Between ages 21 and 35, Arlan Hamilton experienced varying degrees of homelessness. While she never slept under a bridge or on the streets, she did sleep in the San Francisco airport. Today the 39-year-old is the founder of Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm centered on start-up creators who are women, are people of color and/or identify as LGBTQ.
The San Francisco airport is where she now catches flights four times a month to places where she is met by an SUV and driven to a four-star hotel. While Hamilton went from rags to riches, she never takes her current life for granted. And she has no problem challenging the old guard. “I’m no longer going to settle for the status quo or what someone thinks I’m supposed to have,” she says. Read on for more from Hamilton.
ESSENCE: What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of being a boss?
ARLAN HAMILTON: Bad stuff happens when I try to step in too much. I like to make decisions that are really high-impact, and sometimes I have to make really tough ones that don’t make me very popular.
ESSENCE: Who makes up your support team?
HAMILTON: My mom. I take her a lot of places. She was with me when we slept in the car, and now she’s with me at the Four Seasons. There’s also my partner, Anna. I’m Texan, and she’s German. She’s more logical than I am. I’m a dreamer. And then there’s the team at Backstage Capital. We have a wonderful group.
ESSENCE: And at some point you were homeless. How did that affect you?
Black women deserve so much more than crumbs when it comes to investments.”
HAMILTON: [Yes, but] I did make a pact with myself that I would never sleep outdoors in the elements because I didn’t think I could come back from that. I have a lot of resilience, a lot of fortitude, but I did not think I could recover from that mentally.
ESSENCE: What will make you feel as if you’ve really made it as a founder?
HAMILTON: When I’m turning down capital rather than walking toward it. I know that will happen as clearly as I knew that we would invest in 100 companies by 2020. We reached that goal ahead of schedule in 2018. I knew that would happen as clearly as I knew that Black women deserve so much more than crumbs when it comes to investments.
To hear more of her story and learn how she launched her business, check out the episode of UnBossed below!