Grit, change, and authenticity: Five influential California execs
In honor of National Black Business Month and in accordance with our CEO Robert Reffkin’s 15% Pledge, our Compass California Blog’s editorial staff is pleased to recognize five female executives whose careers started in or brought them to California.
Less than 10 percent of all venture capital deals go to women, people of color, and LGBT founders.”Backstage Capital
This statistic from Backstage Capital identifies a core issue many founders face today. Fortunately, more VC companies like Backstage Capital are dedicated to investing in companies led by underrepresented founders.
Here is some insight into five female California-based executives instituting change through their inspirational careers.
Arlan Hamilton – Founder, Managing Partner – Backstage Capital
Based in Los Angeles
Arlan Hamilton built a venture capital fund from the ground up while homeless. She is the Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital, a fund that is dedicated to minimizing funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women, and/or LGBT. Starting from scratch in 2015, Backstage has raised more than $15 million and invested in more than 170 startup companies led by underestimated founders. In 2018 Arlan co-founded Backstage Studio, which launched four accelerator programs for underestimated founders in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and London.
As a pioneer and champion of both underrepresented and marginalized groups, Arlan has received recognition from Business Insider, Fortune, and Fast Company. Her book, It’s About Damn Time, which is about breaking barriers and empowering those not previously emboldened, was published in May 2020. In addition, Arlan hosts Your First Million, a podcast featuring people who have earned their first million dollars, downloads, or customers.
If you are interested in learning more about Arlan, you can find more information a backstagecapital.com or through her appearance on Nilay Patel’s Decoder podcast, published by The Verge on February 1, 2021.
Melissa Hanna, Co-Founder and CEO, Mahmee
Lives in West Hollywood, California
Melissa Hanna and her mother, Linda Hanna founded Mahmee in 2014. Mahmee, a healthcare app that connects maternity care specialists and new mothers, has an overarching goal to reduce pregnancy related-complications and deaths.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal, Melissa Hanna shared her inspiration for starting the company:
“The inspiration for starting the company,” Hanna said, “was seeing the frustration that my mom had expressed through the years working in this industry where her routine complaint was that there weren’t a lot of tools or technologies available to connect the maternal and child health industry together.Los Angeles Business Journal
In 2019 Mahmee made headlines in Forbes for raising $3 million in funding from Serena Williams, Mark Cuban, and Arlan Hamilton’s Backstage Capital.
About: Melissa Hanna has led operations and strategy at leading startups in healthcare, education, digital media, and consumer goods. An activist-entrepreneur, Melissa received her MBA from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University and her JD from Southwestern Law School. Pitchbook named her one of the top black founders to watch in 2019.
Mahisha Dellinger – CEO & Founder – CURLS Beauty Brands
Born in Meadowview, California
Mahisha launched CURLS Beauty Brands in 2002 and never looked back. Frustrated with the lack of products for natural, curly hair, Mahisha worked to develop an award-winning line of organic hair care products and single handedly built the demand for the CURLS brand.
Her entry into mass retailers made it possible for natural hair customers to access CURLS everywhere. Mahisha was at the forefront of the natural hair movement. Pushing for women to rock their beautiful locks, Mahisha tirelessly advocates natural hair at conferences, shows, and interviews.
Today the CURLS natural hair care collections line retail shelves across the US and internationally.
On June 15th of 2021 PR Newswire sent out a press release noting that Curls is launching the Black Women Making Millions Academy, whose mission is to focus on the intellectual growth and personal development of women BIPOC (black indigenous people of color).
