Arlan Hamilton – Founder and Partner at Backstage Capital
Who builds a VC fund from the ground up while homeless? Get ready to be inspired by this episode! Today we chat with the amazing Arlan Hamilton, Founder and Partner at Backstage Capital and Author of It’s About Damn Time. Her interesting journey from being a band tour manager to starting her own magazine then working on the hit show the Biggest Loser were just the beginnings for this undaunted guest. Her discovery of a whole underserved demographic of unsupported founders inspired her to do something really big! Arlan founded Backstage Capital and has proudly helped so many underrepresented women, LGBTQ, black, latinx, indigineous Asian and so many more get the seed money they need and deserve to make their ideas a reality! Definitely listen in on this amazing conversation on #TheKaraGoldinShow
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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be, I want to just sort of make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked out knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara golden show. So join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go.
Hi, everyone. Its Kara golden with the Kara golden show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest here. She’s one of my Twitter buddies, and I’ve admired so much of her work over the years, Arlen Hamilton, welcome. Hey, thanks so much for having me. Great to see you. I’m very excited for my next guest. She’s the founder and partner of backstage capital, which provides seed funding to companies whose founders come from underrepresented groups in the startup world. And prior to her world of venture capital, Arlen Hamilton founded and published the indie magazine interlude very, very cool. And that was after serving as a tour manager for Atlantic Records. I can’t wait to dig in to hear a little bit more about that. And last but not least, she is a fellow author of a new book, which is so good called, it’s about damn time how to turn being underestimated into the greatest advantage. So, so much to talk about here. And one other things, she was recognized by Business Insider as one of 23 most powerful LGBT people in tech, which is super, super amazing. And, yeah, so much of your journey to talk about welcome. And I’d love to hear just how, who was little Arlen, how did this all start? I don’t know if I ever was little Arlen, you know, from what from what I hear. I was very odd, I think but not in a good way. Like in a in a, I was eccentric. Alright. So young kid. Like, for instance, I used to wear six watches at the same time, in the third and fourth grade. And why six, you know, that’s what could fit on my arms. And they were all cheap, you know, cheap watches, including some Velcro ones that I would love to have. Again, I’ve been on a hunt for some, but then I will get them out the bubblegum machine or I have something that I’d find those claw machines at the store. Yeah, where it stemmed from was that I, my mom bought us an encyclopedia set, I guess from a traveling salesperson. And I learned about timezones at a very young age. And I just remember, I would read the encyclopedias all the time. And I’ve learned about time zones. And it just blew my mind that people that there are people and other places that the sun was down when the sun was up where I was, and vice versa. And so I set each of them to a different time zone. And it kind of based their location on the design of the watch. So I had a tropical one that was for Hawaii, and one with the giraffe. That was for Africa, parts of Africa. And I saw that at any given time during the day at school. I could know what time it was for somebody else. And that, to me, it was the most fascinating thing in the world are very, very close to having my first business in the fifth. You know, my first budding company in the third grade those two things are they’re so fascinating to me. Time is really, it is a fascinating thing I think I learned about now that you’re talking about this. I learned about time because my dad traveled a lot. And he was building a product called Healthy Choice inside of a large food company. But he was always on the road. And so, you know, when we call him he’d be on a different time zone. So it but I remembered it really is kind of fascinating, especially for a kid to kind of think, wow, I wonder what they’re doing. Right. I mean, it’s just
Arlan Hamilton 4:20
fascinating. I’m still fascinated by you know, we still try to figure out what time in some some country we’re trying to get on a business call, but I think a little bit of it is wonderment still.
Kara Goldin 4:29
Yeah, no, it’s so very cool. And so where did you grow up?
