The Perennial Get-Rich-Quick Question

There are so many questions we want to ask the millionaires. We want to ask how they did it, what struggles they endured, how they came up with such creative business ideas, how they surmounted their obstacles. We want to ask them if there is any chance at all that we can be just like them someday.

One of these questions has plagued me for a while now. I desperately want to know how to make a global phenomenon.

Nowadays, everything is measured in terms of worldwide penetration, of global impact, and of doing it quickly. Ylvis’ The Fox is a song that exploded onto the YouTube scene in September this year, barely one month ago, and it became featured in every single country. K-pop became the in thing after it left Korea and went into places in Europe and USA. The quicker a spark burns, the brighter its light.

I learnt, for the possible third time in my time in NUS, about diffusion of innovations. When an innovation is piloted, there will be a small segment of the population that are the innovators, the ones who get their hands on the product before the rest of the world knew what it was. Following them will be the early adopters, followed by the early majority, the late majority and finally the laggards. We always want to be the innovators of cool things. We always want to proudly say that we liked a certain thing before it became so popular. It shows that we’re very good judges of quality and success, that we know something was great before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. We were here first, so to speak. But many of us know that it’s not so easy. Who were the first people who used the iPhone or the Mac before they became so popular? Who were the first hundred viewers of the Gangnam Style video, who shared it with their friends? Before the harlem shake entered Asia, someone from Asia had got to be the first dude who saw it and was like “check this out, bro”. How do these people even get their sources?

And looking at it from the other way around, how do businesses reach such people? I have been on forums long enough to know that advertising is hard. Once a forum loses its place on Google, it loses its popularity, and people on the internet do not know of its existence. That is the scary part. It is okay to know about something and not like it, but imagining crowds of people who do not know about it at all is a terrifying idea, because we do not know how to reach them. We can advertise on social media, or forum directories, but over there we will be competing with lots of others like us, some of which are probably inferior to us, but the shoppers don’t know that. Or the place where we’re advertising may actually have the wrong target audience, and before we know it we have n00bs and 4chan trolls hanging around in our forum.

And in real life, if we do produce a killer product, where do we go to ensure it reaches the right consumers? And how do we begin to convince them to let go of whatever they have now and take ours? It’s like forum advertising again. People can only be active on a set number of forums at one time, and everyone thinks what they have is better than any fishy new thing. Getting people to give up something they know and love is harder than the stage of getting someone to just take us in.

And the dumb thing is that once we have hit a critical number of people, the numbers spin wildly out of control. People pour in and we may face problems of overcrowding, over-consumption. It’s always still good, of course, to have more attention, but it can be so ironic, this multiplicative function. At a time when you don’t need more people, you get them.

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