Backstage Capital Opens Fund to Everyday Investors

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Backstage Capital Opens Fund to Everyday Investors

Backstage Capital, the Los Angeles venture firm founded in 2015 by Arlan Hamilton to focus on underrepresented founders, flung itself open to mom-and-pop investors and they quickly smashed down the doors. The firm launched a crowdfunding page Monday with the goal of bringing in slightly over a million dollars by the end of April, with investments ranging from $100 to $50,000.

By Monday evening, it had already raised more than $700,000 from more than 1,000 funders eager to invest alongside the likes of Sequoia Capital and Initialized in Backstage's long roster of consumer-focused startups.


The campaign comes as corners of investing that once were restricted to wealthy individuals have opened up to the masses. Before 2016, one had to make more than $200,000 per year or have investable assets of $1 million or more to invest in a private company. The SEC further loosened the rules last year, increasing the cap on what companies can raise annually from $1.07 million to $5 million.

Crowdfunding campaigns have been an increasingly common route for startups to raise venture funding, which has coincided with the Robinhood trading boom that fueled the recent GameStop frenzy.

But individuals investing in a venture firm – normally the province of family offices and pension funds – is something else entirely.

While Backstage's crowdfunding page is heavy on generalities about the firm's mission, it does not include any specifics on Backstage's financial performance, which like other venture firms is a closely guarded secret. Harlan did not respond to a request seeking comment.

"We would like to give everyday investors who share our values the opportunity to be a part of the Backstage journey and help us deploy more capital to underestimated founders," the firm said on its crowdfunding page.

Backstage has raised more than $7 million in dry powder since 2015 – which does not include Monday's haul – and invested in more than 130 startup companies, led by what it describes as "underestimated" founders.

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Cedars Sinai Health Ventures’ Maureen Klewicki on How Tech Is Changing Health Care

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Maureen Klewicki
Image courtesy of Maureen Klewicki

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Cedars Sinai Health Ventures’ Maureen Klewicki talks about price transparency for health care, the labor shortage crisis and emerging models of health care.

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5 Things To Know About Amazon’s First Style Store

Drew Grant

Drew Grant is dot.LA's Senior Editor. She's a media veteran with over 15-plus years covering entertainment and local journalism. During her tenure at The New York Observer, she founded one of their most popular verticals, tvDownload, and transitioned from generalist to Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture, overseeing a freelance contributor network and ushering in the paper's redesign. More recently, she was Senior Editor of Special Projects at Collider, a writer for RottenTomatoes streaming series on Peacock and a consulting editor at RealClearLife, Ranker and GritDaily. You can find her across all social media platforms as @Videodrew and send tips to drew@dot.la.

Amazon Style Glendale
Image by Joshua Letona

Starting today, Glendale’s most meme-able outdoor mall, The Americana at Brand, will be home to the Amazon Style store—the ecommerce giant’s first foray into brick-and-mortar apparel retail. We got an early sneak peak inside the new digs (located on the corner with Sprinkles Cupcakes, next to H&M and the Apple store) and were able to try out some of its tech-enabled features, which—as ever with Amazon—seek to make the act of shopping as easy as possible.

1. It’s Bigger Than It Looks—Even From the Inside

The floor is massive—laying out original products from Amazon’s own apparel lines alongside name brands like Theory, Adidas and Calvin Klein, as well as several other lines that have up until now only existed online. But the actual store is much larger than the two floors that most customers will only ever see.

Amazon Style is just the front—the homepage, if you will—behind which a large warehouse facility keeps a gigantic surplus of inventory. A floor-to-ceiling glass window on the main floor gives shoppers just a peak behind the scenes, as employees help load industrial-sized elevators with racks of goods to send upstairs to the dressing rooms.

2. Online Shopping IRL

When perusing the store’s bouquet of cottagecore maxi dresses, Kendall & Kylie blazers and, yes, a whole section dedicated to Y2K apparel, one doesn’t just pick an item off the rack and take it with you while you shop. Instead, each rack has a barcode that you can scan via the Amazon Shopping app, which has your sizes pre-loaded from previous purchases. (Though you can, of course, opt for a different size if you choose.) That cues an AI-enabled algorithm to start searching through the store’s warehoused catalog and zip the desired item over to the second floor, where the dressing room provides its own glimpse into the future of shopping.