Arlan Hamilton 4:33
I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, where my mom was raised. And but very quickly, we moved to Texas grew up there and went to the same school brand school name from kindergarten to graduation. Even though we moved around half a dozen times throughout that period. We were always in the same school district. So luckily had that but pretty much grew up
Without, like very, very little money, and we moved so much, because we would just kind of over rent and we have to start over somewhere and kind of declare a type of bankruptcy, you know, not a real one. But so I spent a lot of time understanding that we didn’t have money that was made very clear to me early. And I, I started working when I was 15, and handing over my paychecks and, you know, to help out, but I also kind of started learning at 15 learning from the companies I worked in, about what would be helpful to me now. So I guess it was it was for something absolutely interesting. And so you stayed in Dallas until what was kind of your step out of Dallas. So I was a gifted student. But I was always in trouble. I was always speaking up and speaking out. And so is spent a lot of time in the vice principal’s office. So I didn’t really want to, for that reason, because we didn’t have any money. I didn’t really want to go to four more years of school that I felt was going to be like that, which obviously college is different, but I didn’t realize that. And so really, when I graduated, I was there for another couple of years. But all I wanted to do is get away from where I was where I was grown, where I grew up. And today as an adult, I love Dallas. But back then all I wanted to do is get get the heck out of there. So I spent some time in Mississippi back with family when we didn’t have much going. Then I just bounced around. I was in California, San Diego starting out I was in, like near the Midway airport in Chicago, which is not like being in Chicago, like in the winter. I don’t want to midway is for sure. Yeah, yeah. But it’s not good. I live that like I live in that area. So I just bounced around to different places where in your early 20s people will let you crash their couch or you whoever you’re dating, you know you kind of joined forces but that just kept going and I just kept happening and I would spend less time in columbus ohio with friends and just bounced around a lot. I couldn’t get my bearing anywhere. But I did along the way make some really good friends and I made some good connections and I did a lot of different things, you know, for a career. So did you and how did you get to being a tour manager? Was that kind of the first real job then I were worried Well, I know Well, I guess so. I mean, the first real job yeah, it’s hard to say because everything has been such a just a wit nonlinear path. But when I was still in Dallas and I was working data entry at a 10 keep doing 10 key by touch data entry at a bank lockbox which makes me want to like go to sleep saying
I was so bored and no no offense to anybody who does that today because who’s listening to this because I appreciate you and I know you but you know it can be a little bit monotonous and soul sucking and so I just came across this band is cute band that I thought they had cute music they were from Norway. I don’t know how I came across them I was listening to music to pass time at this lockbox shop just like keep me awake somehow. And I got in touch with him on AOL chat because that’s what it was. It was 1920 years ago. I got in touch with them and I said I would love to see you play live and they they the lead singer toke is the tells you kind of what kind of band It was his his nickname is toke. Real name is marquel. But he was He’s like, yeah, we live in Norway, you know? And I said, Well, if I can book you some shows out here when you come out here and he said, yeah, if you can book shows for us that are solid shows, we’ll we’ll make the effort and come out and pay for it and everything. So I taught myself how to book a tour. Over the summer I over the spring or so I taught myself how to book a tour. I put them on a two month tour of the country. And they came out and I went on tour with them. And I had no idea. I mean, this was back when I had like I had folders on the floor for each city I had print out so MapQuest You know, there wasn’t like me googling things and figuring out I had to call these places one at a time and figure it out.
Kara Goldin 9:21
That’s wild. And were they actually with a label at this point, or
Arlan Hamilton 9:26
no, they were like on an indie label. But I mean, these were this was a GarageBand and Bergen Norway. I mean, this was as as you know, out of there as you can think of left field pop punk music completely wild, different thing going on, but I just loved it and I’m, I’m kind of a solutions based person. I didn’t really realize that at the time, but it was just to me, it was so logical. It’s like a logical conclusion of I wanted to play live. They can’t play live here because they don’t know how to like book a tour. They had tried with For, so I’ll just book a tour for them. It was just I love there was never any hesitation of Oh, that sounds crazy to me because it didn’t sound crazy to me it just sound like, Oh, that’s what you need in order to come over here. Cool. I’ll figure it out. Well,
Kara Goldin 10:13
I talk a lot about as the founder and CEO of hint that, you know, I, I definitely knew that I was launching a company and, you know, becoming an entrepreneur. But I kind of decided to sort of forget about that. And instead, figure out the steps, I had to figure out how to get a product on the shelf, I had to figure out how to make enough product, like all of these little steps along the way, and that’s what you do, right? And then suddenly, you wake up one day, and you’re like, oh, like, it’s kind of working. I’m stealing. I’m getting into more markets, right. I mean, I’m sure. And that’s, that’s awesome. I love I absolutely love that story. And so how long did this tour go go on for?
