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If you’ve ever gotten that dreaded “hey girl!” DM from a high school friend you haven’t talked to in a decade, this episode is for you.
This week’s guest is Peabody and Emmy award-winning journalist, Jane Marie. Jane and I chatted about her podcast, The Dream, where she interviews men and women in the Wellness space and MLMs — two industries that are no stranger to scandal and sketchy practices.
During our conversation, Jane breaks down what an MLM is, including the shocking statistics that should be a red flag (but somehow aren’t), whether or not MLMs are actually legal, and how we can interact with loved ones around us who are entrenched in these cult-like companies.
We don’t just dunk on MLMs, though. In the latter half of the episode, Jane vulnerably shares the harsh reality of what it’s like to be a woman in male-dominated spaces, especially when it comes to money.
Fair warning, the last five minutes of today’s episode may bring you to tears… (And then make you want to kick ass and take names for the sake of yourself and future generations of women.)
Special thanks to BetterHelp for sponsoring today’s episode! Use the code “FFPodcast” for 10% off at www.betterhelp.com.
4:50 – Jane breaks down what it was like growing up surrounded by MLMs and how their predatory practices are created to specifically exploit women.
14:00 – How much (or little) even the “most successful” MLMers make and how little financial education women in the programs actually receive.
23:00 – The shady ways MLMs bury their upfront costs under the guise of “investment.”
25:30 – How does religion play into recruiting women to MLMs?
33:20 – The cognitive dissonance calling yourself a small business owner as an MLMer.
40:00 – How are MLMs legal? Spoiler alert: they aren’t.
44:20 – How do you handle tough conversations with people in your life who are a part of MLMs?
50:20 – The eye-opening statistic regarding the investment capital gap between men and women-owned companies.
Tori: Hi team Welcome to Financial Feminist. I’m Tori Dunlap, money speaker and educator, founder of Her First $100K and that girl who has 55 thriving named houseplants in a one bedroom 650 square foot apartment. This is our first interview episode and damn, do we have a good one! If you’ve ever gotten that dreaded “Hey boss babe!” DM from a high school friend you haven’t talked to in a decade this episode is for you. Our guest is Jane Marie, who is a Peabody and Emmy award winning journalist (casual) and the host slash producer of the podcast The Dream. Season One of the dream focuses on MLM or multi-level-marketing companies (think Herbalife, LuLaRoe, Amway, Mary Kay, Avon, Young Living, Tupperware, the list goes on, and on and on). During our conversation, Jane breaks down what an MLM is including the shocking statistics that should be a red flag but somehow aren’t, whether or not MLMs are actually legal and how we can interact with loved ones around us who are entrenched in these cult like companies. We don’t just dunk on MLMs –– although that was probably the most enjoyable part of the episode. In the latter half, Jane is so vulnerable and just shares the harsh reality of what it is like to be a woman in a male dominated space, especially when it comes to money, and especially as a mother. Fair warning, the last five minutes of today’s episode will probably make you cry. And then they’ll make you want to kick ass and take names for the sake of yourself and future generations of women. Our conversation was such a blast, and I admire Jane and her work so much. If you love our show, if you love the financial feminist podcast, please rate and review, subscribe, tell your friends, we appreciate your support of our mission and this movement. So enough for me, let’s get into it.
Tori:So if you wouldn’t mind telling me and telling everybody who you are, what you do, and then we can kind of launch into what season one of The Dream was all about?
Jane Marie: Absolutely. So I’m Jane Marie. I am the owner, co-owner of Little Everywhere. We’re a podcast production house here in LA. I used to be, back in the olden days, I was a radio producer at This American Life for about 10 years. And then I went into what is pejoratively referred to as “Lady Blogging” for a while, and, and then, then I pitched a sex podcast to Gimlet and they were like, we don’t make sex podcasts. Thank you. No. And then a couple weeks later, they were like, wait a minute, would you do the Tinder podcast? So I hosted that show. And then that’s kind of what started this whole company that we have I love.
Tori: That’s the distinction. We can’t host a sex podcast, but you can host a tinder podcast.
Jane Marie: Yeah, I’m glad I pitched to them, though. That was the first person they thought of when that show came through. So it was really fun. I had a great time on that show. And then and then we started this company. So we do work for hire. And we also do originals out of here. Thro
ugh that was how that’s how we got connected with the folks at stitcher to make The Dream –– Laura Mayer was a VP there at the time. And she called up to see if we could produce the show. Like as an outside production house. And we just started talking about she was like, I want something on MLMs. And that was like basically she was like, “have you heard of these?” And I was like, oh, man, sit back. Because we’re gonna have a fun time today. Not that I have time for it. But I probably kept her on the phone for an hour.
Tori: That was the crazy thing. I’ll let you keep going. But that was the crazy thing for me is that you had the such this personal connection to it. So we can talk about that in a second.
Jane Marie: I just know so many people who do it. So I think by the end of that phone call, I slipped in, like, how about I hosted or something? And she was like, “Let me think about that,” then came back really quickly and was like, yeah, that will just be so much easier. And then, we kind of got, like all the freedom in the world to make whatever we wanted to make. Right? We have one like group creative meeting, but basically, it was all in these brains that we have in our office here. Like what the story became and what we got to do in season two and all that.
Tori: Yeah, I think it’s so interesting, that you obviously award winning journalist came in to talk about something that is so deeply rooted in your own life. So, can you talk to me a bit about how you grew up around MLM and we probably first should define what an MLM is for people listening. Would you mind doing that for us?
Jane Marie: I’m writing a book about it right now. And I have a research assistant to figure this out for me. Now, um, there’s so many different ways that they’re setup, but but the hallmarks of an MLM are that they have a tiered system, right? That looks remarkably like a pyramid. But people might call it on a ladder, they call it ladders, some of them are turned on the side, and they look like basketball brackets, you know, like…
Tori: Oh, yeah, but like a March Madness scenario.
