Announcing my new role as a Partner at a rad startup studio.

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TL;DR: I’m joining Make Studios as a Partner and awesome founders should apply. 👋

The Gap

“You’re too early.”

Heard that one before? It’s the frustration-inducing investor response that early-stage founders hear on repeat as they seek to raise funding pre-traction. The rise of no-code/low-code tools and the decrease in infrastructure costs combined with the trendiness of startups means that there are just more deals for investors to look at, and more founders working on similar ideas. As a result, more and more traction is required to gain pre-seed, angel, or even accelerator funding, creating a growing gap in early-stage venture.

For startups, the amount of capital required to break through this barrier is surprisingly small if you build wisely. Maybe some paid ads to test customer demand. A few hours of your time spent interviewing customers. A small budget to cobble together some SaaS APIs and code scripts to simulate a customer experience. But it’s a bad fit for VCs, who need to invest significant enough check sizes to capture the equity stake they need to hit unicorn gold. It’s also a bad fit for debt- or revenue-based financing that requires purchase orders or other assets. …


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Photo by Julian Hochgesang. Unsplash.

I worked on the frontlines of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in tech at Backstage Capital for over 4 years. I was the only White man on the full-time, core team during that time. Working closely with women of color, and more specifically, Black women, has been a life-changing experience.

I came into the work thinking I had strong empathy skills honed by years of practicing human-centered design. What I came to learn, however, was that there is no way that I can know or share the experience of women of color as a White man in America. The world simply behaves differently for me. I am not monitored for shoplifting every time I enter a store. I am not handed car keys at events and assumed to be a valet. I am not asked to speak for all White people. No one questions my credentials when I share them. I am not asked if I want to start a family and if that will conflict with my work. …


Validate Your Ideas Before You Build

You’ve got an idea for a product, service, app, or startup. Time to build it right? Nope! Wrong. It can be a counterintuitive experience, but you can test the demand for your idea before spending tons of time and money on it.

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I’ve been enjoying a YouTube series from no-code pioneer and Founder of Apps Without Code Tara Reed. She got over 200 emails from interested customers for a new app idea after a single post on a Facebook group. And after following up with that initial customer list, she earned over $2k before completing or launching her app. …


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A multi-city, one-day event series bringing knowledge, investment, and connection to underrepresented founders and the ecosystems that help them grow.

🎟 Buy tickets and apply for investment now! Cities and dates listed below.

Since the beginning of Backstage Capital, we’ve been looking for the right time to embark on some kind of tour to directly collaborate with local tech ecosystems. Our Founder + Managing Partner, Arlan Hamilton, has a career history in tour management for music artists, and IRL events have played an important role in our community building and portfolio support to date. And while remote teams (ours included) become more normalized, and more investors are getting wise to potential opportunities outside of major tech hubs, geography still plays a big role in venture funding and support for entrepreneurs. …


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Photo courtesy of WIRED Japan.

Backstage Capital welcomes Bryan Landers as General Partner alongside Christie Pitts and Managing Partner Arlan Hamilton. Among many responsibilities, Bryan will be building out Backstage’s platform and community in 2020, and you can get involved. Find out how at the end of this story.

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The Story of Your Startup

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Avatar: The Last Airbender’, Nickelodeon.

One of the most crucial jobs of a founder is to tell stories. Origin story, mission story, product story, opportunity story... You tell stories to yourself, your friends and family, co-founders, teammates, customers, investors, and press. Here’s a simple thought experiment extracted from fiction writing to help you tell the story about a future changed by the existence of your product or service.

A good science fiction story can be reduced down to a simple framing.

“Imagine a world where…”

The quality of the work a writer does to realize a world determines the quality of the story and experience of the audience. What’s the difference between that world and the one we live in now? What happens to the people who live in that other world? What are the greatest challenges they may face? …


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Backstage Capital has invested in 100 companies led by exceptional, world-class, yet underestimated, founders at a fast pace. These were primarily angel-sized checks for early-stage startups. We’ve scaled our team to 22 people to support our portfolio and operations as we continue to launch ambitious, new initiatives.

We’ve become a bit of a lightening rod for attention and support around diversity, inclusion, and representation in tech. …


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The Astral AR Team.

Recently, we featured the co-founders of Backstage Capital portfolio company Astral AR on Mission & Values, one of our podcasts. Astral AR is a remarkable startup — they make drones designed to save human lives.

Each of their products is designed with a specific use case: Charlie is a drone that flies into fires to seek out and aid human survivors and firefighters (tech includes: heat and infrared light vision, falling debris trajectory prediction, air quality and chemical composition analysis, fire-retardant foam…); Edna is a public safety drone that documents law enforcement, optimizes hostage rescue, and even stops bullets (tech includes: object identification, anomaly detection, autonomous situational…


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Pitch Deck Tips for Early-Stage Startups

Here’s a simple approach to crafting strong content for your startup’s pitch deck slides.

Before you open Keynote (or Google Slides, etc.), open a simple text editor (doesn’t matter which). Be minimal. Write in bullet points, not paragraphs. Don’t worry about the design yet — it’s much easier to design when your content is succinct.

For each slide…

1. Pick a single topic.
Your target market, the problem you’re solving, your product, etc.

2. Decide the single most important point.
Think from the perspective of an investor. What is the question they’re asking when they see the topic? …


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15 Design Tips For Early-stage Startup Founders

I get to see lots of pitch decks as a freelance designer working with founders, and in my role as an EIR at Backstage Capital — a VC fund that invests exclusively in underrepresented (people of color, women, and LGBT) founders.

This is the second story in a series about startup pitch deck issues you can now hopefully avoid. The first story covered business mistakes I’ve seen a lot of founders make. This one is focused on design issues.

Let’s dive in!

15 Pitch Deck Design Issues

Lack of Detail

1. Non-descriptive cover slide
The cover slide might be the only one an investor sees. It’s like the 5-second test with website landing pages — can a VC glance only at the cover of your deck and tell their partners what your startup does? …

About

Bryan Landers

Venture Partner at Backstage Capital. Banjoist. http://bryanlanders.com

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