Disclaimer: This piece is based off of memory. The author has changed names to protect subject identities.
J is that friend who I can go years without seeing — but once we’re together, it’s like no time has passed.
It’s winter 2018 when she asks me to go out for lunch and catch up.
As friends do, we get together and reveal our vulnerabilities, hoping the other will have a solution. I’m 24 years old and three months away from graduating business school. The main reason I’m going to college is to find some sort of direction for my future, but I’m feeling lost and unsure.
J graduated from Asper School of Business two years earlier and is still feeling unsure of her career path. It’s comforting — in a twisted way — to know J, the straight-A student, feels this way too.
She tells me she and her husband recently partnered with another couple and started a business. The woman, K, and her husband have been guiding J and her husband through the process of becoming successful business owners.
She gets excited when she talks about it — saying how inspiring and motivational the experience has been. I’m happy for her — and a little jealous.
The next day, as I sit in class half asleep listening to the teacher reading out of the textbook, I get a text from J. She wants to know if I’m interested in meeting with her and K for coffee to see if they can possibly offer me a business opportunity.
I curl my hair and put on a nice blouse. I even whip out the fancy Marc Jacobs purse.
I get there 15 minutes early and order one of those hot apple cider drinks, since my heart is racing too fast for anything caffeinated.
J arrives first. She looks amazing — dressed head-to-toe in that expensive, soft, textured material they sell at Aritzia.
While J orders, SHE walks in. I knew it was K. My first thought…
I want to look like her.
She smiles with her chin up, like she knows everyone is looking at her. She has loose curls throughout her bleach-blond hair, and her skin is glowing.
“Alexis?” she asks as she reaches her hand out to shake mine. J comes back and the two of them briefly share what seems to be an inside joke or something. I watch them giggle and think…
I want to be like them. I wanna be a hot, successful businesswoman!
K starts by asking me about my goals for the future.
I’m intimidated by her. She’s so confident. She doesn’t say “like” every other word and she never stumbles when she speaks — plus, she makes really intense eye contact.
The conversation revolves around me for like a half-hour, and not once did I hear either of them mention what kind of business they’re in. You’re probably thinking, “Do you not ask?!” I do, but K brings the conversation back to how she “doesn’t want to talk about business” because today is about getting to know me, to see if I will “be a good fit.”
The conversation trails back to the business program I’m in. Turns out K and her husband both graduated from the same program a few years earlier.
Perfect! I’m doing the same thing K did. So, if she’s successful, I can be successful too.
Ok so, now I’m starting to low-key fangirl over K.
She says something like, “I’m working an admin job right now, but my husband and I are going to retire in a few years, thanks to our side business.”
EXCUSE ME? This girl is like, the same age as me.
I can’t help but express how impressed I am. She then tells me how “becoming her own boss” is the best thing she’s ever done.
She asks, “Are you willing to work hard and put in the extra hours to run a side business?”
Honestly, that sounds like a dream.
During the meeting, J sits quietly nodding and agreeing with everything K says. It’s clear K runs the show.
J has never been the loud obnoxious type. In school, if she got an A+ on a test, you wouldn’t hear about it unless you begged her to tell. She was a professional motocross racer — at least, I thought of her as a “professional”— but she didn’t talk about it much. You would never know her room was filled with first-and second-place trophies.
An hour into the meeting, K checks her phone and says she has to go. She tells me it was great meeting me and requests we plan another meeting in a few days. I nod and tell her I’ll be in touch with J to make the plans.
Turns out K means we’re scheduling the next meeting right now. She chooses a time and date and asks if it works for me.
She says something about how she likes making plans in person to keep people accountable.
Way to put me on the spot…
With the combination of my insecurity and K’s dominance, saying “no” isn’t an option. I smile and say, “Of course!”
“Oh, and for our next meeting, I want you to make a list of the things you value in life,” says K.
Homework? I have to do homework?
Once K leaves, I turn to J and say, “Wow. She is like, the definition of a boss babe.”
On the drive home, while my mind is racing trying to imagine what I would do if I was rich, I keep coming back to the question:
WTF just happened?
I text J when I get home:
K arrives first this time. She greets me with a big smile and goes up to order a drink.
I can hear her and the barista chatting and laughing.
Did she really just strike up a conversation with a total stranger? I could never…
Once J walks in, we get right to it. K looks over my “homework” and tells me I could have everything I want if I were financially free.
The topic of family comes up. One thing leads to another and eventually I break down in tears — revealing my dad’s recent cancer diagnosis. I haven’t talked openly about it until now.