Jane Marie: Basically there’s somebody at the top, and then they have a couple people under them, and then there’s a few people under them. And then there’s you at the bottom. After all of these tiers, some of them sell products, some sell services, they almost all require a sign up fee. And then there is a lot of encouragement to dump your own money into the service or product that you will be selling. And the pitch is like this is your own business! You know, you’re a small business owner now. And this is way cheaper than buying a store on Main Street. And the other thing is that there’s no prerequisites for getting this job, right? At all. In fact, like, I don’t even think you need to be an adult to sign up to do an MLM. They’ll just take anybody and babies. Anyway.
Tori: Your second fourth child, firstborn child, second child. And the fact that you grew up in was at Michigan, right? And you had aunts, other family members who were so entrenched in that so can you walk me through have have have that?
Jane Marie: They are still doing this stuff.
Tori: My gosh, what was that like growing up? And was it just normal of like, okay, MLM this is, this is how you try to make money.
Jane Marie: I had very little clue at obviously, growing up, right? I knew about them. I mean, my grandma, Maxine, was an Avon lady. And that was really cool to me. Like, she gave us all her samples. Unfortunately, she also gave us her samples for Christmas.
Tori: You know what you’re getting every year!
Jane Marie: When my aunt was selling Mary Kay. I was like, I loved it because there’s a hand cream that I really like. And she just always puts it in your stocking. That’s what you get for Mary Kay. But yeah, I had a grandma who did Avon. My mom attended Tupperware parties when we were little, and I drank out of the –– I can, I can smell them –– The Tupperware. Yeah, sippy cups, you know? And the little widgets, the little tiny containers were full of raisins in my lunchbox, or actually, I used to use the widgets for when it was hot dog day at school to put relish in because they didn’t serve relish with the hotdogs just so you brought relish in a little Tupperware.
Tori: How innovative of you –– that’s great.
Jane Marie: Thanks. So they were not nefarious in any way. I didn’t understand that anyone was losing out on anything I got as a kid, you know, kind of growing up. As I got older, a few of my mom’s friends started pitching some things to her that did raise my hackles a bit because they were like, one was like a, like super antioxidant drink that didn’t taste very good. And you did have to sign up to be a seller or something. There was also one I think it’s called Lip Sense which was like a lip gloss with like a sealant, a lacquer sealant that keeps it on all day. And then you found a special remover for it. That one still exists. And so these things kind of started creeping in. And that’s when I was like, Oh –– I kind of put the whole thing together to be like, right, this isn’t like a cute hobby. Right now we’re talking to adult women who are like preaching about this lip gloss. And I’m getting creeped out.
Tori: Yeah. Well, and I have so many, so many questions for you and so many things to talk about. But what you just touched on, they seem sexist as fuck, but they seem. Yeah, they seem so sexist. And they’re coming into communities largely of women. And I’ve done my separate research and women of color are more impacted than white women as well. Was that your was that your perspective as well? It sounds like it was…
Jane Marie: Oh, as a child and growing up. Yeah, of course. It’s fine. I mean, it’s on purpose. Right?
Tori: Yeah. Right. So you’re targeting they’re targeting these groups of women largely housewives. Women who you know want want either a little bit of money on the side or are sold this like American Dream promise of these businesses. Yeah, it just seemed… The whole time I was listening to the show, I was just like, Oh my God. You know, my work is largely on giving women actionable resources to better their money to pay off debt to invest to save money, and this just seemed like everything you know, wrong about the promise and it feels it felt so manipulative and predatory. Any thoughts about that?
Jane Marie: I mean, like I said, it’s by design –– the groups. So you have to accept this premise first, which is that there is no product to be sold, there is no service, there are very few MLM that, like, survive on the popularity of their products. The vast majority, (as we’ve seen recently with LuLaRoe), yes, nobody wanted to buy those gross leggings. So they, you know, it ended up being a big lawsuit. And I mean, they’ve gotten in a lot of trouble. But it’s because they convinced all these sellers that there was a market for these cheap ass leggings that were more expensive than the ones you can buy rolled up at the like end cap at JoAnn F
abrics, and not worry about leggings, you know, but I can get them for like $4 or hot peppers all over them. And yeah, food items.
Jane Marie: So I understanding like that premise that this is really about the initial investment. And the there’s a phrase that former MLM-ers use a lot, which is called “churn and burn.” The money comes from cycling through people at the very bottom level, like just moving them in without moving in. So you target communities where either there’s very little opportunity for upward mobility because of economic situations, or a lot of times, kind of religious belief, like right, what women should be doing with their spare time. You know, if they have spare time, if they’re allowed to have a career in their relationship. So you can imagine the different groups of people, and like I said, there’s no requirements either. So there’s not a resume you put together to get this “job” –– anyone, if they want to hand their money over to a recruiter, can sign up. So maybe you didn’t graduate high school, and you’re looking for something that isn’t bartending, right? And there’s also just these huge promises, from the people at the top huge, and they’re impossible to achieve, just on the base. Like, the most basic glance at any of these companies is “Oh, the top one is the person who started it.” The next tier is all of their friends and family. And then the next tier is like, who cares after that, like nobody’s making any money? Right? And you’re not going to squeeze into that, you know, you don’t work your way up into that. But you maybe you could marry into it or something, but…
Tori: Well, and is that part of the promise too? Can you walk me through? Like how does the recruiting happen? What is the psychology when you first get started? Because when we read on paper, what is it 99% of people who take part in in MLM lose money. When we hear stories and and start reflecting this on paper? There’s no way you would do it. But yet people do it.
Jane Marie: People sign up for the lotto. Right? It’s the exact same psychology, it’s the exact same. So there are some people who look at this, there’s been studies done about this, there are some people who would look at that figure that 99% figure and they see themselves in the 1%. Yes, and it doesn’t follow along any certain lines like that doesn’t have anything to do with where you came from, or who you are. This is just like, basic personality differences between people. There are people who see themselves as the 1%. And they think they can make it there because the promise is you can work your way up the ladder. And to be a millionaire but but the fact is that the people at the very top are all close knit core, you know, company that’s built itself already. I mean, Danielle, who we talked to in the show, yeah, my friend from junior high –– she was so fascinating to me. She’s like, way the hell up there in her organization. Way, way, way up. I mean, I think like there’s only a few tiers above her and she makes $40,000 right?
