Opportunities for the Accidental Pimp: A Business Tale of the 21st Century

Whatever you may think of how the sex trade is depicted — and if you do have a view, it’s really not for me to judge — Harvey Keitel’s performance in the 1976 movie “Taxi Driver” established anyone’s enduring idea of The Pimp in Society.

Here’s Harvey: A permanent image of pimp-as-everyman

Keitel, in his role of the procurer who went by the catchy street-name of Sport, walked the swaggering walk and talked the importuning talk, as the following dialogue snippet will make clear:

Robert De Niro (as Travis Bickle): “How’s everything in the pimp business, huh?”

Keitel (as Sport): “Do I know you?”

De Niro: “No. Do I know you?”

Keitel: “Get outta here. Come on, get lost, huh.”

That was back in the Bicentennial Year, when pimps were pimps, long before this current digital age. Deserted street-corners used to be zones where illegal commerce might thrive, at least according to the movie archives. There was lots of room in the urban margins for Sport or any other ambitious sleazeball, along with branding opportunities a-plenty for those garbed in mack-daddy gear.

These days… not so much. We learn from this morning’s news reports that today’s savvy consumers of sex-trade services prefer the efficiency of beginning their quest not by seeking a human go-between, or a panderer, but by directly querying the Siri or Google search engines on their smartphones.

Which is logical enough, one supposes, except when you consider the propensity of Google and Siri to mess things up, as they surely will do through functions such as auto-correct. This has been the subject of various comedy routines, and the bane of anyone attempting to send simple text messages. The website damnyouautocorrect.com has scads of entertaining examples, such as: “Just leaving the optometrist. They diluted my puppies [sic] and I can’t see.”

Oh, how we laughed at the machine-generated malapropisms.

And perhaps Alvin Acyapan also found it all funny. But that would have been before Siri turned him into the first known example of an accidental ponce.

Mr. Acyapan is the owner of the Toronto branch of the “Meltdown eSports” chain of bars. Since opening a few months ago, he has provided a somewhat clean, mostly well-lighted place on Toronto’s College Street, where millennials may gather to drink craft beer and play videogames. The poor fellow couldn’t figure out why a succession of heavy-breathing chaps kept calling his business to make inappropriate inquiries about this act or that — until one happened to ‘fess up that the Meltdown phone number had been passed along courtesy of good old Siri. As in: “Siri sent me.”

No middle-aged technophobe dimwit, Mr. Acyapan quickly deduced that Siri was offering punters a half-baked algorithm. It seems that to Siri’s inexpert ear, “eSports” sounds much the same as “escorts.” As the astute publican tells the Toronto Star newspaper: “It’s only one letter difference.”

Because the Star employs a crack team of trained journalists, they had to check it out for themselves. So, a Star scribbler asked Siri to locate “prostitutes,” “escorts,” and “hookers” (all the while trying to figure out how to avoid telling his mom what he’s been up to at work.) True to form, Siri coughed up co-ordinates for Mr. Acyapan’s establishment.

Alvin Acyapan, owner of Meltdown eSports bar on College Street says he has received several calls from people looking for prostitutes.
Honest pub-owner Acyapan: He gets Siri’s joke

Unlike Mr. Keitel’s depiction of Sport, Mr. Acyapan appears to be a good e-Sport about the matter, commenting, “I see the humor in it.”

Humor, for sure, but what he perhaps fails to see is the immediate economic opportunity.

After all, digital businesses have been trained to pay huge money to appear at the top of search-engine listings, and a top SEO ranking should be seen as a gift from the Internet gods. If Mr. Acyapan is any sort of entrepreneur, he will grasp that today’s commerce adapts at the speed of thought, and he will recognize the imperative to meet the actual, rather than perceived, needs of his potential customer base.

In other words, this represents a business school case-study dilemma for our times. Namely, if Siri wants to steer cash-clutching clients to your door, do you really want to be redirecting them across the alleyway? Especially in an enterprise with such low barriers to entry as the escort business, where the only fixed requirements are a white fur stetson, an ebony walking-stick, a couple of gold teeth, and plenty of bling. (I may be overlooking a couple of other accoutrements, but don’t tell me there is anything that can’t be efficiently outsourced, or else ordered through Ebay.)

Listen up, Mr. Acyapan. That could be opportunity knocking, importuning you to convert your kiddie bar to a knocking shop. Do not overlook the truism that many will be Googled and Siri-ed, but few will be optimized.

Remember, Mr. A., that one needs to pass law board exams to call oneself a lawyer, and it takes seven years of boring study to call oneself a doctor. But here’s a rare case where Siri is prepared to grant you an occupational designation without a scrap of effort — and all you need to do to begin this remarkable undertaking is to try to look plausible when you ask, as you must, “Do I know you?”


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