Why she’s a MAKER: Arlan Hamilton is a self-taught entrepreneur who never let anything — inexperience, racism, even homelessness — stop her from success, whether in founding popular indie magazine Interlude, cold calling music venues to book bands she was passionate about or building Backstage Capital from scratch. As she says, “I put myself through, essentially, a four year homeschooled university about venture capital and the startup ecosystem.”
Sugar and Spice: Hamilton grew up in Dallas, Texas, and had an entrepreneur’s hustle and determination from the start: In the third grade, she realized she could buy candy in bulk from Costco, sell it to the kids at a profit “and also be sort of a hero,” which she thought was “amazing.” She also learned that her confidence could be viewed as a threat, which prepared her for the future. “I was a taller than normal black girl in Texas who was lippy, who was talking, who was asking questions. And that just wasn't OK,” she admits.
Production Value: After attending community college and getting a data entry job, she became intrigued by a Norwegian pop-punk band — “because that’s normal, right?” After reaching out to the band’s lead singer, asking them to play in the U.S. and being told they tried but couldn’t make it happen, she taught herself how to book a tour and began cold calling venues. “I was very convincing,” she says. She booked a U.S. tour for the band two summers in a row and years later helped produce tours for CeeLo Green, Toni Braxton and Amanda Palmer. She’s now tour manager for Janine.
Sapphic Startup: Hamilton always loved magazines, but, in her early 20s, felt “frustrated by the lack of diversity” within their pages. “I couldn't find that magazine,” she says. “So I decided to create my own.” Interlude ran on a shoestring, with some powerful cover stories — Gavin Rossdale, Tyler Hilton — before morphing into a strictly queer mag; she also ran a popular blog, “Your Daily Lesbian Moment.” She recalls that her readers “would say things like, ‘I was going to kill myself because I know I was gay…and I didn't have anyone that I could turn to… But I found your site.’ It was just overwhelming.”
Learning to Fly: She discovered venture capitalism through celebs like Ellen DeGeneres and Ashton Kutcher. “They were all investing into Silicon Valley. And I said, what is Silicon Valley? What does that mean? …I spent years teaching myself about venture capital, Silicon Valley, startups, the players. I had flash cards.” She bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco, attended a venture capital boot camp and ran out of money, networking by day and sleeping in the airport by night. On a wing and a prayer, she built Backstage Capital — which has now invested nearly $5 million into over 80 startups. Word had gotten around: “There is this black chick who is, like, trying to be a venture capitalist. And she's doing a good job. And we trust her.” Hamilton appeared on the cover of Fast Company in 2018.