One of the ideas of moving to Las Vegas was to be in a better place to meet more people, both friends and business contacts. So I was excited when my accounting firm asked me to attend a social event with other clients and business owners. I figured this would be a great opportunity to be part of the whole Las Vegas business scene.
The event went well. I’m a little socially awkward sometimes, but overall I met some interesting people. Some of the people I was introduced to said they were travel consultants. I thought this was great because I travel a bit, and after going to a few foreign countries, I realized it would be helpful to work with a travel agent.
These particular people seem to be interested in talking to me, which I thought was great. And at the end of the evening they asked me to attend another “networking event” the next night. I figured it would be interesting to do another one, so I agreed.
The event was at a restaurant not too far from my house. I packed up some business collateral and headed off to be there early. When I arrived I was warmly greeted by my new acquaintances and was told that I was saved a seat up front. I was a little confused as to why I was being treated so nicely, but just figured they were nice people.
My acquaintances started introducing other people to me. The first person introduced was a guy with a name tag that I believe said Tony. I was introduced as the CEO of USWeb, but there was no mention as to what Tony did. After saying hello, and explaining in high level detail what USWeb does, I inquired as to what Tony did. “I’m in real estate” he responded. I thought this made sense. Realtors are always looking to network. But then he added, “I’m also in nuclear medicine”. I’m not a doctor, nor realtor, but I have watched enough ER and House to know that most realtors don’t try to irradiate body parts. I resisted the urge to probe further.
Then I was introduced to another “business person”. She was an attractive woman with a name tag that I can’t remember. After an introduction from my host, I asked her what she did. “I’m a dental hygienist” she responded. Now let me state upfront that I have no problem with members of the dental hygiene community. But I do not see why they would be at a business networking event. I was beginning to grow suspicious.
I was then introduced to a man standing up front by a projector and screen. He was obviously preparing some sort of presentation. I thought I might be treated to some local business news, or maybe something interesting about business in Las Vegas. The man was wearing what looked like a Tommy Bahama knock-off, had an earring and a pinky ring. He also had an odd tan that I suspected might not be exclusively from solar rays. The man, I can’t remember his name so I’ll just call him Tom, seems distracted by his presentation set up.
We are told to take our seats so that we can begin. We all sit down and Tom starts to talk. He brings up a slide with a picture of homes being developed in what looks like a south american countryside and mentions “something he and his wife are really excited to talk about and share an opportunity”. But first he offered us the “chance to promote your business”. This consisted of people standing up and talking about what they do.
The first person I remember going was a woman who said she owns a health store. That seemed normal enough. Then a young man with a very pretty girlfriend who said he was a manager of Peter Piper Pizza. He didn’t seem to be there on behalf of a pizza franchise, so it was a little confusing. More people got up and spoke, an older realtor who actually described a particular condo for sale, a douchie looking guy with his shirt half unbuttoned that had his pitch about being a mortgage broker, a personal trainer who says he used to weigh nearly 300 pounds, and a guy who said he represented 3 different business, which ended up meaning that he had three different things he wanted to sell us.
I was then given the chance to “promote my business”. I tried to decline, but that was evidently not an option here. So I got up and gave a brief attempt at being humble while mentioning USWeb was one of the oldest companies in the space, yada, yada, yada.
Then Tom introduced us to his wife, a local Las Vegas realtor who was on HGTV once. I don’t remember her name, but she had black pants that looked to have been enhanced with one of those Bedazzler machines.
Tom then mentioned that we do business with people who do business with us, which would normally sound fine, but it had an almost threatening tone. Not that I was worried about not getting the personal trainers web marketing business, but I’ll be dammed if I’m limiting my pizza choice down to Peter Piper Pizza.
Tom then started to go around the room, strategically asking people how much business they get from this group. They all gave numbers that seemed impressive. I guess this was meant to show the power of the group. Since no one hit me up for any sort of currency fee to join this group, I started to worry about what part of my soul they might be after.
But everything was about to be crystal clear. Tom seemed to take a short, but deep breath and launched into an intro pitch for his wife to talk about the “opportunity” they want to share with us lucky few. They are high level members of World Ventures, which operates a travel website that you can make money from. I quickly connected the dots to my new friends being “travel consultants”. I knew then I was about to be pitched the dreaded MLM scheme.
Let me take a break from my long winded account so that I can declare my particular hatred of MLM, and all those involved. First, I’ll state that I get the idea behind why people to do this. To quote Chris Rock about OJ, “I’m not saying I agree, but I understand.”. Most people work a 9 to 5 job, and there is little chance they will be able to stop before 65. The only chance out of the proverbial rat race that makes any sense to them are scratchers and MLM’s. The nice ones go with the scratchers.
My main problem with MLM people is that no one actually ever sells anything real. The whole scheme is based on selling others the “opportunity” to sell their friends and family the “opportunity” to pass it on.
And my true distaste for MLM people is their complete willingness to treat every acquittance as a mark. Everyone they know now has the potential to fatten up their wallet.
And that’s what happened to me. I met some people that I thought might be legitimate business people, and now here I am, hearing about the opportunity to screw over people I meet.
Anyway, back to my rant.
