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Backstage Capital cuts majority of staff after pausing net new investments

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Backstage Capital has downsized its staff from 12 to three people, managing partner and founder Arlan Hamilton said during her “Your First Million” podcast that was published Sunday.

The layoff comes nearly three months after Backstage Capital narrowed its investment strategy to only participate in follow-on rounds of existing portfolios. This workforce reduction further underscores that the venture capital firm is struggling to grow, both externally and internally.

“It’s not that I feel like there’s any sort of failure on the fund side, on the firm’s side, on Backstage’s side, it’s that this could have been avoided if systems were different if the system we work within were different,” Hamilton said during the podcast.

Hamilton did not respond to TechCrunch’s request via email for further comment.

Backstage announced in March it was pivoting to fund only existing portfolio companies and would no longer make new investments. At the time, Hamilton said that “there will be people who take this negatively or will take this as us not being active, and it is anything but.”

It’s rare to see a firm say they are growing assets under management while declining to make new investments, especially considering it had fresh capital from Comcast and filed plans for a $30 million Opportunity Fund. Now we know that Backstage doesn’t have much dry powder left, so it shows a general slowdown at the firm.

During the podcast, Hamilton said that the changes have “taken a toll; it’s been a depressing, deflating time.” She also said she’d been medically burnt out for at least three years.

Saying she’s grateful for the support so far, Hamilton also expressed her frustration with LPs, adding that Backstage has found itself in a “purgatory kind of position” because some investors feel it already has all the support it needs. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Hamilton said that Apple told Backstage the fund was too far along to invest in, while JP Morgan said it wasn’t far along enough.

Without more support, it becomes difficult to close shop on new investments, bring more assets under management, and bring more follow-on investments, she said.

“Somebody asked me, ‘why don’t you have more under management?’” she said during the podcast. “You gotta ask these LPs, you gotta ask these family offices, you gotta ask these people who ask me, ‘how can I be helpful,’ and I say ‘invest in our fund,’ and I never hear from them again.”

TechCrunch has noted that LPs need to take more responsibility for where and to whom their money is deployed. Such an impact could be seismic, especially for firms like Hamilton, which specialize in funding overlooked founders. But alas, the lack of support from the top of the VC food chain causes a domino disparity effect — where diverse fund managers aren’t receiving enough capital, meaning diverse founders aren’t either.

During the podcast, Hamilton said that she still plans to grow Backstage’s assets under management to over $100 million. Because the firm doesn’t “have dry powder right now,” Hamilton told founders to look at some of the 26 funds she has invested in as potential investors.

To date, Backstage Capital has invested in 200 companies, all of which are led by historically overlooked founders, and has landed more than $20 million in assets under management over six years. Most recently, Hamilton founded recruitment startup Runner, which raised around $1.5 million from a breadth of investors, including Backstage Capital itself.

Beyond Hamilton, general partners Christie Pitts and Brittany Davis remain on staff for the main fund. Hamilton said that the duo is working on a special project, which she will announce soon.

Current and former Backstage Capital employees can contact Natasha Mascarenhas by e-mail at natasha.m@techcrunch.com or on Signal, a secure encrypted messaging app, at 925 609 4188, or Dominic Madori-Davis at dominic.davis@techcrunch.com or on Signal at 646 831 7565.

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Uber to sunset free loyalty program in favor of subscription membership

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Ride-hailing giant Uber is shutting down its free loyalty program, Uber Rewards, so it can focus on its subscription-based Uber One membership.

Uber first launched the rewards program in 2018 as a sort of frequent flyer scheme that allowed riders to earn points for every dollar spent on rides or Uber Eats deliveries. Those points could then be used to get discounts on future rides or deliveries. In November 2021, Uber began introducing Uber One, which, for $9.99 per month or $99.99 annually, allows members perks like 5% off certain rides or delivery orders and unlimited $0 delivery fees on food orders of over $15 and grocery orders of over $30.

In an email sent to customers that was picked up by The Verge, Uber said users can still earn points via the legacy rewards program until the end of August, and that they can redeem those points until October 31. Uber Rewards will officially shut down on November 1, 2022, according to an update posted by the company.

The Uber Rewards program allowed users to earn 1x point for every Uber Pool dollar spent, 2x for every UberX dollar spent and 3x for every $1 spent on Premium. The number of points accumulated would put members into different castes of loyalty, from Blue to Gold to Platinum to Diamond, the latter of which comes with benefits like access to highly rated drivers, free delivery on three Uber Eats orders, access to better customer service and free upgrades.

While phone support will continue for Diamond users, now the only way to get additional perks with Uber will be to shell out for a subscription. Existing Rewards members will get a free one-month subscription to Uber One, but then will be charged for access. If you’re someone who orders Uber Eats more than twice a month, you can easily break even with the Uber One subscription, but plenty of users might not see the money saving benefits in the switch.

Uber did not respond immediately for clarity as to why it is shutting down the Rewards program in favor of the Uber One membership. Perhaps the company did not see the returns and user loyalty that it would have expected from the program and thinks a subscription offering will provide better returns.

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Twilio gets hacked, teens ditch Facebook, and SpaceX takes South Korea to the moon

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Hi again! Welcome back to Week in Review, the newsletter where we quickly recap the top stories from TechCrunch dot-com this week. Want it in your inbox every Saturday? Sign up here.