Arlan Hamilton 10:53
So did that two years in a row for them? I booked them I booked every date, which was a big, you know, undertaking. We did two two summers across the country. And I mean, these were like bar dates. They were like small clubs, like rock Little Rock clubs, where they would get an open, I get an opening for them. Opening slot. It might be five people in the bartender, it might be 200 people because it was a bigger show. But it was always a good time. It was always fun. So I did that. And then, you know, that wasn’t gonna be sustainable. It didn’t make any money. It was it was just for the love of it. And we kept each other like, you know, they make some money on the road, we go to the next place, we all share a hotel room, it was kind of got really good at pretending that the bassist and I were hunt were honeymooning while the rest of the band snuck into the room. And my rule, my only rule was I always get a bed like, I don’t care what you all have to do. I was going to bed and these you know, these guys are teachers and parents and all that now. And they were just the most amazing group of guys, even though they were these punk rocker guys who didn’t know how to wear shirt. When on their days off. stairs, I realized I wanted to do this more. So I started working with individual singer songwriters. And that became really interesting. So I would book the tours and then and then go on tour with one person or maybe one person in there one musician with them. I did that for for quite a while and got my chops and then skipped a step. You know, I don’t know if you want to skip a step, but eventually went on to much bigger tours, like arena level tours.
Kara Goldin 12:30
That’s wild, who was the biggest one that you worked on?
Arlan Hamilton 12:32
Um, I would say like, for me, the biggest was Toni Braxton. Because I grew up listening to her. I was sort of I learned every song that she had. And it was a huge moment for me to have her. The first day I worked with her. I was her tour coordinator. And so there’s a tour manager production coordinator, I was the tour coordinator who works with the people kind of getting people from place to place and supporting them tour manager. And the first day I walked in was a rehearsal day. And she comes up to me and you know, it’s Tony brought to me, it’s like, I don’t know, there’s only only Janet Jackson would have been more incredible
Kara Goldin 13:10
like God like, right, yeah.
Arlan Hamilton 13:12
And so she comes up to me, and she just puts her hand on my shoulder. And she’s like, finally a woman in production. Yeah. She was just so cool. And I just watched her do her songs and got to know her family a little bit while they were filming their show. And that was great. We also worked with Jason Derulo and CeeLo and the kingsmen Tour, which was a gospel tour with Kirk Franklin that was on Live Nation. So about 10 to 15,000 people a night would watch these gospel artists, and I, I love gospel music, but I’m an atheist. So it was it was very interesting. It was interesting, like the music just but I love the music. And the musicianship was so incredible. 40 people on stage every night, any one of them could could win American Idol every year, you know, it was just absolute stunning musicianship
Kara Goldin 14:08
That’s amazing. What do you think was the big thing that you learned from during that role?
Arlan Hamilton 14:13
Oh, you just can’t help but to learn how to work with all kinds of people from all backgrounds and profiles at the same time. I mean, that role is a very it’s all about people. Like I don’t have a technical prowess. And so this is all about getting 40 to 70 people are in the indie case, maybe one to 10 people from city to city in a traveling circus and very high stakes when you get to the arena level. I mean, you’re talking a lot of money and so I was never, you know, I didn’t stay on the path. So I was never a tour manager for a major artists. I was a tour manager for Atlantic, so a mid level artists. But in any case, we’re talking a lot of money and we’re talking a lot of ego in some cases and a lot of stakes are high stakes. Yeah. And to be able to imagine, yeah, to be able to just look at that chaos and remain calm in it and be someone’s calm and peace for them in the craziest of situations. It was an absolute masterclass and work. I mean, working in venture is a cakewalk. I mean, not building the fund for sure. But like working in venture compared to being on the road and these moving pieces? Absolutely.
Kara Goldin 15:31
Yeah, I’ve, I’ve gotten to know actually, one of our investors is, is john legend, and one of his, in his tour manager Hassan and I have had many conversations about this because he keeps and I think john would say this, he, you know, makes it happen. I mean, it is really sawn has been with him forever. And he really is. He’s, he’s shared a world with me that I didn’t know really existed. But it really it’s a lot of work. I mean, it’s a lot of work, right. And like you said, personalities along the way. And it’s just, it’s crazy. So you wit, you then went on to launch a magazine. And how did this come about? Yeah,
Arlan Hamilton 16:14
I did that kind of in the middle. So between the indie stuff, and the more mainstream stuff, and professional stuff, I launched a music magazine. Originally, it was a music magazine called interlude. And that would have been I would have been 2425. So 2004 or five. And I remember walking up to my roommates room, and just saying, I want to start a magazine. But and the thing there it’s the same thing with the with the touring. I couldn’t find the magazine in the United States. That made me feel like I could read it. My my brother who’s a rapper in the south could read it. My friends who may be you know, Lilith Fair types in Portland, Oregon, could read it all the same magazine. And I thought, How interesting would it be if we had a magazine like that for music, which I love? And then on top of it, it was a really high quality, almost like a coffee table quality? I
Kara Goldin 17:08
remember. Yeah. Now I was it’s a great book. And then you say you ran that? Yeah. And then when that was hard, yeah. And you decided, because it’s mostly ad driven? Or that’s how you?