“So, you obviously value time spent with your family. Imagine how much time you’ll have to spend with your dad when you’re making your own hours,” K says.
She goes on to talk about how the people who get home from work and watch Netflix are lazy and won’t end up doing anything meaningful with their lives.
But, I like watching Netflix. I like to relax and do nothing. Am I pathetic? Maybe she’s right — I mean, why watch Netflix when I could be out doing something productive?
K asks what I’m doing on Friday night.
Friday night? Really? You want me to spend my Friday night with you?
She watches me open my agenda and points at the blank square. “Oh good, you are free. There’s a success talk I would like you to come to — that is, if you’re serious about all of this,” she says.
I ask what exactly a “success talk” is. K and J start going on and on about how inspiring it is to listen to a higher-up in the company talk about how they got to where they are today.
So, I’m gonna get tips on how to succeed in this company? Whatever this company is…
K gives me some homework to prep me for Friday. Part of this homework is to listen to a recording from a past success talk at a conference in Florida.
That night, J emails me the mp3. The thing is like 45 minutes long.
I turn off the Wi-Fi to avoid distractions. I need to pay attention in case K quizzes me on it.
All I’m thinking about while I listen to this mp3 is how redundant it is. I’m trying to figure out what the hell they’re talking about — because yet again, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT COMPANY THESE PEOPLE WORK FOR!
The couple on the recording are talking about going from working 12-hour days — balancing their day jobs while building their business at night — to having all the time and money in the world.
I cringe hearing the crowd cheer any time this couple says anything remotely inspiring.
They say things like…
While I don’t learn much, I do hear a new term: “Diamond level”
I’m currently taking a marketing class in school and the teacher always talks about network marketing — so, I think I’m on the right track! If I learn this stuff in school, I’ll have an advantage over the other people.
Success Talk — Time to Learn How to Get Rich
Today’s the day. K said people usually get pretty dressed up for these things, so I borrow my sister’s expensive blouse and slip on some dress pants. I’m not a “fancy” gal, so this is big for me.
I pull up to the hotel and start feeling the nerves.
Don’t be an idiot, Alexis. You’re about to meet a bunch of people who will potentially be your business partners/co-workers/mentors/whatever.
We walk into the lobby and see a big group of people dressed in perfectly tailored suits and kitten heels.
We go down the hall to the double doors where two men in suits wait to take our coats. Then we enter a room of about 200 chairs facing a podium and a big projection screen.
I notice a bunch of people are drinking the same energy drink. I ask J, “Are they giving them out for free somewhere?” J changes the subject.
They close the doors and everyone goes to their seats.
It’s showtime, baby.
A guy in the front row gets up and gives a little opening speech. He talks about how much this man, Brad, helped him and his wife succeed with their business and how much of an honour it is to be able to hear Brad speak today.
Suddenly, the back door opens and in walks this handsome, fit, well-dressed, silver fox of a man. Everyone stands up and cheers as he walks down the aisle to the podium.
Really, Brad? Do you always make an entrance like this? Might as well blast “Eye of The Tiger” while you’re at it.
I imagine Brad’s presentation script looks something like this:
What is Amway? Why is he defending the legality of this company so aggressively?
The cringey feelings return when the crowd nods and claps every time Brad says something “motivational.” Like, I could Google “inspirational quotes” and find half of the crap he’s saying. These people look up to him like he’s Jesus.
Immediately after Brad’s speech, people start lining up in front of the podium for a chance to meet and talk to him.
“Let’s get in line and you can meet him!” J says.
Ugh. I don’t wanna.
I attempt to gather what I learned and ask J, “Ok, so, from what I understand, you have an online store and you sell Amway stuff? And you make money by selling the stuff and recruiting people to join?”
She responds with something along the lines of, “Yeah, so we pay the initial starting fee to create our online business where we sell Amway products and then we have to spend a certain amount a month on product.” She then tells me that their only “customers” are her and her husband’s moms. Everything else they buy, they use.
So, K makes a cut of J’s purchases, and then J and K would make a cut from my purchases.
Kind of like a…
We get up front and Brad asks what I do for a living. I tell him I’m in business school. He responds with a subtle nod and a raised eyebrow.
As I scurry out to leave, K runs up to say goodbye and hands me a book.
“I want you to read the first two chapters for our next meeting,” she says.
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. The cover reads, “What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money – That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!”
I jump on the computer the second I get home.