Tori: That was shocking to me. So I was driving home listening to the show to prep for this episode again. And I literally I had forgotten the $40K number and heard the $40K number again, and my mouth dropped open in the car. I was like $40,000 and we could give I mean, please go listen to The Dream as well. But let’s give some context to who she is. So, she sells I think it was purses right? And has worked her way up to like one of the the biggest sellers in her state and was only making I was shocked $40K a year. She was doing it part time, she had kids, she wasn’t doing this full time but…
Jane Marie: It’s not part time. It’s not part time. She doesn’t log her hours like that. This is the other thing is they don’t encourage you to do bookkeeping. They don’t encourage you to log your hours, I would imagine that she’s working at least full time, like if you really thought the hours spent, but it seems passive because it’s just like sending a text or shooting someone an email.
Tori: Or the very gendered, you’re just throwing a party to talk about parties.
Jane Marie: And you invite people to that party, and you have to get the stock in from the company to throw that party. And that’s a couple days of work. And then, you know, recruiting is a couple days of work and doing these like rah, rah sessions, with all of your downline people. I would guess that she does spend, you know, most of her time doing this, right? But they’re not –– none of these companies, when they send you like the welcome packet, or whatever, when you sign up… Yes, there’s like a little, there’s a lot of like, fake like, “if you sell this much, you’ll make this much” kind of charts. And then forms that come with it that you can fill out that totally look like something that like Melissa and Doug would make for a five year old to like, pretend to have grocery store at home or something. Where it’s like, two columns, which is just like, what you ordered, or what you saw that for how much, you know. I spoke to this one woman during that session with Danielle, I spoke to one woman who was like, Yeah, I don’t really make that much. I don’t work super hard at it, but I make enough to cover my cell phone. And I was like, that’s a cost of doing business. She was like, why?
Tori: I’m like, no get to write that off!
Jane Marie: But you can’t do this work without a cell phone. So not you’re not breaking even.
Tori: That should be a business expense that you get to write off! Because in my business, you know, I get to write off part of myself on part of my rent, even because I work from my house… oh, man.
Jane Marie: Yeah. So they’re not encouraged to keep good records. You’re not encouraged. You’re not encouraged to think super critically about this stuff. And and to think about how the structure of those businesses work and how you could possibly work your way up. Yeah, you know, it’s, it’ll happen by magic…
Tori: This may be a very controversial opinion, maybe not so controversial. I just kept thinking “cult” the entire entire time I was listening to the show. Of the psychological, you know, we’re going to build you up. And we’re going to tell you that this is the way to make money. This is a community where you get to meet people. And then when you’re so entrenched in it after a while that you a can’t admit that you’ve “failed” or can’t can’t admit –– you feel so much shame where you can’t get out. You have to just keep going because maybe, maybe tomorrow is when you make that sale or maybe next week. And then to no one’s talking about the shame. So everybody siloed and is kind of I mean, is brainwashed the right word, I don’t know. That’s what I kept thinking when I was listening to the show. It’s just like, This feels like a cult.
Jane Marie: It does to me, too. And I think I have a lot to say about this that I don’t really want to go on the record about –– but like when I think about the, the religious stuff, I’m like, yeah –– there’s a lot of stuff in those old old books that’s like, pretty hard to believe. But if you believe it, you’ll believe this: You can become a millionaire selling perfumed soaps, you know. But, you know, I don’t want to bash anybody but the connection… It’s, it’s there in so many ways. And first of all, alm
ost all of these companies have a great leader. Right?
Tori: Who gets up on stage with like, fire cannons and like, yeah, at these huge conferences and is kind of a lowercase “g” god. Yeah.
Jane Marie: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s always one of those that’s not them, the owner themselves at some proxy, or you know, somebody who’s because like with Tupperware, Brownier Wise, who really popularized the party system with MLMs. She didn’t own Tupperware, she was just an employee, but she became the face of Tupperware as opposed to Earl Tupper, this old man that nobody wanted to look at. But there is, you know, there’s a personality, there’s a character at the top. There’s a lot of the same exact techniques like you were talking about to keep people into a cult, which is any of this is going wrong. It’s a personal failing on your part.
Tori: Yes, it is your fault. If you can’t sell it’s your fault. If you can’t recruit people, it’s your fault. It’s not the fault of us. It’s not the system if you are not working hard enough, or you don’t want it badly enough
Jane Marie: God, I just got a weird memory of like being a child and not getting an A plus on a report card and my dad blaming me 100% for that. And now I’m thinking like, what if that teacher just didn’t like me that much? Like, a possibility!
Tori: Or didn’t give you enough time in class? Or maybe you couldn’t ask the question you needed to ask?
Jane Marie: That’s what’s used on adults. And yeah, the idea that if you can’t make this work you haven’t tried hard enough. And the try hard part is usually spending money. Yeah, more money and more money to, you know, finally succeed at this thing. And I’ve been to like one corporate, “retreat” my life. That was a day. And it was just at a conference room down the street from where we worked normally. And that was it. And I’ve never done anything else. These companies, they have cruises, they have like, you know, like wilderness getaways. And there’s like, a lot of team-building exercises and things like that, which also cults do. Not necessarily volleyball, everyone.
Tori: Beach volleyball –– Top Gun style.
Jane Marie: Just thinking about those next young people and how into midnight volleyball they were?
Tori: Oh, no, that’s literally because I had just watched a bunch of those documentaries. And I have I actually studied terrorist groups in college. I majored in –– yeah, it was actually fun for me. I studied Communication and Theater and part of my comm degree was I was studying how ISIS recruits women over social media. And I just see the psychological through lines of all this, of just taking people who want a purpose, and we all do, right? So they want to want to find their purpose in their life. Maybe they don’t have a community or they feel isolated, giving them back community giving them a purpose. And, you know, churches do this to other communities, right? It’s “how are you potentially taking advantage of this individual or of their personal finances or of their optimism?” Because I think that’s what they’re doing is they’re taking advantage of their optimism.
Jane Marie: That’s there because they’re fed lies, right? Yeah. Right. Not genuine optimism, like, I’m going to do great at this job! I mean, it’s, the promises are bogus. And so if you are optimistic –– I mean, somebody told me, I could be a millionaire in a couple of months. For $300.