Arlan Hamilton 17:23
Yeah, I didn’t know anything about it. You know, I mean, I was I didn’t, I didn’t have a co founder of, you know, really, I didn’t have any, any guidance. And I didn’t understand what it took to do this. I just knew that I had something that other people didn’t have, which was a certain vision, and the willingness to kind of just go all in. And so we put out a few issues. And they were just, you know, get overwhelmingly positive reviews. And the, the one of the designers of Rolling Stone magazine got in touch with me and said, I’d love to meet your team. And I’m looking around my two bedroom, apartment and alcohol. And I’m saying, so your meeting. Hi, you know, we had so many contributors, but they thought that it was coming from some office in New York or something. And so I knew I was onto something, but I just couldn’t make the numbers work. I may still, but I had a really hard time pricing things back in the day. So I would, this magazine, which was like coffee table should have been 14 $16. Its quarterly, I sold it for five bucks. And, you know, it’s almost what it costs to put it together. And I did it because I was my thing was accessibility. And I don’t want to be bougie. And I don’t you know, all those things. But the unit economics didn’t work. Great to understand that today and be able to talk to people founders, you know, and let them know, it’s okay to be wrong there. But at the I think that’s what was holding us back. And I also just was going through some personal stuff. And it ended up being a really dark time when it had to go under, it was like the combination of a lot of things in my life. And, and the end of a lot of things like including personal relationships, and, you know, my finances were just in shambles. And it was a really dark period, right around 2008 weirdly enough, right? Right when Obama was elected, which I of course, appreciated, but at the same time, I didn’t even know I didn’t know enough about business back then to know that there was a was a recession happening, that there was a you know what I mean? I didn’t know what the rest of the country was, was aching. I had no idea that nine was Brown had no idea and then all of a sudden these other magazines started going under like vibe went under, and I’d grown up on vibe magazine and all these magazines started going under and I’m like wait, maybe it wasn’t just me and and maybe I don’t have to be so terrible. You know with myself. And so it was such a learning experience. It’s one of the biggest, proud, you know, the proudest moments of my life? I would say, because I think I think we pulled off like me and the contributors, I think we pulled off such beautiful, exactly what I imagined in my head that first day magazine. And of course, I always have, I always have something up my sleeve. So there will be a point in time where I come back with something that is a an ode to that, for sure. Now that I have a different life.
Kara Goldin 20:30
That’s awesome. So you’re, it’s, you know, 2008 2009 super challenging time. And so when did backstage capital, actually, how did that come about? Because you didn’t have experience? And like you said, in business, and then how did you really start incubating this in your mind?
Arlan Hamilton 20:51
Well, 2009 till 2011 ish, what I was doing was I was a production assistant to just random things. So I would just go where I could find work, mostly because being a production assistant, they would let you kind of wear whatever you had. And so I didn’t have any wardrobe. And I still don’t which I think it’s so funny that the same thing that held me back so much is the thing that I can do now. You know, it’s amazing what money and influence can get you. But anyway, I was doing like one offs one off days or weeks at a time as a production assistant on like, reality TV. So one born every minute, it’s a lifetime show, about people giving birth. So I saw something like 20 live births happen. From the time the mother walked into the hospital room till 30 hours later, when she left with the baby. I watched on camera, obviously, they knew about it, and they were on it. But I watched and and typed every word that they said everybody in that room said for for our for my shift was, I was a production assistant on Biggest Loser and different things went off. And so I was I went, I moved back to Texas, I had been in California for a little bit, went back to Texas. And I got my first gig as you know, on the mainstream touring. And that’s when I started learning about people like Ashton Kutcher and people like Troy Carter, who used to be Lady Gaga is manager, a black man in the industry. They were like making these $50,000 investments in a place called Silicon Valley. And I learned that through an Ellen DeGeneres and different people, I’m like, why are they doing that? And why is why does no one else paying attention to this, but they are doing it, the people who have the money are doing it, but no one on their team seems to care. So I just started looking and observing. And researching asking questions around 2011 ish, is when I started researching the most, and I said, Well, I’m going to start my own tech company, because I understand myself. Now I understand all those ups and downs meant that I was just like, I’m gonna say it’s gonna sound like really tacky, but this is what came to mind was like, I’m a visionary entrepreneur, but most importantly, entrepreneur. And that’s what I am. And that’s why things haven’t fit in a perfect circle. You know, like, my friends have health insurance and apartments and leases and car payments, everything I did, I had none of that. So I started out, I wanted to start a