Business Lessons From Blue Man: The Why To Guide

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Business Lessons From Blue Man: The Why To Guide


I recently came across an article by my friend Allison Shapira about Blue Man Group as a business. The article is based on a reading Allison did as part of her "Strategic Communications" course and looks at the business of Blue Man Group.

Here's the part that struck a chord with me:

"How did Blue Man Group manage to maintain their vision, even with 38 performers around the country? They wrote a “Why To” manual.  Not a “How To” manual, which tells you how do things, but a “Why To” manual, which tells you why to do things - it explains the vision..."

At my startup, we talk a lot about the "why to" part of the business (partly, because we're all pretty analytical and like to have debates on just about everything).  We don't call them "Why To" discussions, but probably should.

Here are some examples:

Why To Charge Monthly Subscriptions (instead of yearly contracts):  Because it breeds the right company culture. With monthly subscriptions, we have to earn our customer's business every month.  There are no "drive-by sales".  Also, the data is worth more to us than the cash right now.  We want to learn as much as we can (and right now, the lessons are cheaper).  If we charged yearly, it'd defer a lot of this learning until the customer had to decide whether to renew.

Why To Not Sell To Anyone Willing To Pay:  Because the product is not going to be equally beneficial to everyone.  Our happiness (and our profits) is going to be based on how happy our customers are in the future.  If you know a customer is unlikely to be happy in the future, don't sell them.  Make them sell you and convince you otherwise.

 Why To Resist Hiring For Resumes:  Just about the entire team at HubSpot wasn't hired for their resume.  We solve for intelligence, passion and integrity.  Why?  Because someone with 14 years of experience at a Fortune 500 company managing a $100MM budget may not know much about our customers and our market.  We'd rather bring people on that are smart and will jump in and figure things out.

How about you?  What kinds of "Why To" concepts are floating around in your startup?  Does your team often ask the "why" question?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Mar 12, 2008


That Blue Man article was a great read! Thanks much!

posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 1:53 PM by DAR

Why to provide support for free: Service is a sales channel. We get now get the majority of our business via word of mouth and internally we often cite the free support as a cause of this. The cost of running that service operation is small relative to the mass marketing spend we would otherwise have to do to get attention.

posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 6:32 PM by Marc Lehmann

I buy into this.
I did some work with the uniformed services and it involved getting the hang of the way orders are issued. We used the acronym SMEAC. Situation (the map, the enemy, the terrain), Mission (exactly what we intended to accomplish as a group - the hill we were going to take), Execution (a list of our sub-goals, one sentence for each section - you secure the bridge, you guard the king, you guard the perimeter), Administration (resources over and above what we are allocated on a long term basis), Communication (when to check in and how - radio silence, channel, deadlines).
I started to use this in my own practice. I learned something important. When something goes wrong on a project, it INVARIABLY came down to the instructions we had given and failings at the SITUATION level. We had neglected to pass on information about the context. We knew and our juniors didn't. As the work unfolded, they made decisions on the basis of what we had told them, and guess what, we hadn't told them what they needed to know.
It was a revelation. Difficulties at work are 90% if not more down to lack of shared context. Stop to find out what assumptions the other person is making. Stop to think about what you haven't told them!
I like it The WHY manual.

posted on Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 7:22 AM by Jo

Thanks for your post, Dharmesh. You really highlight some of the best practices of a business: hiring quality employees and doing what's right for each customer.
The "Why To" struck a chord with me because I used to work in government, where I needed to remind myself every now and again why I was there instead of in the private sector making twice as much. When I eventually left that job, I wrote a 30-page "Why To" manual intended to inspire my successor.

posted on Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 7:37 AM by Allison

We are bringing about to start recruiting our first few team members. And we too want to solve for intelligence, passion, and integrity. Any suggestions for various parts of the recruiting process? We are going on campus at Chalmers, which is the MIT of Sweden (located here in Gothenburg). Thanks.

posted on Monday, March 17, 2008 at 4:58 AM by chrisco

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