Tom now introduces his Bedazzled pants wife, who has clearly given this pitch before. The entire show is well prepared and plays on just about every insecurity a lower income person will have. “Don’t you want a better life for your family?”, and “Don’t you want to start living the life you deserve?”.
She adds some positive reenforcement like telling the room how special we all are. She compares buying into their program to buying Google stock before it was IPO, and how we’re lucky to be part of this.
There is also the take away close. “We don’t want to invite everyone to the opportunity. If you’re negative person, then you just won’t fit in”. This would be me.
At one point, I’m used to demonstrate one of her points. She mentions that you get access to the website for only $99, and $20 per month. She asks me what kind of website one can have built for $99. She also called me “web-man”, which I think was some kind of slam to isolate me a little from the group. I think my “negativity” may have been shinning through. The question ended up being rhetorical. But to answer, it costs nothing to point to someone else’s website and get a commission off the sale. It would cost $8 to buy your own domain name to point to it.
But the comment that made my stomach turn was “if you’re saying you can’t afford this now, ask yourself when you’re going to be able to. When will you do what you need to do to make your life better? God brought you here for a reason, don’t blow this chance.”. At this point I don’t know if she’s trying to sell me something, or win the Republican primary. Either way, it makes me sick that she is trying to pry money from the hands of people she knows can’t afford it.
So what is this great opportunity that god wants me to take advantage of? World Ventures has a travel website. They are quite proud of it. Being a bit of an expert on website usability, I can tell you that it’s really a piece of crap, but it looks professional enough to convince people that someone spent money making it. And for a few hundred dollars you can get a sub-domain, like yourname.travelsite.com. And when people go to this website, you get a percentage of the travel they book. Every major travel website has this ability, it’s called an affiliate program, and it cost nothing.
But the commissions are pretty high on the program. That comes from the fact that it seems like you’re booking people into travel where they will be pitched more “opportunities”. Like the “opportunity” to buy into a time share. Of course everyone loves a vacation where they have to listen to a time share pitch.
But of course that’s not all you’re getting. The real thing you’re buying is the ability to sell other people the same crap you just bought. And you can make money off them, the same way Tom and Bedazzled lady, and the people who invited me, would make money off me if I signed up.
The presentation ends with Bedazzeled lady telling us the next part of the evening will be us letting our sponsor know which level we want to buy tonight. We have several choices starting at $99 – $399. Tom lays down the form in front of me, and as soon as the presentation is over, I have three people on me. One is a guy who never introduced, but asks for my card. He gives me his card from World Ventures. the pressure to sign begins. One woman asks what I found interesting about the presentation. All that comes to mind is the woman’s pants, and the slickness of it.
Tom comes up behind me, looks at my empty application and asks “is it something I said?”. Tom is well over 6’, and I sense a slight attempt at intimidation to try to get me to sign up. I want to tell him that I have a rule about never buying anything from someone with a pinky-ring, but I just tell him I’m too busy to participate. That’s when one of the women start telling me that it doesn’t really take any time. I can just sign up and wait for the money to roll in I guess.
Tom comes back around to tell me what a great deal this is. At some point he decides we must be kindred spirits. “$400 is not a lot of money to people like us. We throw that down for dinner” he says. This is untrue on both our parts. I know for a fact that I don’t spend that much on dinners. Even most 5-Star restaurants I frequent don’t get over $120 per person. I guess if I ordered wine with the meal, then it might go over, but I don’t really drink. And I’m even more certain this guy isn’t throwing $400 down on dinner. Not if he’s trying so hard to pry lose a couple hundred from me. The fact is, $400 is a lot of money. It’s a lot more than I would have to spend on a new Kindle, which I really want, but don’t buy because it costs $359.
Since even their leader Tom has failed to convert me, I’m now getting the cold shoulder. The echos of “one of us, one of us” is fading away, and I see my friends start to turn to each other, and other prospects. It’s my time to leave. I mention that I might grab some dinner. Someone tells me that if I mention I’m with them, I get 20% off my bill. I weigh the 20% against having to admit that I’m with this group, and I elect to play it safe and leave all together.
On the way out, I check back to see the status of the other marks, and check out the pizza guys hot girlfriend one last time. It looks like it’s going to be a good night for Tom.
As I exit the restaurant, I see a women from inside the room smoking a cigarette by the parking lot. I say hello and she asks me what I thought. The women looks to be in her mid-thirties, and I dare to say not wealthy by any means. I ask her if she’s part of the World Venture group, and she says they are considering it, and again asks what I think. I mention my policy on not buying anything from someone with a pinky-ring, but this is quickly dismissed as she starts to re-list the benefits. Along with the regurgitation of Tom, she mentions that she is a waitress, and she has kids, and that her boyfriend is in the room pleading to get the price down to the amount of money they have. It seems that their rent money for the month might be “invested” into this. My thoughts quickly go back to Tom, and I wonder if maybe he really is paying $400 for his dinners. But then why wouldn’t he spring the extra $150 for a real Tommy Bahama shirt?
I say goodbye to the woman. I push back the feeling like I should give her a lecture about scams, and about thinking there is an easy way to make money. I just go to my car and drive home, a little more depressed for having seen this.
Just to get some closure, I email my new “friends” and apologize for not taking part in their “business”. I even invite them to lunch sometime to talk about web stuff they were interested in. The response was what I thought, as there was none.