Tori: Your bullshit meter just goes, yeah. Or I’m like, Okay. I love that. They’re like this is bullshit. Or you’re like, Yeah, Sign me up.
Jane Marie: Let’s go. And there are two types of people in the world, you know when it comes to that stuff.
Tori: One of the most interesting parts is you had somebody on your team, sign up for an MLM. And just the upfront cost of signing up was insane. Can you walk us through what that was?
Jane Marie: I still have all that crap in the closet here.
Tori: Well, and what I loved is you’re a beauty blogger, right? And you’re like, this stuff is shit. You’re like, the products are terrible. Clearly, you’re not selling the product. The product is getting more people than they were.
Jane Marie: In those like, you know how Benefit Cosmetics uses cardboard? Yeah, has to be like an environmental choice or something. It was like that was not say much about it, though. It was like garbage. And it all smelled really weird. And it was like, the foundation made me itch. Anyway, yes, we had someone sign up. Your question was, sorry?
Tori: No, you’re good. Just walking us through? Like, because I think the number one question I had, it’s like, when you walk into an MLM, if you signed up, how much money upfront? Are you spending to even get started?
Jane Marie: So it depends. I one thing that some of these companies do is like $1, to get started $1, right. Mm-hmm. And then you’re in. But especially if it’s a party based MLM where you have to gather people in your home or over zoom. You need stuff to show them, right? And with makeup in particular, especially if you live somewhere that’s pretty diverse, like Los Angeles, you need a lot of makeup for testers for people at these parties. So you know, even if the signup fee isn’t much, how are you going to run the business if you have no product on hand to talk to people about or let them try? The Party at the church that I went to with Danielle? She gave out a free bag to everyone. They’re like 30 bags, which I’m sure she purchased. Those are the costs. So it’s like it, but they’re presented as investments. And once you can’t recruit enough people to turn a profit, who can do that, like I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’d be mortified to like walk up to someone and be like, Hi, would you like to sell my craft? No, I’m not I don’t have it. I don’t have what it takes. But say you think you do and then really you only get like a few recruits and you’re not breaking even. And you have all of this stuff on hand that was supposed to help you sell it and then you quit. I mean, that’s just like a real easy $1000 to that company, right? And then someone replaces you immediately as Danielle said, their bathtub with the drain open.
Tori: Because the product is not the products they’re selling. And this is the hallmark MLM thing. It is recruiting people to sell products, right. And so that’s why so many people end up being, quote-unquote unsuccessful is that they’re just trying to recruit people rather than selling the products. That is how you make money. That’s how you grow your business.
Jane Marie: Right. And I think there’s a there’s enough meaning a handful of these companies where the products are decent enough to to contribute to the folklore. Yeah, the ideas people tell themselves because, for example, Avon or Mary Kay or there’s a couple of diet ones, you know, Herbalife and things like that.
Tori: Herbalife was
one of the big ones I knew of the show.
Jane Marie: People did want that stuff. But that’s because it had speed in it –– and they got in trouble for it anyway. Oh, my God, Mary Kay, I like their makeup brushes, you know. There’s like a handful that are really probably selling some stuff, right? Probably still churning through the people on the bottom rungs just like every other company. But they’re big enough that when you’re pitching your MLM that’s maybe not one of those guys, people can translate it to that. You know, they can compare it to that and say, “oh, yeah, I, of course, I can get that pink Cadillac.”
Tori: Well, and the Mary Kay one was really interesting because this whole “Jesus is a marketing ploy” thing seems to be a hallmark in a lot of these MLMs. Where, you know, you’re, you’re coming to largely women, Christian women, and saying, You can reconnect with your faith, you can kind of sell on behalf of God. And that becomes a recruiting tool. Yeah. Blown away by that. I don’t know if you feel comfortable answering but like, morally, how do you think that sits with people or interviewing people? Like, how does that affect how they how they sell and how they live their lives?
Jane Marie: The moral question is what we’re going to be tackling next. Okay. Because this is the thing I’ve come away from both seasons with is I’m not trying to re-traumatize anyone by bringing him up. But Donald Trump was raised in a church that preaches the prosperity gospel. Yep. And his father before him was also a criminal. And like a, you know, slumlord, and just gross bankruptcies. And Donald, at the same day, he’s been bankrupt a million times. So he just tries something, makes a bunch of money, sucks the money out, then closes the company down and then starts over. And goes on believing that he’s doing good and that he’s a good Christian. And I do want to get to the bottom of what that is, like, where, how I just don’t understand that at all. It’s in such conflict with like, the Christians in my family who also do MLMs. But just the –– you know, you’re supposed to have modesty and be humble. And, you know, it is not about flashy wealth. I don’t know how people square it. I’m figuring it out, though. We’re figuring it out.
Tori: Yeah. And I think like Danielle, the woman who is your friend who was selling purses, I think that that was part of the draw for her.
Jane Marie: Actually, the company is named after Proverbs 31.
Tori: Yeah. So that’s the first company is 31. Yes, it seems like a draw. She was like, “I got to reconnect with my faith. I wasn’t going to church before. And you know, I had kind of lapsed on my faith. And now I feel this, like renewed sense of connection to God.” And I grew up Catholic, I went to, you know, 18 straight years of Catholic school, even that it was one of those things that was just yeah, this is her reality. But for me, it just seemed like this huge juxtaposition of knowing that a lot of people you recruit will fail. And just knowing that this company is profiting off of you, as well as all of the other people directly juxtaposed with this faith based component.
Jane Marie: I look at it as another piece of the enticing pitch. Right?
Tori: It’s a marketing tool.
Jane Marie: You can be a millionaire. You can work your own hours. Jesus is right over here with us. And he loves you and…
Tori: …and he wants you to be rich and he wants this for you!
Jane Marie: So, I think it’s just more of part of the promises of these companies. Yeah, false promises. So depressing.
