From Homelessness to Running a VC Firm: Let Arlan Hamilton Inspire You

A rising VC has some advise to share.

Ashley Batz Photography

“I came for the cake not the crumbs.” Inspired by a rap lyric, those are the words that motivate venture capitalist Arlan Hamilton every day. As the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, Arlan invests in female, LGBTQ, and minority entrepreneurs. This take-it-all attitude helped Hamilton go from being homeless with $12 in her bank account to managing a $5 million dollar fund.

Quartz‘s Leah Fessler sat down with Hamilton for a Q & A hosted at The Assembly. Turns out, Hamilton doesn’t just use motivational quotes to keep herself focused. She’s filled with her own words of wisdom, too. Like:

“Their blind spot is my vision.”

“There is not any room that any of us don’t deserve to be in.”

“I see a few years in the future. I walk toward that path and I don’t stop.”

How to Break In

Of course, you need more than positive thinking to break into the VC world. Especially if you’re a queer black woman like Hamilton. Her rise required a ton of hard work and creativity. Luckily, she was willing to share her secrets. Here were some of the best:

  • Teach yourself: Hamilton had no fancy degree, nor any experience in venture capital. But she knew that she couldn’t pass up funding underserved minorities with good ideas. So she spent hundreds of hours watching videos on Youtube or Vimeo to learn about the industry. “Everything you need is on the internet,” she said. Hamilton also read and watched a ton of interviews, took online courses, and read books. Today, she posts her must reads at http://backstagecapital.com/cover/.
  • Reach out to the people you look up to: If Hamilton came across an industry heavyweight who inspired her, she wasn’t afraid to reach out. She pinged Jason Calacanis and Chris Sacca, and managed to get the attention of Y Combinator president Sam Altman by reaching out to his brother, Jack, on LinkedIn. What do you have to lose by being a bit gutsy?
  • Play on FOMO: Hamilton said that VCs are some of the most competitive people she knows and have a fear of missing out. If you’re trying to get their attention, let them know how your idea will give them an edge against their competition.

Today, Hamilton gets money to those who deserve it but have been shut out from capital investment. She knows it’s good business and even tried to let the rest of the Valley know with her viral Medium post Dear White Venture Capitalists: If you’re reading this, it’s (almost!) too late. Today, she has more than 80 companies in her portfolio, like Haute Hijab, an online modest fashion brand. Or ShearShare, a B2B mobile platform that connects salon and barbershop owners to over 1 million independent stylists. Or CapWay, which creates products and services for the financially underserved, with a focus on financial literacy.

If traditional Silicon Valley funds don’t follow Hamilton’s lead, they may be eating her crumbs very soon.

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