John Oliver shreds multi-level-marketing pyramid schemes

Originally published at:


In these troubled times, it is good to seek out something that I would hope everyone could agree is truly, nakedly evil.

The Herbalife article on (home of much that is nifty) is getting older all the time, but it’s just such a great read.


cause you know it isn’t investment! hey rube sell this bs product for us!


Pyramid schemes are for suckers. If you want to make money, you need to get in on a reverse funnel operation.


You mean like… doTerra? :wink:


I’m convinced that the biggest reason that people get suckered into these schemes is that they do not value their own time. They think they can build a business with no investment, not realizing the insane amount of TIME they are giving away for free to these companies as they try to “become entrepreneurs.”


I have friends that do stuff like this (Nerium and others like them). I very politely let them know I am not interested. So far it’s worked well.


I’m thankful that my auditor has helped me avoid all these pyramid schemes. If anybody else is interested, I can start you on your journey with an free introductory audit and a free copy of Dianetics for only $49.95.


We have a friend that is into R+F - what blows me away is that she’s already a successful C-level person in business. She makes a shit load of money. For the life of me, I can’t begin to understand how she’s involved with R+F. I know I’m about to start hiding her FB posts because that’s all she posts about.
Most people that get roped into these things are credulous and/or desperate. Even if she was deep in debt (which she’s not) I would think that doing the math would be enough to know that she’s never going to make money from this “business”.


In College, two friends got sucked into selling pre-paid legal services. One even sold his leather coat so he could get in on it.

They sat me down, and granted I am only 20 and don’t know shit, but they map out how it works. The used this circle chart, with it branching out.

I am like, “This is a pyramid scheme.”

“No, no, look, its in a circle, that branches out.”

“Yeah, but, if you take just a slice of it, like this, it’s a pyramid.”


Hate to break it to you, but your “auditor” doesn’t like competition to his own MLM bridge he is trying to sell you.


I never knew that Mary Kay was MLM… Do people still get pink Caddies?


Note that the pyramid scheme has recently moved into the digital world with the creation of Empowr, which is a version of a pyramid in which you are supposed to sell your own crappy products (jewelry, knitting, or anything else you care to offer online). You get assigned a “coach,” who trains you how to sell more crap and recruit more sellers Soon you will be able to quit your job and make money online, on your own time, etc etc. You get updates ostensibly telling you how much money you have made from your “likes” from other members. To “lock in” your profits, you must give them your credit card number to pay a fee to “protect” your virtual earnings. If so many rubes have fallen for Amway and Herbalife, just imagine how many more are going to fall for Empowr.


I have a few R+F friends. I think at least a few of them just like the products and see the pyramid scheme as a way to get the products a little cheaper (apparently not realizing that there are a million alternatives out there). Some of them seem to think they can make money from it, though.

My favorites are the ones who post about their progress toward the FREE LEXUS, when if you read up on it, R+F doesn’t actually give you a Lexus; they just promise to cover your payments on a Lexus lease for so long as you keep your sales above some ridiculous level. Fall below that sales threshold and the lease payments stop and you’re stuck with a lease obligation you have to pay yourself. Great deal, right?


When a friend took me to a recruiting seminar for selling charcoal water filters (be your own boss!) in the nineties, two things immediately stood out for me: The main speaker starting out with “I just drove up in my own Ferrari!” and “You can’t sell product from the back of an empty truck.” It was all perfectly illuminated as far as I was concerned.


I did a stint at Amway corporate (Ada, MI) as a contractor, which I gather invented the MLM model that everyone copies now.

It is pretty disgusting how they run their business. I got to know a guy who used to work in their airplane hangar (actually showed me and other contractors around, let us wander around the jet cabins a bit). Based on the number of planes, and what he said takeoff and landing costs, and how often the family of the founders flies, I reckon as a company they spend 100 million a year ferrying around the relatives of the 2 founders. They have now something like 13 private jets (only 11 when I visited the hangar, but more were in process), some of which are full-blown 747’s.

The corporate worker bees are terribly lazy, and don’t do much all day. I often browsed the web for a lack of work to do (nobody could be bothered to scrounge up any either). My hourly rate was not cheap–in the hundreds of dollars an hour. It’s incredibly hard to get hired (and consequently fired), and they talk about the company as a “Family”. I was told in the rare event of a firing, it’s for something along the lines of getting caught having sex on the corporate campus. And the first time’s a warning!

