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VC Arlan Hamilton: The Qualities I Look For in a Founder

The managing partner of Backstage Capital discussed her investing philosophies at the 2018 Fast Company Innovation Festival.

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BY Anna Meyer - 24 Oct 2018

the qualities in a founder

Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton. CREDIT: Sarah Deragon/Courtesy Backstage Capital

It's safe to say that Arlan Hamilton doesn't choose her investments the same way as other venture capitalists.

Hamilton, the founder of Los Angeles-based Backstage Capital, is the first black, queer woman to build a VC firm from the ground up. Backstage's $36 million fund--which Hamilton has called an "it's about damn time fund"--is dedicated exclusively to black women entrepreneurs. At the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Tuesday, she spoke about her views on diversity in the startup world and the gap in business resources available to members of marginalized groups.

"We could ask nicely and hope and dream and pray, but really there had to be this shot in the arm," Hamilton said of her fund. "To be honest, $36 million, $100 million--this is all a drop in the bucket compared to what's available to other founders."

Starting Backstage Capital was just a first step, said Hamilton, who offered some insight into the kinds of companies--and people--she's placeholderlooking for in her future investments. Here are some of the qualities she said she values the most.

1. They're confident.

Hamilton said her investment choices are usually a "convergence of a perfect storm" of factors. But she also noted that her interest "has to start with someone who has a depth to them, where they seem like someone who is not rattled by the downs and ups that, as we know, will happen."

2. They're considerate communicators.

In addition to assessing founders' general demeanor and how they treat other people, Hamilton said that she pays particular attention to the way they answer questions. Specifically, she notes "how defensive they get to certain topics."

3. They have motivations she can get on board with.

When considering someone's project, Hamilton said, she'll ask herself a big question: "Is it something that will make you money, or is it something you're invested in?" To that end, she said, for her next investments she's targeting companies dedicated to renewable energy and fighting hunger. "Really big problems," she said. "That's the next tackle."

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