ARLAN HAMILTON: “We all have privilege. Privilege is not a bad word. You use privilege to help other people. The bad word is entitlement.”
AMY PORTERFIELD: “Mm. Great point.”
ARLAN: “Privilege is something that we are given or handed because of who we are or where we are, circumstances. Entitlement is something you go out and try to get yourself. You procure yourself. And you have to be—you have to work hard to be entitled.”
ARLAN: “But, you know, privilege, we all have. You and I have a privilege. We get to stand up right now and walk across the room.”
ARLAN: “That's privilege.”
AMY: “That’s amazing privilege. Yes. So very true.”
INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-seven-figure business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, the budget, and the time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and a life you love, you're in the right place, friend. Let's get started.
AMY: If you love Online Marketing Made Easy, you’ve got to check out Entrepreneurs on Fire, hosted by my dear friend John Lee Dumas. He discusses things like how to live tax free as an entrepreneur—uh, yes, please—and shares inspiring stories like how a college sophomore turned twenty dollars, cell phone, and a dream into a cookie company valued at over five hundred million dollars. I mean, you got to love stories like that. He'll leave you with actionable steps and fired up. Be sure to check out Entrepreneurs on Fire wherever you get your podcasts.
Hey, there, Arlan. Welcome to the show.
ARLAN: Hey! Thanks for having me.
AMY: So glad that you are here. I have been a fan of yours for a while now, and I wanted to get you on the show, so this is a good day. And I thought that we could kind of start at the top, if you're cool with that.
AMY: You've built a successful venture-capitalist firm, and that's allowed you to marry your passion for entrepreneurship and activism. So can you share a little bit about your journey to becoming a venture capitalist? Quite honestly, I don't know anyone who does what you do, so I'm really curious about you sharing your story and some of the accomplishments that you're most proud of.
ARLAN: Yeah. Well, I am a venture capitalist, but I'm definitely not a traditional one.
ARLAN: So even knowing me, you might be surprised if you met other venture capitalists, because they're a little different.
ARLAN: Definitely had a different path here, and I represent a lot of different people who are traditionally not seen in the venture-capital space.
So, I am forty-one. I'm a black, queer woman from the South. And a decade ago I didn't know what a venture capitalist was at all or what that whole world was like. I thought it was, like, this place on Wall Street, you know. I was like, okay, it sounds like it's money related somewhere.
AMY: Sounds very fancy.
ARLAN: Yeah, it sounds fancy. And it sounds like something I would never, ever be part of because I am, at the time I was, I had, like, a negative bank-account balance. I had housing and security for most of my life, including, you know, up until that point, and had been on and off of food stamps. And it was just—I had big goals and dreams for myself, for sure, and I was very confident in myself. But I had no—I never thought it would be venture capital that would get me somewhere, right?
ARLAN: Because it just seemed like—I mean, when I looked at pictures and started learning about it, I saw person after person was usually a white male, usually right out of college; strapping guy; or, like, you know, gray haired and had been there, and his father had been there before him and etc., etc..
And it was—the reason I got into it to begin with was that I was actually trying to start another company. So I had been an entrepreneur my whole life, starting in the third grade with my candy company. And I just had the bug, you know, very early on. I know many people can relate to that. And hadn't had a lot of success. Like, I felt proud of a lot of things that I’d done, but financially it just hadn't worked out up until that point.
And I started really discovering Silicon Valley and this kind of mystical, mythical place, where tech companies were coming out of. And I was like, what's this? What's a tech company? What's a startup? And came to understand, oh, that's Twitter, and that's Apple and Google. The things that I use every day started somewhere, you know, and that became really interesting to me.
I had worked my way up to working with internationally acclaimed musicians as a production coordinator in a lot of different ways. So Jason Derulo, Toni Braxton. I had spent eighteen years, since I was thirteen years old, finding my way to working with them because I was so enamored by a Janet Jackson concert that I went to at thirteen. So I knew I wanted to work on the road. So I had found my way there. It's a slog, you know, just like any other job. It was a lot of hard work, but cool, you know.
ARLAN: For forty-five minutes on stage, it was the coolest thing ever.
But I was hearing them, the artists and their managers, they were talking about making investments in Silicon Valley. And so why—they probably had no idea I was paying attention to that. I was just kind of doing things like I was supposed to, but I was listening. And the more I listened, the more I said, “Okay, startups, and then there's investors, and then…” I thought, “Well, I can probably start a tech startup, and that might be the next part of my journey that will actually be successful.”
So I originally—I don't say this often—but I originally wanted to start a dating website called Juliet and Juliet for women who date women. I had started a prototype, and it had gone really well. So I thought, “I want to do this on a big level. I want to raise money for it. I'm going to raise millions of dollars, and I'm going to make this huge.” And that's when I started researching.
AMY: I didn't know that part of your story, at all. So that's just fascinating in and of itself. We got to come back to the Janet Jackson thing, okay?
AMY: That was really cool. I saw what happened with that. I want to talk about it. So don't let me forget.
AMY: But when you and I first met, we got on a phone, I got to learn more about you, and you told me this story about this woman that was helping you. And it was almost like you didn’t have a bank account or something. It was a wild story, though. Will you retell it?
ARLAN: Yeah. Well, I had gone from thinking about it and learning about it, studying for years, to trying to raise a fund then, because what I researched was that 90% of all venture funding was going to white men, and I just didn't think that was fair. So I was, like, that doesn't make sense. And also, what a great opportunity to try to invest in others.
ARLAN: So I started raising this fund. Again, no money. Really, really bad situation. And I found my way to Silicon Valley, found my way to San Francisco Bay area in Silicon Valley area. And over a few weeks, I met this woman named Susan Kimberlin, who's just awesome, who was an awesome angel investor. And we got to know each other, started talking. And over a few weeks, she's like, “Yeah, I'll invest in you.” It was a big, huge, huge moment. And then she went to invest the twenty-five thousand dollars that was going to be this first check I've ever had—more money than I've ever seen before in one place. And I sent her the information to send this in the wire. And she calls me that night, and she's like, “I can't send this to you.” I'm like, “Why? What happened? What happened between lunch and now?” She said, “This looks like a personal bank account for—is it your mom?” And it was what I had access to.
