FIRST THOUGHT: Think Big, Progress Slowly
When my girlfriends and I casually discuss our goals—beyond hitting up dim-sum night, that is—we think big. I’m talking one-big-leap-just-behind-landing-on-the-moon big. That’s kind of what we’ve been taught, right? At 7 years old, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. “Administrative assistant” doesn’t quite have the same pizzazz as “rock star,” you know? But before we know it, we’re adults and unsure how we’re not living our best lives and best careers. Do you ever feel like your big goals leave you seeing no light at the end of the tunnel? Today, practice a little micro-progress. Deconstruct a big idea into gumball sizes, starting with something as simple as “turn on the computer.” After all, in order to meet that big goal, you have to start small.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 2017
If you’re an entrepreneur, your big goal might be to obtain $1 million in funding by 2020. But if you’re currently closer to $100 than $1 million, a sense of defeat might be creeping in. Remember that micro-progress focus, though, and have faith that venture-capital funding in the United States is growing. In fact, in 2017, VC activity reached its highest level since 2000, with firms investing more than $84 billion last year.
WOMAN TO WATCH: Arlan Hamilton, Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital
Arlan Hamilton knows all about starting from the ground up. Formerly homeless, Arlan has turned her life into a purposeful one, dedicating her business to minimizing funding disparities by financially investing in female entrepreneurs and those of color, as well as LGBT founders. That’s what I call mega progress!
As the founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital, Arlan didn’t tap a magic button to create VC success. It took time and a whole lot of believing in herself and other founders like her. She first heard about Silicon Valley six years ago while living in an apartment with her mother and having just $12 to her name. She’d previously worked in the music business but became inspired to leave that career behind to pursue the world of venture capital, an industry she admits she knew nothing about.
It was a gutsy move, and one that meant Arlan had to teach herself everything about funding, investments and the cutthroat industry. By 2015, she was sleeping in the San Francisco International Airport and spending her days pitching to investors in a competitive climate—all with the goal of being able to fund underestimated founders.
If there’s one thing to glean from Arlan’s amazing experience, it’s that educating yourself can be the key to making your dreams a reality. Arlan took online classes, read tons of books and watched as many free YouTube videos about the venture-capital industry as possible. She got clever with making connections, pursuing one angel investor with a successful incubator by contacting his brother via LinkedIn. Arlan’s resilience definitely paid off, and she was able to launch Backstage Capital in late 2015.
Now she looks for founders who have the same tenacity she does, always putting an emphasis on entrepreneurs who are underrepresented in the VC world like she is as a black, lesbian woman with world-changing beliefs.
And the VC industry, indeed, the entire world, is starting to take notice. At the recent United State of Women summit—which also featured Me Too Movement Founder Tarana Burke and Michelle Obama—Arlan announced the launch of Backstage Capital’s $36 million It’s About Damn Time fund that’s dedicated to investing in companies founded by black women.
Talk about a real change-maker! Go get ’em, Arlan!
QUITE THE QUOTE
Let’s conclude with a quote by our fabulous Woman to Watch, Arlan Hamilton, who said:
“We don’t just sit around and wait for other people. We just make, and we do.”