How To Pitch Your Startup



Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank has a definition for a startup and for a company.

“A startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

“The corollary for a large company is: A company is a permanent organization designed to execute a repeatable and scalable business model.”

I tend to put my faith (and money) in startups who don’t bound themselves to the definition of a startup, that believe they will be more than just a startup. To always be a startup is to always be searching for that repeatable and scalable business model.

Better to say, “We’re a startup soon to be large company.”

It’s sexier, it’s packed with drive, not just busyness.


Stay Positive & That Is What You Want, Right?

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Match Making (Pitches, PR, And Relationship Principles)


I wish I could say I failed to research people before I met them and I lost out on an opportunity because of it, but it’s not true. I may have missed pieces of information about a person that, hindsight 20/20, I could have used in conversation with them (like telling Seth Godin I’ve seen a photo of his action figure riding a pink angry unicorn), but typically I’m able to bring up two points in every conversation.

1) Something they’ve done that I admire

2) Something of theirs that we can both connect on

These two points are essential to match making with journalists, PR teams and clients, as well as someone you’re going to have coffee with.

When you’re applying to an agency or any job, you do your research on the company: their history, their clients, their goals… anything and everything you can find online or in their brochures (are brochures still a thing?).

Why would you treat a journalist you’re pitching to, a client you want to do business with, a friend of a friend you’re meeting for the first time with any differently?

You don’t.

A journalist will be more likely to cover your story if you start by acknowledging a piece they have written (check box #1) and how you two both love the book she referenced in that story (check box #2).

Not only do you establish a connection with the person, you add credibility to yourself, you show you care because you wouldn’t take the time to research and prepare if you didn’t, and you build trust with that (now) special someone.

The twist is the two check box process works to your advantage in another unique way. It shows you whether or not you want to work and connect with this reporter, that agency, or this guy’s friend.

If they’ve created nothing remarkable and you can’t find a node to connect on, are they a person you want to be investing in?


Stay Positive & 7 Billion People In This World, You’ve Got The Right To Be Picky

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Unlocking Potential #14: Q&A With Rob Shapiro

Rob Shapiro

I’m glad I went down the path of Journalism as well as PR. Without my passion for journalism, I may not have come across Muck Rack, and, by extension, Rob Shapiro.

Rob does what everyone linchpin needs to do: connects, creates, and crushes it.

If you’re clicking into the Unlocking Potential series for the first time, you can always go back to read the past Q&As with remarkable people here.

Without further ado, welcome, Rob!

1) What got you into entrepreneurship? (What’s your story?) Why entrepreneurship?

I’ve always liked building things – especially things that people value enough to pay for. I don’t know the exact moment I started playing with LEGOs (my mom and dad definitely do), but they were certainly my first creative outlet. I started my first “business” around 7 years old when I bought a snow cone machine from SkyMall (R.I.P) and sold cups of flavored ice at neighborhood softball tournaments. My next venture was to design and create prototypes of a combination bookmark/glasses case.  By high school, I was designing and selling t-shirts that featured our school’s basketball players in unique situations (like our starting five as the heads on Mount Rushmore). Making things and selling them to people who wanted them was not only fun, but just seemed the logical thing to do.

The real entrepreneurial bug bit me during my freshman year of college (majoring in graphic design/communications). I was heading home for Thanksgiving and tragically left my computer on my dorm room desk. Sitting at the airport, I needed something to do. So I bought the book with the coolest looking cover I could find– Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion. I finished the book in 24 hours and quickly realized I wasn’t thrilled with the direction my life was headed. I had no idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be, and I absolutely could have been labeled as an emotional mess. At that moment (literally Thanksgiving night), I decided to transfer schools, focus my college studies on entrepreneurship, and build out my toolbelt with business and creative skills.  I wanted to be prepared for when I found my passion (whatever that proved to be), ready to cash in on something I truly loved.

2) A quick look at your LinkedIn/Muck Rack profile shows you’ve left a lot of breadcrumbs in the startup and marketing industry.  Where do you find your motivation to keep creating, keep connecting and keep making your mark?

I have a lot of energy and passion for achieving success.  But I still haven’t figured out exactly what being successful means. That makes it easier to continue trying to find opportunities and adding new tools to my entrepreneurial toolbelt. Frankly, I don’t know if I even want to have a definition of success. I’d rather keep hustling after the unknown.

3) What are some signs of a born entrepreneur? Any skills that define a destined business owner?

A long time ago, someone told me that you either build the product or you sell it. While there is some truth to that, I think that born entrepreneurs have an inherent knack for both.

