time's up

figuring out who should buy your business

A Sucker’s Bet for Easy Money

“I was the perfect target for an MLM, which preys on the cultural epidemic of isolation.” So confesses Emily Lynn Paulson, author of the exposé Hey, Hun. Now, if you’re lucky enough to not know of what she speaks, it’s multilevel marketing, and bully for you for never having brushed up against such a societal scourge. Call it direct selling, network marketing, or social commerce, but those are just cute monikers to distract from reality: an MLM is a pyramid scheme. Paulson shilled for Rodan + Fields (unnamed, herein disguised as the non-existent Rejuvinat) and clawed her way to its summit, the result of blitzing her friends and family with overpriced skincare products and – this is key – recruiting many to do likewise. The book spotlights how cult-like MLMs are, hoodwinking vulnerable suburban moms with empty promises about community, opportunity, and personal growth. And it’s complete horseshit.

Of all the horrendous aspects of the R + F model, the worst might be its Income Disclosure Statement policies. Paulson reveals that the IDS is buried and complicated because they don’t want contractors to know how little money is being made in the network. I once read that the median annual income for published authors is $20,000 which ain’t great but sounds like a damned Megabucks jackpot when we learn that’s what only two percent of these contractors gross. Gross, as in before costs and expenses. “With a field of 400,000 consultants,” writes Paulson, “99.5% are earning less than minimum wage” and again, that’s top line and doesn’t even capture those who get in & out within a year (which, you know, doesn’t count – quitters!). There’s also an in-for-a-pound culture whereby in addition to a front-loaded starter kit, consultants are pressured to take advantage of dubiously timed “deals,” and we can well imagine inventory starting to pile up onto dining room tables, into garages. Naturally, the industry is self-policed by self-interested MLM CEOs and the like. [Ed. note: the reviewer really wanted to mention Betsy DeVos’ involvement here but has been discouraged from doing so.]

What’s so compelling here is the author’s open kimono writing style. As Paulson’s income skyrocketed – peaking at $40,000/mo. – so did her alcohol consumption and guilt over roping acquaintances into a system in which they would almost certainly fail. Most everyone she met became a target for recruitment. Paulson admits, “When you’re deep in an MLM, you’re exempt from being an accurate judge of what is actually good for someone.” As the “downline” gets deeper & wider, the only ones profiting are those at the top. And as North America became saturated, R + F went international, replicating the broken model in Australia and Japan. Left behind are the suckers at the base levels of the pyramid, “in credit card debt, in trouble with the IRS, cut off from their families, bullied and hurt, or unable to secure real employment” (the last one from the stench of MLM involvement or a résumé gap when it’s not fessed up to). Spoiler: Paulson’s happy ending is a fascinating book, sobriety, and entrepreneurial pursuits that help women avoid such calamities. Credit to her for making up for years of abysmal behavior by blowing the whistle this loudly.

If you have anything to say about this – or book recommendations – kindly post below (rather than emailing me) to spark conversation. Thank you!

8 comments for “A Sucker’s Bet for Easy Money

  1. I have read a number of the books recommended by Chris and they are always a great read. Read “How to Work with (Almost) Anyone” recently and now several others in our office are also reading it as well. Just downloaded “Hey, Hun” as an audiobook and I am looking forward to listening to it.

    • Appreciate your support, Ken. Never thought of a team reading “How to Work…” to better understand each other. Genius!

  2. Hi Chris – Back in the mid-eighties, I started dating this cute little ex-ballet dancer living in Cambridge (Danger, Will Robinson). So, after a couple of months, she wanted me to come to this “event”/presentation about NuSkin. Well, I went and listened and immediately smelled the bullshit, but she smelled independence, money and “doing something for herself.” The relationship melted from there as she was very upset I wasn’t supportive of her in this fine endeavor. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted… truth be a bitter pill.
    Hope you’re well,

    • Enlightening stuff, Norm. Inquiring minds want to know – how’s your skin? Could it be like nu if only you had ready access to such a life-changing therapy? Hmmm.

      Thank you for weighing in. Love it!

  3. Early on in my entrepreneurship journey, a colleague asked if I wanted to join her at a meeting where they would be discussing a new business opportunity – a white label website that sold everyday products. I already had a business, and this felt like it would have been a distraction. Then toward the end of the meeting they announced a second, subsequent meeting where they would be talking about the fantastic experience of being part of Trump University. I knew enough about his reputation in New York that I wanted no part of it. Had I joined maybe I could have been part of his $25mm fraud settlement with his students.

    • Holy cow, Jamie – well dodged. Someone else wrote me about their experience with Trump running their MLM “into the ground within six months.” This stuff just gets weirder all the time. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Adding to my “to read” list. I’ve not participated in an MLM and have been cautious not to; now I’m curious about this book!

    • Will be curious what you make of all the madness, Sara. Appreciate you jumping in the fray!

Comments are closed.