Feed drop time! We’re on a break from the show as we prepare for v5 of SquadCast and work on revamping the SquadCast podcast. So, we’re bringing you carefully curated feed drops from some of our favorite SquadCasters.
This week, meet Espree Devora, an advisor to SquadCast.fm. In this episode, Espree interviews Arlan Hamilton.
From Espree’s website
Today we get to know Arlan Hamilton, Founder & Managing Partner at Backstage Capital; Believing in Underrepresented Founders.
- To support the Women in Tech podcast go to https://www.patreon.com/womenintech
- To be featured on the podcast go to http://womenintechshow.com/feature
Host, Espree Devora
Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital
- Backstage Capital, https://backstagecapital.com/
- It’s About Damn Time, https://www.itsaboutdamntime.com/
- Airbnb, https://www.airbnb.com/
- Warby Parker, https://warbyparker.com/
- Your Daily Lesbian Moment Blog, https://yourdailylesbianmoment.blogspot.com/
- Your First Million Podcast, https://yfmpodcast.com/
- Your First Million Interview with Amy Griffin, https://yfmpodcast.com/2-amy-griffin/
- The Bootsrapped VC Podcast, https://backstagecapital.com/podcast/
- Zoom, https://zoom.us/
- Notion, https://www.notion.so/
- Slack, https://slack.com/
- Bryan Landers, https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryanlanders/
- Community, https://www.community.com/
- Text Arlan, 832-210-1276
- Arlan on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ArlanWasHere
- Arlan on Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/arlanwashere
- Mahmee, https://www.mahmee.com/
- Melissa Hanna, https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissachanna/
- Christie Pitts, https://www.linkedin.com/in/christiepitts/
Also in this episode
- Written and produced by Arielle Nissenblatt
- Mixed and designed by Vince Moreno Jr.
- Artwork and logos by Alex Whedbee
- Hosted by Zach Moreno and Rock Felder
GENEVIEVE : Hello, hello. Before we get to this week’s episode, I want to tell you a little bit about a podcast I think you’ll enjoy, and it’s recorded on Squadcast. I’m Genevieve, and yes, I’m British, but don’t hold that against me. And I’m the host of Celebrity Catch Up: Life After That Thing I Did. It’s an unashamedly, nostalgic celebrity interview podcast celebrating much loved movies, TV, and music of the eighties, nineties, and noughties with the stars that made them. Love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or American Pie? How about Police Academy, Shaun of the Dead, Clueless, or guilty-pleasure nineties pop? Well, I’ve got you covered as the stars of all of the above and more join me each episode to reminisce and talk about how their lives unfolded after that thing they did. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts, and at my website, celebritycatchup.com. Now let’s get to the show.
ZACHARIAH MORENO: Hey, Between Two Micers, Zach and Rock here, and welcome back to the show.
ROCKWELL FELDER: We’re currently on a break from the podcast, but while we’re away, we’re still dropping episodes from some of our favorite shows.
ZACH: In a moment we’ll hit play on one of those feed drops. We chose these podcasts drops very carefully, and we hope you’ll stay tuned to enjoy them.
ROCK: If you like what you hear, please make sure to search for their podcast and subscribe.
ZACH: While we’re away from Between Two Mics, we’re working on getting v5 of Squadcast ready for all of you. We’re also working on revamping this podcast. If you have any suggestions or ideas, we’re very available on social media, just search for Squadcast FM on all platforms.
ROCK: Thanks for tuning in and being a part of the Squadcast story. Enjoy this feed drop.
How’s it going? Rock here, and welcome to the show. We’re excited for you to hear this week’s feed drop. And for this episode, we’re highlighting the work of the Espree Devora, an amazing podcast and community leader. She’s also one of our advisors at Squadcast. And in this episode, Espree interviews Arlan Hamilton. And if you’re not familiar, Arlan is a venture capitalist, entrepreneur, and founder of Backstage Capital, who has an incredible story about being homeless to running a $20 million VC fund. Thanks for sending us the episode, Espree. Let’s get into it.
ESPREE DEVORA: Before we get started later in this episode, Arlin shares that she has a Community number where she sends personalized text messages to the community to subscribe to her special Community number. Make sure to text 8 3 2 2 1 0 1 2 7 6, my first name E S P R E E. So she knows you discovered her via the podcast. We’ll also include it in the show notes. This is a special edition episode, thanks to South by Southwest. So exciting. This programming was to happen in Austin, Texas, but we get to make it happen for you remotely, thanks to Squadcast. Thank you, Squadcast for making it possible to interview the extraordinary Arlan Hamilton. And here’s the episode.
ARLAN HAMILTON: A woman named Susan Kimberlin, who’s an angel investor handed me my first investment. As she told me, make something of this. I didn’t do any partying. I was just like: It is on, this is what I’ve been preparing for. Let’s go.
ESPREE: My name’s Espree Devora. Host of The Women in Tech Show. The show means a lot to me, the reason why I wanted to create The Women in Tech Show is I wanted to create a positive piece of content, something where people can listen and say, if she can do it. So can I.
JAM PILARCA: Hi, I’m Jam. I am a product manager for a startup called Growsari, and I’m based here in Manila, Philippines. So I’m fairly new to the Facebook community, but I’ve been listening to the podcast for a few months now. And yeah, I’ve been working in tech for four years. And when I think of what’s gotten me through the day-to-day challenges that I’ve faced, a huge chunk of the credit goes to having a small group of women that I’m close to. Basically people who I can confide in, and they provide me with the support and advice that I need. And so for me, the podcast and the community are just extended versions of that. Women from all over the globe coming together and genuinely wanting other women to succeed. And to me, that’s very, very inspiring. And it’s become a source of reassurance for me that I do deserve to be in the room, and the source of information of what I can do to build that same sort of culture of support in the companies that I work for and the communities that I’m a part of. To connect with me, you can follow me on Instagram @ jampilarca or my email is jam pilarca at gmail.com.
ESPREE: If you, too, want to connect and collaborate with more incredible women in tech, remember, you can go to Women In Tech Facebook group at womenintechvip.com. That’s womenintechvip.com. We would not be able to support and celebrate women in tech around the world if it weren’t for you. Thank you so much for being a listener, and a fan of the show. To contribute and donate, simply go to women in tech.fm on the upper right-hand side and click donate. Which empowers us to continue celebrating women in tech around the world. Thank you for being a part of our journey.