AMY: Oh, my gosh.
ARLAN: It was my mom's personal bank account. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, that's what I have access to.” I didn't have a bank account, and it was my mom's personal one, and I was going to take it and start a new account and go off. But she was like, “Uh-uh. I don’t know you from Adam, before the last few weeks. Let’s start over.”
When she tells the story, she says she was so surprised because the very next day I went out and got a business bank account, and she said that was part of her calculus when she thought later to then go ahead and invest, because I didn't know it. I didn't know what fork to use at the dinner party. But once I knew it, I figured it out, and I did it and executed on it.
AMY: I love that.
I recently told a story of I was bidding for my first NFT. And I did all the research, I read all the stuff, listened to all the podcasts, but until you're in it, until you do it, you don't know what you don't know.
AMY: And so until you're like, “Great, give me the money,” and then she's like, “Uh, this isn't really how we do it,” you wouldn't know those things.
AMY: And so it just really says a lot about getting in the game, like doing something, making it work. So I love that story so much. It just says so much about who you are and where you came from.
And you're a hustler, and I absolutely love that about you. So I want you to tell me, before we go on, what are some of the really cool things you've been able to do since starting this entire venture-capitalist business that you have?
ARLAN: Yeah. It’s nice to take a breath and think about that.
ARLAN: Well, one of them I have to say I'm very proud of is that there's a magazine called Fast Company, and Fast Company is a business magazine, a tech magazine.
AMY: Huge with my listeners.
ARLAN: Yeah, yeah. So, Fast Company is awesome. It was my favorite magazine. Like, I couldn't even afford to buy one because they're, like, $7.99 or something.
AMY: They are expensive.
ARLAN: And I would read them in the store because I love them so much. I was on the cover of Fast Company—
AMY: Come on.
ARLAN: —and not only was I on the cover, but I was the first non-celebrity black woman to be on the cover. The other black women who were celebrities to be on the cover were Oprah, Beyoncé, and Serena Williams.
AMY: Okay. So how do you even sleep at night? Like, come on. That’s insane!
ARLAN: That was the coolest thing ever. And it was October 2018. And I was flying a lot at that point because I had, you know, I kind of kicked things off with that first investment from Susan, who did come back, in September of 2015. So three years later I’m on the cover of that magazine. And I was flying everywhere. So every time I would land, I would just walk past rows of my face.
AMY: I can’t imagine. I cannot imagine.
ARLAN: It was so fun. And I would go into the stores, if I had time, and I would pick up two or three copies, and I would just take it to the front. And usually, like, especially if it was a black woman, I would just wait and just watch them kind of do a double take, because it was, you know, I had my make up, and my brows were on sleek and everything. But I would see them do this double take. And usually, if it was a black woman, she would call over anybody she could find and just start jumping up—
AMY: Come on.
ARLAN: —it was so cool and moving. And I thought, “That is different.” And I found out that, from the editor of Fast Company, I found out that my issue sold better than the SoftBank's DP. So the owner of SoftBank Ventures, which is, like, a hundred-billion-dollar—
ARLAN: —company, he's very adorable. I think he's a great guy. But it sold better because people are looking for that diversity and looking for themselves in that magazine.
AMY: Yes. Absolutely. That’s huge.
ARLAN: That's one. And we also just recently announced that we reached two hundred companies invested in.
AMY: Two hundred.
ARLAN: Two hundred. In 2014, while I was living out of a hotel, I said I'm going to—with my mom, you know, like a motel kind of thing—I said, “I'm going to invest in a hundred companies by 2020.” And people thought I was crazy when I would ever mention it because I didn't have any money, and as we know now, no bank account.
So we reached one hundred in 2018. And then, just a few months before Fast Company, that's where I was on the cover. And then we reached two hundred in 2022.
AMY: Whoa. Congratulations. You know, speaking of your mom—well, I have this question for you about your mom, but before that, I don't understand how you're living in a motel, you don't have a bank account, and you don't have any money. And you think that you're going to invest in a hundred companies. Like, where does that even come from?
ARLAN: I knew it. I saw it. I saw it ahead of me. I knew it had to exist.
AMY: It was just something—
ARLAN: I don't know a better way of describing it. Like, I saw it.
I remember I was pacing in the parking lot of that hotel in Pearland. It was a Comfort Inn or something in Pearland. Shout out to Manny, who let us stay there sometimes when we couldn't pay.
AMY: Oh, come on.
ARLAN: I will go back to him.
AMY: Manny, we love you.
ARLAN: But I remember pacing in the parking lot, and I was hungry. I was like, “You don't even have lunch. You don’t even have lunch. What are you doing? What are you trying?” And I did this exercise, and I don't know where it came from, but I just thought of it, and I said, “Okay, close your eyes.” Talked to myself. I said, “Close your eyes and imagine the world in five years without Backstage Capital. Imagine the world. Are you okay with that?” And I closed my eyes, and I imagined it didn't ever happen. And my eyes shot open, and I said, “No way. No way can that be the case.”
So from that moment on, I was like, I don't care what people…, I don't care what anybody says, I don't care what doubt creeps into my own mind, I'm going for this. I'm going for it. Like, what are we here for if not to go for the things that we believe in and dream of? And I just—I knew that it was realistically not very—like, the odds were not in my favor.
ARLAN: But I also knew—
AMY: So you did know that. It wasn’t like you were, like, “Easy. I got this.”
ARLAN: No way.
ARLAN: No way that I think it was going to be easy.
ARLAN: I just thought, “I have to figure out how to make it happen, though it is going to be difficult,” because it was going to be so worth it if I could make it happen. So I just, like, one foot in front of the other.
And I mean, all of this through not just the difficulties of starting a major business or something as big as what we're doing, but also the little, I call them paper cuts, you know the little microaggressions, the little things that came out that people will never hear about because they were so nuanced. And it's like that insult to injury.
And I remember when I first started, in that same time period, I started working with two guys, two white men, that I hadn’t met in person, but I had researched them, and they were very professional venture capitalists.