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Tori: One of the things I’ve experienced now, as I was wondering about you as well, I own my own business started Her First $100K on the side of my 9 – 5 four years ago, built it up, quit my job. And now every time I talk about my business online, I have somebody who either slides in my DMs or comments –– Is it an MLM? Oh, and I found so many other of my friends who are female business owners who clearly do not have businesses that are MLMs get asked, “Are you running an MLM?” simply because they are female owned businesses…
Jane Marie: Or because the business isn’t clear. I think I can picture those companies and I have friends that run a bunch of different, you know, like groups of creative women that that get together for events or write seminars and things like that. They do kind of line up with some of the tactics of an MLM. But as long as there’s no, like, join here, button.
Tori: No, just for what, what I interpreted it as is we have this misogynistic notion that oh, if a woman’s a business owner, chances are it’s an MLM. And chances are, you know, if she is promoting herself or promoting her business, it is because she has to recruit people. It’s a working theory for me. But it’s been very interesting because I’ve talked with other business owners who are like, freelance writers or coaches who teach people how to freelance, right? Or TikTok is also just a crazy place where I get that all the time. But I’m thinking it’s because we are, you know, we don’t necessarily see a lot of female business owners at the forefront with you know, something that’s not an MLM.
Jane Marie: Well, it’s that but also like, think about, you said, coaches, right? Sure. Which I am in one these coaching programs, so many of them are MLMs. Right? Right. So many are, you know, only take this coaching program from me, and then you can get certified to coach others and it looks, you know, very similar to an MLM Yoga is the same way. I mean, it looks like you get trained, you can get a certificate and you can train the next person. Yeah, I think it’s, it’s that also, that’s a great point that a lot of women run businesses online anyway, share some qualities with MLMs. Again, by desig
n, like, right, the man who own these MLMs are watching, right, they know what you want, you know, they know what you’re interested in, and you’re interested, less in the quilted monogrammed purse than you are in the cruise, you’re going to take and do yoga at 6am on the cruise
Tori: Sounds like my hell honestly.
Jane Marie: But all right.
Tori: I’ll be in the food court eating the unlimited pizza. They get branded as entrepreneurs, these people who participate in MLMs –– you’re not really owning a business, though. You’re a distributor. So is that part of the lie as well as that you do get to own your own business. You are an entrepreneur, when really like, this is not your business. You didn’t start it.
Jane Marie: There’s a huge cognitive dissonance here when people explain what their work is with an MLM where, on the one hand, it’s a small business. Yes, for sure. And then when you start to poke away at it, they go this runs just like every other business and you’re like, well, it’s one or the other. Like either you’re in a bagger at a grocery store who hopes to manage the place at some point, or you have a small natural foods shop that you run by yourself. But you’re telling me that it’s the natural food shop, but that it operates just like Safeway, or whatever. It’s like which one is it? I don’t know. I don’t know which it is. I do know what it is scam.
Tori: But when you ask MLMs –– you had this great cut in a show where it was like every single time they were like, “No, we’re not a pyramid scheme, because pyramid schemes are illegal, and we’re not illegal” just supposed to placate us of like, okay, we’re not a pyramid scheme, because those are illegal, and we would never do something that’s illegal. It’s just bullshit.
Jane Marie: Like, when I was a teenager and be like, I don’t smoke weed, because I’ve never gotten arrested for it. You know, that’s… it’s just a dumb logical fallacy. It’s not a good argument, that just because you didn’t get caught doing something bad doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something bad.
Tori: Well, on a personal question to you how I couldn’t stay. I mean, this is part of, you know, what you do as a journalist is stay unbiased as much as possible. But for me, you know, talking for me, and that’s what I’m wondering is like, how did you how did you go about researching, how did you go about talking to people and not just being like, this is bullshit?
Jane Marie: I was very lucky in that my family agreed to participate, because I love them very much. For the listeners who have heard the show, grandma and I are fine. Like, Amy and I are fine. Everybody’s fine. Yeah, when I came to them with the ask, it was like, not unusual. I’ve been just kind of that person in my family forever. Anyway, you know, like, I’m gonna do weird stuff. And I want people to speak really openly about our pasts and all of that. And so I was lucky to have people very close to me, who I love as main characters in the story. I also don’t feel like anyone who is, at least in the lower rungs of an MLM, I don’t I don’t have any judgments about them. I wish I could convince them to do something else, but I don’t have like… I don’t know. People send me things. Like kind of making fun of some of the women sometimes like strangers will send me screen grabs from
“I can’t believe my sister just put this out on Facebook or my cousin sent me this thing.” And it’s just not funny to me. Like, I feel bad every time I see something like that, because I’m like, shoot, I wish she was putting her energy into something else. But I don’t know.
Tori: Your heart goes out to like, and I mean, back to the cult example. You don’t blame somebody who joined the cult, right? You don’t you don’t shame them. They’ve received enough shame when they were in in the establishment. So yeah, it’s so tricky.
Jane Marie: But having done the reporting and knowing what the company’s like all the bad stuff behind those closed doors, Joe Mariana, that guy got in a fight with Dan. But that guy that was being so condescending to me, of course, and all that crap. He asked to come on the show. I did not call him. He contacted us. So I find out you were doing it. I think maybe his assistant was listening because it was mid-season. And we were like still, “Oh, dang. Oh, funny.” He asked to come on the show. And I felt like that gave me permission to just be myself in that discussion and, and hold his feet to the fire and not be super nice to this guy who I know is a con man. Like he’s, he’s a lobbyist for one. Okay, let’s pretend he doesn’t even lobby for the MLM industry. Let’s pretend he lobbies for anyone. No, thank you. And then on top of that, he lobbies for probably pretty illegal organization, right? And people criticize me for this. They said, You know, you weren’t objective enough, or you don’t let people talk. And I don’t let people lie to me. That’s what it is. So who can blame me for that? I let people talk until they start lying. And then I challenge them on that. And then it sounds like I’m not biased. But I had enough information at that point. He wasn’t going to get something past me you thought he was that’s why he wanted to come on the show.
Tori: And I think and this is a larger conversation about journalistic integrity and all of these things, but I mean, in a post 2016 world, I don’t know if you can, you know, any reporting where you call bullshit, some people sound biased, and it’s like, “Nope, you’re stating facts.
Jane Marie: Right? Yeah. Yeah. And also what boring show would that be like if I was?
Tori: Oh, just a passive observer. Yeah.
Jane Marie: Like, nobody wants to listen to that crap.
