My Time on the Pyramid: Excel Communications and Me

I found out about Excel through family connections. I have to say that I started out as a skeptic, but it is hard to be the lone voice of dissent in a whirlwind of enthusiasm. I heard what a great opportunity this was, how one could get in on the “ground floor” and even how much the kids would benefit with the great lifestyle that I would be able to give them. Finally, I agreed to meet the representatives to see what it was all about and so sat in on a couple of meetings, including the initial pitch. At the time, I knew nothing about pyramid schemes and MLM, but I could not shake the idea that something was just not right. Why would any legitimate big communications business market itself like this? I mean, vacuum cleaners and Fuller brushes I could understand, but telecommunications services?

The presentations were great, the testimonials heartfelt and the reps that set up at the Holiday Inn were friendly and personable. I guess for me, it was the fact that they were selling intangibles that bothered me. They told the tale of how the company was started at a kitchen table with a couple of credit cards—a real mom and pop rags-to-riches story—and then came the promises, the charts and graphs, pictures of mansions, yachts and sports cars—all the property of people who started out just like you—and halfway through you were sure you would be a millionaire. That was when the rep began to tell us about uplines and downlines, commissions and bonuses, endless income potential, all the time assuring the assembled that this was no pyramid scheme. Then he brought out the idea of being your own first customer. That is right, sign up for the phone service yourself; you will get a commission every time you pay your phone bill. All it would cost was a one-time sign-up fee of $400. By the time he was done, people had their checkbooks out and were signing up.

I remember sitting there, with my usual scowl, trying to figure it out when my mother-in-law came up and announced that since she knew I was just going to say, “No,” she had signed-up my wife and I and paid our fee. She was right, I was going to say “no.” I remember asking her to get her check back, but she insisted, saying that we needed a new income since we were expecting our second child. My wife was thrilled and set about the business at once, signing us up for the phone service, thereby making us our own first customers. We were expected to sell the phone service, but it soon became clear to us that the real money was in recruiting. We set about doing both.

The service itself was as terrible as it was over-priced, and those few people we did manage to sell never kept it more than a month before switching back. As for recruiting, forget it. The area was saturated. We were approached and once we identified ourselves as fellow distributors, the first question asked was, “Do you know anyone not involved with Excel?” The usual answer was, “Yes, but they seem to have a violent hatred for Excel.” It seems that the company had been around for a while and had managed to generate some heavy enmity among its former distributors. Some of the heavy-hitters, who turned out to be on our upline flew in to inspire us and motivate us—it seemed the whole area was having problems and their income was suffering—but by then it was clear that there was no business opportunity to be had, at least not at our level.
Knowing that the area was already saturated with angry ex-reps, that the service was not worth the time or money, and that the pitch had been a lie, I went over to one of the heavy hitters, the one that had given us that original presentation, and demanded that $400 back. He ignored what I said about the local market and the product and, in typical MLM fashion, told me that my failure was my own fault. He lectured me about what it takes to be a success and wondered if I had what it takes. After all, he told me, this is a fool-proof system. Of course, I could always buy some Excel marketing materials, books and a DVD, tools that would help me turn my situation around and all it would cost me would be an additional $120 but, he assured me with glassy-eyed earnestness, it would be worth the expense since this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for wealth and success.

For a moment I actually wondered how deeply this man was mired in the swamp of Excel marketing. There is something about multi-level marketing that attracts certain people, it is like an addiction. One thing was certain; I was looking at a true believer. Maybe that is what angered me most; this man’s ability to ignore the obvious, to ignore reality, and stick to the company line. I pulled off my Excel Distributor name badge and threw it in his face before turning and walking out amid protests and insults from other true believers. Excel managed to last another year before collapsing. The folks at the top made out like bandits. The best that the rest of us could say was that we were only out $400. My in-laws were out $800. I am sure that some of the true believers came to their senses after that, but what about the rest?

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Reader Comments


Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 10:52 AM
Gevli Rojab says:
My asshole ex-father-in-law tried to get me signed up for this. Luckily I wasn't as stupid as he! What a jackass!

I hate the way MLM people try to make you think that you're an idiot if you don't sign up.

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