How do I talk to a friend who's just signed on as an Herbalife rep?
September 3, 2014 12:09 PM   Subscribe

A friend has just informed me that she and her boyfriend have started up a new health-food company. That's great, I said, what's it called? Turns out it's Herbalife.

I am worried. Should I be worried? Last time I checked, Herbalife was still a pyramid scheme.

This young woman, R., is a former student of mine. She is smart and mature. She is also a bit impulsive, and has a history of making decisions that are not so great for her emotional well-being.

She has come to me in the past to seek advice, and I see this as a potential opportunity to talk to her about making unwise choices -- such as, you know, signing up for a pyramid scheme. I do not want to be pushy, though, and am aware of the fact that I am not her "boss," nor that she did not specifically seek advice from me on this subject.

I care about R., and sincerely wish to see her succeed in whatever she tries. I just worry that this venture will not be a good one for her -- neither financially, emotionally, nor for her self-confidence (which is already somewhat fragile).

Really, this is two questions:
1. Is Herbalife as bad as all that? I don't know all the info.
2. Should I even say anything to her about this subject? Again, she did not solicit my advice, and I do not want to be a buttinsky.
posted by Dr. Wu to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you care you need to find a caring way to share the following info with her:
posted by Cosine at 12:12 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

MeFi's Own Rob Cockerham also did a really good multi-part thing on Herbalife a few years back. It is here. It goes through his whole investigation and discovery process, rather than starting on a huge HERBALIFE IS SCAM splash screen, which your friend may be more receptive to.

Thanks for caring about your friend.
posted by phunniemee at 12:17 PM on September 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

There's also this recent thread on the Blue.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:19 PM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have had good friends get into similar schemes. Honestly, I feel like if someone is not soliciting your advice, it is rude to offer it to them, even if you are relatively certain they are doing a Dumb Thing. Sometimes it's good to make mistakes, even serious ones, as a way to learn something. And being young is the best possible time to make those mistakes and recover from them. I know it's hard to feel like you are just standing by and watching her fall, but, she will figure it out.
posted by Librarypt at 12:37 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would simply present her with the facts on herbalife and then let her come to her own conclusions. Nothing pushy, just giving her the option to see the facts. If she declines your offer to investigate further, you can drop it and still have made an effort.
posted by Aranquis at 12:39 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If she mentions it to you or attempts to solicit you, I'd point her to the information linked by the Mefites above. But, I think that offering unsolicited advice could be problematic. Just wait, she's sure to come poking around with her eyes on your wallet.
posted by quince at 12:42 PM on September 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

One of my brothers once left a good job for an "exciting sales opportunity that paid $60,000 plus benefits." I knew it was a scam and tried to tell him so, but he kept insisting I was "just jealous" of the opportunity he'd found. He worked for a few weeks and never made a nickel. The promised salary and benefits turned out to be lies. Even as the evidence piled up, he still wouldn't quit. Finally, I sent our dad a set of links making it clear the entire thing was a scheme. He passed them to my brother who was ashamed. And weirdly angry at me about the entire thing, so bad was the sting of embarrassment. It hurt our relationship both coming and going.

In the end, it was a mistake he had to make on his own and I should have stayed out of it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:51 PM on September 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

Either they will realize quickly on their own that it's a scam (win) or you will be one of the first attempts at being recruited. In that case, it would be a kindness to inform them, but you will probably risk the friendship anyway.
posted by wnissen at 12:56 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It hurt our relationship both coming and going.

In the end, it was a mistake he had to make on his own and I should have stayed out of it.

What is more valuable, your brother or your relationship with your brother?
posted by Cosine at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

When someone I knew signed up I hesitantly sent the Cockerham link noted above with a sort of "I don't really know anything about Herbalife but I read this crazy story..." preface. The good thing about that link is that it draws you in and is so entertaining. They ended up not sticking with it very long - whether the article made a difference or not I have no idea. If you can present any information in a non-confrontational way they might refer back to it if they start to have second thoughts.
posted by mikepop at 1:08 PM on September 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

The site is produced by a huge hedge fund with a billion dollar bet against Herbalife. The lead manager is Bill Ackman, who has been a very public voice decrying Herbalife as a pyramid scheme.