company. And that’s when I found out 90% of venture capital goes to straight white men in the United States are straight identify white men in the United States. And I was like, Wait a second, that’s stupid. That doesn’t make any sense because they only make up a third of the country. And I’m not any of those things. So let’s see, I can either be really, really mad about it and yell and scream, which I did. Or, or, and I could do something about it. And that’s when I decided what if there were a fund that only invested or did the opposite. That was a original idea. What if it were 10? What 9010 rather than 1090. So we still to this to this day, have a little sandbox for white men. You know, if we’re feeling charitable, or feeling like we want to, you know, go out and see others. But it just dawned on me one day and then I I said, you know, let me start talking to founders and see what they need. And I had no money at this no money to speak of
Kara Goldin 24:33
it. Yeah, I mean, this is this is wild, right? Because you’re I mean you because you even though you may not have called yourself, technically an entrepreneur, I mean so much of the stuff that you did, I mean, even being you know, running this tour, you had no idea what you were doing, right. I mean, you were it You definitely see the the entrepreneurial spirit, the curiosity, the resilience, all of those things, but Like, how did you? I mean, that’s such a big thing to say, I’m going to go raise a fund, right? And I’m going to go figure out how to do this. I mean, this is, this is just yeah, seven wild. I mean, how did you what was kind of the steps and as the first steps,
Arlan Hamilton 25:18
scale, same kind of thing is coming to the conclusion, you know, once I come to the conclusion of something, the rest of it is kind of, you know, it’s going to happen, in my opinion. So I, once I understood what the problem seemed to be that way, in my opinion, at the time, this would have been 2011 through 14 was when I was developing this and asking for capital not getting it. But my thought was, it was more of an innocent thought that has been shifted since but it was the reason these investors who are quote unquote, on traditional investors are not investing in black and brown founders or women founders, LGBTQ founders is simply because they didn’t know they were supposed to, or that they existed. And as soon as someone shines a light on that, they’re gonna be just, they’re gonna understand the value proposition because of course, they’re they’re this, they’re supposed to be the smart ones are the good, the experts here. And so when I had that true, that genuine thought my process was, okay, you’re broke, you’re poor, never had money, homeless on food stamps. But of course, you’re going to raise a million dollars to invest in because these people are going to get it. So I set out to do it. And it was, the more I worked on it, the more founders I met, who were all of these, you know, descriptors, and I just saw things that were being built that had to exist in the world. And I could not believe that the only thing holding them back with somebody is belief in them and a little bit of seed money, a little bit of seed money. And I didn’t, I didn’t think it was right, that there were just a few gatekeepers who got to say, yes, this can go on and be innovative. And that no, this cat, especially when so many companies by by nature, fail. Why aren’t we taking more chances? It doesn’t seem logical at all to me, and I have to make it make sense. So I just said, it’s a numbers game. Like when I was trying to get the mainstream gig working on tours, I emailed 100 tour managers and production managers. And I said, because not, not everybody’s gonna read it. And not everybody’s gonna say yes, when they do. So I I did had done that previously sent out 100 got 20 responses, got three in person interviews and got my first big gig. So I don’t do the same thing here. I’m going to research everybody there is to research, I’m going to reach out to all of them, tell them what my value prop is, and what the value prop of this thesis is. And we’re off to the races. At the beginning, it was far too convoluted into too long of emails, and so many things, I learned that I try to teach people now, because I get it. And I get I literally have people doing this to me. So I know that it’s not helpful. But I did meet with some people early on who were intrigued, I guess, is the best way to put it. And who would give me a little bit of an arrow to the next person and didn’t get any investment for the first three and a half years solid. And all through that time was experiencing various degrees of poverty and food insecurity and However, other polite way of saying it. But what I did understand Was I the money may not be coming in. But the deal flow sure is the deal. Flow is consistent. Yes.
Kara Goldin 28:47
Arlan Hamilton 28:48
yeah, with the people the founders existed. And, to me, I was like, they’re not going, they’re not going to this isn’t going to stop, this is only going to get more fruitful and more expert and more well done. This is not going to be something that just happens and then it goes away in a vacuum. So to me, if I was seeing something that was a diamond in the rough on a day to day basis, can you imagine what’s gonna happen over the next few years? I just followed the logical steps of in my view of their goal. These are going to be future tech Titans. The woman with the baby on her hip right now is going to be what it looks like in 10 years. And in fact, I think, didn’t Whitney just somebody rang the bell. Or maybe it was Katrina lake. Someone rang the bell IP owed with the baby on their hip?
