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Montgomery Magazine talks Entrepreneurship with Piggyback Rider

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Head and Shoulders Above

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It’s romantic, the thought of being an inventor, and it’s seductive, the dream of getting rich quick. But the reality of creating an innovative product and bringing it to market is exhilarating in entirely different ways. “We not only invented a new product,” says Wayne Lifshitz who with his brother Jonny created and launched The Piggyback Rider in 2010, “we invented a whole new category.”

Three years ago, Wayne and Jonny, living in Bethesda and Lexington, Kentucky, respectively, were both having the same problem. Their three-year-olds would start out walking but quickly tire, and they didn’t want to get into the stroller anymore. While the brothers enjoyed carrying their children and showing them the world, this resulted in aching backs. Backpacks were heavy and put the kids to sleep. Piggyback rides were awkward and didn’t leave the dads’ hands free. They needed a better way, so they created one. “It was inspired by need,” says Wayne. “There was nothing on the market.”

The Piggyback Rider weighs all of 3.5 pounds and is ergonomically sound. A tempered aluminum bar lets a child of up to 60 pounds stand up and positions the center of weight over the adult’s hips. The child is strapped to the adult, and child hand holds are located on the shoulder pads, preventing little hands from clutching at adult necks. Plus, kids don’t fall asleep! Standing up on an adult’s back, a kid is guaranteed an exciting adventure with an excellent view.

Getting from idea to first small shipment arrival in the U.S. took only 18 months.

“We’re just a couple of really smart guys,” says Wayne, explaining how they researched, created and launched a product so quickly. “Google is a very, very powerful tool for the small business guy.”

The two already had one invention under their belts, the Wrist List magnetized shopping list that went from refrigerator door to wrist and store, so they knew something about the process. And the brothers had always been tinkerers, admits Wayne, “taking things apart and playing with Legos.”

These days, Wayne is in humanitarian relief and international development. Jonny is a traumatic brain injury researcher. Both used their professional strengths to mold The Piggyback Rider. And they called in brother Bryan, who owns a creative media firm in Phoenix, Arizona, for help in getting the word out.

The Piggyback Rider was featured on “Good Morning America,” just in time for Father’s Day this June. They’ve been really good in getting the word out.

Wayne attributes this to Bryan’s materials and the brothers’ marketing strategy, not only educating consumers about why they need this but certain “guerilla marketing techniques” that have really paid off.

They launched The Piggyback Rider in the kids market first, attending lots of trade shows and using these as their focus groups. At one show, they got lucky.

“This guy came up to us and said that one of his friends would love one,” Wayne recalls. We hesitated to just give it away. “But then he said his friend was a celebrity, so we took a chance.”

Turns out that friend was Dean McDermott, husband of Tori Spelling. Not only did Tori Spelling blog about The Piggyback Rider, but two days later, it was picked up on PerezHilton.com and soon made it to People.com.

The brothers sent Piggyback Riders to every celebrity with a toddler, hoping for more positive feedback. Their invention was soon mentioned by name in OK! Magazine when Leiv Shreiber and Naomi Watts used it in Manhattan and were captured in a full-page photo.

“It catches your eye. It’s very different,” says Wayne, noting that this strategy wouldn’t work for something more ordinary or a product that is used indoors.

For this reason, Wayne sometimes takes his own child for a ride in downtown Bethesda or through the roomy Great Beginnings in Gaithersburg, where The Piggyback Rider is sold locally. “It’s classic guerilla marketing,” he says. “Sometimes I bribe my child with an ice cream cone.”

This month, The Piggyback Rider is rolling out new models. Check them out at Great Beginnings, www.greatbeginningsonline.com,or Piggyback Rider, http://piggybackrider.com

This story was published in the July/August 2012 issue of Montgomery Magazine.

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