UNKNOWN: Command Line Heroes is an original, highly produced award-winning podcast about the people who transform technology from the command line up, presented by Red Hat. And this is not a technical show. This is a show anyone can enjoy, featuring experts from across the industry. Season four is airing now. So subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And stick around to the end of the show to hear a sneak preview of the brand new season.
ESPREE: So this is a little bit of a unique, personal spot. It’s more like if you would like to be spotlit on one of our upcoming episodes, please reach out to me on social @ Espree Devora. Let me know. We would love to just hear what it is that, you know, draws you into the podcast and makes you want to listen again and again, and share with our community where they can find you and know more about what you’re up to. So just shoot me a message on social, anywhere @ Espree Devora. And I’ll send you the details that would be really, really exciting to, to hear from you. All right. Enjoy the next episode. Bye.
ESPREE: Welcome back to the women in tech podcast, celebrating women in tech the world! So, so excited about this episode. First of all, you guys, I’m going to admit, I am feeling very, very, very nervous, and so rarely do I get nervous, but I have someone who embodies what this podcast stands for. Arlan Hamilton! Hello!
ARLAN : Hey, how are you doing?
ESPREE: So good. I feel just blessed right now. So fortunate everything about you as an inspiration. For people who don’t know you, you’re about to be blown away. Let’s start off with the basics and then get into all the good stuff. I can’t stop with this big, huge smile on my face. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
ARLAN: Well, I’m Arlan Hamilton, I am the founder and managing partner of a boutique venture fund that invests in underrepresented founders. I live in Los Angeles, I’m from Texas. I’m very Black and very gay.
ESPREE: [laughs] And you’re coming out with a book.
ARLAN: Yeah, my new book is It’s About Damn Time, so you can check it out. It’saboutdamn time.com. I’m super excited about it. My first published book and it is a labor of love and something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. And I feel very fortunate to be able to share it now.
ESPREE: I love it. And I am so grateful that I’m currently reading an advanced copy of the book, and it has already exceeded my expectations. And I’m not just saying that because you’re on the podcast. I literally feel like it’s one of those things where you’re like, okay, I’m addicted. I can’t, I can’t do anything else for the rest of the day. And so I’m excited to get back to reading it after, after this interview. So Arlan.
ARLAN: Thanks so much.
ESPREE: Yeah, of course. So we’ll jump into it. You have an incredible story on how you created Backstage Capital. In reading your book, the thing that reminded me is one of…my mom gave me one of my favorite pieces of advice. She said every no is one step closer to a yes. And I feel like you invented your yes, you took all the no’s and you’re like, oh, I’m going to go invent my yes. [laughs] Can you bring us through the story that I got to read about in your book on how you got started? I know this is something you’ve probably shared many times, but just to give everybody context.
ARLAN: Yeah. I am 39 now, and around 30, 31, I started understanding more and more about what startups were, like tech startups. I had been living in Texas, but I lived a lot of different states and cities kind of bounced around. And was broke and same old, same old, but I, I started understanding of what it was just from different things, like different companies that I would use or hear about, actually not even use. Like Airbnb and Warby Parker, these different things I would learn about. And I had always felt like an entrepreneur. I felt like someone that was starting things. And although they hadn’t really worked out, I had loved the journey of them. And when I learned what startups were, and what that whole world was, in Silicon Valley and all of that, I really did feel like I had found my tribe, and the people that I was sort of separated at birth from. And it was very exciting. So I wanted to dive back in. I said, this is it. This is what I should be doing. Let me start a company. And I had been on the road prior to this. I had worked my way up for the previous 10 years in live music production. So I had been working on those types of shows, but I was off the road. So I started researching, because I wanted to know all of the players, all of the rules, the guidelines, the best practices, so that I would know at least what I was walking into. And as I started to research and understand, something very stunning occurred. You know, something occurred to me, in what I saw. Which was that more than 90% of venture funding, which is the funding that goes into innovative, is supposed to be this innovative capital. And so daring, was going 90% of it, was going to straight white men, and this was data that was collected. And it was fact. And I thought, how crazy is that? That’s so wacky. My friend groups had always been varied. And so I had a ton of friends from all different backgrounds. And I said that there’s not one of them that is any less or more worthy of capital for their company than the next. Why is that happening? And so that led me on this path and this journey of exploration, and what I soon came to realize was that my destiny, and my calling was going to be about something bigger than myself. And it was going to be about how do I get myself, but how do I get others who look like me, who feel the same way into these rooms? How do I get that equality for us in these rooms? Because it’s going to be really important, especially in a few years. So I set out on this journey, and I just said, well, I have no money. I’m in debt. I’m in my early thirties. I know what I’ll do. I’ll start a venture capital fund. [laughs] And that’s how it started.
ESPREE: And what I love right at the start of your book, and it was a good reminder for me. You were sleeping in airports, you know, trying to figure out how to make ends meet, day after day and every day you kept telling yourself, I am a venture capitalist. Like how?
ARLAN: yea, I rarely try to compare myself to Beyonce, but I will now. Beyonce talks about how she has to put on a bit of an invisible cape and, uh, give herself another name. Another persona to even be able to step on stage and do what she does. She doesn’t feel like that’s really her, all her. Right.
ESPREE: Totally. Sasha Fierce. Right
ARLAN: Sasha Fierce. And so that’s really what it was. It’s like, you can think of it in many ways. Some people think of it as like the secret or, uh, some people think about it as like, uh, vision boards or any of that, that type of thing. It really is just about kind of stepping towards your destiny. And I don’t mean that I, I hope that doesn’t come across as like, you know, trite. I really mean it. It’s like you come to a point in your life and you realize, oh, okay. There’s only a certain number of years that we get in this life. Depending on what you believe in. So I started a number of years you get in this body. And I want to do something meaningful with it. And I was coming from such a different place. You know, it was coming from literally a different state, that I had never been around these techie people before.
ESPREE: From Texas, right?