Kara Goldin 29:37
Yeah. When I say I saw that.
Arlan Hamilton 29:39
Yeah. And I mean, I just saw this in different I saw it with women across the board. I saw it with LGBTQ founders, I saw it with black founders, Latin ex founders, indigenous, Asian etc. And I just said, It’s obvious that the future is going to be more and more people understanding that they can start companies just the same way. Where a few several years ago, you couldn’t start a company for less than a few million dollars. And then there was this boom, where you could start a company for less like for 100k or less. Places like Y Combinator came up, tech stars came up. I said, The same thing is going to happen with this new demographic of founder because they already exist. They’re just gonna have access to resources and take it and run. And why not? Why wait for it to happen when you can actually be someone who catalyzes that happening?
Kara Goldin 30:31
Yeah, I love it. Well, and I think that the other thing is, is that I always talk a lot about is, especially in the early days, we we had our own story of trying to raise money on Sand Hill Road. And you know, I walked in, I had four kids, I was not the profile that you wanted to invest in it for kids under the age of six. Yeah. Yeah. And actually, it’s a really funny story. Funny, it wasn’t funny at the time. It’s funny to like, look back on it now. But I walked into, you know, kind of a list, Silicon Valley, Sandhill road office, and they’d actually reached out to us and knew that I was a tech executive. I used to be at America Online. And that I’d started this company, him, we’ll chat and we go. Yeah, exactly. I’d been on chat many times. And so I, you know, pull up into the parking lot. And my husband was actually parking the car, and I walk up the steps and, and the partner was, sees me walk up the steps. And he said, I was, you know, welcome. I was doing some research on you. And wow, you have your four kids under under the age of six. And I said, I do. And he said, So who’s watching the kids? And I and I, so Oh, automatically. I mean, you could not have like, told me that might happen, because it was just my power right to clutch. Right? I looked at him. And I said, and he said, Are you okay? And I said, Oh, yeah. Oh, gosh, I you know, I don’t know if you knew this, but there’s actually babysitters for life. And they’re given and wives and right here. My husband was our chief operating officer. So he’s parking the car, he has no idea about this conversation. So he walks up the steps and he sees kind of this awkward moment. And we and the, he said, Is everything okay? And I said, Oh, yeah, it’s fine. I was just telling him that we got a babysitter for the kids. And you know, that was it. Anyway, we did the pitch. It was fine. He didn’t invest. People always asked me over the years, did he do you think he he didn’t want to see you anymore? And that’s why he didn’t invest? I said, No, he had never invested in a beverage company before. So I mean, we probably shouldn’t have even been there in the first place. But anyway, it was funny, because about three years later, I see him with some other people happens to be man, but that’s not really the important part of the story as much as he he sees me and he said, Ah, you know, you’re in Google, you’re in Facebook, you’re I mean, I should have, I should have really invested. And he and then he went on to tell the guy that was with him. He said, Do you know what I said to Kara? And he said, What did you say? And he said, the first thing that I said to her when she walked in the building was who’s watching the kids? And you know what she did? And I’m just standing there like wondering if he is actually going to say this. And he said, she looked at me, and she acted really startled. And she said, that was a babysitter. And he said, that was probably one of the dumbest things that I have ever said. And you know what, Kara? I’ve never said that again. Love it. Right? And I said, That’s awesome. Right? What can you say? Right? So that’s the thing that people say stupid stuff, right? Because I think stupid stuff. They say stuff because they think stupid stuff.
And you have the ability to, to when they see through stupid stuff, you have the ability and the permission to respond back. Right? And maybe you’ll teach people and maybe you all right, but maybe, but anyway, that was my it along the way, you know, my stupid story of dealing of dealing with that. And, you know, it’s I think that the other thing that I learned about about these different companies is like people invest in what they know. They will they won’t necessarily tell you that, but that’s what they do. And unfortunately, and they’re not risk takers. A lot of You know, they may invest in Ashton stuff and I’m sure Ashton is nice, but it the you know, you just you can’t sit there and compare yourself and one way people are going to do what they’re gonna do. And you have to and that’s why your VC is so essential to be able to invest and not be the same type at all. So some of the stuff that you know, once you actually got it going, I mean, I’m not going to do it justice. So So tell people sort of what has happened over the years because I mean, it’s been incredible success story.
