Lin-Manuel Miranda, award-winning creator of the Broadway hits “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” likens composing music to starting a small business.
“If you’re starting a small business, you’re doing the same thing I’m doing as a composer,” he said. “What doesn’t exist in the world, but should exist? Can I help that thing exist in the world?”
At the 5th annual L’Attitude conference in downtown San Diego, a national gathering highlighting Latino business, innovation and consumers, Miranda offers advice and shares his thoughts on how small business can be a bond in our community the opinion of.
At the same time, he highlighted how much small businesses and theaters rely on the support of community members to help them when they are hit by the pandemic.
“It’s about collaboration. You can’t make theater alone (and) you can’t let small businesses survive alone. I’m not talking about a ‘we’re all in this together’ kind of way like art,” Miranda said. “We really depend on our communities to keep us alive. That’s a lesson I learned in the small business world.”
In addition to his entertainment industry accolades — from Pulitzers to three Grammys — Miranda has added small business owners to his extensive resume.
Last year, he and his friends revitalized a century-old theater bookstore in Manhattan after rent hikes threatened to close. That small business was where he wrote and found inspiration in the store’s basement, and where he met his longtime friend, collaborator, and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kell.
Miranda has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, from Disney to American Express, and he advises as an entrepreneur on building a true brand.
“I’m a firm believer that the truth is easier to remember,” he said. “People ask me, how do you stay so real? It’s because I never remember if I made up something.”
“There’s power in bringing yourself into a room,” he said. “You don’t turn off your Latinidad when you enter the boardroom. Everything you learned at the feet of your grandmother and father will serve you in the boardroom. It’s not something you forget, it’s something you carry with you Something to carry — it’s your superpower.”
When it comes to figuring out which issues to take a stand on, it’s about finding “what doesn’t leave you alone” and what keeps you up at night, which is different for everyone, he said. For him, a major concern is giving back to the Puerto Rican community where his family lives.
When Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, he brought the production of “Hamilton” to the island, and he says they raised $15 million. Just last week, he visited Puerto Rico as it deals with Hurricane Fiona.
In many ways, drawing on his past and his roots in the Latino community has been key to Miranda’s success. His first Broadway musical, “In the Heights,” was recently adapted for the screen, about his home in Washington Heights and small business owners trying to make it happen there.
A big part of his work is celebrating the community that raised him, its resilience and representing it, while pointing out that the Latino community is solid rather than monolithic.
“Now that I’ve got a taste of your world as a small business owner, it’s even more indicative of how impossible it is without community,” he said. “When Latinos come together — because we all come from our own little parts of the world — but when we are together, we also become so strong. There’s really nothing we can’t do.”