Backstage has now raised more than $10 million and invested in more than 130 startup companies led by underestimated founders. In 2018 Arlan co-founded Backstage Studio which launched four accelerator programs for underestimated founders in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and London. Arlan was featured on the cover of Fast Company magazine in October 2018 as the first Black woman non-celebrity to do so, and her new book "It's About Damn Time" was released on Penguin Random House's business imprint Currency in May 2020.

On today’s episode of the Conscious Creator podcast, host Sachit Gupta speaks with Backstage Capital founder and author of It’s About Damn Time, Arlan Hamilton. Arlan shares her investing philosophy, lessons she’s learned from mentors, and more. She and Sachit discuss barriers to underrepresented—or, as Arlan prefers to say, underestimated—founders finding funding, as well as her background in the music industry. Plus, find out how Arlan defines what she’s looking for as an investor and hear an anecdote from SXSW.

 

Episode Highlights: 

  • Quarantine during this pandemic has taken a certain amount of discipline.
  • Backstage Capital had to change their vernacular to no longer say “underrepresented” but instead say “underestimated.”
  • Arlan believes that anyone who says the lack of diversity in venture capital is simply a “pipeline problem” is lying to themselves or lying to you.
  • There are many roles you can take in elevating underestimated groups; if you aren’t a founder, you can be an employee.
  • Once at SXSW, Arlan was asked to be on a panel of judges for a diversity demo, and was the only Black woman represented.
  • Arlan makes a distinction between privilege and entitlement; privilege is not bad, but entitlement is, because it is an active choice to behave in an entitled way.
  • One of the highest priorities for Backstage Capital was making an inclusive and welcoming application process for their accelerator.
  • Applicants have told Arlan there was dignity in the application process, from being made to understand the odds from the start and even getting communications when they are not selected.
  • Her process has been to put up no barriers to the application process, unlike a cookie-cutter investor who puts up false barriers for who you need to know to get your company seen in the first place.
  • Arlan has been curious her entire life and has always loved to ask questions and learn from people different from her and in different industries from her.
  • Arlan’s background in being a tour manager in music has prepared her for her current job because she’s become a master at juggling dozens of different personalities, work styles, needs, and emotions at once.
  • Arlan isn’t sure what her talent is aside from recognizing talent, and perhaps in connecting people.
  • As an example, Arlan recently personally donated to a group at Howard University of queer students studying dentistry. The group not only appealed to her intersectional identity, but was so specific and knew exactly what it was and what they sought to accomplish.
  • She understands that someone took a chance on her when she was starting out, so she wants to do that for other people.
  • One thing Arlan has learned from a mentor is how to react more slowly by observing and strategizing.
  • Next, Arlan wants to work towards supporting as many others as she can, both through Backstage Capital and simply through motivation.
  • Arlan hopes to influence policy using Backstage Capital as a case study.

 

3 Key Takeaways:

  1. The lack of diversity isn’t a pipeline problem, it’s a systemic issue within our institutions.
  2. It isn’t enough to say you’ll seek out underrepresented groups for something if you aren’t looking at how to make every aspect of your business inclusive and welcoming to those groups.
  3. Understanding who you are is the most important first step to success.

 

Tweetable Quotes:

“If you have someone who’s 50+ who’s been doing this longer than the person saying the [pipeline] excuse, but they still are not in a leadership role, then you have to understand that it’s not the pipeline, it’s the pipe. It’s the problem itself, it’s the institution itself.” –Arlan Hamilton

“We kind of get real uncreative when it’s too complex. I’m here to tell you I’ve done some real complex work and I’m still standing, so it doesn’t have to be too hard.” –Arlan Hamilton

“You’re about to listen to me talk about the differences & the disparities—you might feel attacked… I think what you may not understand is that I am not attacking you & most people aren’t. They’re simply stating what is true to them & what is a reality to them.” –Arlan Hamilton

“If I can describe what I’m looking for, it’s not interesting enough. I want someone who blows me away and changes my expectation.” –Arlan Hamilton

“I like people who are very understanding of who they are. They don’t have to be super confident, you can build that over time. But just finding out who you are is the biggest gift you can give yourself.” –Arlan Hamilton

 

Actions: 

  1. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or on your favorite podcast app and let us know what you think by leaving a rating and a review.
  2. Thank our guest and let them know what you thought of today’s episode — get in touch with Arlan through her website!
  3. Head on over to Creators.Show to get new episodes, exclusive guides like our guide on “How to Connect With Busy Influencers”, partner deals and additional bonuses.

 

Resources Mentioned:

 



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