There are some things that will happen a few times in your life – you fall in love, you lose yourself in the music, you get a cavity, you lose a loyal pet… you’re approached by a Pyramid Schemer.
Pyramid Schemers, like Zombies, are friends who have lost their minds. They resemble their former selves, yet they approach you (out of the blue) with a crazed look in their eye, ready to wag their chins unstoppably about a new magical economic panacea they’ve discovered. They’re hoping you’ll join them in their new quest, but today I’m going to teach you how to defend yourself from them.
It all starts with the compliments. One of your acquaintances (or Heaven forbid close friends) approaches you and tells you…
I just wanted to let you know what I’m up to these days.
At this point they’ll talk your head off for an hour about the joys of being your own boss, and then invite you to a clandestine meeting.
You seem like a smart guy. Do you want to go to a Legitimate Business Meeting with me? Trust me, it’s a Legitimate Meeting. With Business People and everything! And it’s Legitimate!
This can mean only one thing: They’ve gotten themselves tied up in a Pyramid Scheme. Here’s how Pyramid Schemes work:
- One wily person (We’ll call him Wile E. Coyote) makes a few moral compromises and/or convinces himself that he’s out to help people. He sits at Level 1.
- Wile E. promises a group of people the world on a stick if they each pay him ~$800. They become Level 2 agents and begin selling some ethereal product that people already have, such as vitamins or electricity.
- They approach everyone they know and try to sell said products.
- Interestingly enough, they’re MORE interested in signing people up as fellow agents than they are in selling their products.
- Any friends who sign up have to pay the fee to become Level 3.
- If these Level 3 people can manage to sell a few products or enlist people into the scheme, Levels 2 and 1 receive a percentage of that, simply for being higher in the pyramid.
- Later on, when Level 3’s new underlings (4, 5, 6, ff.) sell either products or memberships, the people at Level 3 (and all levels above them) make a percentage of that sale.
- Ergo, our friend Wile E. makes a cut of everything ever.
- One day, your friend signs his life away as the newest Schemer in the Pyramid.
- Your friend realizes what a mistake it was.
- Rather than admit it was a mistake, your friend tries to make up for this loss by asking others to join him. The system is perpetuated like a garden weed.
The reason I chose this topic is because I’ve been approached by many, many schemers in my life. Unfortunately it’s a sign of bad times, an economic Horseman as it were. When people can’t find good jobs or create real businesses, they can get sucked in quite easily.
The first time I attended a Pyramid Scheme Meeting, I quickly noticed something was fishy. (Ironically enough, it was being held by Egyptians!) 90% of their argument for me to join lay in the fact that one of their higher-level people drove a Mercedes… and that they had even seen the car for themselves. Nice going, guys.
(UPDATE: Come to think of it, that Mercedes was earned through the crushed dreams of the many underlings who eventually failed. Nice going!)
On a few occasions, I even sat through a Magical Legitimate Own Business Whatever Doohickey Mega-Presentation. They were all led by a charismatic, quasi-exciting guy with a fancy laptop, and all the audience members were Boomers who were scared for their future and had never seen a website in their lives, yet hoped to own one soon. (Did you know, you can own some of the Internets?) Cheers and chants ensued. It felt like a cult.
During my last year in college, I co-founded a juice bar in the school gym. It was the first student-owned business on the campus, one of the first protein-smoothie bars in the area, and every last aspect of the business (including the drink names) was dreamed up from scratch. Some Schemers had the nerve to approach me and tell me that I…
- Could sell their Magical Vitamin Health Supplement Stuff
- Seemed like a nice guy
- Seemed like I could run My Own Business if I tried
- Could make money from My Own Legitimate Business
So, I told them that’d be like asking Ronald Reagan to run for office of Dog Catcher and then chased them away with a broom and some garlic.
In business school, properly educated students learn how to differentiate the businesses they’ll work for. For example, Wal-Mart differentiates itself from the competition based on price. Cadillac promises prestige, and Volvo is synonymous with reliability.
Every last one of these zombies is trained to vehemently deny that he’s in a Pyramid Scheme.
Oh, no! TRUST ME, this isn’t one of those Pyramid Scheme thingies! This is different, this is MLM: *gasp* Muuultilevel Maaarketing.
MLM quickly became a dirty word.
Oh no! TRUST ME, This isn’t one of those Multilevel Marketing things. Oh no, this is the real deal. This is Neeeeetwork Marketing.
Surely next year a Zombie will approach you and say something like…
Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those Network Marketing things! Pshaw! This is new… this is a… Magical… e-Money, uh, Friend… Tree.
Thus spins the eternal euphemism treadmill…
Hit me like a slow bullet (As usual, bonus points if you get the reference!)
Don’t try to talk them out of it or otherwise heal them – you’ve lost that person to the Economic Zombie Apocalypse and there’s no convincing them otherwise. Just remember the good times you had together before somebody bit them!
Their excited arguments will fly at you like blunt bullets – senseless, unrelenting, and oh-so-ridiculous to those outside their bubble. With eyes spinning, they spout off half-truths and irrelevant data:
We grew faster than GM or Sony in the first 27 minutes of our existence!
We’re a 54906 gazillion square foot e-green-company! That’s more revenue than 50,000 hot dog stands per minute!
They then turn the argument on you:
Wouldn’t you like to make more money?
Wouldn’t you agree, that if you sell a product, you’ll make money?
Wouldn’t you agree, that you’re a smart person and good with business?
Don’t you want to fire your boss?
They know not what they do
Look, I’m not criticizing Schemers here. They just don’t realize yet that they’ve been bamboozled:
- They just paid someone a large sum of money for the opportunity to sell that person’s stuff.
- They’re now just a sales force for that person.
- They’re selling the same crap everyone else in the pyramid is selling.
- There’s absolutely nothing original about that which they call their “own business.”
- Their “Magical Inter-Web-iCommerce-Internetcashmachine E-website” is just like everyone else’s.
- Hardly anybody wants their products/services!
So could you agree, then, that you’re not actually adding any value to the economy?
So what happens when everyone in the entire world is trying to sell each other ginseng-flavored toothpaste and tanning butter?
How did you help that guy who gave you his last $1000 and realized nobody needed more arthritis cream?
However, in most cases it would be wise to follow the path of Elwin Ransom, hero of the novel Perelandra. Elwin is charged with protecting an Eve-like character from the Devil at the beginning of her world – and the Devil’s mouth doesn’t stop running. Eventually after failing to refute all of the half-truths and the taunts, our hero decides to simply shut him up. Problem solved.
Just as you’ve learned to do with loud TV commercials and flashy Web banner ads, you can now tune these zombies out or distract them with shiny objects. You can only hope that one day they’ll find a more wholesome form of income.
Okay, calm down everyone.
Before everyone starts sending me hate mail and/or stops talking to me, let me do my usual disclaimer. Selling acne cream and cheap long distance is fine with me. If you’re legitimately selling something through these means, and you’re not preying on anyone, more power to you. Just realize that someone’s making money off of your hard work, and worse yet, you give true entrepreneurship a bad name.
To my readers who aren’t already involved in one of these, now you know what they are, and how to protect yourselves from them. That’s all I have for you today. Have a great week and we’ll see you next time on Teknosophy!