Outside of that, it’s incredibly difficult to associate a specific skill with any enormous group of incredibly unique people. However, I think one of the skills successful entrepreneurs share is the ability to delegate. Most business owners understand they can’t do it all themselves.  Finding people who bring value to their organization or project is crucial for scaling anything.

They used to say in the civil war that the laziest people became generals because they often had great ideas but weren’t able or willing to go fight in the battlefield. I don’t think that’s directly related, but it’s a short story I’ve always found ironic and fascinating.

4) What are three habits every entrepreneur must develop to be successful in business?

There are a lot of smart, talented people in this world. I think what distinguishes entrepreneurs from everyone else is the ability to work harder, faster and smarter. If you learn how to hustle first, (the other two) more habits will come.

5) What do you regularly see entrepreneurs, business owners and startups fail to see and do? Essentially, what’s preventing them from being successful?

I don’t think there is enough true dogfood-ing going on in most businesses. A lot of entrepreneurs see a market need, fill it with their product, think their job is done and that the solution will continue meeting their customer’s needs. When a product is adopted into the market and the initial problem is solved, the customer’s needs continue developing and the product should too. For continued development, it is so important to sit down with those using the products and truly understand that user’s story (why/how they’re using the tools).

I know we’re all so busy, but it’s something I think more people could dedicate time toward in their day-to-day. It’s proven to be insanely valuable for me and actually saves me time in the long run. Knowing my customer definitely helps me make better decisions more quickly.

6) Do you have a business or life motto you follow?

You never know what you’re best at and capable of until doing until you try.

I’d still like to find out if I’m a really good NASCAR driver, I’ve just never had the chance. I always love a good challenge because it’s an awesome opportunity to find out about a new skill I didn’t know I possessed or identify an area where I could be stronger.

7) For readers who are unsure what their muse is, what would you suggest they do to find it?

Learn how to be alone. It sounds a bit depressing at first, but you can learn quite a bit about yourself if you’re willing to be your own wolfpack once in a while. Don’t be afraid to eat a meal by yourself without checking your phone every few minutes. Find a time to grab a coffee and stare out the window and have some serious “me time” to let ideas and thoughts bubble up to the top of you brain. Giving those thoughts consideration, no matter how obscure, can be quite energizing and quickly can provide a spark that can start your fire.

8) What makes a business or even a public relations or branding strategy remarkable?

This is a tough question to answer, because there are a ton of remarkable strategies out there. I think a commonality between them is that they are well thought out with the eventual customer in mind. Sometimes it’s so easy to think about good ideas for a business, but if that idea doesn’t resonate with your customer, it’s not gonna provide the needed bang.

For PR strategies, I think it’s all about providing value. Our company, for example, ultimately should be providing value to both the journalist and that journalist’s audience (hopefully their customer). Whenever providing value for someone else – in any facet of their life – it’s far easier to build real relationships. Real relationships quickly translate to customers.

9) What is the best way a business owner can get coverage by the press? Could you share an example of a business that did it right and got the spotlight?

Try your very best to build real, human relationships with journalists and people that can help tell your story. It shouldn’t be terribly different than any other facet of your business. You probably try to build real relationships with your customers. Why not do the same for the people that help you communicate those very same customers?

I constantly see business owners and PR people who assume their company’s unique story is that they’ve started a business. When you’ve got a unique founder or a product that’s truly first to market, that may work. For everyone else, we need to be more creative. If your business helps connect two groups of people that otherwise wouldn’t have found each other, you may be better off sharing the details of their success stories, rather than the fact that you’ve been trying to start this business for the last X years.

10) How do you make sure the best results are always achieved in what you do?

I put a lot of emphasis on instincts and critical thought. Instincts help you make decisions quickly and on an emotional level. To balance that, thinking critically about those emotions and instincts can be a logical and rational process. With that balance, I find that I’m able to quickly assess situations, be it from previous experience or foreseeing potential future events, and justify those ideas with more traditional and rational logic.

That being said, I’ve learned a ton on this from everyone I work with at Muck Rack – specifically our co-founders Greg Galant and Lee Semel as well as our Senior Vice President, Natan Edelsburg. When I first started at the company, I too believed that I always needed to produce the absolute best/perfect results (I’m definitely part perfectionist). They were quick to push me in directions that asked for less perfection and more experimentation. Instead of searching for the best idea that I assumed would produce perfect results, I’ve learned (and still work on) creating multiple ideas with various inputs and outputs, to produce a multitude of results. It’s a rather awesome process as we often find a few ways of accomplishing goals and producing multiple “best results.”

11) I know you well enough to know you’ve got a list of ideas and projects you would like to see to fruition in the future. What’s the project you would start first if you had all the resources available for it?