ARLAN: From Texas. And also I had been around rich people because I had been around musicians who were rich, but they were like my bosses and they were on stage and they were like a million miles away in our lives. In this case, I was going to have to go face to face with these millionaires and billionaires and really sell them on my vision of something that didn’t exist in that moment. And so in order to do that, and I still do this to this day in a different way, but in order to do that, I had to step towards and into what I was going to be. And I had to become it in that moment, and then kind of take it with me, take that armor with me, be it. And then afterwards I could let it go a little bit and come back and say, okay, Ooh, that was tough. Or, Ooh, that went well.
ESPREE: And one characteristic about you that I admire. I don’t have the courage to be at at least I don’t think, but you are positively polarizing. So you are not polarizing in a controversial way. I feel like you’re polarizing in a way that moves humanity forward, which is what we need, but it’s a very brave thing to do, to lead with vulnerability. Have you always been polarizing or is that a skill that you cultivated?
ARLAN: I don’t think it’s a skill because it’s not something that I’m trying to do. Um, I just, it’s part of my personality to be honest. Because I feel like there’s a lot of logic that goes through everything that I do, even if I’m being wacky or if it’s, if it’s out there, it starts the core of it is logic. And I am almost um obsessively so. Like it has to make sense to me or I can’t do it. So my thing is like, I’m not going to be able to remember what lie I told you. [laughs] I have to, I have to believe it so deeply and know it so deeply. And so that starts with what the truth is. So you start with the truth. And then I think about, and this has evolved over time. Not, not so much a skill, but it has evolved with age and with experience, which is the part about learning more and more not to care what random people think about you, aesthetically or decisions you make and things like that, as long as you’re doing no harm. And so when I think about it from that perspective, there’s really no incentive for me to lie. So I’m transparent. On the flip side and the more positive side, I have seen in two different lifetimes. One being in my twenties when I had a blog called your daily lesbian moment, that had thousands of readers. And then the second being this wave, at Backstage and with the fund, I have seen the impact it has to speak so truthfully of your own, uh, of yourself and of your own journey. And how you can immediately impact and reach people, whether they get to be themselves in their everyday lives or not, internally when they’re having that inner monologue and sometimes reaching out to me, many of them are being affected by it. And seeing themselves reflected, or at least having the courage to be themselves, and be happier with themselves and more excited about who they are. So to me, it’s like you get addicted to that kind of like impact.
ESPREE: I completely believe in being a vulnerable leader, that is something I push myself to do that’s not easy. But you take it a really meaningful step further is if you see something that doesn’t sit well with you, it could be a statistic about something that you just know is inaccurate, or just anything. It just seems like you’re not afraid of the backlash or controversy or any resistance. Are you afraid? Do you feel ever afraid?
ARLAN: I didn’t feel afraid of it.
ESPREE: Not of that. Just in general. Do you have, like, when do you get nervous
ARLAN: When do I get scared?
ARLAN: Well, I used to have incredible stage fright. I talk about that in the book. I used to have just a ridiculous stage fright. Ridiculous meaning, you know, it was okay, a lot of people have it, but it was just stunning stage fright. And worked on that. Um, again, I try not to like talk in like, you know, embroidered pillows or anything, but I’m more afraid of the things I don’t do, that I, that I wanted to do, than the things that I do. And that don’t work out. I mean, so many things I’ve done have not worked out, and they were, uh, I I’m, I’m like wrong about it, or I am embarrassed by it because you know, it was all landed on me, and I’m still here and it’s okay. You know, so I’m not, I don’t get scared of, I guess the other things that are more just like about mortality, and people’s health and my family and, and that sort of thing. I don’t get afraid of people thinking poorly of me or making fun of me. I think it probably comes from being, you know, bullied as a child and kind of going through the paces of all that. And then as an adult going through and being…I used to let people treat me pretty poorly and just kind of like evolving from all of that. There’s such a bigger world out there than just the few people who like to see you fall. It’s just such a bigger world. I forgot who said it or what book I read it in, but I’ve even heard like numbers as high as like 15%, of what will be dissenting opinion of you if you do something bold. That’s a lot of people. But like, that is what you kind of have to face. If you’re going to do something, as I say, audacious. If you’re going to do something that makes people feel. Like you said, you’re nervous. You’re not nervous because of me, you’re nervous because you’ve watched for the last five years or four years, all of the people that are affected by it, you know, like it’s just like this whole energy. And if I were timid or afraid of someone making fun of me, that wouldn’t have happened. And it’s just so worth it for it to have happened.
ESPREE: I think you’re spot on. I mean, it’s one of the reasons I don’t have a YouTube channel. I, for some reason I feel like I’m safer with an audio podcast. [laughs] Um, but I’m afraid of the comments, I am. And I don’t know how you have such incredible resilience to just, I don’ tknow.
ARLAN: Ooof. I don’t know comments get me. I mean, it’s not like I’m just walking around, like yeah. King of the hill here. I get a lot of vitriol online. I’m called racist quite often by people-
ESPREE: What, really?
ARLAN: By different initiatives… When I put out the scholarship, for instance, for Oxford student, for a Black Oxford student, to the very first scholarship for a Black Oxford student to go full ride last year, I got so many people praising it, thought it was awesome. And then I got like dozens of messages. You’re racist. There’s no scholarship for white people. And it was just so crazy, but I get that. I get called fat a lot. I get called ugly a lot and people make fun of my teeth. People make fun of my hair. I don’t care. Because you’re cute, like we’re, we’re both cute people. So it doesn’t matter what these random people think. Also, I mean, I used to let one or two comments really get me, even if it was like in a sea of a hundred positive things. Let me think about how I..It really goes back to what I said before. So like there’s so much positive. So if you think about what your wheel house is, if you think about anybody who’s ever walked up to you and talked to you and said, Hey, I love your podcast. That episode really meant a lot to me or that speech you gave me. And a lot of that thing you wrote…
ESPREE: It blows my mind every time I hear it.
ARLAN: Yeah. When you hear that and you’re like trying to reach that person, you’re trying to reach that person, understand that at scale, even the people that will never be able to tell you how, how you helped them. Because they’re silent and they’re, they have much less of a voice than you even you do right now. It doesn’t matter if you have these little riff raff coming from the sides, saying what they want to say, that’s their job. I used to say, look, I feel like, I give out jobs because haters, their job is to hate . So we don’t want them to be on unemployment too. I mean, we have a lot great. You, I, I gave you more work today. Great, fantastic. And here’s another thing that I, that I think…
ESPREE: I gave you more work today. Can I just absorb that? [laughs] It’s hilarious.
