Entrepreneurial lessons from “Hamilton”

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Ever since I was lucky enough to see Hamilton on Broadway in December, I’ve wanted to find a way to get back in the room where it happens again. While for most people that would be enough to see the original cast in person once, I want to see the play one last time even if I have to wait for it.

Fortunately, I’m not helpless to make my return to the Richard Rodgers Theater happen. You see, I had a hunch that the anonymous reviewers could not say no to this research I submitted to the World Media Economics and Management Conference. My two conference papers were accepted so I’ll be back in the Greatest City in the World for a week in May. While I’ll mainly be there for #work (work), I’m going to be sure to take a break for Hamilton, take two. I can almost guarantee I’ll be just as satisfied as I was the first time. If you’re like me, after seeing the show you’ll be back to watch it again.

Ever since I watched this revolutionary play, I’ve been wanting to incorporate it into the classroom as I often make pop culture references in lectures. With this backdrop of returning for a conference whose theme is “Global Media & Local Entrepreneurs” and seizing the opportunity to see Hamilton once more, I’ve come to the realization that Hamilton the play offers many lessons on entrepreneurship. Just as Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspired to rise up to this masterful musical creation after reading Ron Chernow’s novel about Alexander Hamilton, the Broadway sensation has served as my muse for an unorthodox creative outlet (this blog post and eventual lecture). Like many entrepreneurs, Hamilton was a self-made man whose hustle and determination allowed him to “thrive when so few survive.” Sounds just like the modern day startup scene where the vast majority of companies fail.

Thus, I humbly offer to you five lessons “Hamilton” teaches us about entrepreneurship as told through songs from the musical:

My Shot: This song can serve as inspiration and apt description of aspiring entrepreneurs who are “young , scrappy, and hungry” as they work to “rise up” in life through innovation and creation. This song teaches us that if you have an idea for a new product, service or company that adds value you should “not throw away your shot” at greatness as you seek your independence from the regular daily grind, whether that be college or a 9-5 job.

Nonstop: This song speaks to entrepreneurial hustle and work ethic as many entrepreneurs grind nonstop like they’re running out of time. Given limited resources, entrepreneurs are always mindful of their runway as the startup will either takeoff or crash and burn. Replace the word “write” with “work” in the lines: “Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?”

“Why do you write like it’s going out of style? Write day and night like it’s going out of style?” and you could easily be describing modern day entrepreneurs. Many entrepreneurs put in long, hard hours at all times of day and night.

Satisfied: Just as Alexander Hamilton tells us “I have never been satisfied” such a refrain could come from a present day entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneurs are not satisfied with the status quo. They create solutions to real world problems. And tackling one problem or creating one company is never enough for serial entrepreneurs who are out to prove themselves again and again.

“There’s a million things I haven’t done but just you wait, just you wait…”

Wait for It: This Leslie Odom Jr. (aka Burr) song is by far my favorite in the play, and offers lessons on two important entrepreneurial concepts: strategy and failure. Burr is strategic in lying in wait, calculating his ambitions and waiting for his moment to act. One memorable refrain from this number is “I am inimitable/I am an original.” The Resource-Based View of strategic management offers that one way to obtain a sustained competitive advantage is to have inimitable resources. This rings true for large companies as well as scrappy startups.

But this song also teaches us that entrepreneurial tenet that failure can be beneficial if we learn from it. Mistakes are inevitable, but those failures can eventually lead to success for those who are patient.

 

“Life doesn’t discriminate
between the sinners and the saints
it takes and it takes and it takes
and we keep living anyway,
we rise and we fall and we break
and we make our mistakes
and if there’s a reason
I’m still alive
when so many have died,
then I’m willing’ to-“

 

Wait for it.

Room Where it Happens: This is another pièce de résistance from Odom Jr. (for a play about Hamilton, Burr sure does get the best songs, but I digress..) that offers a counter to the patience preached in “Wait For It” by encouraging action.

“When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game

But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game

Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it.

You get nothing if you…

Wait for it, wait for it, wait”

This number is an ode to deal brokering, and speaks to the importance of networking (you want connections to get a seat at the table), and negotiation. Deals often take place behind closed doors and involve making tradeoffs.

“The art of the compromise

Hold your nose and close your eyes”

And finally this song offers that entrepreneurs are not only dreamers but doers as these visionaries bring concepts to life.

This song includes a line “But we dream in the dark for the most part” which according to Genius.com is likely a reference to a TE Lawrence quote:

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Click-boom. There you have it. In addition to being the greatest play to hit Broadway in my lifetime, Hamilton illustrates these entrepreneurial insights. And finally just as immigrants are integral to the story of our nation’s history and Hamilton itself, I would be remiss to point out that according to a recent Kaufmann Foundation report, an immigrant is nearly twice as likely to be an entrepreneur as a native-born American.

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While this tale of entrepreneurship vis-à-vis Hamilton is the story of tonight, I have to think that these themes will stay alive and relevant for many years to come. Of course, I welcome your feedback. I’d love to know what I’d miss?

 

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