“Shut Up and Take My Money!” – Or, How to Pitch so People Will Listen

The phrase “Shut up and take my money!” may have come from a cartoon, but it’s not a myth. “Shut Up Money” (SU$ for short!) has happened to me and I’ve watched it happen to my students & my friends. It’s unbelievably life-affirming and awesome, when somebody wants to give you their money even more than you want to take it. It’s an act of faith.

I’d say it’s “magical,” but in fact it’s something that comes from having & applying the right process for pitching.

Yep, you heard me — process for pitching. Having a great product isn’t enough. You can have the best product in the world, but unless would-be customers start drooling when you talk, that best product is worthless.

That’s the power of a good pitch.

Before you read another line, let me admit something up front:

I make pitching mistakes on a daily basis.

It’s sooooo easy to get off on the wrong foot with a pitch, even when you know exactly what you ought to be doing. Here’s a scenario that used to happen to me a lot:

Potential customer at cocktail party: So, what’s Charm?
Me: Charm is a new, end-to-end customer support tool. It solves the problem of passing around email as a specification of work…

Whisssssssstle THUNK poof. This kind of “pitch” is a B-O-M-B bomb.

What’s wrong with this pitch? It’s the kind of thing we all see, and say, day in and day out. But it’s a total flub. Not just stylistically; I’m saying this form of pitch has never gotten me any meaningful action, ever.

There are lots of reasons, but here are the top 3:

  1. Boring as fuck. Charm may legitimately be all these things, but wow, is that boring. Using sexier terms and punchier sentences, however, won’t solve the problem, because…
  2. Too abstract. All those abstract nouns — customer, support, tool, email, specification work. No imagery. But still, swapping out abstraction for concrete nouns won’t really help, because…
  3. Self-absorbed. I responded to the question that was actually asked, not what the customer is interested in.

In short: a total conversation-stopper. There’s nothing for my conversation partner to grab onto for a point of reference; there’s no room for them in what I’m saying.

The thing is, this totally ineffective pitch is what comes naturally. Somebody asks you “What is x?” and the most instinctive thing in the world is to respond “X is…” That’s even what they teach us in school: to answer in complete sentences.

It’s a trap!

This kind of pitch makes eyes glaze over and jaws go slack — it certainly doesn’t motivate anyone to reach for their wallets. And that’s the job of the pitch: to motivate action. Monetary action, or at least tell-me-more! action.

This is not “Shut up and take my money!” territory, folks. Not even close.

I’m telling you this because I’m a pitching expert. That’s how I make my living — off products, and therefore off the act of selling products.

Despite my limp-wristed Charm pitch above, I do know how sell Charm compellingly: Nearly 4,000 people to put down their precious email address for the Charm launch announcement, and famous & influential people (Ryan Singer of 37signals, for one) tweet about the the Charm teaser page because it resonated so strongly for them.

And still the urge to respond “Charm is…” is nearly irresistible.

The best way to conquer it is to remember to keep the focus on the customer. Don’t talk about “my product is,” talk about what the customer is interested in. Talk about a problem the customer has.

Charm Cure Customer Support Fatigue 3

I’ve finally trained myself to ignore the leading question of “What’s Charm” and override the natural response. Now I say…

Potential customer at cocktail party: So, what’s Charm?
Me: Do you get a lot of support email? Yeah, me too. Do you ever have to wait on somebody else to investigate something, or maybe even you, like, a bug or a potential new feature? What do you do with the email then? Wait to respond until you get the answer, leaving the customer dangling? Or maybe you write back and then click “Unarchive” so you can keep it in the inbox to ‘remind’ you?

This is a pitch without a pitch, isn’t it? It’s really a conversation… it’s an opener. And it gets results.

The right people are intrigued by this point. Most of the time, they suffer through this dance a hundred times a day, and they never even thought to question it. So to hear me diagnose it as a serious problem worthy of attention? Their ears perk up so hard you can almost see their neck muscles pop.

The wrong people are clearly disinterested by this opener. Maybe half the time, this strategy gets negative results (“Nope, I don’t know what you’re talking about”) — but that’s valuable, too. Saves us both time and effort, because they’re never going to want Charm.

This isn’t easy.

