Entrepreneurial Lessons From Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton

Posted by Chris Myers on October 31 2017

I recently had the opportunity to attend a production of “Hamilton” at the  Hollywood Pantages theater. I was a bit skeptical as to whether or not it could live up to the incredible hype surrounding the show. Fortunately, it not only lived up to my expectations; it blew them away.

The production effortlessly blends witty lyrics with a historical narrative that still resonates over two hundred years later. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the show is Hamilton himself, originally played by the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Miranda captures the unyielding ambition of the young Hamilton, desperate to achieve greatness in spite of his humble origins.

One song, in particular, sums up the underlying theme of Hamilton’s life.  In “Satisfied,” he sings the line, “You’re like me...I’ve never been satisfied.” It’s a sentiment towards which many entrepreneurs, myself included, can relate.

Ambition is a blessing and a curse, motivating people to greatness while at the same time planting seeds of restlessness.  Like Hamilton, I am never satisfied, and I have to contend with that fact in almost every aspect of my life.

I am not throwing away my shot

One thing I’m certain of is that extraordinary results require extraordinary effort. A general feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s achievements, whatever they may be, provides the motivation to innovate and create.

A recurring theme throughout Hamilton is his assurance that he is “not going to throw away his shot.” For most entrepreneurs, this sentiment is a familiar one. More often than not, having an idea for a business isn’t enough. The stars have to align, so to speak, for an business to take hold. Looking back at the founding of BodeTree, I realize just how many things had to fall into place for it to have come into existence.

The stars aligned for me when the underlying technology needed to power the system became commercially viable and I met my co-founder. I recognized that this was “my shot,” so to speak, and I was not going to pass. It motivated me to pour my heart and soul into the opportunity. I worked harder and longer than I ever had before, but by ambition propelled me forward and gave me the stamina I needed to work through the challenges that came my way.

Working nonstop

Creating a product and starting a business is the easy part. Constantly iterating and improving, even in the face of hardship, is what taxes entrepreneurs over time.

It is a similar dynamic to what parents go through with their children. Teachers can be happy with a child’s on-level performance, but parents always want more for their kids.  It isn’t enough to be on track. The experience is strikingly similar for founders.

That constant dissatisfaction and yearning for something more can drive entrepreneurs to push themselves and their team farther than they ever thought possible.

In some respects, Steve Jobs is the perfect modern analog for Hamilton’s relentless nature. Jobs was famous for throwing out near-complete ideas and products at the 11th hour, citing problems and concerns that were apparent only to him.  While he might have seemed crazy to his team at the time, more often than not he ended up being right.

Ambition is a drug

Unyielding ambition does have its dark side, however.  In Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury becomes so obsessed with establishing and protecting his legacy that he ends up sacrificing the love of his family in the process.

I think that his story can serve as a warning for entrepreneurs who pride themselves on never being satisfied. As one character puts it, Hamilton was “an Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.”  Ambition can drive people to greatness, but it can also be a drug of sorts.

Thrills wear off with ever-increasing speed, and the underlying dissatisfaction that once drove towards innovation can lead to reckless behavior. Recently, I’ve found that the things that once thrilled me no longer bring much excitement.

For example, the first time I was featured on TV, I felt a jolt that energized me for weeks on end. Now, I've done it enough that it has become more ordinary than exciting.

I find myself wanting something more, something greater, and that scares me. If something fantastic no longer excites me, what's next?  I’m tempted to push harder and chase the next big thing, but like Icarus, I run the risk of flying too close to the sun. In the end, perhaps unbridled ambition is a one-way street that ends in disaster.

You don’t have to be a historian or Broadway aficionado to know that it didn’t end particularly well for Alexander Hamilton. Perhaps entrepreneurs should carefully manage their ambition, drawing upon it cautiously but keeping it in check.

Humility, after all, is something that could have saved countless entrepreneurs (and at least one Treasury Secretary) from tragedy.

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Chris Myers

Written by Chris Myers

Chris Myers is the Cofounder and CEO of BodeTree and a Partner at BT Ventures. He is also a columnist for Forbes Magazine and a regular contributor for MSNBC.