One day, after getting off work as a management consultant at one of the big 4 firms, I was waiting at the bus stop for the bus to take me home. I was looking around and thinking about what to do when I got home. All of a sudden, I heard “nice shoes”.
“Thanks.” I turned my head to see that a brunette Caucasian girl was looking towards my dress shoes. The dress shoes, in retrospect, weren’t that nice, but nobody had complimented me on any of my clothing before. I was like Mike Ross in Suits when he first joins the law firm and has to wear suits to work: I wore an inexpensive suit, dress shoes I found from Aldo, and wore them for work because I had to.
We started a conversation and I told her I worked downtown. She sensed that something was off and somehow we got into the topic of entrepreneurship and starting a business. She told me she was an entrepreneur too and I should meet her mentor because she thought he could help. We exchanged contact information as my bus had arrived and that was that.
A few days pass and she asks when is a good time for me to meet her mentor. We arrange a date and time, and I meet both the girl and her mentor at a Tim Hortons.
The mentor starts things off with seemingly innocuous questions. He asked me about work. He asked me if I was interested in starting a business. There were questions where he poked and prodded at my ambition and hustle. I don’t remember all of the questions, but I do remember one question he asked: “if someone said you had to work at a farm, wake up every day at 5 AM and work until 5 PM, seven days a week, for a year, would you do it? Here’s the catch, if you work every day at that farm for a year, without pay, they will pay you one hundred thousand dollars every year after without you doing anything.”
I said no.
This surprised the man. I think he was expecting me to say “yes” like every other individual he talked to. Who wouldn’t want to work for a year and then get a six-figure salary just from working one hard year? He asked me why I said no.
I told him I would have to evaluate other opportunities against working on the farm. If there was something else more valuable with my time that I could do over the course of a year (say start a seven-figure business), then the money I would earn from doing something else would be significantly more than getting a six-figure sum every year.
He nodded his head in appreciation. I got his point though – it was about working hard now so I could reap the rewards later.
After the conversation, he said he would like me to come to a meeting of like-minded individuals. I ventured out to a suburban area and unsure of whether I was at the right house or not, was led into a basement where there was a seminar going on. The man I had met before gestured to the seat in the front of the audience and then began his presentation. It was all about how people could get paid doing the things they normally do (that is, buy groceries). He said it wasn’t a pyramid scheme – and then compared that to how normal work is a pyramid scheme too. You and other employees work for someone above you and your boss is making all the money. He talked about the success stories of the people that introduced him to the ‘business’ and how they, despite not working hard at the business, make a significant amount of money. Then, he talked about the different learning opportunities and resources available when you join the company. Finally, he talked about the company itself, Amway, and gave everyone homework.
Up till that point, I had no idea what the company was or what it did. I thought it might have been a mastermind circle about entrepreneurship. And when the man provided homework, I started to do research on Amway to figure out what I would get myself into if I continued. After several days of not responding to the texts (I gave a few excuses about being busy at work), the girl I had met at the bus stop told me that her mentor was getting concerned when I didn’t complete the homework right away and that I might not be a good fit for the company. After a few more days and considering what I would have to do if I joined Amway, I texted her and said I wasn’t interested but thank you for the opportunity.
There are some interesting lessons I took away from almost joining an MLM:
- Humans love it when you feed their egos. From complimenting my shoes, to talking about how ambitious I was, to appreciating people hustling to get out of their 9-5 jobs, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t blinded slightly by the girl complimenting me. Even nowadays, when I know the tricks people can play, I can’t help but be blinded by emotions. It’s only when you have some time away with a clear head can you rationally think through what it is you are going through.
- MLMs don’t tell you right away it’s an MLM. It was a slow progression from “you seem like you want to get out of the trap of a 9-5 job” to “are you willing to put in the work now to reap the rewards later” to “here’s an opportunity to join a company with significant learning and income opportunities”. As I mentioned, I had no idea it was an Amway pitch until I got to the last meeting. Thinking about it, I think it is designed that way so skeptics never find out about the company and only those that have shown or expressed interest and have jumped through the hoops find out.
- Making people jump through hoops is qualification. Qualification is a fascinating concept – one I first learned about when I was looking at the world of pickup artists. Pickup artists may ‘neg’ a girl – that is, subtly put her down – and then if the girl qualifies herself, the pickup artist knows she is interested. For example, a PUA might say “hey aren’t you a little too old to be at this bar?” and if the girl responds “I’m younger than I look”, it’s her way of responding to the implied insult of “you are old”. For me and Amway, it was about meeting with the mentor, answering the questions and doing different homework. If I jumped straight from a conversation at the bus stop to the meeting where they introduced Amway, it would all be too easy. And making me jump through hoops would make me feel like I ‘earned’ the opportunity.
- Questions designed to get me into the right mindset. The meeting at Tim Hortons was not just a meeting to see if I was a good fit. It was a meeting to get me into the right mindset. The questions were all about “are you willing to work hard now to get the rewards later?” I threw in a curveball with an answer that likely didn’t make sense at first, but working hard now to get rewards later is the formula for success. Where in the world can you not work hard now and get the rewards later? Nowhere. I can see that going right into the idea of selling to friends and family would detract a lot of people so that wasn’t mentioned at all, not even at the final meeting I went to.
- Addressing the cons. Highlighting the benefits. At the meeting in the basement, the girl’s mentor addressed the questions I had in my mind. It was a great sales presentation. “People think this is a pyramid scheme – it’s nothing different than working for your boss. Your boss makes more money than you do and he makes money based off the work you do.” He highlighted all the benefits. Passive income from working hard in the first few years. The people that joined the company from your referral would make you money. And a fraction of the people that they referred would also make you money. He talked about the untapped market and how there are several billion people in the world and that it was much better to get in earlier than later. There were discussions and calculations of the passive income you would get. He told stories about the people who introduced him into the group.
- Don’t commit to anything. Take the time to make a better decision. I’m glad I never committed to anything at any of the in-person meetings. I’m not sure I would have made the right decision. But thinking it through and talking about it with some friends, I believe I made the right decision not to join. Part of it was hearing about some of my friends and coworker’s experiences with MLMs, and although I wanted to start a business, I wanted to start a business that was true to my values.
- Listen to your instincts. Reading about Amway, they talked about how awful it was trying to sell to your friends and family. Although my mindset about selling has changed since, I didn’t want to sell things I didn’t believe in myself to my friends and family – that was just wrong. And if I couldn’t sell to friends and family, I would have to sell to strangers. Being an introvert, that was going to be a challenge. There was a nagging feeling and for once, I listened to it.