ARLAN: And so I told them what I was trying to do: I'm trying to raise a fund for underrepresented founders. And they, you know, they saw dollar signs, which is smart. And so I said, “Okay, it's my fund, and you two are going to work with me on it.”
And the very first day we had a call, they didn't know where I was. I was in a rental car outside of that hotel, just kind of with a notebook. But we had this call, and we were going to go into, like, forming the LLC and, you know, moving things forward. And they talked over me. They wouldn't let me say anything. I thought to myself in that moment, I thought, “They think that I'm here to get them coffee. They don't understand that I created this.”
So the next day, I told them it was off. I told them that my instincts told me it just wasn't going to work. And thank goodness I had that fortitude in that risk-taking ability because it was—people would have thought I was crazy. They had money. They had stability. They had experience. But I knew in my gut that it was not going to be pleasant for me or for them, probably, because we would butt heads. And also, it wasn’t the vision.
ARLAN: The vision had to stand because it was so important. And look at us, we're at two hundred companies. If you go to backstagecapital.com and you look at our portfolio, we invest in women across the board. We invest in people of color, of all orientations and genders. And we invest in LGBTQ founders. Look at our portfolio.
AMY: It's beautiful.
AMY: It’s a beautiful—
ARLAN: And imagine if I had said to myself, oh, you didn't go to college, or you don't have any money, or you don't have any of the right clothes. Who cares? You just got to go for it.
AMY: Who cares?
ARLAN: And I will take this moment to shout out that I do also understand that although I went through a lot of hardship my whole life, I also had the privilege of—I was in a privileged position because I didn’t have children. So I know that I want to shout that out because I know that some people wouldn't have been able to take the risks that I took in that moment because of that.
AMY: You know, it says so much about you. You are a black woman, you are a queer woman, and you wanted to make sure that you knew you were privileged because you didn't have kids. Like—
AMY: —I feel like I could, like—I know it’s emotional—cry right now because most people don't even acknowledge their privilege.
AMY: And then here you've had two things that marginalized you, but you're still looking at, “Well, I do have this one privilege, and I want to point it out.”
AMY: I just think it says a lot about you.
ARLAN: Thank you. We all have privilege.
ARLAN: And this is something to point out. We all have privilege. Privilege is not a bad word. You use privilege to help other people. The bad word is entitlement.
AMY: Mm. Great point.
ARLAN: Privilege is something that we are given or handed because of who we are or where we are, circumstances. Entitlement is something you go out and try to get yourself, you procure yourself. And you have to be—you have to work hard to be entitled.
ARLAN: But, you know, privilege, we all have. You and I have a privilege. We get to stand up right now and walk across the room.
ARLAN: That's privilege.
AMY: That’s amazing privilege. Yes. So very true. I love that, the way you put it.
So, I want to go back to your mom. I remember watching something on social media. I think you were talking about South by Southwest and how you and your mom did something before you were ever invited to speak there. Can you tell that story?
ARLAN: Yes. So, after I made the decision to start a fund, I started reaching out to people, trying to get investments. And it was, you know, it was a bonkers proposal because you're starting this from scratch. Nobody was thinking about diversity back then in that space the way they do now.
So we went to South By in Austin, and I didn't have a ticket. I mean, there's no way I was going to have a ticket because I couldn't afford lunch most days. But we did get a rental car. We were able to get a rental car. And I took my mom, and, I mean, I took her to Austin, and I said, “I'm just going to try to walk up to people or find people or see if someone is speaking and try to stand outside of the room, whatever it takes.” So my mom was like, “Okay.”
So we didn't have a place to live at that point because we had been in hotels and different people's couches, but we had the rental car. So I thought that I was going to be able to hustle some cap, some cash. And, you know, I was a fast typer. I thought I would be somebody’s assistant for the day.
Couldn't make it work. Couldn't put the money together. So we ended up sleeping outside of a hotel, in the parking lot, with my mom, who at the time was in her late sixties. And she slept in the front seat with the back, I slept in the back, and it was so cold. So I went into the front desk and I said, “We don't have a room here, but we're sleeping out in the parking lot,” so they would know, and we wouldn't get in trouble.
ARLAN: And I said, “Can you just give us a blanket?” And they were like, “No, we can't do that.” I said, “Just can you just, like, one blanket?” So they gave us a blanket—
AMY: Oh, nice.
ARLAN: —and we shared this blanket across the car. And then the next day, same thing. I went back out and walked around and tried to talk to people and tried to meet with people. And I did meet with some people. And we did that for the two or three days that the interactive was going on. And nobody knew, and it was what we did. And I don't know what you heard, like what interview it was, but I can tell you that 2022, the South By we just went to—
AMY: Yeah. Talk about that.
ARLAN: —we went with thirty-five people from my two teams, from Backstage and Runner. I spoke five times. I filmed my own television show, and we bought out, essentially, a floor of a hotel.
AMY: Wow! I didn't hear that part.
AMY: That is fantastic. I just saw you speaking, and I heard you say, like, “I came here when I didn't have a home and didn't have a ticket. Now I'm invited to speak five times.” That's incredible. You were a big deal at this last one. I saw you all over social media, people posting about you. It's just incredible. I love to talk to people who were able to rise above and make a million wonderful things happen when on paper no one would have ever, probably, bet on you in that way.
AMY: I love that you proved so many people wrong, which is incredible.
AMY: But I want to talk about this investing because there's some people listening that will never take investors or invest in that way. But there are definitely people listening that are wondering, like, how do you even seek out investors? Like, how do you know if you and your business are good candidates for seeking out investors?
ARLAN: Yeah. I mean, I love this question. I love talking to people about it because I think people have more power than they realize already. And so I'm a big fan of ownership and keeping as much ownership of your company as you can for as long as you can. So being non-dilutive, meaning not taking on money just because you think you should or because you can.
ARLAN: I'm also a big fan of bootstrapping and being creative, so much so that when I started my new company, Runner, in September of 2021, I bootstrapped it the first two months because I preach about that, so why wouldn't I try it myself? There's definitely different reasons that you would go out and seek capital, and there's a lot of research you could do. You said you talked about NFTs. Did you go out and try to buy an NFT without looking at any videos or read anything—
ARLAN: —or going to some conference? I bet you researched the heck out of that—
ARLAN: —before you put a dime in.