Is Facebook for old people? If you’ve got a teenager around the house, you’ve probably heard them say as much. The most read story this week is on a Pew study that suggests this generation of teens has largely abandoned the platform in favor of Instagram/YouTube/TikTok/etc.; whereas in 2014 around 71% of teens used Facebook, the study says in 2022 that number has dropped down to 32%.

other stuff

Mark Cuban sued over crypto platform promotion: “A group of Voyager Digital customers filed a class-action suit in Florida federal court against Cuban, as well as the basketball team he owns, the Dallas Mavericks,” writes Anita, “alleging their promotion of the crypto platform resulted in more than 3.5 million investors losing $5 billion collectively.”

A troubling layoff trend: While tech layoffs might, maybe, hopefully be showing signs of slowing, Natasha M points out a troubling trend: some companies are announcing layoffs only to announce another round of layoffs just weeks or months later.

SpaceX launches South Korea’s first moon mission: South Korea has launched its first-ever lunar mission — a lunar orbiter “launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket” ahead of plans to land on the surface some time in 2030.

Twilio gets hacked: While it’s unclear exactly what data was taken, Twilio says the data of at least 125 customers was accessed after some of its employees were tricked “into handing over their corporate login credentials” by an intense SMS phishing attack.

Amazon’s bizarre new show: Think “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” but made up of user-submitted footage from Ring security cameras. By now most people probably realize their every step is recorded on a security camera or three — but doesn’t embracing it as Entertainment™ like this feel kind of…icky?

Haus hits hard times: Haus, a company that ships specialized low-alcohol drinks direct to consumers, is looking for a buyer after a major investor backed out of its Series A. The challenge? Investor diligence for an alcohol company can take months, and Haus just doesn’t “have the cash to support continued operations at this time.”

woman pouring wine

Image Credits: Haus

audio stuff

How clean is the air you breathe every day? Aclima co-founder Davida Herzl wants everyone to be able to answer that question, and sat down with Jordan and Darrell on this week’s Found podcast to explain her mission. Meanwhile on Chain Reaction, Jacquelyn and Anita explain the U.S. gov’s crackdown of the cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash, and the Equity crew spent Wednesday’s show discussing whether the turbulent market conditions of late will mean we see fewer early-stage endeavors in the months ahead.

additional stuff

What lies behind the paywall? A lot of really good stuff! Here’s what TechCrunch+ subscribers were reading most this week…

Building an MVP when you can’t code: Got a great idea but can’t code? You can still get the ball rolling. Magnus Grimeland, founder of the early-stage VC firm Antler, lays out some of the key principles to keep in mind.

Are SaaS valuations staging a recovery?: “…the good news for software startup founders,” writes Alex, “is that the period when the deck was being increasingly stacked against them may now be behind us.”

VCs and AI-powered investment tools: Do VCs want AI-powered tools to help them figure out where to put their money? Kyle Wiggers takes a look at the concept, and why not all VCs are on board with it.

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After the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, online threats quickly turn into real-world violence

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Threats of violence reached a fever pitch — reminiscent of the days leading up to the Capitol attack — following the news that the FBI raided Trump’s Florida beach club to retrieve classified documents the former president may have unlawfully taken there.

After Trump himself confirmed Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago, pro-Trump pundits and politicians rallied around declarations of “war,” and Trump’s ever-fervent supporters called for everything from dismantling the federal law enforcement agency to committing acts of violence against its agents. The situation escalated from there in record time, with online rhetoric boiling over quickly into real-world violence.

By Thursday, an armed man identified as Ricky Shiffer attempted to force his way into an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio, brandishing a rifle before fleeing. Law enforcement pursued Shiffer and he was fatally shot during the ensuing standoff with police.

Analysts with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonprofit that researches extremism and disinformation, found evidence that Shiffer was driven to commit violence by “conspiratorial beliefs related to former President Trump and the 2020 election…interest in killing federal law enforcement, and the recent search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago earlier this week.” He was also reportedly present at the January 6 attack — another echo between this week’s escalating online threats and the tensions that culminated in political violence at the Capitol that day.

Shiffer appears to have been active on both Twitter and Truth Social, the platform from Trump’s media company that hosts the former president and his supporters. As Thursday’s attack unfolded, Shiffer appeared to post to Truth Social about how his plan to infiltrate the FBI office by breaking through a ballistic glass barrier with a nail gun had gone awry. “Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t,” the account posted Thursday morning. “If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I., and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the F.B.I. got me, or they sent the regular cops…”

In posts on Truth Social, the account implored others to “be ready to kill the enemy” and “kill the FBI on sight” in light of Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago. It also urged followers to heed a “call to arms” to arm themselves and prepare for combat. “If you know of any protests or attacks, please post here,” the account declared earlier this week.

By Friday, that account was removed from the platform and a search of Shiffer’s name mostly surfaced content denouncing his actions. “Why did you censor #rickyshiffer‘s profile? So much for #truth and #transparency,” one Truth Social user posted on Friday. Still, online conspiracies around the week’s events remain in wide circulation on Truth Social and elsewhere, blaming antifa for the attack on the Ohio FBI office, accusing the agency of planting documents at Mar-a-Lago and sowing unfounded fears that well-armed IRS agents will descend on Americans in light of Friday’s House passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“‘Violence against law enforcement is not the answer no matter what anybody is upset about or who they’re upset with,’ FBI director Christopher Wray said in light of emerging threats of violence this week. Trump appointed Wray to the role in 2017 after infamously ousting former FBI director James Comey.”

Friday is also the five-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, which saw white nationalists clad in Nazi imagery marching openly through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The ensuing events left 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer dead and sent political shockwaves through a nation that had largely grown complacent about the simmering threat of white supremacist violence.

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