Running a successful small business isn't about fancy accelerators, outsize fundraises, or rocket-ship growth. It's about community.

That's according to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Hamilton creator and co-star who wrote his first musical, In the Heights, about a series of struggling small businesses. Miranda, who was speaking alongside American Express CMO Elizabeth Rutledge at the 2019 Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York City on Friday, recently became a small-business owner himself: In January, he and a group of friends bought the Drama Book Shop, a bookstore in Manhattan that had shuttered because of rent hikes.

Miranda acknowledged the struggles most entrepreneurs must face. He plans to reopen the store in March, but is keenly aware of what he's up against. "We're opening a bookstore," he said. "In a post-Kindle America. In 2020. In Manhattan--in Midtown!"

His blueprint for success: Focus on cultivating a loyal customer base--even a small one-- by giving them something large corporations don't provide. In the case of the Drama Book Shop, Miranda said, that probably isn't the books. "There's an appetite for this as a center. As a place where people gather," he noted. "And then on top of that, we're going to serve coffee--which is the one thing the Drama Book Shop didn't [previously] do."

During his remarks, Miranda also drew a parallel between entrepreneurship and the creative process that led to the success of projects like Hamilton. The key to making your ideas work, he said, is to find powerful collaborators. "The biggest head start I had in this industry was meeting [Hamilton and In the Heights director] Tommy Kail at 22, instead of meeting Tommy Kail at 30," Miranda said. "He was someone who said to me, 'Let's just meet every Friday and bring in what you can. Write something for us to talk about on Friday.'"

He added, "Having that person outside of your own brain to hold you accountable is what kept us working on Heights. It was that creation of community."

Published on: Nov 8, 2019