And people think, “Well, I’m getting money, so shouldn't I just take whatever I can?” No, because you have the value in the asset of the company. Your ownership of the company, which starts at a hundred, is so valuable that it is truly exchanging currency. And so you can't just go out and not research for yourself.
So I can tell you all kinds of tips and tricks, and I have all kinds of courses and things like that. But ultimately, it comes down to truly knowing how much money you need to make the next milestone happen and what it means when you reach that milestone. What does it mean for your company?
And something that I often ask people to do, whether I'm talking to them in a large group or I'm doing paid consulting or whatever it turns out it is, like, you know, and I'm talking millionaires come to me and ask me questions like this, right? What I tell them to do is say, “Okay, you just told me that you need x amount of money.” Let's call it five hundred thousand dollars. “You've just told me you need that amount of money. Why do you need it?” “Well, marketing and distribution and manufacturing.” “Okay, cool. Put pen to paper,” or, you know, that's my old school. Put pen to paper, “or go to your computer, whatever. And type out line for line what you need for each line and then decide, is there something that you could do yourself? Is there something that you could do in a cheaper way or a different way or more creative way? And kind of chisel that down.” People often, more times than not, maybe 80%, 90% of the time, they come back to me, and they’re, like, “Actually, it’ll only take a hundred thousand. But I thought I needed five hundred thousand because I saw it in a TechCrunch article,” or “I saw it on this person’s blog.”
Well, they’re not running your company. And so what did you just do if you took something that you thought you needed 500K to 100K? You’ve just given yourself 400K in value. So you've already—it's as if you went to a dinner with someone and raised four hundred thousand dollars. That’s as powerful as what you just did, and on top of that, you get to keep more ownership of the company for longer.
So, that’s the very first thing I would tell someone to do is before you even attempt to raise or learn about fundraising, get dialed in on what you truly need versus what you think you need.
AMY: That's huge. That's huge. And let's say someone was going to start. They took your advice. And I love that you have digital courses because, you know, I teach how to—
AMY: —do digital courses, so I love that you have digital courses as well. So let's say someone did their homework. What do they need to do to really stand out, like to be a very sexy business that someone would want to invest in? What are some things that they need to think about?
ARLAN: It all comes from the core of authenticity. So there's nothing that you can do that kind of pretend to be great. But I would say, you know, take what you have right now and just dial in to, like lean into what's great about your company.
The best thing you could do is show an investor, “Hey, we're making money.” Like, that would be awesome. That's what I look for, for sure. “We're making money. It may not be in the millions, it may not be in the hundreds of thousands, but every month, we make eight thousand dollars. And we do it consistently, and it costs us less to keep the company going.” Like, those types of things where there's actual profit early on, that's really interesting—
ARLAN: —because it's hard to—that's really almost impossible to do—but those types of things are really big. But if you don’t have a revenue-generating company just yet, make wait lists. Have you been able to launch a splash page that has an incredible wait list of hundreds or even thousands of people who want what you're selling, your service or your product? If you do and if you can get any information about them that's general, that's data, sharing that with a potential investor, angel investor, or even a fund manager, you're trying to make them jealous. You're trying to make them feel like they're missing out. Give them the FOMO. You're trying to do that because—and again, it's not about faking—
ARLAN: —pretending and making something up. But it's about taking what you already have and framing it in a way that lets them see the value of it and lets them see the full picture.
So I'm always, like, you know, I don't need to walk into a meeting or a Zoom and have a million dollars a month in revenue. I don't need that for me to be interested. But it would be cool to see we have two thousand people on this wait list, who, if only we had the funds and we could manufacture this at scale, they would be ready, and they've said it. Even better, a step further, they put their credit card down, and they said that, you know, they preordered or they would preorder. And they've actually taken their card out of their wallet.
Like, these small things that we're used to learning about really translate kind of well to investors’ mindset. And there's this, you know, there's a ton there, for sure.
AMY: When you were talking, it made me think, have you seen the—I think it's maybe AppleTV—have you seen WeCrashed?
ARLAN: Oh, yeah. I’ve seen WeCrashed.
AMY: Okay. I was so hoping you’ve seen it. Okay, so for those of you who haven't seen it, go watch WeCrashed.
AMY: It's really worth it.
ARLAN: It’s very good.
AMY: Very good. And I know not all of it's true, but I've heard that a lot of it is—
AMY: —so that was interesting to me. So he gets a lot of investors in.
ARLAN: It’s about WeWork.
AMY: Yes, it's about WeWork. That's a good point.
I'm so curious, from your vantage point, what do you think was his biggest fatal flaw? Because I'm going give it away, have earmuffs if you don't want to hear this. But things came kind of crashing down for him.
ARLAN: Yeah. I mean, the—
AMY: I mean the title kind of tells you.
ARLAN: —spoiler alert happened in real life, so that’s okay.
AMY: Yes, it’s true.
ARLAN: It’s okay.
I think that he got too high on his own supply. It can be easy to—especially if you struggled in the past, like it seemed like he had. He’d struggled. He hadn't really picked up on good things happening for him—it can get easy to get really enamored and intoxicated by a lot of money in your bank account or your company's bank account, a lot of people thinking that you're a “genius.” And to just take that and just float away on that little bird, go off in the sunset, but then you get too close to the sun when you do that, right?
AMY: So true.
ARLAN: And I think for him, he had a few that, one, that he just thought he was—I've heard this, too, outside of the show—that he did compare himself to Jesus. He thought he was a God-like person.
ARLAN: And you can't think that about anything and be okay, really.
AMY: So true.
ARLAN: And then I saw him talk about—and again, this is in real life and on the show—they talked a lot about their employees, which is a good thing, and they talked a lot about themselves, how raising that money was so good for them. And they had these big, wild parties for their employees. Again, great. But I never saw them just falling over backwards, bending over backwards, for their customer.
AMY: Never. That’s such a great point.
ARLAN: And I was a customer.
AMY: I was, too.
