(Originally published 18/06/14)
I have trouble telling people no. It's a serious weakness. So when Dad came to me one night and told me our family friend Tony was going to call me with a business offer, I was very apprehensive.
'He's started selling coffee. He wanted me to sell it with him and I told him no. So he said he'd give you a try. He reckons you'd be good at it with all your promotional work and stuff. Just warning you ahead of time.'
Tony is one of those western people who thinks he's an eastern person. He meditates in a weekly class where he's the only white person, he drinks and eats all sorts of herbs which contain the sound "asha" or "rishi" and he's dumbfounded by a lot of western humour. He brought me along to his meditation classes for a few weeks, but I stopped going when I realised that I was 21 and had better things to do. Since then he's contacted me a few times about catching up and I keep telling him I'm busy. Mostly because I am.
But anyway, I heeded the warning. The first couple of times he called me I just didn't answer.On the third time I thought I'd better pick up. There's no way you can pull off 'Oh, I'm sorry I missed you' that many times.
'Yeah, Michael, it's Tony. How's the stand-up comedy going?'
'Yeah, alright. Still plugging away at those open mic nights. Haven't got a proper gig in months, but...'
'Hey, that's great! Listen listen - do you drink coffee?'
'That's ok. My wife Teresa, she's gotten on board with this great new brand, it's called Organo Gold. It's all based off this secret ingredient called the Rishi Mushroom. She's been doing really well, so I've gotten on board too. But listen, how would you like to make some extra money?' I was in a corner on that one.
'Yeah, that would be nice.'
'Well all you have to do is sign up to this program. You can help sell this coffee, you can get people to work for you and you can get a percentage of whatever they sell. How does that sound?'
Now I've been involved in a pyramid scheme before. For a few months back in 2012, I was a door-to-door salesman. I started at a dingy little place called ASAP and then - by sheer coincidence - my resume was found online by a much more respectable place called White Rhino. But despite the differences between their professionalism, ambition and success, they both had one thing in common - the promise of untold riches limited only by your own desires. It's a system that certainly can work, but only if you're a certain type of person. The type for whom money is the most important thing in life. I learned a lot during those few months and I'm glad for it. But if I ever get a job like that again, it'll be too soon. If only I didn't find it so hard to say no...
'Oh, well look it sounds nice, but I wouldn't have the time to do it justice.'
'It takes as much time as you want. You can fit it in around your work. I know you've got a busy schedule.' At the moment I'm only working on weekends, but he doesn't need to know that.
'I don't know, what would you need me to do?'
'Well come around to my place, Teresa will give you the presentation. We'll show you how it's done.'
'I-well... um... oh, alright.'
So that Wednesday I went to their house to hear the spiel. The first thing they did was offer me a coffee. Oh, so trying to hook me in early were they? It's alright, I knew what I was doing.
'I'll have a tea thanks.'
'That's great, because Organo Gold do a great green tea. It's not bitter like most teas and it's got great health benefits.'
They sat me down on the end of their dinner table and took up a seat to either side they showed me a nine minute video explaining the brand. It told me how a brand of expensive coffee could make me rich. It featured a bunch of suited, charismatic people of all ethnicities talking about the people they knew who joined up and became wildly successful.
"My sister joined up and she's now a diamond-level seller."
"My niece started doing it in her spare time and now she's the third highest earner in the company."
"I knew a guy who never finished high school and now he's got his old teachers working for him."
"My sister's daughter is still in primary school and now she's getting dinner requests from the Pope."
"My mentally challenged uncle accidentally put his name down during a seizure and a year later a West African tribe started a religion in his honour."
Next, they talked about the secret behind this amazing success. The Ganoderma Lucidium - better known as the Rishi Mushroom.
"The Ganoderma was a sacred mushroom that was only given to Emperors. It's a completely organic product with amazing magical health benefits. Some attribute it as the reason that the Emperors lived to be over 150 years old."
Finally, they finished with an interesting sentiment.
"People see our salespeople brandishing their index fingers and say "You people are so full of yourselves. You think you're number one". We never said we think we're number one. That finger represents our mantra - that we aim to own 1% of the coffee market in every country we enter. We're nearly there and I can't wait for the moment when our salespeople can move on to the next target and start holding up two fingers."
'Now Michael,' said Tony. 'One thing they didn't tell you about is how good it is for you.' He showed me a brochure. 'See, it says here that you need 17 cups of water to neutralise the negative effects of one cup of coffee. Normal coffee dehydrates you. It creates an addiction and gives you withdrawal symptoms. It raises stress. Organo Gold coffee calms you down, keeps you hydrated and you won't get addicted to it at all. It actually balances out the pH levels in your body so that you're not too acidic.'
'Is that so?'
'Yeah, that's right! And you know what? I used to have a bit of arthritis in my hands. Since drinking this stuff I haven't felt any pain at all.' Teresa piped up -
'Yeah, I gave this to my cousin who suffers from diabetes and after two months, he's stopped taking the um, what are they called... injections, the insulin.'
Tony again - 'Our next door neighbour used to be on crutches, he's thrown them away now.'
'Some people are using it as part of their treatment for cancer.'
'You know that guy who got cured of AIDS? He drank about four cups a day.'
And at long last they ran me through the remuneration process. No surprises there, just the standard pyramid scheme layout. Get a percentage of what you sell. Hire people to work for you and get a percentage of what they sell. And so the pattern goes until one box of coffee earns you more than the annual salary of the people making it.
'So,' said Teresa, closing her reference material. 'What do you think?'
Ok, it's that time of the day. I have to work out how to tell them no without hurting their feelings.
There was a knock at the door. Teresa looked at her watch and said 'Ah, Maria's early. We're still not done here.' Tony got up to get the door while I hurriedly asked who Maria was. In walked a middle aged Italian woman who I assumed could only be there to hear the same spiel as me. We chatted for a bit about a variety of things other than coffee and then Teresa said
'Ok Michael, so call me back in a couple of days and we'll keep talking about it. I'll leave you a sample pack so you can try the rest of the range. They don't give you the green tea, I don't know why.'
Hm, maybe it's because that's the one I wanted.
'And I'll catch up with you soon!'
In case you were hoping for it - no, my new experience for this week was not becoming a coffee salesman. It was simply to sit in on a pyramid sales pitch. I still haven't called them back. I don't know what I'll say when I do. Perhaps I could get my mum to ring them up and say that I'd died?
No, that wouldn't work. They'd come around with a percolator and say "Don't worry, just give him some of this."
This post was part of a new bloghop called Flashback Friday, where on the last Friday of each month, we dig up an old post which has been buried deep in the RSS feed and needs to see light again. If you'd like to join the hop, join the Linky list below.