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Five Career- and Brand-Building Lessons Served up by Pizza Rat

Eric Hiss

Lessons by Pizza Rat

The scrappy, slice-wielding varmint went viral in 2015. More than 12 million views later, it has changed the life of one quick-thinking commuter — but it turns out Pizza Rat also has some valuable business lessons to share about branding and opportunity.

So, Pizza Rat. In 2015, this little four-footed street hustler became a viral sensation when it famously scurried down a flight of New York City subway stairs with a slice of the Big Apple’s finest (it looks like pepperoni to us) gripped in its tiny mouth.

Matt Little, now an LA-based creative director, was an aspiring stand-up comedian and part-time bartender living in New York at the time. He was on his way home from a gig when he noticed the little fella making a dash with the dough. Little, who in a piece for Business Insider said he wasn’t doing any mobile phone videos at the time, in a “moment of lucidity” took out his phone and started filming.

As Little tells it in the article, “I filmed it, then forgot about it until the following day. After coming up with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-inspired joke, I posted the video to Instagram, which pushed it to my Facebook page. About an hour later, Facebook friends started requesting to share my private video. I changed the settings, and soon Pizza Rat swirled out to become a viral hit.”

You could say the rest is history, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Because with each step along the way of the video’s journey to viral status, the episode underscores some valuable branding teaching moments as to how the clip climbed to a current tally of more than 12 million views.

So let’s break down Pizza Rat’s journey to stardom to see how Little parlayed a rodent’s ambitious appetite into a career-building pivot that still pays him dividends today on multiple levels.

Seizing an Opportunity Often Involves Adapting and Changing Behavior

Pizza Rat Moment: Little decided to do something he normally didn’t do — take some video so he could share the incident with friends.

Branding Point: Whether you’re selling widgets or capturing a rat’s bold moves on your smartphone, your next big opportunity will most likely involve a change in behavior. This aphorism (credited to various folks from Henry Ford to Tony Robbins) comes to mind: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” Meaning, of course, be prepared to change course to reach that goal. Instead of emailing that lead, call them. Try a new social media platform. Get that accreditation you’ve been thinking about. It could very well be the key to getting your slice of the (pizza) pie.

Cultivate Mentors by Consulting With Them When You’re Unsure of Next Steps

Pizza Rat Moment: As the buzz built around the video and Little’s inbox was flooded with emails, he recognized he was in over his head. He next turned to a friend with experience in the viral space and got some coaching on dealing with licensing agencies that could broker deals for him.

Branding Point: We’ve all been there. You’re in a situation where you are encountering unfamiliar turf, such as a new data set, an unfamiliar environment, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s actually key to building new skillsets, opens unexpected lines of communication, and allows you to cultivate relationships with mentors who can prove critical to your career journey. Hot tip: show an interest in learning about the topic by coming to the table with at least a basic understanding of the subject at hand so you can ask informed questions when seeking guidance.

There’s Power in Patience: Wait for the Right Opportunity, Deal or Partner

Pizza Rat Moment: The deals started coming in for Little, but thanks to the guidance of his savvy friend, he didn’t jump — he waited for the right partner, a licensing agent he is still with today.

Branding Point: When you’re a hungry startup — or even downstream in your career — it can be tempting to jump at an early offer or opportunity. This is where patience and good judgement are critical. Take the time to research and vet the offer and discuss it with your newfound mentors and trusted advisors before pulling the trigger. Your brand’s future depends on it.

Don’t Rest on Your Laurels: Keep Pivoting and Look for Segues or Disruptive Integrations

Pizza Rat Moment: In the article, Little says the viral clip has helped his career and income, and he’s gone on to work as a copywriter and now creative director for a social media agency.

Branding Point: Even though he’s on staff at an agency, Little is not slowing down with Pizza Rat. He continues to look for opportunities where he can keep the clip’s viral momentum moving forward. Even the biggest brands know they must continually adapt or die — this includes even their hottest properties. Keep ahead by continually creating and imagining new ways your product, service or idea can remain current and in-demand.

Be Ready for Your Next Big Move!

Pizza Rat Moment: Continuing the momentum, Little moved to LA where he is working in his company’s office and pursuing other opportunities in entertainment.  

Branding Point: Maybe the next big move for your personal brand is upgrading into a private coworking office. Or maybe it’s across the country for a new job like Little. Or it could be taking an idea to its next phase in an entirely new venture. Whatever situation you find yourself in, at some point, you’ll be called upon to make a bold move. Like Little, if you can maintain a critical asset like working for the same company, more power to you. But if your plans mean going freelance or hitting the road as part of the mobile workforce or another career move, line up as many resources as you can and realize the perfect time is usually just when you have the nerve to go for it.

There’s another lesson from the clip you can take to heart. At the end of the Pizza Rat video, the rat fumbles the pizza and hides for a beat, unsure what to do next. Little encourages the hesitant rodent with some words we can all take to heart in those big moments: “Go on, get that sh*t!”

Written by Eric Hiss

February 24, 2023

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