ARLAN: Yeah. I was a customer in three different locations. And again, you see this a lot in fundraising articles. You’ll see, “We raised this, and now what we can do is we can do x, y, z.” I pay really close attention to how they phrase it. And maybe we could even do one for mine, right? Go look at the Runner-TechCrunch article. Hopefully, I said this, right, which is this money gives us the ability to help our customer more.
ARLAN: And I don't think he cared. I think he cared about looking cool and being included, and he had been excluded. He had a chip on his shoulder, which is great for an entrepreneur. But you got to have that fork-in-the-road decision of, am I going to be an even cooler person when I get rich, or am I going to be a worse person and amplify that side of it? So, yeah.
AMY: It’s phenomenal. Definitely worth the watch, you guys.
ARLAN: I’m saying, so Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway, they killed that. They killed it.
AMY: They killed it!
ARLAN: I’m going to say something really quickly about that.
ARLAN: I normally—so I love Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life, and I love a lot of things that Anne Hathaway is in. But this is my own sort of bias. For the both of them, I thought they were sort of, like, stuck-up people.
ARLAN: And in order to do those characters of people who are so stuck up, you have to have a lot of self-awareness to play them.
ARLAN: And so I was just, like, they had to deconstruct themselves, especially Jared, had to deconstruct their own ego to come back and form these new people. And I thought, “Man, if they don't get an Emmy nod, something’s wrong.”
AMY: I hope.
ARLAN: Yeah, something’s wrong.
AMY: I totally agree. Phenomenal work. I thought it made me like both characters or actors even more after it.
ARLAN: Yeah. I agree.
AMY: Yeah. That was good stuff.
I don't know about you, but I often find myself reflecting back and thinking about where my business was just a year ago. And to be honest, growth hasn't looked exactly like I thought it would. Like, last year was a really tough year for me mentally, but I came out of that more clear and ready to take on the world. So that minor setback was actually what I needed.
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Tell everybody what Runner is.
ARLAN: Oh, Runner is my new fractional-operations company for inclusive companies. So essentially, we match EAs, chiefs of staff, COOs—five different categories of operations talent, specifically—to companies and customers of all sizes. So you can be a solopreneur who has just put your website up, and you need some extra help five or ten hours a week. Or you can be, you know, a top-ten company in the country, and we have them as customers, too.
It's almost like if you think about when you order food or you order a car, a few weeks from now, imagine you could take out an app, your phone, and you need an assistant to work with you on an event for a day.
ARLAN: You could have that event, that person, ready to go on that Saturday or that Tuesday, either in person—and they're handing out fliers, and they're setting up your tables, and they're doing that—or hybrid or remote, where they are now your executive assistant for seven hours a week, and they're helping you go through your emails and clear that clutter out. And it gives you more time with your customer and your strategy and etc.
AMY: Yes. Yes to that.
ARLAN: So there's a lot to it. If you go to hirerunner.co, you can check it out. We also—
AMY: Hirerunner.co, okay.
ARLAN: Yeah. We also have—okay, this is fun. We have a soap opera. Did you know that?
AMY: No! What are you talking about?
ARLAN: We have an audio soap opera at Runner that is fully produced, SAG actors.
AMY: I’m here for this. What?!
ARLAN: Go to hirerunner.co—
ARLAN: —scroll down a little bit; you’ll see our full-on soap opera, immersive. It feels like you're there. So if you do it, listen on headphones.
ARLAN: It feels like you're in the car. It feels like you're at the party. It feels like—
AMY: That’s what I love.
ARLAN: It's so great, and it's a whole story of how it came to be, but it’s very cool.
AMY: Okay. I need to check this out, for sure.
AMY: And while you were talking about it, I was curious, and I do not know the answer to this. Do you have a focus on diversity for this business, or it’s just, this is what the business is?
ARLAN: I’ll tell you, when we set out—that’s a good question because you would think based on the fund that we would. But what we’ve learned over the past decade is that you don’t necessarily have to have the mandate to just look for great talent and find diversity. That’s the point is, like, opening the lens.
So we don’t specifically say that you need to be a woman, a person of color, LGBTQ to work there or to be a customer. What we say is we find outstanding talent for inclusive companies.
AMY: Ooh, okay.
ARLAN: So the talent comes to us through—we've had seventeen hundred applications so far since September, without, you know, a big campaign.
ARLAN: And when you get—we get on the monthly calls with our runner. We have a pool of two hundred runners who are all W-2. I mean, check it out as a customer, but check it out as a runner.
AMY: I’m interested.
ARLAN: Yeah. Because it's good stuff. So you're W-2, you have all this. When we get on those calls, you see people of all ages, all backgrounds—
ARLAN: —and it's mostly women, but there are a few men. But it's just really, like, it's really open.
And then on the inclusive side, for the customer, what we love about them, what I love about the phrasing, is that they're self-identifying. So they're saying, “I want to be an inclusive company. So I'm looking here for what you're bringing to me.” So to me, that's really powerful to—
AMY: I agree. I absolutely love that. Okay. For our company, we will be checking it out, for sure.
AMY: So, that’s awesome.
Tell me about—so if you talk about Backstage Capital, tell me two or three of some of your favorite companies you've invested in.
ARLAN: I would love to.
AMY: I want people to kind of understand what it's like.
ARLAN: Yeah. So we run the gamut. We're called industry agnostic. And so that means that we can look at almost any different type of company. So I'll talk about CurlMix, Akash, and Mahmee, really quickly.
ARLAN: CurlMix, they used to mix ingredients in their kitchen. It's a black couple in Chicago. They've had two kids since they started. I met them before they were making ten thousand a month in revenue. Something about them struck me. We were their first investor. They now are going to do ten million dollars in revenue this year. They turned down Shark Tank because it was a bad deal. They're worth way more than they ever were. They do more than their Shark Tank bump on a regular basis—
AMY: So cool.
ARLAN: —these days.
ARLAN: And they're just amazing people. There's a whole story there. I'd love to introduce you because they're really cool people.