ARLAN: I want to help them out. Here’s the thing, here’s one thing you can think about when you think about those comments. If they’re anonymous, first of all, then that’s just blah, who are they. You can see who they are. I cannot be offended by someone I don’t respect.
I realized that last year, like at 38, I was like, wow, that like took me somewhere. Right. I can not be offended by someone I don’t respect. So the people who do come out of the woodwork, to tell you what you’re doing wrong, or how you doing this and that and the other–What’s the source? What’s the source? And then we can talk about it. You know, if the source is someone I’ve never met, you don’t know me from atom, what have you done? Or if you have done stuff, why do you have the time to sit and say this to me? Now, if there’s someone who has given constructive criticism, and they want to pull me to the side, or they even want to call me out, I’ve done multiple phone calls like that. Where people have said, you know, you posted this thing, you’re supposed to be woke. But what you said was offensive to people with disabilities because you used the word “lame.” Or you did this, or you did that. I’m going to have a conversation with those people
Something mind expanding, yeah.
Because it’s-exactly, like make me a better person. Great. But if you’re simply just anonymously typing with your thumbs on something that you spent time on, that you have talent and skill and a point of view. And they just decided they’re going to say a few words to do whatever. They just don’t have any power. They don’t.
ESPREE: I love this. I feel like you’re helping so many people right now, including me, in that-And one thing I got a takeaway I’m getting, even out of what you’re saying is maybe like the hesitation to start a YouTube channel because afraid of the comments is really ego-based because what I’m getting from what you’re saying is you are so connected to your why that that’s what’s important. That that’s what your energy goes to. And you said something else that I think is a really key thing. And I’d like to repeat it once more just to make sure everybody like, truly hears it with you’re a lot more afraid of not trying something, not opening the door. Even if you get embarrassed at the end or, or it doesn’t work out, than you are afraid of not doing it at all. So you care more about creating the opportunity and just finding out then, you know, never finding out. And I think that’s it-It’s just it’s wow. I want to get into how you got from Texas, and where in Texas were you again?
ARLAN: I grew up in Dallas. And at the time I was in Houston area, called Pearland.
ESPREE: And how you got from Houston to Los Angeles? And at the beginning, I was mentioning that you were sleeping in, in airports, but this isn’t because you were a jet-setting traveler. It’s because you found a place so that you could like sleep for the night, right?
ARLAN: Yeah. So the whole airport thing is something used to, I definitely, especially because it feels like your, your audience is very thoughtful. They often use that in, in press and things. That’s very true. I talk, it’s a very first page of my book is what you’re referring to. I talk about it. But, you know, I don’t want to ever make it seem like it was something, something that people should emulate, or like say is that’s the ultimate hustle or anything like that. It was really dehumanizing and terrible. And I, I will never be in that position again. And I feel sad for the person who was. The me that was, right. And it was the fact-I didn’t have any money. I was 34. I had gotten myself from Texas. I had gotten a one way ticket to Silicon Valley because I was going to take this two week workshop about investing. And I had crowdsourced part of the money, but not all of it. And I got myself there and I said, if I can get myself there, I can, I can talk my way into someone getting this finally, after working on it for three years, and I ran out of money, I could only. You know, if the two week thing that we had catered lunches and that was my meal, that’s what I had for the days. And after that, I didn’t have anywhere to live. So I said, where is it safe? And where is it indoors? Cause I just didn’t know if I could do the elements, even in California. And I found the airport and I thought, okay, because the airport, I can pretend to myself, if not to others, I can at least pretend to myself and keep myself okay if I say, this is temporary. People do this if they have a lay, a long layover, I can do this. I did it for days and days and days and days and days at a time and stretches, I lived there. And so it was definitely motivating to get myself out of there. And I don’t ever recommend it as something, especially. Here’s one more thing last year, someone unfortunately thought it was a good idea to do this on purpose, to get my attention. She ended up stalking me, literally, and I have to get security. So not only that.
ESPREE: The things that I fear you have already experienced,
ARLAN: Well, it’s not going to, it’s not going to impress me. It’s going to worry me and concern me about your, your abilities as a founder. Much rather you, you do what you can with what you have. And don’t put yourself in dire straits to get attention. If you’re in dire straights, and you’re in, you’re making it, you know, you have my utmost respect. But don’t put yourself there, because that’s a, it’s a insult rather than what you think it is. Oh, yeah. That’s how I ended up there. And that’s how I found my way to San Francisco and then to, to the Silicon Valley area.
ESPREE: And then why did you switch from Silicon Valley and how’d you end up with Backstage Capital in Los Angeles. And now Backstage Capital went from you not being able to raise a dollar for several years to having invested in over 130 companies at this point. And how large is your fund now?
ARLAN: Yeah, so I got to Silicon Valley in May 2015. There was a lot of in-between stuff, including going on another tour with an artist named Janine, who who’s amazing, a good friend of mine now. But in September 15th, 2015, a woman named Susan Kimberlin, who is an angel investor handed me my first investment after knowingly for-since May. And she told me: make something of this. And so I had spent some time in Las Vegas. I had lived there at some point in my twenties.
ESPREE: Are you allowed to say how large the check was?
ARLAN: Well, I am now. So the first check was 25,000 to invest in someone else. And then she immediately followed that a few days later with 25,000 for operations.
ESPREE: And I know we’re going to talk about getting to LA, but more important: How did it feel when you got that first check, someone that believed in your vision?
ARLAN: Hi, this is Arlan Hamilton, author of It’s About Damn Time: How to turn being underestimated until your greatest advantage. And you’re listening to Women in Tech.
ESPREE: I feel so grateful. I’ve had the privilege of getting an advanced copy of Arlan Hamilton’s new book, It’s About Damn Time. She is one of the most inspiring venture capitalists I’ve ever had come across. Her story from having absolutely nothing and being completely broke to being one of the most influential venture capitalists in the world, blows my mind and our book is insanely well-written. Right when I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down. She teaches me and us how to become the asset, how to be our best selves and how to be a person that not only creates opportunity for ourselves, but creates an abundance of opportunity for others. I’m so proud to share her book with you, and I hope you’ll pick it up. And I know for sure, you’ll be just as riveted as I was with each page you turn.