Tori: I was worried when we jumped on that I was gonna have to like, because I’m clearly anti MLM where I was gonna have to toe the line and be like, “Hey, let’s have an academic discussion about it.” So I’m glad we don’t. So if I’m a listener, I’m thinking to myself, the obvious question, how are they legal? Like, how are they legal? What kind of skirting around the rules do they do to make sure that they can stay in existence?
Jane Marie: They aren’t legal. Okay. But it’s very, very hard to prove that you happen to have a very robust FTC, funded well with this as high, you know, on the list of their missions, because these companies are mostly privately held. And because they’re cult-like, a lot of the information is kept very secret. And so the investigation into these companies to label them a pyramid scheme is just a massive endeavor, especially when you had, for four years there, a president and all of his friends in office who were like, owners of MLM. There was zero incentive for them to direct the FTC in that regard. And since the show came out, actually, a little bit after they heard it got picked up and passed around at the FTC. And they started sending out more…
Tori: Pause…how cool! And I had a question about this later. But how cool that your work has a direct impact for change. Congratulations, that’s the coolest.
Jane Marie: There was a bunch of things, there was like the Herbalife movie, betting on zero. And then John Oliver did a segment and then yeah, I think around the same time that Samantha Bee did her takedown of I believe it was LuLaRoe. It was starting to get into the public consciousness. But then it certainly after the show aired, I’m seeing a lot more talk about the negative sides of MLMs. It’s that’s been a really positive outcome is that people are being more critical out loud, because it’s hard to be critical of like your sister or your aunt or whatever. But I think we gave them a little bit of permission by being so honest. And yeah, and having those tough conversations, but the FTC listened, and they have been sending out a lot more warning letters. They don’t really have the resources they need to follow up on each and every one. There’s so many companies. Yeah, you know, we learned through the Amway case in the 70s. Just what a grind. It was for that one case, it was years
Tori: They ended up losing that case. Correct?
Jane Marie: Yeah. Because the dudes were friends with the president or something.
Tori: Well, and what I thought was so interesting about that, is they lost the case, right? And then that set the precedent for these other cases, and it was fuel to the fire of all of these other MLMs, who are like, “Oh, well, we’re not, you know, we’re not like this company that was prosecuted.” Is that the correct terminology? Shut down, I guess, you know, we are different where we’re this kind of company.
Jane Marie: Because we didn’t get shut down. Right. But that’s just because there’s not
Tori: …enough bandwidth
Jane Marie: But you can go on the FTC website right now. It’s really fun, actually, and look through the warning letters that they send. Yeah, if you have, if you’re part of an MLM, I guarantee you, you can find your company in the list of letters, warning letters that the FTC sends out a lot of times, it’s about claims that the companies make,
Tori: yeah, like making this amount of money…
Jane Marie: No, no about like, our vitamins cure COVID, and
Tori: oh, cancer and save children from starvation
Jane Marie: That’s a way easier way to shut them down, than proving that they’re, that there is no end-user product, or very few end users have the money doesn’t come from them. So it’s really it really is like, I see it as a criminal enterprise. Yeah, where the bosses are very good at hiding evidence. And there isn’t an elite squad of people going out after these companies at the moment. There could be, you know, we could decide we want to take this on. But the lobbies so huge, and that and their ties to the Chamber of Commerce are really big, and their ties to the government are really big, and
Tori: they have money and they have power and goodness. Yeah, you brought up your family’s involvement in the show I so appreciated you and your family and the vulnerability of having these tough conversations and of talking about this in the larger scheme of this kind of Con. What would you say to people who are either thinking about joining an MLM themselves run? That’s the first thing obviously, or have family or friends who are in part of an MLM. What do you say to them?
Jane Marie: Okay, my main answer to that, like, I do get that question a lot. Like what do I say to my best friend about her involvement in this shampoo company or whatever, right? Look, if your best friend is totally like comfortable with pitching you an illegal pyramid scheme opportunity, you can be totally really comfortable coming back at them with your actual feelings about it, and everyone will survive, it will be fine, you’re not going to like, lose touch, chances are really, really, really, really, really, really high that this person isn’t going to be involved with that company for very long. And then you guys can have a fun talk about it later. But don’t tiptoe around these people that would like to rope you into a scam, they want to recommend a scam. They may not know that, but you don’t have to tiptoe around people are trying to scam you. You can just say, Hey, I know this is a scam. I wish you went and do it. Stop emailing.
Tori: I got a question. I got a question from a follower a while ago that was like, I clearly know they’re part of an MLM. And I want to support them. But I don’t you know, I can’t I don’t know how because I don’t believe in what they’re doing. I don’t want to lose touch. I don’t want to fracture the relationship. And what I told them as you can say, “I will support you no matter. You know what I will support you and cheer you on. I will not support your business.” Right? I will not support the thing you’re doing. Yeah. And my mom says this to me all the time. Right. “I’ll love you no matter what. However, this thing you did disappointed me.” Right? Yeah. So it can be that of of, you know, I will support you and cheer you on and cheer on your success. But I can’t in good conscious support what you’re trying to do. Yeah, this MLM. Yeah, pick a new thing.
Jane Marie: I mean, and like I said, they won’t last long.
Tori: Right? Statistically speaking, they won’t. Yeah, they’re gonna be they’re gonna be gone soon. I think like, yeah, my new friend answer is like, send them the show.
Jane Marie: Yeah. Shameless plugs. And on the show, it’s on the show. But if they don’t want to listen, then you there’s your answer. Right?
Tori: Right. So the other part of the psychology and we touched on this briefly is that once you’re entrenched in it, and maybe somebody is listening, who isn’t an MLM, and they’re like, Oh, my God, I haven’t figured out how to get out, there was this whole bit that you did about the psychology of not wanting to admit that you “failed.” And so we get in it, and we stick it out, either because we think we’ll be successful at some point, or because we can admit to ourselves that it didn’t work out, right? This kind of sunk cost that whole thing, what do you have to say to somebody who is in that situation?