ARLAN: Akash is, like, this guy. So he's a black man. I'm going to call him this, and this is with all the love in the world. He’s kind of nerdy. Like, that’s how I look at him, and I hope that’s not offensive. But he’s just a genius, right? And he developed this technology using fake-diamond technology. It’s crazy. And what it does is—we’re going to take you from hair care to space, because what it does is it keeps objects in space cooler longer so they can stay up there longer, and they can get closer to the sun and closer to the different parts of the atmosphere.
ARLAN: And so what he is doing is he's building satellites for broadband. So he's going up against Elon Musk and SpaceX. Essentially, there’re different parts of Space X, where it's not rockets, but it's satellites and the Internet we're using right now and the Internet we use on planes, etc., he wants to take that broadband to more places around the world who can't get reached—
AMY: That’s cool.
ARLAN: —small villages and things like that, and also make it super strong for the ones who can so that we can be competitive.
ARLAN: And so to me, he's just the coolest guy, and you’ll see a lot more about him soon.
And then Mahmee. Mahmee is Melissa Hanna. She’s a woman of color in Los Angeles. So what’s she’s doing is—it’s m-a-h-m-e-e. And it’s for mothers from the moment they know they’re pregnant till after they give birth.
ARLAN: And I call it, like, an OnStar for mothers. So it's sort of like, it helps you with different things. It helps you with education. It helps you with lactation. It started—Melissa's mother herself is this renowned lactation expert, Linda, and she's a co-founder of it. So it helps a lot with lactation practices and all sorts of things you need as a new mother that they don't teach you. You kind of leave that—again, I’m speaking from inexperience, but I’m on their board, and I’ve been with them for years. And so people leave the hospital, and they’re like, “Okay, where’s the manual?” And Mahmee’s the manual.
AMY: Yes. I know many girlfriends who are like, “You’re making me walk out this door with this baby? Like, what?”
ARLAN: Yeah, yeah. So Mahmee is the manual. So if you already know that you’re pregnant, go check it out. Or if you’ve just recently had a baby, you’re just hearing about it, you would go check it out.
The cool thing is that a few years ago, just 2019, I think, I became the lead investor of their last round, and I brought in Mark Cuban and Serena Williams as investors. And so what they have is—
AMY: Okay. I remember you brought them in, but I didn't know it was for this one.
ARLAN: Yeah. So they had this power panel, you know, and a lot more, too, like, really amazing people who have come in, and you'll hear a lot more about them, too, for sure.
So, I mean, it just runs the gamut. We just have that over and over again. Like, what? They do what, and they do that, too?
AMY: It’s so cool.
ARLAN: And can you imagine five, six, seven years ago, people were saying that they didn't exist and that they weren't viable investments.
AMY: Mm. That’s—
ARLAN: And you wanted to ask me about Janet, so I'm not going to let you forget.
AMY: Okay, you got to tell me, right? Well, I know a little because I follow you on social, but tell everybody what happened with the whole Janet Jackson thing. It's so cool. And I have a question that follows, but you go first.
ARLAN: Okay. So one thing to quickly know about Janet is that she's my favorite singer. When I was thirteen, I actually saw her, in the front row because someone—it ended up being her husband at the time—but someone came up to me, saw that I was there early. It’s a whole thing, like, you know—
ARLAN: Yeah. It was a whole thing. So it’s in my book It’s About Damn Time. I have this whole chapter about it. But essentially, I was thirteen. My mom couldn’t afford to get me two tickets so she could go. So she stayed outside in our little car. It’s a lot of car stuff with my mom. She sat outside the whole thing. She was terrified for me to go in there, so she put these hoop earrings on me so that I would look older. She put lipstick on me so I’d look older.
AMY: That is adorable.
ARLAN: I know.
So I went in, and I sat down, and I was just waiting and looking around. And I saw these two other teenagers who were a little bit older than me, but they were very worldly. And I, you know, I had to be part of that. And we were so excited. And so this guy comes up to us, and he's like, “You all seem like big fans. You're here early.” And we're like, “Yeah, we love Janet. She's awesome.” And he's like, “Well, how would you like to see her in the front row?”
Now, mind you, we were far back because we couldn't afford great tickets. So I stood up as a thirteen-year-old me, who my mom had prepped me, and I said, “Look, mister, my mom told me about people like you. So I’m not going with you.”
AMY: That’s what I was thinking. Like, this is a stranger.
ARLAN: Yeah. I'm like, “I'm not going anywhere with you.” And then he said, “Okay.” I remember his little grin. He said, “Okay. Well, how about this? How about I give you the tickets; we walk together to the front; you keep your tickets that you have so if I’m lying to you, you just come back and sit down?” And we all looked at each other, and we’re like, “Ah, sounds like a good deal. Let’s go.” So we’re like, “Okay.” And we started walking, like, it would be a good story, or we could just joke on this guy. So he kept walking and getting passed more and more people who are ushers and more and more people, and nobody was stopping us.
Then, we get to the very front, and I'm looking around, and I've never seen anything like this.
ARLAN: And the person not only lets us through but gives the guy a head nod. Like, he's legit. And so we go, and he's like, “Have fun.” And he just disappears into the ether.
ARLAN: Well, it turns out that at the time he was her husband. He turns out to be Rene Elizondo, who is someone I ended up knowing for years. He’s her husband, and he would just go out and find—because he knew that she needed a certain energy in the front row for her. So he would go and find people he considered to be the “biggest fans” of the night.
ARLAN: And he would bring them to the front.
And so can I tell you before I tell you the auction story—
ARLAN: —that after that, not until I could, but I started doing the same thing at Janet concerts.
AMY: Oh, come on.
ARLAN: Yeah. So I would go; I would buy more tickets than I was going to use. They were very good tickets. I would go into the nosebleed seats, and I would bring people down.
And one time I did this for this woman, and she was with her mom, and it was her first concert. And she was my age, and her mom was in her fifties or sixties, depending on when it was. And exactly the same thing happened. She's like, “Uh, yeah, right.” And I said, “I know it sounds crazy, but I promise you, just take the tickets. Keep your own ticket. It's there for you.”
So she went by herself so her mom wouldn't have to walk the whole way, and then she called her, so she went down there. And later in the night—because it wasn't next to me. It was down the row from me—and later in the night, I saw her and her mom, and just crying their eyes out. They were having the best time in the world. It was, like, the biggest deal.
