05 Jul Diversity Is An Innovation Strategy
Christie Pitts is CEO of Backstage Capital, which has become one of the most high profile firms in Silicon Valley for its support of underrepresented founders. I sat down with Christie to discuss her views on diversity & inclusion, and how her experience is relevant to corporate innovation professionals.
Scott: Christie, I think a lot of people know about the incredible story of your business partner Arlan Hamilton, but tell us your own background as a corporate venture capitalist and how this led you to Backstage.
Christie: I’ve actually only worked for one company before Backstage: Verizon. I was lucky to have 11 different roles in 13 years, starting in customer service at a retail store and eventually winding up in corporate venture capital. I started in January 2005, and the growth at Verizon created a lot of opportunity for me.
Within the wireless unit, I worked in operations and marketing, where we were managing a customer base of 5 million people and over $4 billion in revenue. I was focused on customer acquisition and retention in California, Nevada, and Hawaii, and this territory has a very diverse population. Traditional marketing tactics didn’t work, so we had to be innovative about reaching new audiences to compete against AT&T, which was our most entrenched competitor. This was when I really began to think about diversity as a business problem.
After that, I was doing business development work with startups on behalf of Verizon, which then led to the opportunity to join the Verizon Ventures team.
When I eventually joined Verizon Ventures, I brought with me the overall corporate goal of reaching diverse customers. The venture group also knew that it was supposed to help the corporation adapt, which should have included this diversity objective, but the dots were not connected to make investments that helped achieve this goal. But I do want to give credit to Verizon Ventures for being very forward thinking about backing women-led businesses.