ARLAN: Get It’s About Damn Time at it’s aboutdamntime.com.
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ESPREE: How did it feel when you got that first check, someone that believed in your vision?
ARLAN: Yeah. I talk about it in the book. I go into great detail about it, but generally what it felt like, believe it or not. I even through all of that, even though my whole life being poor and being broke and not knowing how long things were going to last. And even in those last few weeks of being so concerned about what was going to happen next, I promise you because I had prepared for so long, for that moment. Because that was all I wanted to do was make investments in these founders. All I did was like fist bumping, you know, fist in the air, woo, in parking lot that I had been using, like had been my kind of HQ. And I called a couple of people, and I got a plane ticket to LA because that’s where I had been before. I honestly, I got like a, a cupcake from the, uh, grocery store, and I got some sushi from the grocery store, and I celebrated by myself. And then I went to LA, and I got like a coworking spot. I didn’t do any party. I was just like, it is on. This is what I’ve been preparing for. Let’s go, let’s go. Who can, who else can I tell? So that that can be momentum. That’s all it was about. And I remember it was in the early days of like Doordash and stuff. I ordered a cupcake at that, I’m a big on cupcakes. Once I was in LA, I ordered a cupcake, one cupcake, from door dash that someone had to hand deliver to me. It cost like 6.99 delivery. I was so concerned about that. I shamed myself. I spent 6.99 on DoorDash delivery. And like, I did that to celebrate, like being out of poverty and, and making my first investment. And then like a few weeks later, I learned about this guy who had bought himself an apartment with a jacuzzi in it and transferred a million dollars to himself.
With all the money he raised, he celebreated?
Yeah. I’m like you know what I [laughs]
Have your cupcake and eat it too. Yes.
And what flavor was it?
It was salted caramel from Sprinkles, which they can sponsor me if they like to, because I eat so much salted caramel cupcakes from Sprinkles is not even funny.
ESPREE: So yeah. I’m, I’m a red velvet kind of girl.
ARLAN: Yeah. I’m sure there’s some sort of thing about like types of cupcakes to the personality or something.
ESPREE: There’s gotta be, oh my gosh. This is so great. Okay. So you create Backstage Capital. And how much did you say is in your fund now?
ARLAN: Well, it’s been over several funds kind of each year we have a new fund. So, but the total that I’ve raised between investment capital, that we’ve deployed and operating capital and also have earned in sponsorships, uh, somewhere around $12 million in the last four and a half years.
ESPREE: Amazing. And I wanted to ask one quick question before we continue to dive further in that, when you raise the initial money, how did you decide how much would go to sustaining you and just being able to survive? Was that a difficult decision to make, or did someone make it for you? What did that look like?
ARLAN: Oh, no, it wasn’t difficult at all. We had a very specific bucket of capital that was part of our GP, like my GP, which is the general partnership. I took this very seriously. I still do. This is other people’s money that I am legally bound to do right by. And I have no-I’m just really a big stickler on just doing the best I can there, even though I didn’t have a lot of, um, experience. So when it came to my expenses, I said, well, you know, I, I know what I’m used to, what I need to be able to do is to have a safe, comfortable place to live. I need to be able to travel when I need to. I need to be able to eat, and I need to be able to not be looking over my shoulder about different kind of things. And so it was a very specific amount of money. What really helped to, and what has helped along the way, is that any operating capital that I had at the beginning, I really, I mean, I won’t get too far into it, but just because I do talk about it in the book a little bit. And also just because some of it is just like, you know, really behind the scenes stuff. It was an exchange for my equity, and it was like my asset, you know? So I felt like all of the decisions I made along the way and up until today, were just so thought out because I couldn’t afford it not to be. I’ve never had the luxury of being like, let me squander this because it’s going to come from somewhere else later. Never. It’s always been this brick by brick. Okay. I have 50,000. I’m going to make those two investments. Great. Where does the next hundred thousand come from? And let me make sure that I can pay my rent. So let me, let me raise a little bit here. So it’s always been really thought out and, um, based on what I thought I needed. And then I also, I do have an abundance mindset, and I feel like it’s the same thing as the venture-you are the venture capitalist. I feel like I should step into what I want to become. So for instance, I invested in a podcast room for myself. I invested in like, recently, I invested in a home office,
ESPREE: Wait did you build a podcast room yourself? I don’t mean yourself. I mean, are you renting it outside your space or is it inside Backstage HQ?
ARLAN: No, this is, so we don’t have a backstage HQ. We’ve had a lot of coworking spots, but we’ve always been remote, a remote team. So at my apartment, that I share with my wife, I have an additional unit. That’s a small unit. And I have like a bedroom sized room that I fitted out with all kinds of acoustic paneling and all like my microphones and everything. And I do all of my podcasting here. And then I, and then the, in the front room, I do all of my meetings I used to do all of my meetings and all of, uh, any kind of thing that generates revenue for, for me. So I have a separate company called Arlan Was Here LLC, as a separate thing. So I invest in what I feel like I can make a return on when it comes to me, and the home office made its money back and like 10Xed its money by my book deal, you know? And I was able to write my book because I had this home office that I would go to and I knew. So I just, I I’m just very, um, meticulous when it comes to what’s the next thing going to be and how can we compound that, et cetera.
ESPREE: And to check out Arlen’s book, be sure to go to It’s About Damn Time, and for her podcast, Your First Million. Um, can you share everybody the concept of your show?