A Chat with Dad
The next day I meet my dad for lunch. He knows I went to some sort of conference with J last night, so naturally he brings it up right away.
I tell him the situation — well, the sugar-coated version. Even with all of my suspicions and doubts, I still have a small bit of hope. I’m desperate to do something with my life.
My dad looks a little bit suspicious when I tell him about some of the stuff Brad said. He goes, “I mean, it does sound interesting and I know J would never put you in a bad position. I say learn a bit more about this company before you give them any money though. I’m sure it’s legit — as long as it’s not Amway or something.”
AS LONG AS IT’S NOT AMWAY!!??! OH MY GOD.
“No… it’s not Amway,” I say — being too embarrassed to admit it.
Three minutes into a new subject, I blurt out, “DAD, IT’S AMWAY.”
He reacts as expected, “Oh no,” and follows up by relaying his experiences with Amway sellers. Basically, in his opinion, Amway is a company full of pyramid scheme vultures. But, being the nice guy he is, he recognized how excited I was when I first told him about the opportunity, so, he gives me the old maybe-it’s-different-now! talk.
Meeting #3 — Back at It Again
At this point, I’m totally losing interest in all of this. I didn’t do my homework, but I’m also terrified of K — so, I arrive 30 minutes early to sit in my car and skim through the book.
The first thing K asks is if I read the first two chapters of Rich Dad Poor Dad. I tell her I only read the first one.
K is visibly frustrated. She says something like, “Do you want this opportunity? Are you not serious about this? I expect you to do the homework you’re assigned.”
Um, excuse me, ma’am — you’re not my mother.
So, at the start of this meeting, I was at about a 4/10 on the hopeful scale. After K’s little tantrum, I’m at a two. I don’t have time for this. I do, however, have time for K to answer the questions I wrote down after the success talk. I’m curious.
K opens up about how she became “so successful.” She and her husband buy a couple hundred dollars’ worth of Amway product each month. She only has one customer — meaning they basically make money solely through recruiting people.
“It’s awesome because I would be buying all of this stuff anyways. I even replaced coffee with the energy drinks!” she says, as she sips her coffee.
Girl, are you seriously trying to tell me you get out of bed and crack open an energy drink every morning?
K tells me there’s another success talk on Friday night. It’s at a “co-workers” house, which makes it an “intimate” experience and a great place to meet people.
“You should really be there If you’re serious about this,” she says, while staring into my soul.
Not a chance in Hell.
“Sounds great,” I say, as I pencil it into my planner.
As we wrap up, K says, “I would like you to finish chapter two before Friday, please.”
As per her request — as soon as I get home, I open the book to chapter two and football punt it into the trash.
Making My AmWAY Out the Door — The Aftermath
Honestly, I felt bad when I texted J to tell her I wasn’t interested in pursuing the Amway thing any further.
As much as you may be thinking she was trying to use me — J has protected me since the third grade. I still believe she just wanted to help.
At the time, she was in a low place. A year earlier, she crashed during a race and broke her pelvis and both femurs — ending her motocross career.
It was great to finally see her so happy and excited about something.
J was disappointed when I backed out — but she never got mad. K, on the other hand, was probably pissed — but, I didn’t hear a word from her ever again.
J and I have kept in touch over the past two years, but it wasn’t until I decided to write this story that we finally talked about “it.”
Turns out she and her husband left the company a few months after my experience. They were spending up to $1,700 per month on Amway products so they could meet their “sales goals.”
J said in the beginning, when she invited me in, it felt like the honeymoon stage of a relationship.
When J met K, she said, “I was in the middle of an identity crisis. I didn’t know what to do without motocross anymore. She was literally giving me a purpose. She took advantage of me.
“It was so strategically done. So manipulative,” she said.
That’s the thing with these companies. They target the vulnerable, feeding off of their struggles to customize a manipulative plan for success.
When you’re sobbing in a Starbucks because your dad might die — it’s pretty much impossible to turn down an opportunity to make things easier. K knew exactly what she was doing.
Life These Days
It was about two months later when my life finally started falling into place.
After graduating business school, I got accepted into the program of my dreams (I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true, OKAY?) and my dad was officially confirmed cancer-free (best day ever). On top of that, I gained a funny story to tell.
It took 26 years, but I’m finally where I want to be, doing what I love — and it feels damn good.
If you suspect a loved one may be getting involved with an MLM/pyramid scheme company, look over the warning signs. Don’t let them fall into the trap — because if they do, there’s a chance they’ll end up brainwashed and broke.
That’s the truth.