“I’m excited about this initiative because it’s about opening doors and building our communities. Black woman-owned businesses are up over 300% but only 4% of us will make it to millionaire status because of a lack of resources and there’s something wrong with that,” said CURLS Founder and CEO Mahisha Dellinger. “I am starting the Black Women Making Millions Academy with the support of Beauty by Imagination because giving back is essential to who I am as a business leader, woman, wife, and mother. I’ve had so many women reach out to me through email, DM, and text asking for advice so I’m happy to be able to offer this program which will empower over 25,000 businesses – including their employees and families – and open new doors for so many. ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’ is a quote I strongly believe in and have always felt it’s important to share what I’ve learned building and leading CURLS for over 19 years. I have chosen to partner with Beauty by Imagination because they wholeheartedly support my vision to bring more education and resources to black businesses.”PR Newswire
Morgan Mercer, Founder and CEO, Vantage Point
Lives in Los Angeles
Vantage Point was founded in 2017 by Morgan Mercer, a two-time survivor of sexual violence. In 2016, Morgan took a trip to hear Vantage Point’s now-advisor Sara Elizabeth Dill speak at a TEDxMonte Carlo talk about women as weapons of war. After the TED talk, Morgan, Sara, and various other speakers engaged in a conversation about education surrounding gender-based violence. The unifying perspective raised by both men and women was that no one knew how to identify core intervention points, no one knew what the appropriate actions to take in interventions were, and no one knew how to respond even if somebody came forward with their story of harassment, assault, or any form of sexual violence. After relating this to her personal experience of sharing her past with her friends and community, Morgan realized that society lacked proper education around the topic. Morgan, realizing the power Virtual Reality (VR) could have in re-shaping the way sexual harassment is approached and recognizing the level of empowerment individuals can receive through VR, decided to start Vantage Point.
Source: Vantage Point
Through The Helm in 2020, Morgan shares the life-changing experience that caused her to reflect on cultural biases. The incident led Morgan to analyze her belief system, then seek to recreate the experience for educational purposes – a journey that would lead her to become the founder and CEO of Vantage Point. However, before landing any investors, Mercer had to get…creative.
“I had maybe $2,000 in my bank account and $1,000 or $2,000 in Robin Hood stocks. I had to be very, very scrappy to scrape together any savings. I quit my job, found someone to take over my lease, got rid of all my furniture—didn’t even sell it because I moved in like one week. I put all my stuff in boxes and shipped them across the country on a Greyhound bus, which cost like $300. I could not afford an expensive move. Moving to California and into my stepdad’s was a pivotal resource for me. He said, “Come stay, you’ll figure it out. Trust your journey.”
Today, Vantage Point serves customers like Latham & Watkins, Comcast, Looker, and Accenture. Both Morgan Mercer and Vantage Point have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNN, Health Magazine, and Business Insider.
Bozoma Saint John – CMO at Netflix
Netflix is based in Los Gatos. Bozoma lives in Beverly Hills
Bozoma Saint John is the Global Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix, the world’s leading streaming entertainment service with 200 million paid memberships in over 190 countries enjoying TV series, documentaries, and feature films across a wide variety of genres and languages.
Boz got her start in marketing at Spike Lee’s advertising agency, Spike DDB. She then went on to manage brands within the PepsiCo beverages portfolio, before becoming Head of Music and Entertainment Marketing at the CPG giant; followed by Head of Global Consumer Marketing at Apple Music & iTunes; then went on to serve as Chief Brand Officer at Uber; before taking on the CMO role for Endeavor (overseeing WME, IMG, UFC, Miss Universe, PBR, 160over90, etc).
Boz has been recognized for her breakthrough work by both the industry and her peers. Her career has been marked by induction into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement (2014), Billboard’s Women in Music Hall of Fame (2018, 2020), as well as recognition on The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Power 100 list (2018) and on Forbes’ World’s Most Influential CMOs list (2018). Boz has also been featured on the cover of Adweek as “one of the most exciting personalities in advertising” and on lists ranging from Fast Company’s and Ad Age’s Most Creative People to Ebony’s 100 Powerful Executives, Black Enterprise’s Most Powerful Women in Business, Fortune’s Most Influential CMOs, and Business Insider’s 25 Chief Marketing Officers to Watch (2020).
Source: The Badass Workshop
“I feel like there’s a lie that has been told to us, especially women, that somehow we have to put our head down, be understated, and be humble, in order to gain respect. And I disagree wholeheartedly. I think we need to celebrate ourselves more. We need to show up.”Bozoma Saint John
Life wasn’t always perfectly planned out for Bozoma Saint John; in 2013, her husband died unexpectedly of cancer. Her memoir, The Urgent Life, is set for publication in 2022. She recalls for her audience the challenge of recovering from loss and learning how to embrace change as a positive factor in one’s life.
If you’d like to learn more about Bozoma Saint John, check out www.thebadassworkshop.com or www.bozomasaintjohn.com. Interviews with Girl Boss and Cosmopolitan shed some light on her life as a first-generation American, how she handles racism, and the importance of being authentic.
We are proud to highlight these executives. If you have suggestions on other inspirational people or businesses, please share their names in the comments below.