How I Lost My Friends in Multi-level Marketing

When I was a kid, my dad always joked that someday he was going to write a book titled, “How I Lost All My Friends in Multi-level Marketing.” As far as I know, he never got past the ‘idea’ stages for his foray into novel writing. But the idea stuck in my mind. Problem was, when I was a kid, I really didn’t get the joke. And I wondered how a person could possibly lose their friends by simply selling stuff to their friends. I tucked the thought in the back of my mind and didn’t recall it for years.

The year was 1987. I was an upstart middle manager in a dead-end job at an aero-tech company. Almost everyone in the business had a second job and at least one I knew of had a third job, although I don’t know how he did it. No sleep, I guess. It was just the kind of place you had to moonlight in order to survive. And I actually considered making a career at the place. Ambition can overshadow common sense. 

One day, one of my coworkers approached me. The guy’s name was Rob and we rarely spoke. We worked opposite ends of the plant, and he just wasn’t the talkative type. But on this occasion, his formal attitude made me take notice. “Hey, do you mind if I drop by your place this evening? I’ve got an excellent business idea, and I need to get your advice on a few things,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “Come on over. I’ll have my wife make some goodies for all of us. So, what is your business idea, Rob?” I asked. 

“It takes some time to explain; I’ll lay it all out this evening and see what you think.”

Six o’clock came and sure enough, there was Rob and his wife standing on my porch, dressed for church. We got comfortable; the goodies were passed around; the small talk ended, and an air of business settled over the room. 

Rob launched into his pitch. “I’ve been praying for a few days about this moment,” he said. I suddenly knew this was not going to be a normal business discussion. 

“Last night, I received revelation from God that you are supposed to join my downline in my MLM business. In less than a year, you will be wealthy. All you need to do is sign these forms. Just imagine not having to go to work any more!” he euphorically said.

I spent the next few moments trying to completely understand the situation. I admit, I was caught off guard. Revelation, signing papers, instant wealth…I was dumbfounded. So was my wife. She gave me that sideways glance that spoke volumes. “Where do you find these people?” was likely first on the list. 

I tried to cover my surprise with some form of decorum, but it wasn’t convincing. I wasn’t even convinced. 

“Rob, look, I like to work; believe it or not. I like getting up in the morning and going to work, doing what I do. Whatever it is you’re proposing here, I’m afraid it is not my style. I’m not interested in this MLM, multi-faceted – multi-level marketing, whatever you call it.”

My comments were obviously not anywhere in his list of potential responses for which he had a quick rebuttal. So, for a moment, he sat in silence. His wife glared at me. How dare I reject direct revelation from God! “Well, it’s a great opportunity; I’m sorry that you don’t want to be a winner in my business and sign up. I really do think you would do well and will some day regret not doing this,” he said with measured words. 

As he stood up, I glanced at the open notebook in his hand. I noticed a list of names, with my name near the top. Some had lines drawn through them. I could only guess what the lines meant. I’m sure my name would have a line soon enough.

“See you at work,” Rob said as he left. And that is the last time Rob ever spoke to me.

Over the nearly 35 years since that brief moment in time, I’ve had numerous direct sales pitches. Maybe I look like a good candidate for that line of business; I don’t know. Perhaps I’m too nice. Maybe if I was more abrasive in my personal interactions, I wouldn’t get my name on so many lists. But I am who I am.

So, I’ve been pitched to sell ‘super’ grape juice, liquid vitamins, solid vitamins, Asian secret health elixir, knives that will cut through sodapop cans, air purifiers, ancient scripture stories in cartoon form, encyclopedias, kids books, super-dooper toothpaste, laundry detergent, and protein shakes that will give you superhuman strength. I smiled at each promise of wealth and said a simple, “No” and changed the subject to an intense discussion of the weather. 

That book my dad swore he would write is still unwritten. As his son, I feel like I need to continue carrying the torch and proclaim my desire to write the book he will never write, and honestly, nor will I ever write it. But proclaiming the desire to write it gives me hope. The idea needs to live on. Perhaps my son or daughter will continue carrying the torch. 

Actually, I know a lot of people who have immersed themselves in MLM. Some made a lot of money. Some have a basement full of merchandise they can’t even give away. All of them started with the same dream of getting rich. Problem is, the same basic model is the same for all; you have to pitch to the ones you know –  friends and family. And that, folks, is how I lost my friends in multi-level marketing.  

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