Right, long promised and long

Right, long promised and long overdue, here is my report on the pyramid selling adventure.
Firstly – how did I come to be there? Well, a person I know through work had talked to me earlier in the year about this “friend” of hers who was looking to expand a business that involved internet selling, and was looking for someone to join the business. Now, I should point out that I like and trust this person (although that is slightly eroded now), and this discussion was on the back of a conversation about my CIM course.
So when I got a phone call from her saying “remember that conversation? [umm….very vaguely] well, we’re having a meeting to discuss it, and I thought you’d like to come along…”, I said that of course I’d come along and see what the whole situation was and if there was mutual interest.
Bear in mind that I’m actively exploring career options at the moment, and have two other (related) avenues that I’m currently seriously investigating.
So, last Tuesday, I ambled (rapidly) up to Alton, having even gone so far as to iron my shirt (those that know me well will know that this is a major event). I found the venue for the meeting, and was immediately struck by the fact that this was not the natural habitat of the person who had invited me there. She is slightly leftfield in nature and of an artistic bent, not the sort of person you are likely to find in a 70s housing estate on the edge of Alton. So it was with some trepidation that I knocked at the door, which was answered by a total stranger. I introduced myself and said who had sent me, and was invited in to the lounge and offered coffee.
And was immediately overcome by the feeling that this was all wrong.
Present in the house was the host and his wife, and one other person who looked as uncomfortable and out of place as I felt. Whilst I sat there and made clear that I wasn’t exactly sure why I was there (or even if I was in the right place), a few other people arrived, including two other people already involved in this “business”, and four others who looked as uncomfortable as me.
The main thing that struck me was that the people already involved in this were so earnest and enthusiastic and even downright evangelical about it. “We’re really excited about this, Graham”. “It’s really huge”. “We’re seeing massive growth at the moment”. “This thing is big”.
Well, yes, but what is it exactly?
Then the star turn arrived. Chris.
Declared our host: “Chris is going to tell us all about this programme [uh-oh, don’t like that word]. He’s very experienced [at what exactly????]. So without further ado…. Chris!”
(Much fumbling as Chris sets up whiteboard on easel).
I’d put Chris in his mid to late thirties. A slim bloke, fairly tall, with perma-bronzed face and arms (couldn’t tell if it was bottle or sunbed, as the light wasn’t good enough – but I’d err on the side of sunbed) and clearly loved himself deeply. He started out by being very enthusiastic, and continuing the mutual love-in, without actually telling us anything. He then went on to explain that he’d been involved in the “programme” (note careful avoidance of the word “scheme”) for more than ten years, having been introduced to it by his then girlfriend who is now his wife. Blah de blah.
He then went on to explain the scheme itself. I’ll not go into too much detail here (otherwise you’ll have reams of reading), but essentially you buy stuff from amivo.com, “an opportunity from Amway” (a name that will ring bells with anyone who has ever heard of any of the most widespread pyramid or “multi-level marketing” schemes in the US or here). You then encourage your friends to do the same, for which you receive a commission. But the “really exciting bit” is that if they go on to introduce people, you earn commission on what they buy too. *And* the more people that you recruit to do this, the more money you make. Moreover, it really doesn’t matter about the buying of the products, because the commission you actually make is based more on the quantity of people you recruit to the system, and the number of people that those people subsequently recruit, and so on until you reach some state of nirvana and float in the clouds on wings of cash. I may have got that last bit wrong, but hopefully you’ve got the drift.
Now, as you might expect, I was scribbling notes as this was going on, as well as looking at the faces of other people in the room (mostly blank and avoiding eye contact in the case of the uncomfortable newcomers, smiling and earnest in the case of the people already in the programme). I was also doing some quick calculations (and I could tell that the woman who had introduced herself as a part time accountant was doing the same thing), and was rapidly coming to the conclusion that what was being promised (in terms of potential income or “revenue streams”) was either being grossly exaggerated or was simply and utterly unsustainable.
Chris must have detected this in his audience, as he started off into discussing all the happy people who he knew on this scheme that had reached cash-induced happiness and displayed some photographs of smiling late-middle-age couples who had been, evidently, solicitors, doctors and teachers in past lives and now had substantial “residual income” through the scheme. He also bantered on about what we could all do with all this money (buy property, stop working, pay off our mortgages, get out of debt) – it was all focused on the personal benefits that new found wealth would give us.
But I don’t need anyone to tell me what I could do with more money if I had it (I have plenty ideas of my own). What I needed was convincing that this was a good way to achieve that (and I was a very long way from that). It was when Chris pronounced that “only unsuccessful people question the method. Successful people focus on the successful result” that I thought: Um, hello? Isn’t that like building a house with a really nice waterproof and warm roof, but not really worrying about the walls because they’re not really important and only boring and unsuccessful people think about that?
Chris wrapped up, handed out information packs and arranged dates to visit each person to collect the packs. I was preparing to really pick him apart with lots of incisive questions when everyone else left! Damn! They were all clearly eager to escape, and certainly didn’t want to linger and discuss it (particularly when we were told not to discuss it with other people, to keep it to ourselves, and only to direct questions to Chris when he called to pick up the packs. Say what?), which is a shame, as I was totally ready to pull his presentation to pieces and save these people from a terrible fate (although I got the impression that they were ready to save themselves).
As I left, I stopped to chat in the road outside with a couple that had been sat next to me. They were in their twenties and were clearly as sceptical as me. I asked them their impression: “ummm, no thanks! I think we’ll just drop the pack through the door so as to avoid him calling round for it. But wasn’t everyone so intense, and just staring and smiling like a bunch of happy clappers!”
Exactly my impression. I was reminded of Quatermass and The Pit – if you’ve ever seen it, you’ll know what I mean.
So there you have it. I deviously avoided meeting Chris again by being “called away at short notice” when he called round, having left his pack in a safe place for him to pick up (which he did).
I also got a follow up call from the person who had originally invited me, asking me why I didn’t find such good “revenue streams” attractive. So I told her – it’s a flimsy pyramid, I don’t believe the claims and I think I’d be foolish to get involved. With that goes the implication that I think she is foolish to be involved, and frankly, I think that is the case.
The whole scheme seems to rely on a sort of brainwashing, picking out vulnerable people (there was talk in the presentation on recruiting people who were unemployed, in sunset industries, on low pay or working long hours). Aside from the financial weakness of the whole thing, I think there is something mildly unethical about it too.