From the August 1999 issue of Startups

Rule number one of any speech or pitch is to make a little joke--a humorous little anecdote, if you will--to break the ice. Then launch into your, ahem, more serious subject matter.

Or if you're like Woody Thompson and Tad Low, skip the serious stuff altogether and just keep the laughs coming. Renowned for creating cable channel VH1's infectious Pop-Up Video concept, Thompson and Low have parlayed their first success into a veritable franchise with a spin-off game show, called Pop-Up Quiz, a calendar and the book Pop This: A Behind The Scenes Look at the Best of Pop-Up Videos (Pocket Books, $18, 800-223-2348). Not content to stop there, the partners and owners of Spin the Bottle Inc., their New York City entertainment and new media company, are developing new show ideas and a digital cable channel.

Circa 1994, Thompson and Low lost their jobs when the late-night show they worked on--Thompson as producer, Low as anchor--was canceled. Believing they could make better shows for a lot less money, they started brainstorming. One year and 60 show ideas later, they emerged to pitch their ideas to TV execs in Los Angeles. Two years later, VH1 bought Pop-Up Video.

Two years of trying to sell something is a long time. How do you face countless rejections without giving up? Take Thompson and Low's advice: Laugh it off. Make your audience laugh. Mock those who reject your idea. And, in the end, have the last laugh.

  • The Heat Is On. "We look at pitching [an idea] as an entertainment show in itself," says Low, 32. Take his practical advice: "They always offer you a beverage when you go in to pitch shows, and you should always take it. Not only does it show you have a real decisive nature--which they like to see--but it pumps you up on caffeine, and you're off on a hilarious ride." Low also recommends sock puppets and gymnastics.
  • Another One Bites The Dust. Low and Thompson faced rejection over and over during their two-year pitch purgatory because no one wanted to take a chance on two young guys with no executive producing experience. How did they deal? Says Low, "Part of the fun was laughing about the freak network development executives we'd just met with [and] doing impersonations of them."
  • Don't You Want Me, Baby? If you're pitching to a middleman, bring plenty of ideas. "[Middlemen] rarely make decisions. But you've got to play to them and make them feel smart," says Thompson, 32. Instead of going in with just one proposal, bring 10--and expect the person to hate half of them. Once the execs have rejected a few ideas, they'll be better disposed to like others.
  • Livin' On A Prayer. Though the partners are just as good at deflating executive egos as they are at inflating them, they're not afraid to put their own egos on hold when duty calls. As a last resort to get their show on the air, the partners went to VH1--a channel they had painful memories of: A development executive there had fired Low from a previous position as an MTV news anchor. Ouch.
  • One Thing Leads To Another. VH1 executives liked the reality-based show ideas Thompson and Low pitched but said they'd have to place videos somewhere within the shows. "We decided to put the joke on them by putting all of [our show ideas] into little text bubbles on top of their music videos, to tell you a bit of information about the [videos] and poke fun at the same time," recalls Thompson. That "joke" became the winning idea for Pop-Up Video.

The pair's humor makes running their business just as much fun as their pre-Pop-Up days. Their 30 employees are subjected (willfully, we assume) to business suit dress-up days; a beer-stocked fridge helps get ideas flowing at brainstorming sessions. "Humor puts everyone at ease and changes the dynamic of any group," says Low. "It brings a big executive down to your level and the lowliest of interns up to your level."

Agrees Thompson, "There's no reason you have to manage your business according to any rules."

No rules? Sounds good to us.

Contact Source

Spin the Bottle Inc.,http://www.spinthebottle.com