ARLAN: And I just kept doing it, and I do it anytime I can. I do that for Janet and for other concerts because it changed my life that night.
ARLAN: And to be able to do that over and over again, I'll continue to.
So that's the back story.
So coming back to now, May of 2021, I found out that Janet was doing a once-in-a-lifetime auction of, like, three thousand items of anything she's ever gotten for free or anything she made for music videos or, you know, awards, anything, because she didn't—I liked it because I thought, “It's great because you can't be buried with it.” Right?
ARLAN: She can't take it with her. So she did half to charity—not half, but she did a portion to charity and a portion to herself. Great. So I was down for it. It was in Beverly Hills, and I live in West Hollywood, so it was perfect because I was down the road. So I looked at the list of things, and I was like, okay, well, I'm a size 20, 22. She's a size negative four. So I don't think I'm going to necessarily—you know, these outfits from her twenties—
AMY: I hear you.
ARLAN: —are not going to necessarily work for me. And I'm not so much of a fan that I would have just, like, her handkerchief, you know, on my wall. But I was like, what can I get that's practical? Well, in the middle, literally the centerpiece, which they called the centerpiece item, was a 1956 Chevy truck. And it was beautifully detailed—
AMY: Yes, it was.
ARLAN: —beautiful look to it. And not only was this truck that was, like, a truck—I was like, oh, that's awesome—she had another vehicle, actually, a cooler vehicle. But this was the only item of all three thousand that came with a phone call with her.
AMY: I didn’t know that part!
ARLAN: Yes! And the phone call, it said, was that she wanted to, in a private phone call, tell the buyer what the meaning of the truck was. So I was like—
ARLAN: —I'm going after it, even though I was for sure that I would not get it because although I had a large cap on what I could do because of my money, I thought, there's no way I'm going to win this. Like, there's just no way, because it was open to the whole world.
AMY: Oh, yeah.
ARLAN: So I go there. First, I go a day early for one of the day, because it’s three days. And I go with my wife, and real incognito, just kind of scope out the place, and I see how it works, because I’d never been at an auction before, so I wanted to see how it worked. And then I went back the next day for my item by myself, kind of made a day of it, and I just kind of casually went to the front. When I came in, I said, how does one do a deal that's, like, more than a couple thousand dollars or more than—like, how does that work? Do I give my debit card? Like, how does this work?
ARLAN: He’s just like, well, if it's over a certain amount, then you would fill out this form. And we would get in touch with you and dah, dah, dah. And you would give your card to give us the understanding. Said, okay. And I learned about the fees that they tack on top of it, so I would be prepared and all of that, because believe me, they tacked on fees.
AMY: I bet.
ARLAN: So I go sit down, go through a lot of different other ones because I got there too early, and then my truck comes up. And because I had been there for a couple of hours, I learned that Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian, their people were—
AMY: Stop it!
ARLAN: —auctioning on the phone.
ARLAN: They were bidding on the phone through proxy. And so there were very few people—I mean, there were a lot of people there, but very few who were actually bidding because this is a lot of money, you know.
ARLAN: So people were bidding on shoes. It was seven hundred dollars, and people would go crazy because, you know, it was like, oh, my god. But on the phone, Kim Kardashian is buying the “Scream” outfit for, like, 50 grand. So I'm like, I'm not going to get a truck if that's the case. And they’re also, like, Japanese business people, who were doing. And I was like, I’m not going to get this truck, but I’m going to go for it.
And this is what I thought, truly. I thought I have a ceiling so I know what I can afford.
ARLAN: And at the very least, I see that they're filming, so at least I can get, like, footage of me betting on Janet's truck. Like, that would be cool. So they do it. And I'm a competitive person. I didn't realize this as much. They get to my item. And mind you, I'm by myself. Nobody has ever looked over at me and thought anything of me. I have on, like, my Janet sweat pants that I'm wearing right now. And I'm wearing a T-shirt, and I look like, you know, I just strolled in there with that kind of like what's going on? But I did that on purpose. And, you know, they start, and there's video footage of this on my Instagram, @arlanwashere—
AMY: So good.
ARLAN: And they start, and I'm, like, competitive. And I'll tell you right now, my cap to myself was a base rate without fee of a hundred thousand dollars.
ARLAN: Now, also remember that before 2015, I did not make more than twenty thousand in one year. So this was—
AMY: Wow. This—yeah. That's a lot of money, period.
ARLAN: This is a lot of money, but it was also a moment for me. It was like—so it’ll make sense when I say what happened next.
So, they do the thing. And then there's one buyer—I still don’t know, to this day, who that was—but there was one person who was going back and forth, because it was a high item. So we’d get to, like, sixty, then seventy, then eighty, and then I put mine up again for ninety. And I just knew that the person was going to say a hundred, and then that would outbid me because I can't say one ten because I'm not going over my base.
ARLAN: They didn't say it!
AMY: You were that close?
ARLAN: I was that close to my ceiling. Because although I could afford it, I had to be, like, okay—
ARLAN: —what am I going to do with a 1956 truck? I got to be smart about this.
ARLAN: So, I mean, that’s a lot of rent I can pay for people, you know?
AMY: I can't believe someone didn't just say a hundred.
ARLAN: A hundred.
AMY: Like, that—
ARLAN: A hundred!
AMY: That would be their cap, even.
ARLAN: _____(51:00) If you got that far—well, if you were at eighty—this is how I’m thinking about it—if you were at eighty and you know about those fees—
ARLAN: —then your ceiling might be a hundred with fees.
AMY: Oh, okay.
ARLAN: You know what I'm saying?
ARLAN: Because the fees are, like, 20%. It's a lot of money.
ARLAN: So I was at ninety, so it turned out to be, like, it was a hundred sixteen, a hundred fourteen thousand total. So they said I was sold.
ARLAN: I jumped up.
AMY: —worth it!
ARLAN: I was so excited.
And what you don't see on the video is—because I've kind of threatened their lives if they show this—you can see there’s a couple of me crying, but I cried my eyes out.
ARLAN: I cried so much.
AMY: I didn't see any of that.