Arlan Hamilton 35:33
Yes. So since getting the first 25k check from Susan Kimberlin in fall of 2015 actually September 2015. Because I had spent years preparing I was off to the races I had dealflow Susan started helping me introduced you know, introduced me to more people they would introduce me to more people it still has been up into this day has been an uphill climb, so nothing ever got easy. But over those five and a half years backstage has built a team. We have invested in more than 180 companies led by underrepresented underestimated founders we we have our own jargon in the ecosystem, including underestimated people treat get it becoming a backstage headliner, which is what we call our portfolio companies as the same as getting into a top college or top accelerator. There’s a lot of pride there. I was the first black woman non celebrity to be on the cover of Fast Company in 2018.
Kara Goldin 36:37
So radical photo, I was cheer.
Arlan Hamilton 36:40
Yeah, it was so nice that COVID has, I miss my brows and my hair, but I can’t wait. But before that was the black woman had been in that cover before that were Oprah Serena and Beyonce, and no tie or investing person who’s a black woman. And you know, we’ve raised almost 5 million, like just around $5 million dollars in a reg CF, that was pretty groundbreaking. So many companies themselves can now raise up to $5 million publicly on a on a reg CF, like a different platforms. But we were the first or one of the first I’m not allowed to save the first even though I think we were the first funds to raise for operating costs to kind of offset management fees. Because we had we never raised we raised about $15 million over those years and you know, about 25,000 to $100,000 investments in companies. And then we’ve been able to invest as much as a million in follow on and two companies. But we never had a lot of money at once to have a management fee that would cover expenses. So we did something pretty groundbreaking in March 2021. And raised 5 million for for operating. And so we just keep trying to innovate. I have, like you said earlier have my book out, it’s about damn time I have a second I sold my second book that comes out in 2022 that I’m writing now with my co writer Rachel Nelson. And we’re just moving, we’re moving we have 100 accredited investors on backstage crowd calm who helped us make investments follow on investments into companies, and a syndicate. And I’m teaching at Arlen’s Academy now for entrepreneurs one track and another track is for investors. And in fact, 85% of the of the people who signed up for my investing course, to my surprise, were people who identified as women, people of color, LGBTQ and two thirds are unaccredited. And so I get I get to see every week, the future of investing, and it’s angels. It’s the crowd, and it is diverse. And so love that, because of the way the SEC works. Now we have that $5 million dollar limit Max, which is a lot more than it used to be. I have so many angel investors who don’t have to be on one street and one city in the country. Yeah, the future is you The future is the individual coming together as the crowd. And it is really, really exciting. And that’s what I wake up now thinking about is how do I catalyze more founders and how do I catalyze more aspiring and current investors?
Kara Goldin 39:21
And because you really got two audiences that you speak to I mean, you still do, right. And that’s I mean, that’s, that’s just a lot. So the book you touched on that it’s about damn time so good. What would you like people to take away from the book?
Arlan Hamilton 39:38
I absolutely hope this for people and I hear it and the feedback overwhelmingly, is that they most people think that they’re going to read a book about me and they realize they’re reading a book about themselves and with my lens, and it really the reason I wrote it was so the people who asked you know, can you be a mentor? Can you be advisor. I want to To have that mentorship in a box, and just that push, I mean, it’s a business book. And it’s a business imprint at Penguin Random House, which was very uncalled currency, which was very important to me because again, representation, but it also has that push that I think a lot of people feel they need, which is like a direction and then letting them know that can do it. And then the bonus of how, like, those are my favorite types of books are, that are nonfiction are not just in reading about someone’s life, but understanding how I can apply it to myself. And I have a lot of that in this book. It’s about damn time, it’s because it’s about damn time for all of us, but also for us individually to get what is ours.
Kara Goldin 40:43
Yeah. And I think that that was the inspiration that I got out of your book, too, was that you can do it. But you know, there’s a million every single day you can put walls up in front of yourself to say why you can’t do it. And you know, I think that your story is just so inspiring. And definitely one that is a great one. My favorite chapter was the danger of hustle porn. So do you want to just talk about that real quick?