Jane Marie: Cut and run. You know, I think, try to relate it to anything else in your life, that’s a money pit. You know, if you got into a house, or you get a car, that’s a lemon, you go back to the dealership, you know, not that you’re going to get your money back. Right? You know, when you’re losing, and there is no path to winning, the best thing to do is like, cut your losses, as they say, you know, and hopefully you spent enough money that you learned a lesson. Like you got that out of it. You know, and I think following one’s gut is like, so underrated, especially for women in this society. I was raised –– my dad, my dad told me if a guy was ever, like, rude, or like, touched me, or something, you know, did anything that I didn’t like that I was I had permission to break his jaw. And then he like, showed me the right angle, because he’s, he was like, “This is how you, this is how you break a jaw.” They’re not that hard to bre
ak. And if you get it, right, and I only did it once, but it wasn’t that I had my phone on my hands. I broke his nose. But given permission to just go, “This doesn’t feel right. And so I have to do something to get out of this.” You know, maybe I have to do something extreme to get out of this. But I am going to trust my own gut over this person who I have suspicions about and who feels like icky right now and who is fine with taking all of my money
Tori: …and selling me something selling me a promise that doesn’t really exist, and then makes me feel bad when I can’t realize that promise?
Jane Marie: Yeah, just get really honest with yourself. Look at the numbers again, think of yourself as one of the 99% not the 1%. You know, I think a lot of people who are involved. The shame is so powerful. Yeah. If we could just have permission to go. I don’t want to do it just because I don’t want to.
Tori: That’s it. Great permission slip. Yeah, I don’t I don’t anymore. I don’t feel like it. I felt like unfortunately, shame is something that I end up having to talk about a lot in my work because there’s this financial piece of you know, shame that is so entrenched in our culture and especially for women. Of you know, the reason you’re not rich is because you buy too many lattes, right? Or in the cult –– you know, in this example, I will set the cult example the MLM example, “the reason you’re not rich is because you didn’t work hard enough, right?” Or you didn’t sell enough or you didn’t you don’t know enough people.
Jane Marie: And the reason you’re not rich is the cards are stacked against you. I just read this article the other day that It was like, I was looking at like, VC funding. And it was it was about venture capital and where it goes, in 2019, there was record high in women founded or like women at the C-Level, record-high investment in those companies. And yep, I saw that was something like 2.8% of all of the money invested in companies went to a company that had a woman at or near the top. Okay, hit record high. In the headlines for treating this, like it was a good thing. And it’s just like… progress. Horrible. It’s like, mortifying, I can’t believe these people can live with themselves, you know.
Tori: Sexism is over! We did it, everybody. Congratulations, right?
Jane Marie:1 in 50 ish Companies where women are the boss get money, get investment money! I mean, come on. It’s just, you know? Yeah. It’s not easy. It’s not easy. I do own my company. But I always feel like I’m the one in the room…who’s ruining our chances.
Tori: Tell me more about that. What do you mean?
Jane Marie: You know, when we take on meetings with new clients, or if we’re, if we’re talking money with people or negotiating a contract, I feel viscerally… I feel the fact of my body in the conversation somehow is related to what the person on the other end feels like. They can just what they’re going to do. I mean, and most sometimes it’s good, it, you know, sometimes it works in my favor. But I feel like if I’m being honest with myself, like I’m asking everyone else to about MLMs if I’m really being honest with myself, I know that I’m ruining the discussion, I know that I’m lowering my chances of making money. I know that that’s just because of the body I inhabit, you know…
Tori: Jane, you’re gonna make me cry.
Jane Marie: oh, I always want to excuse myself, I have to, you know… We were talking to like a consultant the other day about, about money stuff, and I set it all out on the phone. I was just like, “I’m really sorry, that I’m here. You guys, you know, you like I’m killing this whole, the fun, I’m killing the fun for us for you, dudes.” You know, because I’m, I’m, my presence is going to make this not as successful.
Tori: Because of your gender because of you being a woman?
Jane Marie: It’s fact.
Tori: Oh, there’s so much to unpack there. Um, that’s yeah. I mean, I don’t know how much you know about my work. But I, I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who are really committed to educating me financially. They didn’t grow up with a lot, but they made decisions where they were like, okay, when we have a kid, we’re going to educate her. And we’re going to make sure that she has the life we didn’t have. So I grew up with that financial education and realized, of course, throughout high school in college, that I was not the norm, and that it was a privilege. And with that privilege came a responsibility. And I was the friend all of my friends were coming to for advice and guidance and that sort of thing. And so, for me, it’s it’s been interesting, because now doing this work full time, I am constantly in male dominated spaces. And I’m sure the same thing with you. I usually see it as an asset rather than as a detractor. Because I know that, you know, I have a different perspective than any of the dudes in the room.
Jane Marie: That’s very optimistic of you.
Tori: Well, and that’s what I’m wondering.
Jane Marie: All of the stuff that before you even walk in the room is like not a possibility. You know, the stuff that they’re just not considering before you even get on the phone before you even walk in the room. They see Tori is on the call. They see Jane is on the call. Here’s how this is gonna go and it’s internalized misogyny. I don’t know if it’s on purpose, but they know that, they just, it’s just different when we’re in the conversation. What are you What are you thinking of right now? I can tell I just recollected something.
Tori: Literally that it’s so funny. You’re such an interviewer. I was like, because I’m looking at it from my perspective of I’m going to come in the room and I’m going to fucking kill it and you are you should be excited to talk to me because I have a different perspective. Right? But you’re looking at it, rightfully so, from the opposite direction, which is what is everybody else thinking “how is the energy in this room gonna change when I walk in the room?” Because you’re exactly right. There’s all this stuff going on on TikTok right now. And it’s something that a bunch of female entrepreneur friends and I have talked about that you should have some sort of like, assistant who is a man who is made up. But he sends the hard emails.
Jane Marie: We did a story about this with a company on one of the podcasts. Yeah, the podcast is called Pivotal. They did make up a man’s email address.
Tori: Who? Brad@herfirst100k.com? Yeah.
Jane Maire: Do you have one?
Tori: No, I don’t. But I want one. Because my team is all women. And you know, I did that on purpose. Because I want I want to employ women, but it’s very interesting. I kind of want to try.
