Who wouldn't want to "be their own boss," "own their own business," and have "unlimited earning potential"? Promises like these have led many people to join MLM companies, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, these promises turn out to be too good to be true.
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Multilevel marketing companies or MLMs are direct-sales businesses where individuals sell products to the people in their networks. MLM salespeople also try to recruit more salespeople to add to their "downline" to increase their commissions. MLMs aren't *technically* considered to be pyramid schemes because they involve selling actual products, but they are pretty similar in terms of structure. According to the FTC, about 99% of MLM participants ultimately lose money on the venture.
So when someone asked the ex-MLM members of Reddit to share how they got out, stories came flooding in. Here are some of the top responses:
1."Joined a jewelry-based MLM in July, thinking it would be cute to sell jewelry as a side hustle. I got roped into the 'be your own boss' and 'make money while you sleep' mentality. 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 for one hour a week), but I had to ship out the jewelry, which ate about 20% of the profit. Then, the money I earned went back into ordering more jewelry."
2."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 well. Or finding out all the contests ran around recruitment and not sales numbers."
"I left as soon as I realized it and put my name and number on the do not contact list. Blew a lot of money trying to make it work only to realize I wasn't going to make any money without screwing my friends."
3."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."I had a sweet Avon lady in my office. When I changed jobs I missed some of their stuff, so I decided to sign up myself. My 'team leader' and the other girl she was leading were so freaking pushy about making me run a full Avon business and quit my job, that I immediately felt like I had signed up for a cult. Bounced and blocked their numbers within a month."
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5."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 two people under me, I would make $400-$500 per month. Then I was told I needed four people instead of two. Then I was $2,000 in debt with nothing to show for it."
"Blocked them all and changed my phone number. When I left, I helped the two girls who were under me get out as well, and apologized for roping them into something I thought was a good deal."
6."When I was 19, I was approached at one of my jobs by someone I used to work with. He said he was a part of a really good 'business opportunity' and he had a 'mentor' who was teaching him. I agreed to meet with them, and luckily for him, I had no knowledge of what MLMs were at the time."
"I went to a few Amway meetings and pretty quickly realized things were not right. I started noticing how weird the recruitment aspect felt and how much they pushed it. They lie about the products and say you will save money because you get a discount, but every single product is like at least 50% more expensive than most name brand stuff.
I realized quickly that the only way to make any money would be to use shady tactics to recruit people under me so I can profit off of their losses. Luckily, I only spent a few hundred dollars on Scamway and leaving was as easy as saying that I didn't want to do Amway anymore."
7."My sister-in-law talked me into selling It Works. I was hesitant, didn't quite need the money, but figured extra income couldn't hurt. I was a 'seller' for six months. They kept telling me to add all of these women and to post about it three to four 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."
8."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. I once got sent home from the office because I had worn a pantsuit. As women, 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. 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 lost thousands of dollars. It all felt so criminal to have been a part of."
9."When my husband died, he left me with a ton of debt. Not long after, I went to a Tupperware party for a friend and made some positive comments about one of the products. That put me on the presenter's radar. This presenter happened to be one of those top tier ladies that ignored their family to make it big. She was/is the regional person. Whatever the title is."
I was BROKE. So Tupperware was spun as a way to earn extra money. She even gave me the starter kit without having to pay up front. Problem was, I worked full time, and it was near impossible to book parties. I did my first presentation at my house and booked no parties. I reached out to all my friends and family and booked no parties.
The pressure from this woman was IMMENSE. She'd call me while I was at my day job. She tried to convince me to quit my day job to focus on Tupperware. She knew I was broke, but she was adamant that if I quit my job I'd make it big, and before I know it I'd have a Tupperware car just like her. She had a response for everything. Nothing was based in logic and every time she called me, which was weekly, I was filled with dread.
I started to ghost her. It took months for me to work up the courage to tell her I didn't want to do it anymore. It took weeks for her to accept my 'don't want to do it anymore.' She dragged it on, and on, and on. Finally she sent me a curt "Leave your kit at the front door" message which I did. She tried a couple of years down the track to recruit me again. I ignored her calls."
10."I've been in sales almost all of my adult life. Early on in my real career, Amway looked like an easy touch. It seemed simple. I was naive. I got hooked on the tapes and books. I was better at my day job, but I couldn't make it work in Amway. Even after a couple of years with the seminars and books and tapes."
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"I don't know why it took me so long to do the simple math. I had an epiphany about how the real money was being made in the tools (books, tapes, seminars). Then I started to think critically about where the money was coming from. And I realized I had been lied to. I drifted away from the group and then got a new job opportunity in a different city. I took that, changed my number, and haven't looked back on it in 15 years."
11."I did Lularoe for almost a year. Buy in was wildly high. I got in when the Halloween leggings were highly sought after with very limited supply, and I bought 200 of them. Sold every pair. That basically paid for my initial investment. I did okay at first and hustled my butt off online. But then I kept being told by my sponsor to buy more to sell more."
Later I found out sponsors were paid commissions based off what their lackeys were buying rather than selling. Then I started receiving leggings and tops from other LLR reps that went out of business and sent their inventory back, so I was getting leftovers.
Another red flag was the holes. The freaking holes. They never reached out to us to just have us toss a batch that were prone to holes. Every few weeks I would try on a few pairs I knew would have holes and wore them until minutes later, 'pop!' Then, and only then, could I take photos for corporate and be reimbursed. It was total shit. I started putting in more and more time for less money.
I was starting to lose money. Thankfully, at the same time LLR was under fire that their business was failing and consultants were losing money, so they said anyone can get out and get 100% of their money back from their inventory. I sent it all back. Got my check. A few months later it changed to 75% back so I lucked out. I’ve helped two other consultants get out since. I made $16,000 in profits for hours upon hours. I lost time with my son while I was supposed to be a full time mom. He had my iPad while I would constantly post my inventory everywhere."
12."One of the first jobs I took out of college was an MLM, and to this day I cringe thinking about it. Looking back the reg flags were clear. The interview process was so fast, and the recruiter didn’t even really say much about the company, just about how much everyone could make. As a new college grad, I was blinded by the idea of making money fast."
"I quickly realized this was not a real job when we were tasked with walking territories to sell energy and we had to cover all expenses. The whole goal was to sell energy while also building your 'team' who would then sell energy for you while you just collected money. Didn’t sell anything that week? No paycheck. There was literally a week where I got a $30 paycheck. If it wasn’t for my GF loaning me money at the time (which I eventually paid back) I would have had to move back home. I grew so sick of the people and the scam that I found a new job as fast as I could. When I did, I never even told the other place I was leaving. Only one person reached out asking where I went. I told them I found an actual job."
13."My upline, in training, was explaining how you always had to be 'on.' If anyone asks how you're going, you always say, 'Fantastic!' The fakeness made my skin crawl. I got out of there asap."
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14."I peddled life insurance for an MLM about four months. I was let go from my real job and decided it was ok because I would make big money with the MLM crap. Like I said, four months. That's how long it took to run out of money and realize it wasn't working."
"The real red flags ran up a few months later when a few friends from high school passed on. I was sad because they were great people, and I checked my messages with them. The last things I said to them were bullshit lines to get them to come play idiot with me at this stupid MLM."
15.And finally, "Lularoe literally bankrupted my wife and me, and damn near ended our marriage. My wife isn't a dumb person. Her heart was in the right place but she is easily swayed by 'friends.' The one year she took part was one of the worst years of my life. It ruined us financially, fucked up our taxes, and probably took years off my life. It's been three years and we're just now finally back in a good place."
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.