Arlan Hamilton 41:12
Yeah, it’s just that idea. A couple of things, you know, you first of all, we just compare ourselves a lot on social, whatever our ages, we talk about a lot of teenagers doing this, but certainly a 40 year old right here does, you know, you think about whether on that vacation, or they have those, those things happening in their life, and you have to really think about what happens between the Instagram posts, because we will will, will put their best foot forward. And a lot of cases, you know, a lot of people aren’t very authentic, I try to be, but even I, when you go to my Instagram, you’re not going to see I’m not going to take a picture of myself necessarily not yet at least just crying on the floor in a fetal position. Because that happens to you know, that happens right next to the headline in the Fast Company cover. So there’s that and just kind of pulling back from trying like letting ourselves compare ourselves to each other. Because I guarantee you, I’ve met like 1000s of people in my life and all of your favorites, have someone else that they’re that they’re jealous of all of your favorite people have that. And then the other thing is this idea that that is getting better, I think. But for so long, there was this idea of you have to work every second of every day, or you’re not a real quote unquote, entrepreneur. And it was coming from this, you know, sleep when you die mentality. Or if you’re not hustling if you don’t have five side hustles and be planned through the plan, you’re not doing it. And the truth is, I don’t think there is a such thing as a four hour workweek, I don’t think there’s a such thing as only, you know, sleeping your way you’re sleeping, you’re resting your way through life, right. So I don’t think I’m that way that you can think there’s a lot of execution that has to happen. But I do believe it has to happen in spurts. And then there has to be just as much rest, if not more. And when you look at when someone says to you, or you hear it or see it, you got to work weekends, you got to hustle, the first person awake, early bird blah, blah, blah, please look at the source and see if that source has seven people on their their personal team that reminds women to wake up that takes care of everything else in our life. And for the most part, that kind of rhetoric is coming from men. And for the most part, men do not take on this is just a fact it’s not a bias. They do not take on the majority of the household caretaking. Yeah, and so they can afford to get on a stage with their little hot mic, you know, Britney Mike, and say, you got you got to hustle to you die. And and get this out. And someone Someone is sitting there making $11 an hour with two kids at home and just feeling bad about themselves. Because they can’t hustle like that person. They don’t have the infrastructure to hustle like that person. You can’t hustle like me, if you don’t have the two assistants that I have. And the now augmented privilege that I have with my with my influence and, and capital.
Kara Goldin 44:11
Yeah, it’s so true. And I’m the first person to say, you know, sometimes you do have to take a break. Right? And, and take some time and and people will say don’t take too long. Don’t do you know, whatever people don’t really know. Right? You need to figure out what’s right for you. More than anything. So I totally, totally agree. So where can people find out more about backstage capital? Arlen, Hamilton, your course? All?
Arlan Hamilton 44:39
Yes, thank you. If you go to backstage, capital, calm, learn all you need to know about backstage itself. You can also look at our founders and see what they’re up to and see if you want to apply we also have application process. We have 1000s of companies that apply a year so we get in touch if we see something that we’re interested in Do you make about 30 to 40 investments a year. So it’s, it’s probably 2% of what we see. If you go to it’s about damn time.com, which is the name of my book, it’s about damn time.com it’ll lead you to my book, including the audio version I’m celebrating recently a year of the book being out and it still feels fresh, because COVID so it feels like I’m having a second second wind of it. And on the same site, it’s about downtime, calm, you can learn about the academy and that track of if you we have 20 experts on Ireland’s Academy. Also Ireland’s academy.com Believe me, I’m working on having one place for everything. Right now this is it. So Ireland’s academy.com will lead you to the academy as well. And there’s two tracks. There’s one for the entrepreneur, it’s very accessible has 20 plus experts on it more content every week, and you get tuition, one price pays for everything. And it is I think it’s the best deal on the internet, honestly, because it’s it’s so helpful and people have gone on to, to do so much with it. And then I have a new investor track that is available as well. So very excited to see people.
Kara Goldin 46:08
I like it. I’m gonna go check it out, for sure. So thanks, everyone. Thank you so much, Arlen. And thanks, everybody, for listening. And if you’d like this episode, please give it five stars subscribe to on Apple podcast, Spotify, or your favorite platform. And you can also follow me on social channels at Kara Golden arland is also as I said, I know she’s on Twitter. She’s my Twitter buddy. And I always appreciate her tweets. And finally, I have a book out as well that launch not as not as early as yours is mine launched at the end of October daunted overcoming doubts and doubters. And yeah, and it’s been all about my journey of building a company and really not having experience and having lots of debt, my own doubts and doubters out there saying, you know, lady with the four kids under six is going to go and do this what you know, so I
Arlan Hamilton 47:10
absolutely have to have it on my podcast. Cuz Yeah,
Kara Goldin 47:13
I would love to hear the full story. For sure. Yeah, I would. I would love to do it. So well. Thanks, everyone. We’re here every Monday and Wednesday. And I appreciate all of you for listening. And thanks again. Arlen. Thank you. before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book calm and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara golden and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara golden thanks for listening
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