I noticed that Multilevel Marketing (MLMs) like to prey on students/fresh graduates/ORD personnels to sign up in their schemes by posting listings on Carousell, Gumtree or jobstreet. I have yet to see any significant press coverage regarding this issue. Hope someone could be interested to cover this story to educate susceptible youngsters about MLMs and be know exactly what they are getting into.
Documented my experience in my blog for context (informal). Full excerpt at https://permasmas.wordpress.com
Some backstory. It was nearing the end of National Service for me. I am an A level graduate who has 9 months before University starts and I needed something to keep myself busy. So there I was scrolling through job listings on job portals, looking to give myself a purpose, gain experience and get my hands on some tasty, tasty cash.
This first job I applied for is termed “Business Marketing Assistant”, not to be confused with “Expendable Sales Promoter”. As A-level graduates, our more attractive options were limited and often boiled down to Data Entry, Customer Service or Manual Labour. And then there was Sales. Sure it was going to be a big step out of my comfort zone, but I thought I could try it out. If things goes well, it will be the perfect opportunity for me to pick up on them desirable ‘Soft Skills’, while earning a good income.
This particular Carousell advert was lucrative. “Local Start-up looking for part-time salespeople. Flexible hours, an estimated income of $2,500 per month (based on your performance!) and one-to-one coaching from a senior. No experience needed.” Proactive as I was, looking back, I felt a little like a sheep looking to jump off a cliff because the grass at the base is looking pretty yummy.
At this point I knew about MLMs and how they operate, in fact I consider myself an expert on the topic, having watched the Last Week Tonight episode on Multilevel Marketing twice. Besides, I know how shameless I am, I can stand up and leave immediately if things get nasty. Nothing to lose here, I’d like to find out more.
The ‘Job Interview’
Right off the bat the “interview” was fishy. I was introduced to a “corporate ladder” depicting the various positions you will stand by accumulating enough points, which are earned by closing deals. Anyone could clearly see that this is a multilevel marketing scheme. Shady, sure. But please carry on.
What bugged me the most was how much this guy was invested in the income I will be generating for myself. He picked up a pen and scribbled quickly on a piece of paper, leading me through an extended series of kindergarten math questions.. “Oh 600 dollars times 4 equals.. uhm.. 2400. Plus this sum from your downlines. Oh and some of your downlines have downlines too.” He built rapport with me as he mentioned how we share common ground through his NS experiences and even talked about his own initial reluctance to get into sales. He harped on the monetary incentives I would see myself getting a year from now, highlighting outlandish car benefits reserved for those at the top which I can aim for.
Here’s what caught my attention. While checking off all the tropes of a MLM, there are some surprising, if not reassuring differences. First of all, a run-of-the-mill, classic MLM usually demands financial commitment from the very members who sign up, be it a monthly (hefty) membership fee, or coercing them to stockpile on said company’s products to sell. There was nothing of this sort here, and the guy took note to emphasize on this very point. Good move, that probably enticed me enough to appear for the first “training session”. I relaxed a little, and disarmed my active skill “Shameless Exit”.
Secondly, I will be tagged as an assistant to a senior manager who will teach and guide me through the way the company’s sales work. I was told that as salesmen we were not even required to do road shows or promote products off the streets. The sales pitches were going to be done on scheduled appointments. Cool, the recipients are interested from the very beginning, I thought then, that should make a sales pitch more comfortable and less toxic.
In fact, as a newcomer, any appointments I went with my manager where he or she would do all the sales pitch, in which my job will be to observe and learn, counts towards my earnings. The deal is sounding pretty good. Based on my understanding on MLMs then, I cannot imagine one giving cash so easily to a new member. The system is usually designed to flush the cash right up to those at the top after all. Maybe this isn’t your typical, cult-like MLM.. I guess? There is really nothing for me to lose here. Where’s the catch? I can’t find it!
It was a simple Google search “BioGlobe mlm Singapore”. (By the way, this company is called BioGlobe. Haha.)
“Oh market saturation and the impending bubble pop force this disgusting MLM to rebrand themselves. 3rd cycle liao.”
(Bullshit MLM operations tend to be unsustainable and collapse once a certain threshold of members is crossed. They like changing their names to avoid the negative connotation associated with the outgoing brand.)
“If you need help losing your friends and family join this company.”
“Wah this company make you sell useless, expensive stuff to your friends and family.”
Damn it. How dumb of me, where did I seriously expect those appointments to come from?
My Issue With MLMs
Lets take a moment to discuss this despicable trend (Is it a recent trend? Or is it just me) of MLMs preying on fresh graduates/ORD personnels looking for part-time jobs. They hide the fact that they are MLMs, promise good remuneration, one-on-one coaching and ‘personal development’ (that is, by ruining your relationships) on their sneaky part-time job offers. Best of all, “Students and fresh graduates welcomed! NO experience needed!”
Fresh graduates like myself are new to the job market and some are even blissfully unaware of how multi-level marketing firms operate. These are vulnerable, inexperienced people, who more often than not, are going to fall straight into that third group as discussed above.
What we can do from here
We could litigate on how MLMs could be more honest, how they should declare themselves as MLMs in their ‘job’ listings, how we cannot allow them to prey on students. But at the end of the day they are still going to find people oblivious to their true nature, who are going to be unwittingly roped into such a scheme without understanding their role in the big picture.
Instead, I think the simplest and most effective solution lies in education. People need to know about MLMs and how they operate, their dangers, the risks involved for participating in any particular scheme, so that they can truly make an informed decision in spite of the psychological techniques employed by some of these organisations.