When Robert Hartwell first launched The Broadway Collective in 2016, a musical theater academy, he worked at the kitchen table with his assistant. Times were tough then, a sentiment most early stage entrepreneurs can empathize with.
“It was just the two of us, working in the kitchen,” Hartwell says, laughing at the memory. “You couldn’t open the fridge because it would hit the table.”
But he persevered, growing the humble collective into a multi-million dollar enterprise with award-winning training. Its students boast acceptance into top universities like Carnegie Mellon University and New York University. Hartwell himself has an impressive resume. He spent 10 years as a professional artist, performing in five Broadway productions, two national tours, and a performance at the Tony Awards.
Now he is all about guiding the next generation of artists—particularly within underrepresented BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. Sure, The Broadway Collective helps artist develop their talent, but Hartwell’s real dream lies in helping them become strong, resilient and vulnerable humans.
“A lot of these people are the odd person out in their communities,” Hartwell says. “They’re going through gender-orientation and sexual-orientation identity. They’re hearing family members say, ‘That’s not a real career. That’s a pipe dream.’ We’re here for those people.”
To Hartwell, showing up for these communities means building a company that reflects his values of representation and diversity.
“If you don’t see it, you can’t become it,” he says. “I want our students to see there are Black, brown, gender nonbinary and queer people in our company. If they don’t see it, how will they know it’s possible?”
Outside of his company, Hartwell dedicates time and space to help identify and create opportunities that they might otherwise not know exist.
“Our job is to show them the positions that are available,” he says. “And they many different places they could go in the industry. And then give them the tools to break the glass ceilings and break down the doors. It’s not about trying to get a seat at someone’s table; it’s about building your own.”
To those entrepreneurs looking to blaze their own trails, he offers this advice.
Believe in the power of hard work.
Hartwell knows what hard work looks like. In the early days, he would open the phonebook in a city and call every theater and dance company to promote his drop-in classes. Most hung up on him. Now his classes sell out.
Part of the training in The Broadway Collective is to establish routine and structure, to provide a framework for students to learn discipline and the power of hard work. That, he says, is where transformation happens.
Find a single voice to guide you.
Hartwell’s first business coach was Rachel Rodgers, founder of Hello Seven, a company built on helping women make more money and specifically helping create more BIPOC millionaires. Rodgers was the only voice in Hartwell’s ear to help him build a business and follow best practices that made sense for him. In a world full of shiny objects, he advises finding a single voice to guide you.
When selecting your mentor. Look for the following:
- Ensure their mission statement aligns with your values and beliefs.
- Look at their past mentees. Ensure they’re the right person to guide you.
- Ensure they are continuing to learn and grow, too. Enlisting someone who thinks they no longer need to learn is a recipe for disaster.
Create a mission statement you wholeheartedly believe in.
Let this mission statement be your North Star. It’s easy to write some pretty language that looks appealing on a shiny website, but this does little to direct your business into real, sustainable growth. Spend time with the words and make sure they represent you, your company’s true goal and your personal values.
Make every decision with your mission statement at heart.
This is not a write-it-and-forget-it situation, Hartwell says. Revisit your mission statement every single day. Post it in big letters where you can’t miss it. Make every single decision with your mission statement in mind. No decision is too small to be considered a part of this statement. From your first hire to your first fire, consider the words thoughtfully.
Remain a lifelong student.
Hartwell’s most important advice, he says, is to remain a lifelong learner. You are never too old to be a student. To do this, seek out people you admire and learn from them. Attend conferences. Dedicate time to learn new things both in your industry and in related industries.
“Be willing to be wrong,” Hartwell says. “Be willing to do the work. Be willing to be vulnerable. Be willing to be a student at any age.”
Photo by Danielle Cohen