What the Most Influential Woman of Color in VC Wants You to Know

A fireside chat with Backstage Capital's Arlan Hamilton

The Riveter West LA buzzed with energy recently as a crowd of women of color and allies filled the space for The State of Womxn of Color Roadshow, a signature event by Future for Us, with whom The Riveter has partnered to engage hundreds of women of color across our locations to create community and share strategies specific to women of color in work. The Los Angeles event was the first stop on the tour, and featured a fireside chat with Backstage Capital’s Arlan Hamilton

The evening kicked off with Jodi-Ann Burey, Senior Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at The Riveter, summing up the purpose of The State of Womxn of Color Roadshow. “We’re not waiting 100 years to get what we’re worth,” Burey declared, “we’re getting it now, and how we’re going to get there is events like this to share cheat codes to stop the patriarchy.”

Next up, Aparna Rae and Sage Ke’alohilani Quiamno, founders of Future for Us, shared information on the state of work for women of color in the United States and the importance of cultivating relationships. Their message to identify and follow the advice of influential women of color leaders in your industry segued perfectly into introducing the evening’s honored guest: Arlan Hamilton, arguably the most influential woman of color leader in venture capital today. 

The excitement was palpable when Arlan Hamilton walked onto the stage. Hamilton has famously stated “I came for the cake, not the crumbs,” and her advice at The Riveter reinforced that objective, not only for herself and Backstage Capital, but also for all women of color. 

Hamilton kicked off her fireside chat by recognizing that the full crowd of women of color in the space and visions of a diverse tech industry were what inspired her to start Backstage Capital. “Look around this room,” Hamilton stated. “This is what I imagined the tech world and the business world could look like and already looked like, but the investors were overlooking. You inspired me. Yeah, I didn’t know you, but I knew you were waiting for me, so you inspired me,” she said, to applause.

The conversation then turned to more practical advice for the founders in the room. First and foremost, the audience wanted to know what Hamilton looks for when making her investment decisions. Sharing insight many people don’t realize, Hamilton noted that sometimes “it really just depends on the time. A lot of times it may be that the exact same pitch and the exact same thing you’re talking about pitched three months or a year later is right at the right time for things.” 

So while there isn’t an exact science to raising money, Hamilton did mention the importance of highlighting your “why.” “Why is this person doing this? Why them, and why are they driven to do it?” Hamilton asked aloud. Additionally, Hamilton likes to see companies that are solving either a pain point the founder has felt themselves or a pain point they’ve seen someone they care about experiencing. Finally, Hamilton wants to see “doers.” “So you don’t have to have any money, but what have you done?” Hamilton asked. “What have you done before you walk in front of someone asking them to give you money?”

Importantly, Hamilton reassured the audience that, “it doesn’t have to be this huge thing where you raised this much (money) or you have this many thousands of customers. You would be surprised by how many people have not even talked to their potential customers to validate what they’re doing, because they think, ‘If I think it’s a great idea, and I’ve seen a couple examples of it being a great idea, it’s going to work. I know it.’ So it really is: what reality check have you given yourself? Got to have the reality check before the capital check,” Hamilton said, to laughter. 

When asked about pitching your business to get the resources to start a company, Hamilton provided an unexpected but valuable response. After a moment of reflection, Hamilton responded, “I can’t tell you how many emails I get in a week that say “I need” this and that. And I don’t think I’ve ever said it on a stage, but I’m going to say it right now: No one is forcing you to start a company. This is an opportunity, so why would you start in a position of stress and in a position of being beholden to someone else? Why would you, out the gate, put yourself in a position where “I need $250,000″? Figure out a way not to need $250,000, and then you have immediately taken your control back and your life back, in some ways.”

Why would you, out the gate, put yourself in a position where “I need $250,000″? Figure out a way not to need $250,000, and then you have immediately taken your control back and your life back, in some ways.

— Arlan Hamilton

Reflecting further on how to find success without outside capital, Hamilton acknowledged that less money may also mean sacrificing speed. In making that trade off, though, Hamilton affirms “you put yourself in a position of leverage, which is one of the most important things you could do.” Moreover, Hamilton reminded the audience that, “Once you know your value, mediocrity is not an option.”

The night ended with Q&A from the audience and fans lining up for photos with the beloved investor, as well as free headshots, courtesy of our partnership with BumbleBizz.

The Riveter was honored to host Arlan Hamilton, and we look forward to continuing to partner with Future for Us to provide a platform for rising and established women of color professionals. Click here to join us at future stops on the State of Womxn of Color Roadshow.

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