ARLAN: Your First Million, I started it in the summer, uh, early summer of 2019 for a couple reasons. I started it, well, I love audio and I love podcasts in general. And I had been, uh, uh, featured on a podcast called Startup by Gimlet. And I’d been a whole season of that. And so just really loved the medium. So I wanted to have a podcast, a couple of, a couple of podcasts going. I had gone from being someone who up until there were 35, made less than $20,000 a year. And sometimes made maybe 5,000 a year, like really low, low, low wages. Sometimes I didn’t even have to like do my taxes because I didn’t make enough to do them. Didn’t have insurance until I was 36. So I went from that to having a real income, not just with the fund, because the fund itself is like a loss leader. But in my speaking engagements, in my, uh, there’s a lot of, my book deal. And my, my media kind of, uh, projects that I’m putting together, there is a different income that I have now. And I’ve become the, I say wealthy, but I’m not like rich or anything, but I have become the wealthiest person in my family and my extended family. And so I wanted to talk to people from all backgrounds from all over the world, from all industries, who are successful and had reached their first million dollars and beyond. Or had reached a milestone of maybe 1 million listeners or 1 million views or this or that. And I wanted to talk to them about the things that we don’t usually hear about, which is not only how you did it, but kind of like when you asked me before, how did it feel when you got that first check? I’m really was-that’s fascinating to me that moment. Because usually what we hear about successful people is before and after that moment, but not that moment itself. And a lot of people don’t talk about money, but the it’s funny because I didn’t know if a lot of people would, but so many people do. Like, I’ll ask them if they want to be on the show, and I’ll say it’s about money. And they’re like, oh, I’ve never done a podcast about money before. I don’t know if I want to talk about it. And I’m like, well, let’s give it a shot. And then you start getting these amazing. Threads that are pulled and stories that are told. And, and, and people say often that they, they haven’t ever shared this thing with anybody before, but they’re going to share it here on the show. So on the podcast, I’ve interviewed all sorts of people, some people that might be recognizable. One of them I’m very proud of is, uh, Ellen Pompeo, who plays Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy, who is the highest paid dramatic actress on television, with her 20 million plus per year contract. She made history. And she just, we just had the most candid interview and the most candid conversation. And I love that type of thing. And then I talked to founders-
ESPREE: Just to say her path has not been easy and her story is absolutely fascinating. So definitely be sure to check out that episode.
It’s wonderful to talk about it because it’s like what I figured would happen and what’s been really great. I love being a little bit right. But having it even better than I ever could have imagined it. Like, I know that there’s going to be this common thread through people because we’re all human, and we’re all getting through this life together. But just to see how much someone who it may have a hundred million dollars. Someone who rice me, who’s at their job typing in, who does data entry like I used to do. And they’re at their nine to five or they’re 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM gig. And they’re listening to it on their lunch break or, or to get by. And they say, you know, when Ellen said that, or when Justin said that, or when Don said that it really, it really resonated with me because I felt that way too, when I did this. It’s that same thing. And, and vice versa, you hear all these stories from people who are powerful and rich and all that. And they all have these vulnerable moments.
That they were once what you are. Or some of the most interesting ones are the ones who did grow up kind of privileged their whole lives, and they have a breakthrough, and those are really interesting too. I think there’s one that’s really cool. If you’re an investor, or someone who, who has not had it so bad, and you kind of feel a little bit of survivor’s remorse or whatever, it’s called. Check out the episode I did with Amy Griffin. It was the second episode I think. And she talks about, I mean she’s rich. And she’s talking about the interview was really interesting. And then like two thirds of the way through. We start, we have this breakthrough, she just realizes how much she, how valuable she is as a person, beyond her money and beyond her status. It’s so cool. And so, yeah, I just really love it. And that’s, that’s Your First Million, the book you can get it, itsaboutdamntime.com. Um, and I’m just having a great time with those, with those projects.
ESPREE: And a few weeks ago, I don’t know if you remember this or not, talking about value and about money and about valuing ourselves financially. I was in the shower. It was like three in the morning or something. And all of a sudden, I thought about your speaking career and an Instagram post that you had done earlier in the day, or maybe it was a tweet about, something about your speaking career. And I was thinking. You know, she should never hear a no company should be like begging to pay her and never asked to discount her rate because her message is so powerful and so important. It needs to be fueled in order to advance, you know, our connective society. And I think looking at dollars past just being dollars or looking at the project you’re working on as beyond just the project you’re working on, as we were talking before and being really connected to the why, and really connected to the purpose and removing everything else around it, I think, I think that’s a really important reminder for all of us as we create. And as we evolve into, you know, our futures to be paying special attention to like why we’re showing up to what we’re showing up for. Yeah.
Let’s get into Backstage Capital. Uh, you said you work remotely, and then the whole team works remotely. That’s an interesting decision that you made. Why did you choose to make that decision and how can we find out more about the opportunities at Backstage? You have so many cool opportunities. I’d also, not to throw you triple questions, but I’d love to hear more about your, your team culture, because you have a dynamic culture there and you’ve celebrated your team on your podcast. And, um, it’s, uh, it’s truly wonderful. So if you could just talk about all things Backstage, I’d love it.
ARLAN: Sure. So Backstage it’s embedded now in my DNA and in my heart, it’s interchangeable with my first name. You know, it’s just who I identify with. It’s my venture fund. Uh, you can go to backstagecapital.com to check out everything we have there. You can sign up to the mailing list on that website. And that’s where you’re going to get the mixtape newsletter that has all kinds of opportunities, all the time from the ecosystem, from our portfolio, from us. We as a fund, you know, like I said earlier, it really is an uphill battle for us to have to raise and to have resources. So we don’t have a ton of dry powder that we’re, that we’re investing right this moment, especially in this, in, during this current time. But we have so much archived information and like just so much social equity built up that, that, that there’s every single time we put one of these mail, newsletters out, someone writes his back and says, you know, I signed up for this thing and I won the pitch competition that I get 25K, and I it’s just really cool. So I would really check it out, lots of that and lots of community, which is important to us. We also have virtual office hours with our team called the Crew. Everything at Backstage, we try to use terms that are like that. Remind me of working as a touring production coordinator, back in the day. So when we have Backstage Crew, The Mixtape, et cetera. So I mean, being a remote team was really a combination of, Hey, we were bootstrapped. We even had a podcast called The Bootstrap VC, which you can find episodes of still today. And we’re bootstrapped and that’s not really normal in the venture capital world. Usually there’s a ton of money and a lot of resources and you have all these big buildings and offices and trips and all of this. So we did what we could, and I always thought I want to start a company, whatever it is, when I start a company, I want it to be a place where I would have wanted to work when I was in my twenties or thirties or today. You know, like I, I want to be the things that I was looking for in many ways is why I wrote the book, that’s why I started the fund, all of that. And I was thinking about, we’re talking about expenses earlier, right? I was thinking, do I try to make sure that everybody is in the same city? So like my talent pool is smaller. And also kind of just like the diversity is less. Do I try to make sure that that’s the case and that we have this HQ to go to so everybody will know that we’re here and be kind of cool and we will get everybody’s approval and be all real.