You’re absolutely right, and I’m incredibly lucky to be working on the team that gets to see Muck Rack to fruition every day – something I don’t plan on stopping for a while. I am a bit of a dreamer. I am constantly coming up with different ideas, but I’d actually prefer to think about who I’m working with, rather than what I’m working on. I want to work with the best – no matter what they do.

If you absolutely made me answer this question, I’d keep doing everything that I’m doing today, and start putting together some plans for a vineyard with an awesome selection of pickles and olives. I really love pickles, olives and wine.

12) Lastly, how can people connect with you? There a place people can go to see what you’re up to? Any way readers can show their support for you? (Shameless self promotion here)

Absolutely, I’m based in New York City and always down to grab a beer or cocktail to chat about any and all ideas.

I also use the internet to build relationships with people. You’ll find my Twitter account is a bit more Muck Rack/business focused.  If you’re interested in that world, follow me at @rob_shap. If you want to get to know me as me, head over to my Instagram account.

If you’re curious about what we’re working on at Muck Rack, want to chat through your companies PR strategies and how to build better relationships with journalists online, shoot me an email at

Definitely do not be shy (especially if you like pickles).


Stay Positive & Go Create Real Value For Real Relationships

Unlocking Potential #13: Q&A With Ryan Paugh

Ryan Paugh

When researching for a story centered on entrepreneurs under 30, a friend connected me with Ryan Paugh. At the time, Ryan was at Brazen Careerist writing, speaking and preaching about career-management. He was big into entrepreneurship… still is.

Like all the others on the unlocking potential series, Ryan is a linchpin. He is the source, the center of many entrepreneurial circles, providing resources and connecting people just as my friend connected me with him.

Without further ado… welcome, Ryan.

Q: You’re known for building epic communities. What does an epic community look like to you?

Ryan: An epic community is one that can help you unlock any door in your industry or trade. For communities like YEC and FounderSociety, we aspire to help our members gain access to everything they need to grow successful businesses.

Q: How did you get to where you’re at now? What’s your story?

Ryan: This is very geeky, but blogging changed my life. After I graduated college I started a blog with one of my best friends about Gen Y entering the workforce. Through the blog came my first business, Brazen Careerist, which was a free community for Gen Y professionals seeking career happiness.

Q: What’s the best and worst parts of being an entrepreneur?

Ryan: The best part about being an entrepreneur is having control over your own destiny. The worst part about being an entrepreneur is the toll it takes on your personal life and the lack of stability.

Q: What gets you filled up with passion and ready to take on the world, to go the distance, to be in it for the long haul?

Ryan: My family. Now that I’m a father especially, I find that I’m more motivated to be successful than I have ever been. I want my family to live the best life possible. I want them to see me as their hero.

Q: What do you see people regularly failing to do while starting a business? What would you suggest they do differently?

Ryan: Spending too much time on one idea is a common startup killer. Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that they didn’t get it right on the first try. They had to iterate on their existing idea to make it work.

Q: What are four hacks you can share? They can be about life, relationships, getting a job, starting a business, whatever you would like.

Hack #1. Invest in a virtual assistant and outsource work that takes away from building your business. Challenge yourself to delegate at least one new thing per week to your assistant.

Hack #2. Perfect is stupid. Come up with an idea for a business. Build the minimum viable product (MVP) as quickly as you can and get it to market. Iterate based on feedback from your early customers to get better.

Hack #3. Become an early riser or a night owl and you will get more accomplished than 99 percent of the population.

Hack #4. Take care of yourself. You physical and mental health are strongly linked to your success.

Q: Here’s an open-ended question for you: What are your thoughts on waiting?

Ryan: Don’t.

Q: What about failure?

Ryan: Embrace it.

Q: Would you tell us about a truly challenging time and how you got through it (or didn’t!)?

Ryan: Without going into too much detail, I had a health scare a couple months ago that left me feeling mentally paralyzed. It took weeks for me to feel better and get back to my business. The reason I was able to take the time off that I needed to recover was my amazing team. At some point in the future, you’re going to need to take some time off too and it will go a lot smoother if your company can operate with you missing. Being a great leader means learning how to delegate to your team and trust that they can get the job done. You should spend time early on in your career getting comfortable with this. You’ll thank yourself later.

Q: What are three lessons people should know about building a community?

  • Community businesses are are some of the most difficult businesses to run. I love what I do, but it’s not an easy road to riches. There are plenty of other avenues you could take to get rich quick
  • Great customer service can keep a paying customer loyal even when the product still needs work.
  • People will pay a premium for a concierge-level community experience.

Q: What makes an idea or a business or a person remarkable?