In fact, it’s really hard. Even I have to ritually sharpen my own saw. When I haven’t prepared and practiced enough, I’ll run my mouth in Complete Sentences, answering the question asked, talking about myself or my product. Take this episode of Patrick McKenzie’s podcast, for example, where I blather on about the history of 30×500 because I didn’t practice enough in advance.

Bad pitching is a terribly hard habit to break, even when you know what you’re supposed to be doing. The cost of success is constant vigilance!

That’s why, when you attend my 30×500 Product Launch Class, you’ll spend several exercises on pitches alone. We do live pitch writing, live pitch critiques, and if you upgrade for the 4 weeks of post-class exercises, pile on the exercises & feedback.

And that’s before there’s any product to sell!

Because, once you realize that…

  1. The best product in the world won’t sell without a great pitch
  2. There’s no point in making a product if you can’t sell it
  3. The strength of a pitch must be backed up by the strength of the product

There’s only one conclusion to come to:

Pitch First Development will Save Your Bacon

Wrong: create a product, then figure out how to sell it.
Right: figure out what (& how!) to sell, then create it.

Which makes your mission: Learn how to craft a compelling pitch… then build a product to match it. Pitch First Development.

Work on the pitch — and on your pitching skills — instead of diving ahead and building a product you can’t even sell.

Bootstrapping Design eBook Become the designer your startup needs

So much angst and wasted time would be saved if only everybody followed this path! Take Jarrod Drysdale‘s story, for example — for over a year, he worked hard on a beautifully designed & produced app, Knack, and yet he made only a handful of 1-figure sales (yes, 1-figure — under $10!):

I bootstrapped a web app that no one wanted for a year.

I tried all the tactics from entrepreneurship books and blogs. None of them worked. I couldn’t get users. I had no traffic, no interest, and no sales.

In 30×500, I finally found sound advice. During the class, I learned to start by researching audiences and customers. I learned why most ideas suck and how to have the right kinds of ideas. Now I know how to avoid failure and how to build a product that people will want and buy.

The result is astounding. This time around, I have people asking for my product before it’s finished. I received 2,000 leads within 48 hours of launching a teaser page.

— Jarrod Drysdale, 30×500 alum and author of Bootstrapping Design

Jarrod’s booked well over $40,000 in sales of Bootstrapping Design in a very short time. That’s incredible. But it’s not surprising to me, because he tackled the pitch first, and he came up with one that was so compelling that even his fellow students were shouting,

Shut up and take my money already!

We were critiquing pitches on the alumni list, and Jarrod just wanted feedback from his fellow students. Instead, he got them all hot & bothered they were clamoring to buy. Surprise! Later, his teaser page hit such a nerve that total strangers sent it soaring on a wave of tweets and shares.

Remember, Jarrod didn’t start with pitch greatness. His first, beautiful product totally bombed. And he didn’t rise from the ashes with a smash hit on the very next day.

Here’s how his very first 30×500 pitch went:

Users evaluate a design in 50 milliseconds. After that, conscious opinions solidify and there’s no going back. You need people to take your software seriously. After all, this isn’t a game. This is business. If you launch without a professional design, will people even want to use it? If they do, they certainly won’t pay much. Finding a designer is difficult—and they’re so damn expensive. Cheap design shows. Your app deserves better. You deserve to know all those hours of writing code won’t be wasted when no one buys your product because it’s ugly. What if there was a better way? A way to get advice from a top-notch designer and get design assets that actually work for your unique app? (Not some shitty template.) That’s why I created Jarrod’s Super Duper Product™. Make those first few milliseconds count. Hedge against failure by looking legit. Charge more because your app is beautiful. Save thousands of dollars by not hiring a designer. Start up on the path to success.

Interesting, isn’t it? An intriguing start, a grab bag of tidbits, but nowhere near as powerful as the way he sells Bootstrapping Design — the product it evolved into — today:

You’re building a business, but great design feels out of reach. What if you could design it yourself?

In 30×500, with a lot of sweat, blood & tears and community support, Jarrod learned how to start from first principles: Find a customer. Figure out what they want. Figure out how to sell it. Then build it.

That’s what 30×500 is all about. Pitch First Development, man. It’s the only way to go.

You can learn PFD this year

30×500 is opening again soon, to help you benefit from the same education, process, and alumni group as Jarrod.