The store also boasts a version of The Drop, a Style staple that allows online customers to shop an entire influencer-curated collections for a 30-hour flash window.

3. Changing Stations of the Future—Today

Your phone also acts as your keycard to get into your personal dressing room. To prevent waiting, you are put in a virtual cue the moment you scan your first item; should your screen prompt that your room is ready while you’re still shopping, a press of a button allows you to hold your spot in the queue while freeing up the room for someone else. (I have no idea how any of this works if your phone dies; ostensibly it can’t, and you will be forced to go home empty-handed—or worse, to The Cheesecake Factory while your device charges.)

Amazon Style’s dressing rooms offer a tech-enabled twist to trying on clothes.Image by Joshua Letona

The changing room is like its own parlor trick. Designed to look like a walk-in closet, one wall has a full length mirror and a giant touchscreen while another has all the clothes you scanned in your style and size preference. Expect to see a few surprises in there, as the algorithm picks out other stuff you might want to try on based on your picks. It would be spooky if it wasn’t so convenient—an IRL mashup of the online retailer’s “Recommended Based on Your Purchases” and “Frequently Bought Together” features.

If an item doesn’t fit quite right or you want to see how a skirt looks in blue instead of black, just tap the touchscreen to request a variant. Or an entirely new outfit, as the screen makes available everything in the facility. Then just bring it down to checkout...perhaps the wildest part of this ride.

4. Palming the Bucks

Checking out of Amazon Style’s flagship store is what really blew my mind—although apparently it’s because I haven’t been to one of the Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods locations where cashless checkouts have been an option in select locations since 2020

I assumed you would just walk out the door with it, because I watch Saturday Night Live sketches for news. While the Go payment option isn't available at Amazon Style, there are several checkout options to keep the experience as frictionless and non-cumbersome as possible.

In one scenario, you take the clothes you want out of the dressing room, and go directly to Amazon’s palm-enabled checkout kiosks. That’s right: register on the spot for an Amazon One account, and you need merely to wave your hand over a little black device that reads your palm and charges your on-file payment method. Super convienent for everyone except $10 boardwalk psychics, who are about to be put out of business.

For the more traditional set, you still have the option of paying via credit card or cash.

Shoppers can check out of Amazon Style with the wave of a palm. Image by Joshua Letona

5. Supply & Demand & Return

Amazon Style’s brick-and-mortar location opens up a variety of new ways to shop, return and exchange clothing. For instance, you can order a load of clothes online and pick them up in the store; anything you don’t want can be returned in the store without you ever having to print a shipping label.

See something you like but don’t have time to try it on? Just scan the barcode, pick it up at the front of the store and pay on your way out without ever going into a dressing room.

The Amazon Shopping app also boasts a Deals feature, which automatically sorts for the best price on items to help customers either save money (or believe they are).

While Glendale is home to the only Style store so far, Amazon isn’t ruling out more locations. With fewer retailers able to afford rents on America’s main strips and shopping malls, Amazon’s resources—and its unique position at the intersection of tech and retail—make it easy to envision more Style stores on the horizon.

A Look Inside Amazon's New Retail Store in Glendale

Image by Joshua Letona

Gaming Will Keep Growing Despite Economic Woes, Netflix Exec Says

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Gaming Will Keep Growing Despite Economic Woes, Netflix Exec Says
Photo courtesy of Netflix

The economic headwinds that are hurting tech companies these days won’t halt gaming’s growing popularity, according to Netflix Vice President of Games Mike Verdu.

During a panel discussion Tuesday at the Montgomery Summit conference in Santa Monica, Verdu said the roughly 3 billion people who currently play video games will continue to grow in number. He agreed that gaming can even be countercyclical—meaning that the industry can sometimes do better during tough economic conditions. And he predicted that the industry will continue to see more consolidation as tech and media giants, including Netflix, gobble up game developers.

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