Arlan Hamilton used to be homeless. Now she runs Backstage Capital, raising $30M since 2015

Arlan Hamilton is hosting her first "Your First Million Live" event in Los Angeles. The event runs next week April 9-12.

Julian Glover Image
Thursday, April 4, 2024
From unhoused to venture capitalist: Meet Arlan Hamilton
Arlan Hamilton spent countless nights living inside SFO, now she's running Backstage Capital which has raised $30 million since 2015.

SAN FRANCISCO -- For most people, the airport is the last place on earth they want to spend time in. For Arlan Hamilton, taking a stroll around San Francisco International Airport is a homecoming of sorts.

"This is where I would spend a lot of time in 2015 when I was homeless. I was out here in San Francisco and Silicon Valley trying to raise my venture fund Backstage Capital," said Arlan Hamilton, founder of the company.

Hamilton spent countless nights living inside SFO.

"I would talk to my mom on the phone. I would talk to my aunt until and it would just suck," said Hamilton.

By day, Hamilton would be busy with meetings in Silicon Valley, hopeful she would crack into the venture capital industry - dominated by white men.

By night, she would pack those dreams back into her carry-on bag and come back to SFO to make her home for the evening.

"I would take a pair of the jeans out, I would roll it up and I would lay it on the floor. That would be my pillow," Hamilton recalled. "I wouldn't stay in one place too long. And I always thought I might wake up to someone tapping me on the shoulder saying, 'Hey, get up and leave.' Thankfully, that never happened."

The days of being unhoused would turn to weeks, the weeks to months. And with that came boredom. Hamilton would help puzzled passengers figure out their flights to keep busy.

"One day a family came in and they were not speaking English. After watching them kind of fumble around a little bit I just said, 'what else do I have to do?' So I saw their tickets and I just walked them to the international terminal," she said.

Today, those sleepless nights feel like a distant memory for Hamilton who is wildly successful as a venture capitalist.

"I essentially launched Backstage Capital while I was homeless," she said.

Hamilton's company Backstage Capital has raised $30 million since 2015. And with that money, she's invested in 200 startups founded by women, people of color, and those identifying as LGBTQ+ - all identities that Hamilton holds.

She's providing a life-changing investment to the folks who are often overlooked.

"What would happen if there were a venture fund where everyone who was a woman starting a company, or a Black person starting a company, or Latinx, etc., they all knew that they could go there and have a fair chance? Could that change everything? So I set out to start Backstage Capital," Hamilton said.

It was another woman who made the first investment in Hamilton. She met Susan Christie, who had retired early because of her business success, at an event in Silicon Valley.

"After a few weeks of knowing each other, she said to me, 'I don't know what you're going to do, but I know you're going to do something really important;" said Hamilton. "She gave me $25,000 to invest in someone else to make my first major investment, and $25,000 to set up shop."

Hamilton's story has gone on to inspire countless people who've heard it. She's the author of two books: "It's About Damn Time" and most recently "Your First Million."

She also has a podcast of the same name and now a live event.

"'Your First Million Live' is where current and future millionaires convene. It's where we get together and we learn from each other. We network, we build, and we get inspired," she said.

Hamilton does this work with her mother by her side.

"Being on this trip has been a journey, with Arlan. We've had our highs and lows," said Earline Sims, Arlan's mother.

"To go from sleeping on the floor of the San Francisco International Airport to now - everything has changed. The mission has stayed the same," she said.

That mission is to invest and inspire. She reminds us all of what's possible when you hold on to your dreams no matter how out of reach they seem.

"The thing that kept me going the most during this time was I thought to myself as I had for years leading up to this, 'What if I can pull this off?'"

Hamilton is hosting her first "Your First Million Live" event in Los Angeles. The event runs next week April 9-12.

For more information including tickets go to YourFirstMillion.Live

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