Ryan: Vulnerability. I’m drawn to people, ideas, and businesses that are not afraid to be what they are even if that might lead to them being criticized.

Q: Any last advice you want to give someone in marketing or someone who is thinking of starting a business?

Ryan: Share your ideas with as many people as possible.

Q: Lastly, where can people find you and the remarkable work you do? (Shamelessly self-promote here.)

Ryan: The communities I’m currently building are YEC and FounderSociety. We also run a great startup advice website for early-stage entrepreneurs. Follow me on Twitter. I try to blog semi frequently at


Stay Positive & Go Share Your Ideas, Be A Hero, Start Something

Marketing Close To Pain

Remarkable Or Pain

When someone is in pain, they’ll do anything and everything for relief, and if you’re in the business of relief, the more you can charge.

Pain is a strong word, but then again, so is need, which is exactly what marketers place themselves in a position to fulfill.

It blows my mind how any podcaster can charge $1,100 a month for a podcast webinar series. It’s crazy how much some marketing conferences cost.

Likewise, it’s never exciting to hear the burger at the airport is $15 or the beer at a hotel bar is $9 a bottle. Yet, owners and businesspeople and marketers and podcasters alike can charge that much because they are in the proximity of pain.

The marketers who invest in the podcast webinar series are in desperate need to get to the top. The starving traveller, well, is starving.

Want to charge more for your product or service? Get closer to the pain, the need.

Or… or… go to the other end, the end of desire and passion and love. The end of connection and bragging and giving.

You have two options. Sell a mediocre burger for an outrageous amount because you’re close to the pain or sell a remarkable burger for a price that matches its value (sometimes even less because it’s a burger you want people to talk about, an experience you want them to partake in, and joy you want to share).

Fortunately for you the market for remarkable is wide-open, there are people there waiting to be blown away with an experience. The market for pain, however, is crowded. Good luck getting in there.


Stay Positive & Yes, Fulfill A Need, But Know Which Need You’re Fulfilling First

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Problem With Many Marketers’ Mindsets

Marketers Mindset

As marketers, we often have a big ego when it comes to our industry. We see things. We notice trends. We can (or at lest we often always try to) answer why? Why X appeals to target Y. Why a restaurant would have revolving doors. Why a business is using a particular hashtag.

It should go without saying that we often know what’s best. After all, we’ve studied the industry for years, read thousands of articles, talked to hundreds of people to know why things are they way they are. Yet, this mindset gets marketers in trouble over and over again.

We think if a particular ad appeals to us, it will also appeal to our target audience. (We have high standards, you know? So if it works on us, won’t it work on anyone? Heh.) Our mindset can be simplified to we know what’s best for others based on our own reactions of an ad or PR strategy. All the while, we forget that we are not the target market.

The best way to break the mold is to see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn, not to prove or show we’re right. Michael E. Gerber wrote it perfectly,

“Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.”

As long as we retain the mindset of wanting to know more, needing to know, being humble enough to know that we don’t know it all, we can evade the mental trap so many marketers are caught by.


Stay Positive & Now You Know

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Unlocking Potential #10: Q&A With Alex Birkett

Alex BirkettLinchpins are driven and self-efficient. They make themselves essential. While rock stars amaze me and underdogs amaze me, those people you don’t see coming and then they zip right past you, they amaze me the most.

Alex is a lot like a car you see in your rear view mirror one second, and then it’s a mile ahead of you the next second.

Alex was on my agency team when working with Lands’ End where I first saw him hit the gas pedal. Now he’s working at a tech startup in Texas and continues to inspire plenty (including me) with his writing.

Without further ado, enjoy the Q&A with this Linchpin.

Q: How do you handle the “What do you do?” question everyone asks when you meet them?

Alex: I like to tell people, “I mow lawns!” Then they usually look at me like I’m a weirdo, and I tell them, “I’m working on a tech startup called LawnStarter and also do a variety of freelance marketing and write for a magazine.” Then they usually still look at me like a weirdo, so I just tell them I’m a happy workaholic.

Q: What’s your story?

Alex: I grew up in a small town, played some sports and started a punk rock band. Then, I went to the University of Wisconsin, where I graduated from the Journalism School (studying strategic communications). I went from working with one of my favorite bands, Shiny Toy Guns, to working with Madison Craft Beer Week, Arctica Race, and and WiCC. Then I got to build the marketing team at WUD Music, which tied together two of my top interests. I think I worked like 35 hours per week the last two years of college, which prepared me for those infamously long startup hours. I’m currently hustling and grinding in Austin, TX, trying to build a tech startup called LawnStarter. I act as the marketing director for Arctica Race, a ski racing company, and I write for a magazine, RSVLTS.