ESPREE: Be all tech sexy. [laughs]
ARLAN: Yeah, do I worry about that? Or do I just say, let me find the best people and see who we attract, and in turn, and make it really about being able to try to pay a salary and get the job done. So what that turned into is that little by little, especially in the first two years, different people would come to me, usually by like Twitter. And they would just say, you know, I see what you’re doing. I’d love to be able to help. They would start one by one by one, they would start part time or consultant. And then over time we’d build up, and I’d be able to afford them full time. I poached Christie Pitts from, uh, from Verizon, you know, amicably between the companies, but it was very exciting to get her. And she became my vent-my business partner, Bryan Landers as well. And, and, and Anastasia, all these people kind of start off just little by little doing projects by projects, and then boom, it just became this full-time thing. And then, and Christie was living in Oakland, I lived in Los Angeles, Anastasia and Bryan were two random different parts of LA, which if anybody who’s listening has ever been to LA, you know, that, that it’s like living in different cities. If you live in LA and the West and East side. And then we started getting attraction from like other parts of the country, New York, Detroit, St. Louis, Florida. And I said, I want to go towards the person and not the location. And I don’t want to uproot them unless they want to be uprooted, unless they want to that kind of adventure. I don’t want to uproot them either. I just want them to just be at their best. And so we just said, great, we have video conferencing, we have Slack, we have email, we have phones. Let’s make it happen. And that’s what we did. And that over the four and a half years, right now, we’re at six people. We have been as big as 45. Because we’ve had a four city accelerator, we’ve had all kinds of consultants and this year we had like 25 full-time, and 20 consultants, and we’ve done it all remotely. And it hasn’t always been as super smooth when you think about like at trying to have a, um, a conference call at like 6:00 AM-
ESPREE: And what do you use for the conference call?
ARLAN: We use Zoom mostly. Yeah. We use sometimes we’ll use Google. Uh, sometimes we’ll we’ll experiment with other things, but mostly it’s been Zoom. We’ve been very happy with it.
ESPREE: And for project management, which-
ARLAN: We use like Notion. Notion is a big, big, I don’t use it as much because I, you just have this sort of aversion to like super easy tech things. I try to-I like my team. It’s still to this day, if I were to call Christie Pitts right now and say, if you were just to call her and say, talk to me about Arlan’s emails, she would just like throw the phone across the room because they haven’t tried to get me to stop using my Gmail for like years. And I’m like, just make it forward to me and then I’ll respond. And they’re like, it’s responding from your Gmail. We wanted to re-I was like ahh! But the team uses Notion. They’ll, they’ll send it to me. I’ll click on it every once in a while. We use Slack, like all the time. And as we get smaller, like as the team gets smaller and kind of expands, and it goes basically what the resources that we have. So right now we’re lean, we’re super, super, super lean. And it’s just, you know, a bunch of text messages and just really getting stuff done. Today, we had a lot to ship. And from like 8:00 AM to about 1:00 PM. All six of us are just chopping away, and we made it work and it was just a lot of fun.
ESPREE: And shout out to Bryan Landers, he’s actually been really supportive of all the work I’ve done for the community for several years. And I really appreciate it.
ARLAN: Oh that’s great. Bryan’s amazing. Bryan’s an amazing human being.
ESPREE: Community builders need to be refueled all the time. A couple last questions before we wrap up, and this has been so exciting. What is your favorite tech tool?
ARLAN: I really love Community. It’s the text platform I’ve been using.
ESPREE: And I’m so glad you brought that up. Yes. You just launched a Community phone number. Tell us about it. It’s the newest rage right now.
ARLAN: Yeah. I mean, so you’ve probably see a lot of people have been like text me and then you’re like, why are they giving their phone number out? And it’s just this really cool platform that, they have a crazy waiting list. And I was grateful to be able to get on it. Uh, but I’m able to text directly with people who follow me. So it’s, it’s great. Like Twitter has its place and Instagram has its place. And then this is this new thing that’s like just really one-on-one or you can write to people in a certain section. So like for instance, I sent out a message to several people who are all in the New York area just to like tell em I was with em and that you can do that right, you know, with one click and everything. And then it helps me with my book launch team. We have a special team, a volunteer team, was helping me promote and they get a free t-shirt and they get free access to the book early. And I’m just able to like write to them all at the same time and then I can respond to them individually. And it’s just really cool. I love it. And so if you want to text me, you can text me, this is how we’ll do it. What-what’s, what’s the code word we should use? We can do like a hashtag code word, and they’ll know that it came from here. Let’s just do like your name, like let’s do that. And then so like hashtag Espree and then text 2 8 3 2 2 1 0 1 2 7 6.
ESPREE: That’s E S P R E E.
ARLAN: And it’ll just let me know that you heard it on this podcast. That’d be pretty cool. And I’ll say hi to you.
ESPREE: Can you say the number one more time, and we’ll include it in the show notes as well.
ARLAN: Absolutely. The number is 8 3 2. 2 1 0 1, 2 7, 6.
ESPREE: And so they just do a pound or hashtag, same thing. And then just my name E S P R E E just my first name.
ARLAN: And when you do that, you’ll get like a little thing that says, okay, cool sign up. Like, just say that it’s cool. If I text you and then you’ll do that. And then it’ll be me talking to you.
ESPREE: Awesome. I love it. And, and a question that I like to ask everybody, and this is like the whole, I feel like your whole journey has been something that you’ve overcome. The question I like to ask is what’s one thing you’ve overcome in your life and how did you overcome it? But I feel like your entire journey is like an overcoming story.
