10/04/18 | Founders, Funding

Inside Look at Backstage Capital’s Investor Day

We had the pleasure of attending Backstage Capital’s Investor Day, where their portfolio startups meet investors in a speed dating type of format.

Arlan Hamilton started things off by leading an impressive panel of female investors, including Ellen Pao, Monique Woodard (who also happens to be on Board of Women 2.0!) and Sydney Thomas. They discussed questions that female founders often approach them with, ranging from whether to wear a ring or not, to whether to dress up in Patagonia and Allbirds to match the typical Silicon Valley dress code.

The investors were torn on the dress code question, with Ellen feeling that dressing at your most casual may not be the best idea, especially with underestimated founders (Backstage’s preferred substitute for ‘underrepresented founders’) who are coming in at a disadvantage, whereas Monique felt that what is most important is to be your most authentic self. Arlan herself faced this very issue during her recent cover shoot of Fast Company, but ultimately her favorite black t-shirt was the winning choice.

As far as we’re aware, funds are starting to invest more and more in underestimated founders at the early stages (seed to Series A), but at post Series C stages, the majority of investment is still being allocated to male founders, even if the partner positions at funds are being filled with women or people of color.

The claims made by various funds that they are now investing more in diversity hasn’t yet been seen in a sizable increase in the numbers of checks to underestimated founders. There just isn’t good representation all the way from bottom to top.

Backstage Capital is hoping to change this, and they are leading by example. Not only through their commitment to investing in underestimated founders, but also in the way they influence other investors in doing the same: one of the last tips at the panel was for the investors themselves on how to look at deals. It is important to treat all founders equally, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, so don’t go questioning their engineering skills if an underestimated founder says they’re an engineer (only do it if you do the same to white male founders…).

Arlan Hamilton on the cover of Fast Company.Arlan Hamilton was featured on the October 2018 cover of Fast Company.

Arlan, from her own experience of going from homeless to founding a $35M VC, said that it’s paramount to think about how far people have come, and the path, grit and passion that it took to get to where they are today.

Grit and passion is exactly what the founders at Backstage’s first investor day have. Here’s a taste of the incredible batch of founders I had the privilege to speak with:

Sunhouse – Building the Future of Music Production through Artificial Intelligence.

Did you know that there are over 9.6 billion acoustic instruments in the world? Yet, for talented percussionists, such as drummers, they have to put down their sticks and learn how to use complicated software from scratch to make music.

This was the exact problem faced by the Sunhouse team, who put to good use their music tech background and an all-star sibling team of sister Tonantzin and brothers Tiacael and Tenoch. Sunhouse is creating products for musicians and creators to help them do what they love – make music.

With their first product, Sensory Percussion – a microphone sensor that is attached to your drum set. Their real-time patented sound mapping technology can turn the musician’s touch into a symbolic control signal. According to the cofounder and CEO, Tonantzin, “It’s like Alexa, but you’re speaking to the drum on what to record.”On top of that, it records subtle nuances, whether it was a light or heavy touch, and a musician can control lights through their drumming during a live performance. It’s seriously some powerful stuff, which is why it comes as no surprise that their clients include drummers for Maroon 5, Beyonce, and Shakira…just to name a few.

O.school – The Safest Place to Talk About Sex

There’s still a lot of taboo around talking about sex and for many, porn seems to have taken over as the first form of sex ed – that’s why Andrea Barrica (ex Partner and Entrepreneur in Residence at 500 Startups) built O.school, a non-judgemental and medically accurate platform to learn and talk about sex online. Using live streams, articles and videos to allow people to learn about sex, from developing skills to setting boundaries, to exploring masturbation, to learning how many nerve endings certain anatomy parts have.

Biology class mixed with self love and mutual respect…what’s not to love?! Give this a read and you’ll find that you don’t know your body or your partner’s body as well as you thought. (Andrea also launched O.school O.riginals on Product Hunt this week to spread what she coined “cliteracy”.)

Mahmee – Connecting New Moms and Care Providers

Maternal health is team work – it involves many specialists, ranging from pediatricians, nutritionists, to lactation consultants and therapists. Even though the mother and baby are connected physically and in many other ways, their providers are in silos due to insufficient care management technology. This siloed nature leads to dangers such as conflicting treatment plans, inaccurate medical data and more.

Melissa Hanna, JD, MBA, and the daughter of renowned maternal health specialist Linna Hanna, saw the importance in connecting the dots between all these actors. Through effective collaboration and information-sharing, her solution delivers the most personalized and comprehensive care to mothers. The increased alignment and support between all providers has been shown to improve breastfeeding rates and reduce costly readmissions to hospitals.

Journey Foods – Building the future of fruit & snacking with AI

Riana Lynn has ‘been in food’ since she was a child. Scaling a juice company and first-hand experience working with struggling food innovators led her to start a food-sourcing software company, Foodtrace, to solve the supply chain issues that she faced while wo-manning her shop. Now with Journey Foods, she’s developing snacks that taste as good as they are healthy.

I was lucky enough to try one of her snacks, the Strawberry and Chia Seeds Journey Bites, which honestly, tasted as good as (if not, better than) the Fruit Roll-ups I used to devour during my childhood. In its bite-sized cube form, it’s also much easier to eat! But what’s special about Journey Foods is that their snacks are all plant-based and nutritionally fortified (even higher in nutritional value than some fresh fruits), without sacrificing on taste at all. All thanks to their patent-pending flavor and texture capture technology.

Overall, I was equal parts impressed and excited by the outcome of Backstage’s Investor Day. It was without a doubt the most diverse investor day to ever take place in Silicon Valley. Overheard at the event, the quality of the founders was said to be at par with (even better than!) those from Y Combinator’s Demo Day. 100% underestimated founders, 100% leading the pack.

Alison Cheung

Alison Cheung

User Acquisition Lead at Pill Club, Director of Allies at Women2.0 and Partner at Magic Fund, Alison is passionate about diversity and representation in the startup ecosystem and large corporations and covers female founded startups and the VC space for women with Women 2.0. Previously, Alison was the Chief of Staff of Headstart AI (Y Combinator S17) and the Product Marketing Lead for Google Assistant.

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