It seems like multi-level marketing (MLM) companies — aka pyramid schemes — are everywhere these days. They’re especially popular with recent grads, stay-at-home moms, the unemployed, and other folks who are desperate for a side hustle. But these ventures rarely turn out as planned, and in some cases, they end up in disaster.
On AskReddit, people who’ve been involved in an MLM shared their stories, including their red flag moments and how they got out.
1. “Blew a lot of money trying to make that work.”
“I joined Primerica, I didn’t see any red flags at first but small ones started popping up.
Like my team leader telling me to basically live outside my means to make people think I was doing really good and then they’d join and then I’d do really good.
Or finding out all the contests ran around recruitment and not sales numbers.
I left as soon as I realized, even put my name and number on the do not contact list.
Blew a lot of money trying to make that work only to realize I wasn’t going to make any money without fucking my friends.”
2. “Everything was focused around recruiting.”
“The biggest red flag for me after joining was that everything was focussed around recruiting and building a team rather than building a book of business and developing the knowledge necessary to actually help your clients. I “noped” out of there pretty quick and without any issue.”
3. “She approached every new acquaintance with an aim to make a sale.”
“My mother did Amway years ago. She told me she quit when she realized she approached every new acquaintance with an aim to make a sale instead of making a friend.”
4. “For a while, it boosted my confidence.”
“Joined a jewelry-based MLM thinking it would be cute to sell jewelry as a side hustle in July after I relocated across the country. I got roped in to the “be your own boss” and “make money while you sleep” mentality, and for a while, it boosted my confidence because I truly thought I was doing a great job running my own business. On paper, I brought in good money (about $100 per live show, which was one hour a week), but I had to ship out the jewelry to them, which ate about 20% of the profit, then the money earned went back into ordering more jewelry.
By September, once the glitz and excitement of it all wore off and I realized nothing was coming back to me, my boyfriend told me the only way to earn money in the business was to add new “business partners.” I told him I wasn’t interested in doing that, but that was part of the scheme. I was so hurt by the people who had roped me in to the business. So I quit that same day.”
5. “I was $2,000 in debt with nothing to show for it.”
My recruiter told me she made $400 at the party I was at. I later learned she made 25% of that.
I was told if I could get 2 people under me, I would make $400-$500 per month.
Then I was told I needed 4 people instead of 2.
Then I was $2,000 in debt with nothing to show for it.
Deleted them all and changed my phone number.
6. “Both began selling drugs to support the Amway habit.”
“By not getting in, I’ve seen a friend and his wife get into Amway, and in 3 years, they sold most of what they had, moved back in with the husband’s mother, and both began selling drugs to support the Amway habit.
They still think they are mere months away from being millionaires. It’s infuriating.”
7. “She took her own life less than a year later.”
“My mom was caught up in the Market America scheme. They manipulated an already vulnerable, mentally unstable woman to sink $20k into her “business”. She took her own life less than a year later. If the company has washed up celebrities as spokespeople and asks you to spend more money than you typically make in your “business”, you may want to reconsider your investment.”
8. “They said to message at least 30 people a day.”
“My SIL talked me into selling It Works! I was hesitant, didn’t quite need the money, but figured extra income couldn’t hurt. Was a “seller” for 6 months. They kept telling me to add all of these women I have in common with people I’m already friends with. And to post about it 3 to 4 times a day on Facebook and Instagram. I literally made an Instagram for it. They said to message at least 30 people a day about. And twice a week there was a group video chat they kept insisting I join. I couldn’t join due to me being at my normal job.
All in all. I hated it. I’m awkward and a terrible salesperson. And I made nothing from it. Never made a sale. They kept saying “try and get your mom or aunts to support you”. It was a waste of money and all. But, made out with 1 new friend.”
9. “I wasn’t making any money.”
“Used to sell Younique. It was easy to get out. I wasn’t making any money, I couldn’t be fake to sell my product and I learned about quality makeup and Younique ain’t it lol.
You can buy Colourpop for literally 1/4 of the price and 10x the pigment and blendability.”
10. “I had made a cardinal mistake… I had worn a pantsuit to the office.”
“I worked at the head office of a large MLM, and one of the OG’s. Mary Kay.
You have to live, breathe, and shit pink. Honestly, I once got sent home from the office because I had made a cardinal mistake… I had worn a pantsuit to the office. As a woman, we were expected to wear a skirt or dress daily. I was new and didn’t really think they’d get upset over a pantsuit, all things considered. I was wrong.
I know this is a different perspective, but hear me out. I didn’t really know what Mary Kay was initially, all I remember is seeing the old school pink eye shadow cubes in my mom’s makeup drawer. I started to discover that things were all a bit strange and … predatory. We would run campaigns inside of universities and colleges because the older generations all “knew” what was up. The company was marketing toward these younger girls specifically because they didn’t know the shtick, and hinging on the fact that we would somehow be able to convince them of making easy money. I heard a lot of horror stories the longer I worked there. Specifically from people who were angrily demanding answers from directors at the annual “Seminar” held in Toronto for Canadian Mary Kay consultants. People losing thousands of dollars. It all felt so criminal to have been a part of.”
11. “They would not share with me the company name.”
“My red flag was that they would not share with me the company name when they brought me in. At one point the recruiter left the use the restroom and I snooped around and saw a logo of the name. When he came back, I asked him what it stood for and immediately he got defensive. He also told me to do everything I can (sell my TV) to join. Also, the teleconference was weird AF. They started using the term “untouchables” for their higher ups. I noped my way out and they were pissed. They’re probably the reason I got so much junk mail in the following months.”
12. “2/10, would not try to join a cult again.”
“Some dude tried to recruit me into buying/selling energy drinks. It was a known scam throughout school at this point so I decided to go along with it to see where it would go. The guy’s dad was a friend of mine, and my dad has a pretty well known computer shop in town.
Anyway, I go to pick up MLM man from his house to go to a meeting. This guy loads three cases of energy drinks (I think they were called “VEEMA” or something) into my car. I was already sketched out and this was a liability I didn’t want to encumber myself with so I told him I had a family emergency. He got out of the car, told me to keep the -85 energy drinks. The 3 cases were in my car for a few weeks, never touched them. about a month after hearing anything, one morning there were maybe 8-10 cases of the energy drinks stacked right outside the back door of my dad’s shop.
2/10, would not try to join a cult again.”