Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Entrepreneurial lessons from “Hamilton”

February 21, 2016


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 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.


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?


“Startupery” is possible in “Silicon Prairie.”

March 28, 2014

Bob Metcalfe would like to see more student “startupers.”

The inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3COM and a professor of innovation at UT-Austin is on a mission to promote the term “startupery” as a better alternative to entrepreneurship. In a Friday talk here at Texas Tech University, titled “Startupery out of Research Universities,” Metcalfe argued that research universities are better outlets for research and innovation than traditional government labs.

After noting that the Internet was built by startups and not incumbent businesses, Metcalfe described seven components to his model for fostering technological entrepreneurial innovation (which at scale looks like Google, General Electric and IBM). Metcalfe calls the model the Doriot Ecology, which he named after late Gen. Georges Doriot, a Harvard Business professor who is known as the “father of venture capitalism.”

The seven components to the “Doriot model” include:
1)government funding agencies , which fund

2)research professors, who teach

3)students, who are the key vehicles to innovation for they carry new knowledge into the world and connect with or become

4)scaling entrepreneurs, people who know how to build companies (a principal asset of Silicon Valley)


6)strategic partners (established companies that help grow the business and reach of the startup) and

7)early adopters of the technology

While the major U.S. research labs were all established by monopoly businesses, with the Bell Lab held up as the pinnacle of American research and innovation, Metcalfe argues that we should expand the efforts at research universities and not try to recreate the Bell Lab experience.

Universities are better outlets for funding research innovation, according to Metcalfe, because universities are going to compete with each other (as they already do for funding from RFPs) and that they graduate students, who then serve as vehicles of innovation.

Metcalfe also noted the importance of developing technology to serve future customers and not to satsify present trends. He said that “time machines” allowed 3COM to beat its competitors.

“We had been to the future and our competitors had not,” he said. “We knew what to build. Our competitors did not.”

Metcalfe’s company was focused on developing Ethernet to connect personal computers in the early 1980s before personal computers were prevalent and mainstream because he saw future trends from working in the Xerox PARC lab.

Metcalfe also spoke of the travails from taking a product from idea to marketplace, pivoting along the way to meet consumer demands in order to avoid a “valley of death.”
“If you see a valley of death, you are not obligated to go charging into it,” he said. “If you see a valley of death, don’t (go).”

Jodey Arrington, vice chancellor for Research, Commercialization and Federal Relations for the Texas Tech University System said that his office (which sponsored Metcalfe’s talk) would like to create “Silicon Prairie” here in West Texas.

“Our ideas are every bit as good as Stanford and MIT … it’s just a matter of creating a culture (here).”

Of course, several research universities have begun to recognize the importance of “startupery” in the areas of media, journalism and mass communication by offering undergraduate and graduate courses on media entrepreneurship and innovation and developing media incubators, accelerators and hackathons.

Student “startupers” are becoming more commonplace, as evident by the Student Startup Madness competition held annually in conjunction with SXSW. The Student Startup Madness concept was developed by Sean Branagan, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Here at Texas Tech, I’m fortunate to teach a course on Media Entrepreneurship, which is the capstone course among undergraduate Media Strategies majors, here in the College of Media and Communication. My college is committed to fostering “media startupery” and interdisciplinary collaboration and we’ve been buoyed by early student successes.

My university likes to say “from here, it’s possible.” Because he has the benefit of a “time machine,” Metcalfe must know that his vision of “startupery” will certainly become a reality.

Student “startupers” should and will emerge and continue to foster innovation, from Silicon Valley to Silicon Prairie, from coast to coast and points in between.

Who to Watch in 2011

January 6, 2011

“Innovation” and “entrepreneurship” have become buzz words that are loosely jockeyed about when describing the changing nature of journalism.  You know, you’ll hear “newspapers are horrible innovators” on one side of the coin or “journalists need to develop an entrepreneurial spirit” on the other.  These words often appear again and again on both sides of the digital media debate.  The need for innovation, the need for experimentation among news organizations and traditional legacy media is clear; just as evident is the desire to develop new ways of thinking among would-be startups.  With that in mind, I wanted to provide a list of a few people and organizations worth watching this year for their efforts in social media, news, or digital content.  Some are familiar names and faces from conferences I’ve attended, while others are people I’ve never met. These efforts in entrepreneurship and innovation are worth keeping an eye on in 2011.  Any of these have the potential to be game -changers in a big way:

  • Ingmar Miedema: The Dutch businessman contacted Jameson Hayes and I about our Modified News Micropayment Model.  We’ve been in discussions with him about a number of ventures, including an effort to launch the model.  You’ll want to keep an eye on the Netherlands and Europe as Ingmar’s innovative platform comes alive this year.
  • CarrotPay: This Hong Kong-based company also has a “digital wallet” type technology that would enable many aspects of our model to work.  Ricky Rand’s company has been hard at work trying to get news organizations to use his innovative (there’s that word again!) software.
  • Jim Moroney & the Dallas Morning News:  We first heard Moroney speak at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last year. He said that newspapers must do something differently than the status quo and figure out ways to monetize content. The turn of the year brought action as Moroney unveiled new digital pricing structures for the Dallas Morning News.
  • Susanne Rust & HearSay: This Knight Fellow’s project is a social news game that combines points and a rewards system for news consumption on mobile devices, sort of a Foursquare of news.  Aside from a clear way to monetize the content, in many ways this platform would be a ripe avenue to launch the mobile modified news micropayment model we called for in our original paper (note: this opens a PDF).
  • Pinyadda: We really look forward to seeing what this Boston start-up has to offer because the concept of a personalized social news platform really resonates with myself and my micropayment co-author.  This site seems to harness many of the drivers of our model so we hope it is successful.
  • Krissy Clark: Another 2010 Knight Fellow, who studied the digital humanities during her time at Stanford and launched projects surrounding location aware storytelling.  As a former journalist, I love the use of social media to tell journalistic stories and the audacity that “you can click on the world.” Her website is
  • New York Times:  As the “The Gray Lady” moves its online content behind paywalls, the rest of the news industry will be watching and awaiting the results. I firmly believe that the Times’ effort to charge for content will succeed. Research I did with another University of Georgia colleague, Amy Sindik, found that Millennials were more likely to pay for the Times online than any other newspaper we studied (the Sindik & Graybeal article is in press in the Journal of Media Business Studies).  The Times‘ has a strong enough brand and reputation for quality journalism with content you simply cannot get anywhere else. These are factors that will influence consumers’ willingness to pay for digital content. Nevertheless, the Times experiment could be a harbinger for the rest of the industry considering paywalls and paid content strategies.
  • PayPal: The largest site for electronic commerce has added micropayments and partnered with Facebook. This could go a long way in increasing the popularity and use of micropayments.
  • Other Knight Fellows:  Quite a few of the 2010 Knight Fellows worked on projects with synergies to our work. John Duncan developed as an effort to find a way to get people to pay for content, chiefly radio news reports. Andrew Finlayson studied mobile, video, social media and the Semantic web and chronicled his search for a new viable business model on, while Gabriel Sama’s Thinking Strategically slides (note: links to a PDF) are worth taking a look at (his “DNA of a publication” on slides 43 and 44 is spot on).  We have a hunch that some of these Fellows’ efforts will prove fruitful and that more could come to fruition as a result. We look forward to seeing what else they accomplish and produce in the digital media, journalism and social media realms.
  • John Paton: The CEO of the Journal Register Group has been leading the digital-first charge for newspapers.  Like Moroney, we saw Paton speak at the International Symposium on Online Journalism last year.  He’s an energizing force in an industry often assailed for inertia, a leader not afraid to make sweeping changes. He’s had success with his in 2010 and will be worth following to see if he can duplicate his successes in 2011.

There are many other great minds, dynamic personalities and driven companies hard at work whose efforts could radically alter the Internet and our online media consumption habits as we know them. I, for one, am excited about what changes are in store in 2011, whether they originate from one of the above or not. I look forward to seeing what the new year has in store for social media, journalism and paid digital content strategies. Feel free to join in the conversation and add to the list.

Case Study in Innovation: Chicago Tribune

March 26, 2010

The Tribune Co. may be locked in a bankruptcy battle, but that hasn’t stopped the Trib from conducting some innovative experiments in journalism.  For starters, the Chicago Tribune has recently hired an innovation editor.

Long before Rob Karwath stepped foot on North Michigan Ave., however, the Trib has undertaken some nifty efforts to attract younger readers.  The Chicago Tribune’s RedEye is geared primarily toward Windy City residents in their 20s and 30s, while theMash is a news product for teenagers.

Recently, RedEye Web editor Steph Yiu spoke with my intro to news writing and reporting lab about some of the cool, exciting, trailblazing things they’re doing online.  We covered everything from the RedEye’s Daily Google WAVE to building a loyal audience of readers and connecting with the community through the use of social media outlets like Twitter (follow Yiu @crushgear) during the hour-long Skype call.  RedEye even has established its own social media posse.

As an in-lab assignment, I asked my students to write down short 140-character “tweets” as if they were posting on Twitter about Yiu’s talk. Here are some of the highlights of her talk, through my students’ pens:

-“RedEye is a community of readers, blog followers, twitterers and Facebook users”

-“RedEye is a genuine and community focused news source, check it out!”

-“Build a following by being genuine, responding to your readers, and use all tools to find your niche (Google, Twitter, etc.)”

-“Interact and engage with your readers, says Steph. Got to ask questions and personalize comments and statuses. Great advice!”

-“Steph said the best thing about learning about social media is that it’ll help us get a job! Woohoo! Better keep learning.”

-“90% web traffic for RedEye from Google or social media”

-“Posing questions instead of just posting headlines gets the audience involved.”

-” ‘I would like to say that we are perhaps the first newspaper to have a social media posse.’- Steph Yiu ”

-“Newspapers are all about community, from letters to the editor to social networking.”

-“Google Wave= RedEye jumped on about the week after it launched. Readers taught them pretty much how to use it.”

-“For newspapers that focus on a younger readership, social media is key.”

-“Social networking takes the Letters to the Editor to a new level of community for every topic and interest.”

-“I finally feel like I’m starting to understand the purpose of social media and how it all works. Thanks Steph Yiu!”


Steph Yiu chats with my journalism lab via Skype