The next class begins Sept 13th & 14th, 3 - 5 pm Eastern time, with a bunch of improvements including an intense bootcamp.

Applications open soon! The only way to attend is to apply; the only way to apply is if you’re on the announcement list. So if you’re interested, plop your name down, for free goodies and the chance to grab a seat in 30×500 of your very own:

Get our 7-day no-BS guide to avoiding common startup mistakes

Want to know more? Read all about 30×500 in nauseating detail.

PS — Here’s a student review from James: Why bootstrapping is better than an accelerator program. Here’s a student review from Brennan, before he started making any money with what he learned. (Now, of course, he’s doing quite well indeed — that post’s about $2k of sales but he just told me he crossed the $10k mark today.) Noah wrote about his journey to earning his $1,000 in product revenue and 30×500 — Why?.


  1. shaun

    PFD. Very clever. I’ve been thinking about 30×500 on-and-off for a while now and often wondered how to come up with a good product idea. I wasn’t sure if i needed the idea before taking/applying for 30×500 or not. I am interested in a pdf/book about PFD and how to “do it right”, any plans to create one? :)

    • Amy

      1. I didn’t write the previous post. 2. Nope, the author was talking about silly people who spend their time “pitching” to people OTHER THAN CUSTOMERS: venture capitalists, angels, other “startups” in pitch competitions, etc. These do not create revenue. These are not customers. That is a waste of time.

  2. Joe

    I like this post, Amy. I think the pitch can almost function as “the MVP before the MVP” and it’s really at the heart of customer development – getting out of the building and talking to customers before you even write one line of code.

    My pitch I have been working on is geared towards freelancers, designers, consultants and programmers working on contract in the web/tech space:

    Do you regularly have to review and sign contracts as part of your business but you don’t want to deal with the time and expense of dealing with a traditional lawyer?

    You know that it’s important to read, understand and have a fair contract because you want to get paid, own your work, or just know exactly what your rights (and responsibilities) are under the contract.

    Instead of doing it yourself or spending a lot of money on a traditional law firm, simply upload or email me your contract and I will review it within 5 business days and send you detailed notes on the contract provisions as well as suggestions for how to protect yourself.

    Of course, at this price the contract must be 10 pages or less (most of these types of contracts are), and if you need it immediately (within 24 hours), then the price goes up to $250. If the contract is over 10 pages, let’s talk, I’ll still cut you a really good deal!

    PS – I have been practicing business law for 20 years in California as both a litigator and in-house general counsel, founded 4 startup tech companies and been an angel investor or advisor to many more. I “get” tech and love working with the folks who make their living in tech.

    What do you think?



    • Kim-Ee Yeoh

      Hey Joe,

      I’m an alum of the course from way back so take my critique fwiw.

      First off, we think it’s a good idea to distinguish a pitch from an offer. Think of the pitch as a conversation opener. The offer is well, the whole contract. But there are certainly pitch elements in the offer.

      As the offer stands, it’s really not that bad. I’m intrigued and would sign up for your newsletter to learn more.

      One thing though, what’s your USP? I suspect contract review is like conveyancing, that bread-and-butter of lawyers. Your bio is impressive, but the discerning would want to know HOW you bring your experience to fend for your customers, i.e. benefits vs features.

      • Joe

        Ok, thanks for the feedback, Amy! BTW, I have received positive responses from quite a few in my test group, so far it seems like consultants and programmers doing work for hire are most interested! The thing that seems to resonate is that for $150 it’s worth it for the peace of mind of having a lawyer review something you are going to sign, especially if significant income is at stake, or restriction of rights or responsibilities is involved, for example non-compete’s, ownership of non-project specific code, etc.

      • Joe

        If you have other “legal pains” that recur regularly in your business I would love to hear about them! I am trying to expand other ideas around the concept of a “shared” general counsel for tech companies/consultants, etc. Also trying to determine what will add value – quick turnaround, easy ways to share documents, pay-as-you-go plans, etc.

        Thanks again for your great blog and emails!

  3. Evan R. Murphy

    Really useful to know that an informal dialogue kind of pitch works better. Seems like when people ask me “What’s SightReadingMastery” I usually try to stuff my title tag or meta description into the conversation. This will help a lot and be more fun, thanks!


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