ARLAN: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of it. One of the things I did talk about in the book that if you want to know more about, I briefly touched on it is, is that stage fright. So I used to have debilitating stage fright until I was 36. And over the last three or so years, I’ve been able to really conquer it for the most part. Uh, it hasn’t gone away a hundred percent, but I have really taken the bull by the horns, and now I get paid to speak. And it’s a, it’s a great part of my, of my income when, when, when we’re in normal mode. Um, and so I think there’s so many people, I think half the population has stage fright? So I think it’s a, it’s a great-seeing-cause I was one of those people, like I said out loud, like you can still find a tweet for me, Arlanwashere on Twitter and Instagram. You could still search for Arlan was here and me talking about like, not stage fright, right? Like just the word stage, right? Two words say stage. And I’m like, there’s a video of me like I’m not going out there. You’re not going to see me out on stage. It’s just going to be me and this computer, and you’re going to have to get used to it. And it was sort of like four years ago. So I never really, I never thought that I would be someone who is just out there on stage is talking to thousands of people or hundreds of people at a time, but it really had to come from me wanting it to change and not everybody saying, oh, you’re supposed to, or yeah, you’d be great at it because that was just pushing me back further and further in the corner, it really had to be this sort of, I heard enough, I thought about it enough. I wanted it enough.And that’s really when the change started. So you can read my, the journey in the book and then you can decide for yourself when you want to start doing that for yourself, if you ever do. And that’s, I think is the, is I could never coach you out of it, I don’t think. I think it’s just learning how I did it and then saying, okay, cool. I’ll try. I’ll give that a try at some point.
ESPREE: I love it. I love it. And is there any company or talent that you’ve recently come across that has really impressed you? Before you even answer that, I’m going to selfishly shout out Melissa from Mahmee because I love her. She’s an amazing founder. Um, so if you could tell us both about a little bit about Mommy, because I’m biased.
ARLAN: Great. I’m on the board of mommy. Uh, I led their series A round last year, along with Mark Cuban, Steve Case, and Serena Williams. And that was just a really awesome moment for everybody involved in that. Uh, Melissa kind of, was a Super Woman in making that happen. And, and, and overcoming adversity herself with that round. And I was just really proud of her and then being in her, on her board, I’m able to see how she leads behind the scenes. And she’s just very impressive. So I check out Mahmee, it’s M A H M E E it’s for parents, mothers who are pregnant and postpartum, and just taking, taking them through, uh, different processes. Um, and, and it’s actually a B2B company, which is very exciting too, which is, um, going to reach more and more people. So check it out, look, look up that, that story, uh, Melissa and Sunny and Linda are all co-founders there. And their really, really amazing, amazing team.
ESPREE: And for everybody who’d want to tune into your office hours, they just go to backstagecapital.com and they could find the office hours there to book them in-
ARLAN: Yeah. You can, if you want to do office hours, you can write to contact @ backstagecapital.com and in the subject heading, write office hours. And you will be sent a link to set up time to speak with someone on our team. Every once in a while I’ll pop up, and do office hours as well, because I love doing them. And maybe I’ll be there on the day that you do yours.
ESPREE: Awesome. I love it. Arlan, thank you so much for hanging out with the Women in Tech podcast. You have been incredible. I’m just elated to share your story. Remember to check out Arlan’s podcast, Your First Million, check out our book. It’s About Damn Time. Check out Backstage Capital, backstagecapital.com. She is just a magnetic force in the world that we need. She helps us blossom and grow. And I don’t say that lightly. I am just so grateful that she spent her time with our community today. Be sure to say hello @ womenintechshow on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook. I will see you guys talk to you guys, hear you guys in the next episode.
ARLAN: Thank you. Bye.
ARLAN: This is Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, investing in underrepresented underestimated founders. I’m based in Los Angeles, and you’re listening to Women in Tech.
AD: UNKNOWN: I’d like to tell you about an all new season of Command Line Heroes, a podcast presented by Red Hat. No one ever said hardware was easy in season four. Command Line Heroes is telling seven special stories about people and teams who dared to change the rules of hardware. And in the process changed how we all interact with technology.
AD: SARON YITBAREK: In the world of modern technology, we open our laptops, scroll endlessly on our smartphones, send tons of data to the cloud, and we don’t think twice about it. But have you ever wondered how we got to now with our personal devices? And what it took to get here?
AD: UNKNOWN: There’s this blue box on a table. And he said, well, here it is. I said, well, what is it? He said, it’s a, microcomputer.
AD: UNKNOWN: What it took were teams of engineers and programmers who had the vision and audacity to build new machines. These machines, they revolutionized our lives and blew the doors open to what was possible.
AD: UNKNOWN: How many people here had a computer versus how many people intended to get one? Only one or two people actually had them and they would bring them to the club meetings. What are you going to do with it? And nobody had an answer.
AD: UNKNOWN: The key thing about timesharing was that the computer needed some way of being able to sort of stop its own clock.
AD: UNKNOWN: The creators, the floppy drives are not household names by any means. If it wasn’t for that, PCs would have been adopted much more slowly.
AD: SARON YITBAREK: This January 28th, we launched season four of Command Line Heroes, an original podcast from Red Hat. And this season, it’s all about the hardware. We’ll hear the stories behind some iconic machines and the people who dared to create them.
AD: UNKNOWN: I was the kid that always took things apart. Took my older sister’s toys apart.
AD: UNKNOWN: This is just another bag on the side of the eclipse, a skin chop. Nope. This is a whole new machine.
AD: UNKNOWN: The process of passing the tapes around and encouraging and building upon each other’s results is really what made the personal computer industry?
AD: SARON YITBAREK: We’re exploring mini computers, mainframes, the first personal computers, floppies, early smartphones and game consoles. And we’re also going to hear how the community ethos that drove those early hardware heroes to build those machines still exists today, in the open source hardware movement.
AD: UNKNOWN: The values of sharing are still there. I mean, it’s in the entire open source community.
AD: UNKNOWN: The machine in a way was kind of a bit character. It was the people who were the real guts of what it was about.
AD: SARON YITBAREK: I’m Saron Yitbarek. Join me for an incredible new season of the podcast and keep on coding.
AD: UNKNOWN: So thank you. And, uh, eat your sandwiches.
AD: UNKNOWN: Season four is airing now. Subscribe to Command Line Heroes today, wherever you get your podcasts.
ESPREE: The Women in Tech podcast is hosted and produced by me, Espree Devora.
JANICE GERONIMO: With help from Janice Geronimo.
ESPREE: Edited by Adam Carroll and music from Jay Huffman Live and Epidemic sound. The Women in Tech is a We Are Tech. fm production.
Arielle Nissenblatt is SquadCast’s Community Manager. She’s obsessed with all things podcast-related and is the founder of EarBuds Podcast Collective, a podcast recommendation engine. In her spare time, Arielle enjoys hosting zoom trivia for friends and strangers all over the world and rollerblading.