Startup Strategy: Bribe the Chicken

Recently I was talking to an entrepreneur that was recounting the challenges he had with his mobile-first consumer startup. Like many ideas, there was a chicken and egg problem whereby there wasn’t much reason to use his app if there weren’t already a good number of people using it, and he didn’t have many users.

With that introduction he then told me that he was trying to figure out how to bribe the chicken. Not having heard that phrase before I probed more: what’s an example? Quickly, he told me the example of Half.com, co-founded by Josh Kopelman. In the story, Half.com was like eBay only for fixed-priced goods (e.g. a used book for half price). Clearly, it’s a chicken and egg problem where users aren’t going to browse the site if there aren’t any books and no one is going to list books if there aren’t any users.

Enter bribe the chicken. The way they bribed the chicken was by going to used book stores and offering $2,000 in cash up-front as pre-payment for the store owner to list the books online. Any books that sold would be deducted from the pre-payment. Used book store owners are reliable types who will list their inventory and ship a book out when it sells. By bribing the chicken, Half.com was able to get thousands of used books listed quickly and solve part of their problem. Once the used books were online, users found the site through search engines and the business was a huge success.

What else? What are some other examples of bribing the chicken?

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