The individual sales agents are what funds it all–the people who can least afford to take a bath on a get-rich-quick scheme. They have in the halls of the campus a “Wall of Fame” for their biggest sellers, which to a man (or woman) look to be a bunch of sleazebags. (If you have a mental image of what sleazebags look like, you probably are picturing older rich white people–not so! Many are relatively young, like mid-30’sish, and many are from their various Asian sales territories which currently makes a huge chunk of their business.)

In conclusion, just this one company from what I saw is an exercise in taking money from the lower-middle/middle class and redistributing it to the upper/upper-middle class on a massive scale.


Growing up there was one family on the block that got in early on a MLM, and they got seriously rich. Once the wife’s time was saturated, the husband stopped his career as an architect and worked fulltime on the MLM.

A generation later another relative was inspired by this story and actually did fairly decently in an MLM because he was a doctor and he did testimonials for the company about the bogus health benefits, so they let him skip some levels.

Then a relative who was really struggling and out of options got their friends to invest $20k in a “gifting circle”. It was the saddest thing to see how some people go through life literally having no ability or motivation to critically analyze financial deals and simply rely on social proof that someone else they knew was successful. No matter how I tried to explain the problems with this MLM, they simply couldn’t take it in.

Needless to say, all these people left a huge trail of destruction in their wake.


my uncle. he started with Tupperware, got bored, switched to Hara*, sold more than the company could deliver and currently runs the North German market for Candle-Lite. he could sell snow in Greenland.

* or so, some kind of high-tech cleaning cloths


To me it’s like organized religion. When you have a friend that’s been “saved” and they keep bothering you all the time.
Same with the MLM shit. Even when you’re young and still learning about life, once you get inside just a little bit - and I have seen it from the inside just a little - you realize they are exploiting people and it’s all BS.
Again, this is why I’m so confounded by our friend who’s into R+F. She’s smart and successful.


Every once in a while I’ll see a pink Caddy, but not closely enough to see if it’s Mary Kay.

I used to work at a tech support center where Mary Kay was one of our clients. They had a couple of good policies that I heard about (FWIW) from the people on that help desk. One was that any meeting scheduled for more than 30 minutes’ duration had to be pre-approved by a VP. Another was that when addressing another employee, one (e.g. a male employee) had to look at them (e.g. a female employee) from the neck up.

Speaking of MLM, that same workplace had one client after another that was some kind of scheme. I guess this was about 17 years ago, before broadband took off and most people still had dial-up. We did tech support for the ISP portion of Excel Communications. I developed and ran the Remedy system*, so I was not on the front lines**, but that help desk had to be a nightmare – the callers would’ve had every possible home computer configuration, whether it had been correctly set up or not.

Anyway, someone must’ve thought Excel worked out pretty well for us, because in the space of a few months, I was getting a request every week or so to build a new Remedy application because the help desk had yet another ISP contract, and they were invariably some sort of MLM outfit. And they always needed it today. (I guess they were easy sales.) After two or three of those “emergencies,” I finally made a boilerplate file (the closest that one would come to actual “code” in Remedy; I’ve gone on about this before). When the latest emergency came up. I’d just tweak the boilerplate and have a new app in less than a day. One of these other companies was BWW, but as often as not, the MLM ISP contracts never went live, and I’d never hear about them again.

Coincidentally it was the only place I’ve worked where co-workers approached me about getting in on some MLM scheme or another. I can remember at least 4: one of them, who fit the Utahn demographic (or stereotype) mentioned earlier, pitched more than once (and regarding more than one company)***, while another fellow called me at home around 10:30 pm to go into his spiel.

(Off-topic but our other client worth mentioning was Netpliance. Man, were they an arrogant lot, even a little while after the hack that coincided with their IPO (which tanked).)

*Which I still do, but elsewhere.
**I started on the help desk, but (thankfully) worked on different contracts from the ISPs.
***He also gave me a copy of Ayn Rand’s Anthem which I still haven’t read. I’ve since heard that Anthem is actually the one worthwhile Rand book, but I have a stack of other unread books I’ll probably tackle first.