Business

Lin-Manuel Miranda tells San Diego audience that starting a small business is like composing a musical

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the award-winning creator of the hit Broadway musicals “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” compared creating music to starting a small business.

“If you start a small business, you’re doing what I’m doing as a composer,” he said. “What is not in the world, but should be? And can I help this thing exist in the world?”

At the fifth annual L’Attitude conference — a national gathering highlighting Latino business, innovation and consumers — in downtown San Diego, Miranda offered advice and shared his thoughts on how small businesses are the common thread that connects our communities.

In the same breath, he stressed how much small businesses and theater depended on the support of community members to help them as the pandemic hit them.

“It’s about collaboration. You can’t make a fuss alone (and) you can’t make a small business survive on its own. And I’m not saying that in an artistic, “we’re all stuck together” kind of way,” Miranda said. “We really rely on our community to keep us alive. And that was a lesson I kind of take with me into the small business world.”

In addition to his accolades in the entertainment industry – from a Pulitzer Prize to three Grammys – Miranda has added a small business owner to his extensive resume.

Last year, he and his friends revived Manhattan’s Drama Book Shop, a centuries-old store selling all things theater, after rent increases threatened its closure. It was at this small shop in the basement of the store that he wrote, found inspiration and met up with longtime friend, collaborator and director of “Hamilton”, Thomas Kail.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anna Marrs, President of American Express Group, speak at the L'Attitude conference.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the award-winning Broadway composer, speaks with Anna Marrs, American Express Group President of Global Commercial Services and Credit & Fraud Risk, at the L’Attitude conference on supporting small businesses in the community on Friday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt .

(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Miranda has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands from Disney to American Express, providing entrepreneurial advice on building an authentic brand.

“I firmly believe that truth is easier to remember,” he said. “People ask me how you stay so authentic? That’s because I can never remember if I made something up.”

“There is power in putting yourself in a room,” he said. “You don’t turn off your Latinidad when you walk into a boardroom. Everything you learned at the feet of your grandmother and father will serve you in this boardroom. It’s not something you forget, it’s something you bring with you — it’s your superpower.”

And when it comes to figuring out what issues to take a stand on, it’s about figuring out “what doesn’t leave you alone” and what things keep you up at night, which will be different for everyone, he said. Giving back to the community in Puerto Rico, where his family comes from, is important to him.

When Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, he brought production of “Hamilton” to the island and said they raised $15 million. Just last week, he visited Puerto Rico to discuss Hurricane Fiona.

In many ways, drawing from his past and roots in the Latino community has been a key to Miranda’s success. His first Broadway musical, In the Heights, which was recently adapted for the screen, was all about his Washington Heights neighborhood and the small business owners trying to break into it.

Much of his work celebrates the resilience of and represents the community that raised him, while noting that the Latino community is vast, not a monolith.

“Now that I’ve had a taste of your world as a small business owner, I realize once again how impossible it is without community,” he said. “And when Latinos come together — because we’re all from our own little parts of the world — but we’re also so powerful when we’re together.” There really isn’t anything we can’t do.”

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