Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

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 Broadway hit musicals “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” compared composing music to starting a small business.

“If you’re creating 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? And can I help make that thing exist in the world?”

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

In the same breath, he underscored how much small businesses and the theater relied on the support of community members to help them as they were battered by the pandemic.

“It’s about collaboration. You cannot make theater alone (and) you cannot have a small business survive alone. And I’m not saying that in like an artsy ‘we’re all in this together’ kind of way,” Miranda said. “We really rely on our community to keep us alive. And that’s been a lesson that I sort of take forward into the world of small business.”

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

Last year, he and his friends resurrected the Drama Book Shop in Manhattan, a century-old store for all things theatre, after rent hikes threatened its closure. That small business was where he wrote in the basement of the shop, found inspiration and where he would meet with his longtime friend, collaborator and the director of “Hamilton,” Thomas Kail.

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 about supporting small businesses in the community at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on Friday .

(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Miranda has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands from Disney to American Express, and he offered advice on building an authentic brand as an entrepreneur.

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

“There is power bringing all of yourself into a room,” he said. “You do not turn off your Latinidad when you enter a board room. Everything you learned at your grandmother’s feet and at your father’s will serve you in that board room. It’s not something you forget about, 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 finding “what doesn’t leave you alone” and what things keep you up at night, which will be different for everyone, he said. For him, a major issue is giving back to the community in Puerto Rico where his family is from.

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

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

A big part of his work is celebrating the community that raised him, its resilience and representing it while noting that the Latino community is vast and not a monolith.

“Now that I have had a taste of your world of being a small business owner, it’s just reinforced how impossible it is without community,” he said. “And when Latinos come together — because we are all from our own little parts of the world — but we are also so powerful when we are together. There’s really kind of nothing we can’t do.”

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