ARLAN: So people were coming up to me, and they were hugging me, and they thought I was crying solely because I got Janet's truck. I was crying because I was having flashbacks to sleeping on the floor of the San Francisco airport. And I was, like, I just bought my hero’s faved truck, beloved truck, for a hundred-plus thousand dollars in an afternoon on a Sunday.
ARLAN: I just—I was, like, I'm taking this in. I don't usually do that. I'm taking this one.
So one other little piece of cool, cool note from that, a woman came over to me—or a guy, a young guy came up to me at one point, and he said, this woman here is actually Janet's assistant, and she wants to talk to you. So I was like, What? So I went over to her. She shows me her texting with Janet.
AMY: Oh, my goodness.
ARLAN: So I got to see Janet's actual reaction.
AMY: Oh, she had to have loved that you got it.
ARLAN: So what she said was, she just bought, she said the price. She said the price, and Janet said, “Oh, that's so great.” You know, like happy. And then she said, “It was a black woman that got it.” And Janet was like, “Oh, my god. Learn about her. Get information about her.” And then, you know, I don't know what they ended up saying after that. And then I had my call with Janet a few weeks later.
AMY: That had to have been so cool.
ARLAN: Yeah, it was cool.
AMY: I mean—
ARLAN: It was cool.
AMY: —I won't ask you what you talked about, but I will—
ARLAN: No, I can’t say, but I will say that I felt really comfortable, and she was cool as hell.
AMY: I bet. I bet. I love her. I watched her latest documentary, loved everything about it.
ARLAN: Yeah, yeah. That was—
AMY: But such a cool story and such a full-circle moment. And the funny thing is what I saw on social is when you got it, you were like, “Yeah!” Like, it was compet—I knew you were competitive.
ARLAN: Oh, I was competitive. I wanted that.
AMY: I was like, oh, that’s how I am. So, I’m like, oh, I know—
ARLAN: I was so happy I got that. And I'm, like, addicted now. I want to go and do other stuff like that, for sure.
AMY: It was really, really fantastic. I love that story so very much. It's so good.
Okay. So I just—I have one more question for you. And when this episode comes out, it's going to be Pride Month. And so I was curious. What can we do as—I mean, it's such a big question—as a society, but even, like, people in my industry or people listening right now, what can we do to better support and elevate the community of LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs?
ARLAN: I would hope the same thing you would do for any entrepreneur you want to see win, you know? I mean, there's definitely I mean, from the queer perspective and, you know, when I was growing up lesbian perspective, there's definitely things that we deal with that other people don't deal with. But at the end of the day, we're human. We're trying to start our company. And I think looking at us—and manage our company—and I think looking at us as your peers is the best compliment and the best way forward. And there's not a lot of heavy lift when you think of it that way. It's not a lot of support. It's a lot of, okay, I'll be competitive with you. I'll be, you know, supportive of you in a way that is, like, I'll buy from you, you know? I will be a customer of yours. I'll be a brand partner of yours. Those types of things, I think, are really strong messaging, too, for other people. So there's always differences among us, but focusing on our similarities, I think, is that respect that people overlook.
AMY: Absolutely. Such a beautiful way to put it.
This has been such a treat. I got to hear things from you that I hadn't heard yet. I love your stories. I love your journey. And so where can people learn more about you? Where do we send them?
ARLAN: Yeah. Twitter and Instagram is where I spend most of my time, arlanwashere—a-r-l-a-n—washere. I'd love to hear from you, talk to you all day long. Do it all day. Also go to hirerunner.co—h-i-r-e-runner.co. Check out the soap opera. Check out what we're doing. I think it's going to help a lot of people. And I'm so excited about what's to come. It's a very fast-growing company as well. So you might see some headlines there coming up this year.
ARLAN: And then backstagecapital.com is where you'll see our two hundred portfolio companies. Our team that's, like, amazing team all over the country. And we're going to be everywhere. We’re going to be in pop-up places and meet with people, and I can't wait to do that. And I have a new podcast that I’d love to ask you to be on, but I’ll do that—
AMY: Yeah? Oh, I’d love to! What’s it called?
ARLAN: It’s called Demystifying Faith.
ARLAN: And I’m an atheist, and I’m speaking to people from all different types of faith—not every faith, but all different types of faith—like, a deep dive about their faith or their lack thereof. And it's been really beautiful. It’s been a beautiful experience.
AMY: Okay, that would be great. I was raised Catholic. I don't practice it anymore, though, so I would love to get into that conversation with you.
ARLAN: All you have to do is if you listen to one or two episodes, I think you'll get the gist of it.
AMY: Okay. I’ll take a listen, for sure.
ARLAN: And I think people would love to hear from you.
AMY: That’s so cool. I love that you have this podcast that’s totally different than what you’re doing.
AMY: You chase your passions, and—
AMY: —that's my most favorite thing about you. You're a perfect example of that.
Thank you so much for being on the show.
ARLAN: Thank you so much.
AMY: So, there you have it. I hope you loved this conversation. It was one that I was really looking forward to, and, to me, it went better than I even expected. I love all her stories. I love what Arlan said about privilege. I thought that was really eye opening, but just everything she shared was incredibly valuable.
I didn't say this in the intro, but I am a proud investor in Backstage Capital. I invested over a year ago, and I'll continue to invest. And I really do think she's doing something extra special. I highly encourage you to check it out.
And speaking of checking things out, on my Instagram today, you can go—I posted a list of LGBTQ+-owned businesses, and I want to encourage you to head on over there. And I'm just @amyporterfield on Instagram, so you can find me easily. And just check out these businesses and what they have going on. I mean, that last question I asked Arlan where she said, basically, just treat us as an equal and buy our stuff and engage with us and have the conversations and compete with us and all of that. Well, we got to know who these people are, what they're all about, what their businesses are about, and I want to highlight them so we can do just what Arlan said. And so I will list some of my favorite companies, and I think it's important that we celebrate and elevate the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month, but really—I mean, let's be honest—all year round. And I know that's one of our missions at this company, and I hope it's one of yours as well.
Okay, my sweet friends. Thank you so much for joining both Arlan and myself. I cannot wait to see you next week, same time, same place. Bye for now.