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The Cake

Venture Capital Pioneer, Arlan Hamilton, Pens Letter to Readers

In this new exclusive column for ZORA, Backstage Capital maven Arlan Hamilton and her team offer entrepreneurship, tech, and business wisdom for women of color

A portrait photo of Backstage Capital founder and CEO, Arlan Hamilton, at The 2019 MAKERS Conference on February 7, 2019.
A portrait photo of Backstage Capital founder and CEO, Arlan Hamilton, at The 2019 MAKERS Conference on February 7, 2019.
Arlan Hamilton. Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty for MAKERS

MyMy name is Arlan. I’m 38. Black. Woman. Incredibly homosexual. Used to be on food stamps. Used to have a negative bank balance. Used to have no place to live for weeks and months at a time. Today, I am a venture capitalist with more than 130 tech companies in my portfolio that span several industries and are disbursed all over the United States. Every company I invest in is led by women, a person of color, and/or an LGBTQ founder.

I started a boutique venture capital firm called Backstage to begin to close the gap between the amount of confidence, seed investment money, and other resources going to White men in the United States (more than 90% of all venture capital) versus anyone else. I felt this would help change the narrative of and for those people most affected: the underrepresented entrepreneurs who had and have been overlooked and underestimated for far too long.

WWhat drives me in this work is an unrelenting dedication to catalyzing those who may not have as loud a voice as I have. I’ve knocked on doors, knocked down doors, and, whenever necessary, invited myself to the party in order to clear a path for others. I call it Augmented PrivilegeTM. I mine for it and then deploy it. As someone so eloquently put it, my hope is not to become a new kind of gatekeeper, but a new kind of key maker.

Part of this strategy lies in the narrative — in whose stories are being told and who gets to tell the story. Crafting those stories and examples so that others can see themselves reflected is as important as the amplification of those narratives. Whether it’s through social media, the press, podcasts, books, film, television, and other platforms, the plan is to sometimes be the “first” but never the “only” or “last.”

What drives me in this work is an unrelenting dedication to catalyzing those who may not have as loud a voice as I have.

That is why I am so excited to be partnering with Medium to bring you this weekly section of ZORA magazine that highlights and features voices of other women of color who can bring a fresh and real perspective to life in tech and venture from the inside.

We’ll share interviews with other women of color, many different viewpoints (my favorite will be from those who don’t agree with me on hot topics!), opinion pieces, and calls to action. It’s hard to predict what these essays will include; they could range from the experience of being a woman of color in business to the experience of being a working mother or a tech nerd. Expect them to be as varied and interesting as women of color are themselves.

Venture Capitalist + Tour Manager for Janine & The Mixtape www.ArlanWasHere.com

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