Many people disagree -- here's one interesting article (Herbalife clubs - another experience):
This is not a pyramid. There are plenty of real sales to real people. That is visible. Its a lousy business but it is a business in which people have integrated their lives and their families.

If it were Australia I would not hesitate to call the unwillingness to listen to the stories of the poor people of different race what I called it then: racism. In the US it is probably not that. US attitudes to Hispanics are far less racist than Australian attitudes to our aboriginal population.
posted by Perplexity at 1:15 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

What is more valuable, your brother or your relationship with your brother?

That was never really the choice. Just as I don't think the OP's friend's entire being is at stake here. Just money. And wanted time. And maybe some pride.

But if you read my account, you noticed I tried to pry my brother say from that scam. And in the end, the best I could do was to go through a third party to get him to quit slightly earlier. And the price I paid for those few days was the subsequent three years of rocky relations.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:18 PM on September 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

I would stay out of it, personally. The most I would mention is, "Have you talked to other people who have done this, who aren't sales people or recruiters, to see how they have done?"

You don't want to seem like a negative nancy when someone is excited about something, even if you think it's ridiculous.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 1:20 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

The takeaway I have for the OP is: once a person commits to one of these things, stubbornness and a terror of having been taken will make them unreceptive to being warned off. It's too late. All you will do is make yourself a focus of their anxiety and shame.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:24 PM on September 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Stand back and let her do it. She and her boyfriend are persuading themselves into it and are in full rationalization mode. If she starts talking about it in detail, you could maybe ask a couple of neutral questions about it (e.g., "I see -- how does that work?") A quizzical look might be enough to give her momentary pause. (You could say things like, "It's wonderful to see that you're excited" without commenting on Herbalife.)

But, otherwise, I'd steer well clear of open criticism, which might lead to her avoiding contact with you in future. And if you're a champion of hers, and she's vulnerable, that would not be a good thing. I think, if you've been a mentor to your friend, staying available and emphasizing your belief in her potential would be more valuable, inasmuch as when this crashes and burns, she might feel freer to come to you for advice and support.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:29 PM on September 3, 2014

I have known lots of people over the years who have sold who sell skin care products, nail decals, that body wrap crap, jewelry, sex toys, and every other MLM thing under the sun. And I find that most people just end up out a few hundred bucks and drift to the next thing or give up on this stuff altogether. Some get too hardcore but most don't stick with it.

I wouldn't get into it. This is one of those things people have to learn for themselves.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:43 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Piling on here to say, yeah, this is a tough one and @DirtyOldTown nailed it. I would probably just toss out, "Have you googled them? I thought I read it was a pyramid scheme" and leave it at that.
posted by vivzan at 2:49 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I appreciate your sensitivity to this tricky issue. I think I'm gonna think about it for a day or two before I respond to R.'s email. When I do, I will surely incorporate some of the advice here. Thanks.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:05 PM on September 3, 2014

I'd ignore the Herbalife stuff all together. If she hasn't asked for your advice, don't offer your unsolicited opinion. That's not what she's asking for, and it's presumptuous of you to suggest that you know better than she, what she should be doing in her spare time.

Do I think it's scammy? I do, but no more so than any other MLM scheme. I sold Avon in addition to my job and it worked out great for me. I made some extra dough when I really needed it.

Who knows their reasons for doing this, or how they plan to integrate it into their lives. I knew a guy who filled a shipping container with Avon products and shipped it to Jamaica monthly. He made a mint.

If she brings it up to you, be neutral, "I've not heard good things about them, but I'm sure you researched it and are comfortable with it. Just to be upfront, I have NO desire to buy any of the product from you. So, how 'bout them dawgs?"

It's not like they're going to bleed her dry, at least not without her permission. If you were her teacher, I'm sure you did a decent enough job of instilling SOME level of critical thinking in her.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:24 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

My daughter sells the stuff. She drank the koolaid at first but now understands it's just a wee bit of extra money now and then. And she worked it like a rented mule too. If she couldn't be a success at it, I doubt your friends will be any different.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:40 PM on September 3, 2014

Here's Herbalife's own responses to common criticisms.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:54 PM on September 4, 2014

Yeah I personally don't know much about Herbalife, but I know a lot about Bill Ackman, and if he says Herballife is a pyramid scheme, then that makes me think it's definitely not a pyramid scheme. YMMV.
posted by ill3 at 3:57 PM on September 6, 2014

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