Jane Marie: Try it for an episode. I’d love to hear how it works out too. Not Brad, though. I don
‘t like Brad.
Tori: Sure. Matt.
Jane Marie: No, no, not Matt either. I’m trying to think of a more like name that I really respect. You know what I mean?
Tori: All the early 1900s. Victor. Actually, I’m Victoria. I’m Victoria. So maybe it’s Victor. Yeah, interesting to see how it changes. Because for me, I’m like, No, I’m gonna negotiate for what I’m worth. And if you don’t like it, I yeah, I don’t, I don’t know what to do. But that’s all coming from me. And you’re looking at it from the perspective of “How’s the energy don’t change when you walk into the room?” It breaks my heart because you’re so right.
Jane Marie: How often do people want to negotiate with you from the point that you come in at? How often do you hear we’re really far apart on that?
Tori: It depends. I actually negotiate with a lot of women. Surprisingly, there’s actually a lot of women that yeah, I either work with women at companies, because a lot of the work I do is still very gendered. I’m talking to someone who does influencer marketing at a company. And largely those positions are are women. Yeah, I mean, I teach women how to negotiate. That’s part of my business. I teach women how to ask for raises and negotiate contracts and that sort of thing. This is a whole other conversation that I hopefully will have in season two about influencer marketing about how no brand is charging what somebody deserves to get paid. So oftentimes, like I just got literally before I hopped on here, I had a brand want me to shoot a TikTok video for them and pay me $300
Jane Marie: Somebody offered me $200 to take a picture on Instagram with their backpack on. And I wrote back saying, I will do it. But I’m going to read this entire exchange in a video on my stories. And be completely transparent about how this happened. I’m not going to say I love their your backpacks. I’ve never even heard of your company before. So but if you want to send me one, that’s how I would do it. Your name will still get out there. And maybe it’ll make a splash because it’ll sound different. But that’s how I’ll do it.
Tori: Oh, and it’s not even it’s not an us problem, right? It’s not a you problem. It’s not a me problem. It’s it’s the society systemic oppression bullshit problem.
Jane Marie: Yep. All you have to do is like look at the pay gap. All you have to do is look at that 2.8% record setting VC funding of women’s all you have to do is just look at the numbers and you go, “Oh, my God.” I did start crying a few months ago, I was thinking about this. This is like one of those year end lists, like roundups of amazing women and this and that. Yeah, I got really upset thinking about that this isn’t going to be fixed for my kid. Like, it’s not happening fast enough for it to even be fixed in her lifetime. And as just like, so. It’s just really heartbreaking. No matter how hard I work, I can’t fix it. And it hasn’t moved in so many decades, you know, and it just feels crazy. I feel it makes me feel crazy, that she’ll probably be a very, very, very old lady before the needle moves enough to like really make a difference I was looking for. This reminds me, I was looking for a reporter to do a story the other day sports reporter and I Googled like, women sports newscasters. The first page of Google is only lists of who’s the hottest.
Tori: It’s not like wonderful Sports Reporters are the most credible or impactful or it’s hot.
Jane Marie: You can do it right now. And you see like, it’s just if that’s your job.
Tori: Well, I actually went to college with one oh, I can connect you –– and she’s an amazing Black woman. So I’ll connect you with her. This is my work as well is I try to fight the patriarchy by giving women actionable resources to better their money, because I don’t think we have any sort of quality for women until we have financial equality and think about that every day. No matter how hard I work, no matter how many women that I impact, no matter how many conversations I have, this problem is still so much bigger than me.
Jane Marie: So much bigger. Yeah. I find it really hard to kind of like brush that aside during conversations about money when men are present, like, yeah, really hard for me to not say to them, “I know you came into this conversation thinking you could pay me 25% less than the guy.”
Tori: And then you’re upset when I asked for more. You’re like, you should just be grateful.
Jane Marie: And now I’m an angry woman. Right? Yeah. pushy, pushy…
Tori: pushy, aggressive, difficult.
Jane Marie: Yeah. She’s difficult to work with.
Tori: Because I have boundary? Yeah, cuz I asked my own standards?
Jane Marie: It’s, it’s sad. But you know, like, I’m talking from a point of privilege, I I do have a wonderful career. I feel like I am setting a good example for my daughter. And I’ll just keep plugging away at it. But I wish I had better news for everybody about being a woman and trying to get your share of the pie. I know MLMs aren’t it.
Tori: They are not it. Well, and I want to ask you one one more question. Since The Dream premiered, we talked about this briefly, what is what is the impact been? Like? What have you seen?
Jane Marie: Well, I’ve seen the FTC ramp up their like letter writing campaign, so that’s great. I haven’t heard from a lot of people being like, “you made me see the light,” but a few you know, like, I’ve quit, or I’ve had good conversations or hard conversations with people that I know. But mostly, I’ve just seen it come more into the foreground of our like, cultural conversation, you know, around women and work and more open criticism of these companies. Yeah, I think a few years back, it was kind of like you laughed it off. It didn’t seem as evil. And I think we showed that part of it, that it’s actually predatory. And yeah, and people get truly damaged by being involved with these companies like both financially and emotionally. I think people are angered by that. And it’s moving the conversation, which is great.
Tori: Yeah. Yeah. Amazing. where can folks find you?
Jane Marie: They can find me at LittleEverywhere.com and then my handles on all the other stuff is @SeeJaneMarie.
Tori: Well, I so appreciate you joining us. Thank you. Thank you for your work on.
Tori – End Credits: I cannot thank Jane enough for her expertise, her work and her vulnerability. You can connect with Jane at @SeeJaneMarie and if you want more information about MLMs, Jane, myself, or the show check out our detailed show notes I financialfeministpodcast.com
Can’t wait to see you back here next week financial feminists talk to you soon.
Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist. Financial Feminist is produced and hosted by me, Tori Dunlap. Theme song and audio production by Jonah Cohen Sound. Administration and marketing by Olivia Kolkana, Sophia Cohen, and Kristen Fields. Research by Ariel Johnson. Promotional graphics by Mary Stratton and photography by Sarah Wolfe. A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100K team and community for supporting the show. For more information about Financial feminist, Her First $100K, our guests and our sponsors go to financialfeministpodcast.com