Q: What’s the best part of marketing to you?

Alex: I like building things. I like the feeling of productive energy creating something beautiful, and marketing gives me that sense of accomplishment. From ideation to strategy to tactics and execution, it’s a process that fuses my creative with my rational side. I’m also a huge fan of optimizing processes and getting more out of less, and I like what technology has made capable for optimizing marketing efforts.

Q: What do you see marketers failing to notice, say or do?

Alex: There are a lot of PR agencies, advertising agencies, business development agencies etc, etc, that reach out to us on our contact form or somehow get our emails. Most of them send us obnoxious form letters or terribly written pitches. If you can’t pitch us your business, how the hell are you going to do business development or public relations on our behalf?

Q: Where do you find inspiration to grow, to create, to go?

Alex: I lift heavy weights 4 times per week, do yoga once, and run once (I hate cardio). I read audiobooks in the morning and paperback books at night. I drink a ton of really good coffee. I spend time with people smarter, more successful and better looking than I am. I’m a competitive bastard so that makes me want to get better too. I also spend a lot of time on the weekends either on the water, golfing, or hiking. Something semi-active but also relaxing.

Q: What are three life lessons anyone (marketers or not) should know?


  1. “If you have two choices, choose the harder.”-Paul Graham

  2. Treat everyone like normal people, because they are normal people.

  3. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”-Jim Rohn

Bonus: If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

Q: What has been a terrible marketing or customer service experience and how would you have resolved it if you were on the other end?

Alex: AT&T U-verse was a pretty terrible experience. I believe that investing in an amazing customer experience is the best marketing decision you can make. When you’re competing with giants, your competition can outspend you on marketing dollars, but it’s hard to compete with a rewarding customer experience. If I was AT&T, I’d take some of my stupid advertisements off the air and reinvest that money in some competent support staff.

Q: Since I know you well, I know you’ve jumped ship at an agency for a more startup-ish gig. Can you expand on that? What’s so special about startups that you can’t find at an agency? Or am I missing the point completely?

Alex: I could write a book on that question, but I’ll try to sum it up with this: I’ve always been interested in startups & entrepreneurship. I like to feel ownership over my work, and that ownership is something intrinsically lacking when working at an agency, because, well you’re marketing someone else’s work. When I met Ryan and Steve (co-founders of LawnStarter), I knew I wanted to work with them because they were scrappy, hard working, and passionate about building awesome shit. Working on a startup is unique, especially when you do it at a young age. You never get the ‘luxury’ of developing bad working habits. You don’t surf reddit at work because it’s your equity and pride on the line. Startups also have a crazy tight-knit community where everyone is willing to help one another, seemingly without personal gain. Overall, it’s a pretty awesome place to be.

Q: What’s a project you want to start and see all the way through?

Alex: Well, LawnStarter of course! I have a million ideas, and I’m naturally a restless person. But sometimes life requires focus, and working on a tech startup is one of those glorious times. When LawnStarter exits, I wouldn’t mind meeting up with some ambitious co-founders to work on one of these weird ideas stewing in my head.

Q: What are a few habits people need to develop to become successful in business or startups or marketing?

Alex: I’m not too sure what it takes to be successful working at a big company because I chose to join a startup right after college. To be successful in a startup, you need to love working. I believe you also need to know when and how to take a breather and collect yourself. No matter what you’re involved in, I think you should develop a habit of perpetual learning. Our minds ossify when we obstinately believe that we’re experts. I also want to say that you need to ‘network’ to be successful, but I hate the word ‘networking.’ Just be a good person, do amazing work, and reach out to people you want to meet. No need to wear a nametag at a hotel bar.

Q: What do you do that always sees best results?

Alex: I don’t think I’ve found any absolutes in life, but I’ve never regretted putting bacon on a sandwich of any kind.

Q: If you had to give advice to people starting out in the world of PR or marketing or entrepreneurship, what would you say?

Alex: If you’re still in college, focus on getting a ton of relevant and impressive experience. Join some clubs, too. I always wish I did more of that early on. If you’re into entrepreneurship, you may just want to skip the whole college thing. Though your parents may be disappointed, so if you have to do the college thing, get together with some like-minded students and start building something. There are tons of reasonable sounding excuses, but there’s no way around that one.

Q: Do you have a motto you follow?

Alex: I guess I don’t, really. If I had to pick, this is what came to mind first: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”-Mark Twain

Q: Where can people connect with you and find your art/work/writing/etc,.?

Alex: I’ve got a website that I barely update, but I do write for a variety of publications. Your best bet is to follow me on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email at


Stay Positive & Kick It Into Gear