Was Shakespeare an Entrepreneur?

The meaning of words evolve over time. For example, in 1828 England the word “Entrepreneur” was defined as a “manager or promoter of a theatrical production”.

I think this is an excellent bookend to the French definition of Entrepreneur… “one who undertakes or gets things done“.

You can easily think of a startup as a theatrical production. There’s you – the CEO or theatrical manager – there’s your team or your actors, your stage or your infrastructure, your lighting or marketing materials, your script or product/service/code. And, you as the theatrical manager have to bring all the pieces together and promote your play or startup so all the seats in the theater are filled every night.

Moreover, plays are much more similar to startups than you might think. Most plays don’t start as finished products. Most undergo rewrites and improvements. In fact, many don’t even start on Broadway, they start off-Broadway; often in a small town where the play is refined, feedback is sought from customers and critics, and adjustments are made until a final play – or Minimum Viable Product – is refined until it’s ready to move out of Beta and become a full-fledged product ready to be released to the public. In fact, plays will even have scenes and acts change once they ‘ve launched on Broadway.

But with a startup this entire process is speeded up. With a startup you’ve generally only written the first act of the play while you’re promoting the play to fill the house, and as the play is being performed you’re busy writing the other acts of the play while continuing to sell seats to tomorrows performance. And then, the whole things starts all over again the next night.

So what does this have to do with Shakespeare (1564- 1616)?

Well, besides, being a playwright, poet and actor he was also a theatre entrepreneur and part-owner of a playing company, known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, biographers have traditionally described him as not only writing his plays but also concerned about the business and financial affairs of his company and that he “continued to act in various parts, such as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Adam in As You Like It, and the Chorus in Henry V.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare%27s_life)

Indeed, the 101 hats of an entrepreneur.

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