My column in the March 2014 issue of the Entrepreneur magazine:
Allow me to make you a proposal:
Please believe me when I tell you that I have invented a new shampoo that is made of sawdust. The finest, freshest, woodiest sawdust you can find. It’s so great that once you use it, you will never use anything again. The sawdust in my shampoo cleans out all the dirt and grime in your hair and leaves your head smelling like freshly polished furniture! It’s so unique that I am considering filing a patent for it.
I understand that you operate the world’s largest retail operation, present in over one hundred countries. I want you to stock my sawdust shampoo – ‘Saw-Saw-Sha-Poo’ !!
Hey, before you get excited, let me lay down my conditions:
Now tell me, if you were this giant retailer (think Walmart), and a nincompoop like me appeared at your door with this sawdust of a proposal, what would you do? Break your chair on my head to make me experience what ‘sawdust shampoo’ actually feels like?
I guess if you are clued in, you will have guessed by now that while Walmart may shoo me away, if I make a ‘sawdust shampoo’ app (that does whatever I claim it does), then I can go with this ridiculous proposal and all its terms to Google, Apple and Amazon and they will gladly accept me as I am. Unconditionally. Without any obligations. Like a mother accepting her child.
Dear reader, welcome to the world of piggyback entrepreneurship. A ride so incredible, that once you have gotten on, you will never want to get off.
And why am I so excited about this concept that may already seem a bit stale and strange to you?
It’s because very few of us (entrepreneurs included) really think of the magnanimity of the opportunity that Piggyback entrepreneurship offers.
1. No Piggy? No success. No success? No Piggy!
Just a few years ago, apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter and Angry Birds would have been impossible to launch.
If you think hard, who would have been able to support the servers, bandwidth, billing, collection and reconciliation involved of millions of customers, most of them paying nothing or at the most a couple of dollars? Apple, Google and the rest solved that case for the guys mentioned above.
Coming to my central point:
During the late 90’s to late 2000 (a decade), the mobile phone (plus what went on it) was dominated by telecom operators. Tell me, which app or service launched during that period, do you remember, that made your life interesting, productive or pure fun?
There were no ‘apps’ launched, because the inward looking, introverted telecoms did not believe in piggyback entrepreneurs! They thought of entrepreneurs who brought them ‘saw-saw-sha-poo’ proposals as ridiculous and shooed them away.
Today, if you consider the economics of most of these telecoms, you will be moved to tears. They are highly leveraged (under debt) and constantly under the threat of going bust. This is my explanation of ‘No Success, No Piggy’ – the reverse of ‘No Piggy, No Success’!
Takeaway – Piggyback entrepreneurs help themselves and also the backs they ride on; so don't be shy and ask for the free ride.
2. If you ride someone’s back, make sure you scrub it!
Ever since I remember traveling, I have detested hotel toiletries. I have major problems in hotel bathrooms and can give a lady a run for her money as far as ‘nakhras’ go! Either the soap smells like a stale rose or the shampoo feels too thin (remember, I am into sawdust shampoos!) or the conditioner feels like it’s knotting my hair up like a Baba from the Himalayas.
To solve this problem I always lug my toiletries around, adding a few more kilos to my already bulky bags.
All this changed when I stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore. I still remember walking into the shower and staring at a set of toiletries by a brand that I had never heard of before called ‘L’Occitane’. I reluctantly tried out the pale yellow shampoo and was instantly transformed. This was undoubtedly one of the best products I had ever used!
Since that memorable trip, I have bought thousands of rupees worth of L’Occitane goodies from their stores all over the world. The simple act of sampling their goods in the Four Seasons’ bathroom made me their customer forever. In fact, I rarely stay at Four Seasons hotels (can’t afford them) but always buy L’Occitane goodies!
This is a classic example of Piggyback Entrepreneurship. Most hotels don't want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on toiletries and always compromise. On the other hand, great brands like L’Occitane find it difficult or expensive to find potential customers in large numbers at single places and hence partner with hotels to power up their toilets!
Takeaway: Piggyback riding in business can be at equal or unequal terms but once given a chance, be sure to offer your very best. You just might enjoy a better payoff than your host!
3. Don't break the back that carries you!
One of the most famous games in the world is FarmVille. Just this one game alone was responsible for creating Zynga - a billion dollar games company from thin air.
One of the most famous cases of facebook spam in the world happens to be FarmVille. This very game was responsible for threatening the very essence of facebook messaging and its notification platforms.
Do you smell the shampoo?
It's a well-acknowledged fact that Zynga and its ‘spammy’ ways almost brought facebook down its knees and spread massive toxicity of spam within what was a gentle, personal and super friendly networking platform.
The piggyback rider was killing its host!
A similar case of near brand death was when Ray-Ban sunglasses signed up to be given away as freebies with many popular magazine subscriptions in India. While Ray-Ban thought of this as an incredible ‘piggybacking’ opportunity to improve sales, they never realized that the brand perception of their globally famous brand was plummeting to ground zero! Many Indians in that period (late 90’s to early 2000) began avoiding to buy Ray-Ban because they said, “Oh, that's the free stuff I can always get when I subscribe to a magazine.”
Piggyback Entrepreneurship is a tricky business. You have to know whose back to jump on, for how long and for what purpose. As a host it works the same way. You have to be sure of letting the right people ride your back and for the correct purpose, for the optimum time. Else both host and guest will kill each other.
If you have lived in India, you will be familiar with the popular mythological stories of ‘Vikram and Betal’. In this series, a king carries a sorcerer on his back as a favor for a monk. The sorcerer tells stories, the king answers back (the deal is that he should keep quiet) and the sorcerer flies back to his tree. The cycle repeats again, much to the reader’s delight!
A perfect example of Piggyback Entrepreneurship I would say!!
alok - loved every example and analogy that expands each point.
plus your subheads & takeaways are WINNERS.
thank you for the DELIGHTFUL READ!
Alokbaba is classic ! Always !!!
Let all Betals get Vikrams !
Ended just when i got excited to read more and more.
What a nice read!
Maybe the Toughest part in The Vikram and The Betal Selection (Who would be Which character) the MONK still remains the Reason of DOing it :D
Looking for the MONK, to point the Vikrams and the Betals!! Your Friendly Neighborhood Alien!
Thanks for the Nice read Alok, as always.
Alok - I must say this is a great fun way to give away some of the most important business lessons. You must try to teach all eager entrepreneurs in free business classes ;)
Thanks for this awesome read.
what a lovely insight into the piggyback entrepreneurship! another good read....very valuable indeed!
and yes the saw-saw-sha-poo...was hilarious:)