We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but who are famous because they are great. We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety.
— Daniel J Boorstin, The Image
I remember when I first discovered Herbalife1. I was at this weird networking business event thing and there was a stand with a weird person stood at it. They had all these powders and pills and potions on the table. Me being me, I couldn’t resist going up there and saying:
“what this then?”
They proceeded to give me a 20 minute grand tour of the many things that Herbalife offer and even how I could join Herbalife right now. In fact, if I did, I’d get an instant discount to buy my own products to start using them myself! Even before I’d sold anything!
Reading between the lines, it seemed as though actually selling this stuff wasn’t the most important thing. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything but he was desperately trying to get me to sign up to his weird powder cult.
That, my friend, is Herbalife.
We’re all just plying the powders of Contentalife
More commonly referred to as a Multi-level Marketing, Herbalife is a pyramid scheme2. When entering Herbalife, you have to to buy product. You sell the product to other people, but that’s not where the real money is made as I’d experienced after my first brush with the potion-seller.
The money is made by signing up new people to enter the bottom of the pyramid3, because when they enter Herbalife you make a cut of all their profits. So the game doesn’t become to sell more product, the game becomes convincing more people to sell product, despite the fact that you don’t do it.
There is more money to made by telling rather than showing. More money to be made by convincing people to start than there is to continue actually practicing the craft of selling powders and potions.
Enter the Content Pyramid Scheme.
Sathya put it nicely in his tweet:
Group 1: Actually ship
Group 2: Write about group 1
Group 3: Aggregates lessons from group 2
Group 4: People aggregating the learnings of group 3
Groups 5+: And downward….
Level 1 — local seller
You enter on the ground floor of the Content Pyramid Scheme, promising to help out your local content manager to promote their content. You don’t know what content to create at this point so you look to people just ahead of you to find out what to do.
Maybe you’ll start tweeting. Maybe you’ll make videos or a podcast. You’ll ask your local content manager to appear on your podcast so you can interview them and ask them all about content.
One thing’s for sure, you’ll extol the virtues of content and why you should start promoting yourself too. You’ll try to convince others to stock up on your Contentalife powders and potions. Maybe you should buy my course about how to become a creator?
Level 2 — local manager
You’re making progress. You’ve released several Gumroad PDFs and you’ve set up affiliate schemes for them. You’re building yourself a little local legend. You are respected locally and you’ve managed to sell several people the red Contentalife content pill.
As a result, you’re now asked to appear on other people’s podcasts and you trot out your Contentalife-approved patter.
“I changed my life by making content every day. Here’s 7 reasons why.”
“Once I started my own newsletter I could never see the world the same way again. Sign up to my newsletter to see examples.”
“It’s all about the consistency and the hustle. Once you have these two things you can do anything you want. Buy my Gumroad PDFs Hustle and Consistency to find out how.”
Whenever you tweet, each of your local sellers immediately comment and retweet your content. As the Contentalife gurus told you, you’ve built a flywheel that continues to grow your influence and your wealth.
The qualities which now commonly make a man or woman into a "nationally advertised" brand are in fact a new category of human emptiness.
— Daniel J Boorstin, The Image
Levels 3-5 — national sales manager
Your influence is becoming serious in Contentalife.
You now have several levels underneath you. You have been giving the impressive-sounding title of National Sales Manager, meaning you are responsible for extolling the benefits of Contentalife on the entire country. You have a large following online and they hang on every word you say.
You can tweet one word and you get hundreds of replies and retweets. In fact, all you spend your time doing these days is looking at stoicism quotes, rewording them and tweeting them.
You don’t read them to consume them. You don’t even read them or understand them. You reword them to promote the Contentalife mantra: “more engagement is all that matters”.
You have made a cohort-based course to teach people how to get involved with Contentalife. It’s expensive, but you still get hundreds of signups every 3 months.
You look in the mirror and don’t recognise yourself. You automatically talk in platitudes and aphorisms. You haven’t read a book in two years. You spend all day dealing with your Twitter DMs and talking to people you don’t know in your Contentalife Hustlers Discord about your philosophy.
Where people once sought information to manage the real contexts of their lives, now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use.
— Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death
One day, you turn around and look at what you built.
You reached the top.
195,000 followers on Twitter. 97,000 email subscribers.
You are Star Contentalife Seller of the Year.
Why does it feel so wrong?
You look around the garage.
It’s full of out-of-date Contentalife red pills. They’re stinking up the place. You can’t even sell them as NFTs. Your Gumroad PDFs are laying in the other corner, outdated and irrelevant. You’ve got tens of thousands of people on your newsletter list but all you do each week is send them other people’s Contentalife powders. In fact, you send a ‘best of the week’ each week . Nobody ever replies. Nobody opens them.
You look around the garage, under the pills and the powders. Under the PDFs. You’re hunting desperately for originality. Hunting for your voice, your authenticity. Wasn’t there a Contentalife manual about authenticity somewhere? It seems to have vanished. There’s nothing about authenticity or originality left in this garage.
Just the Contentalife logo, slapped across everything.
Dead behind the eyes.
You sigh and slump your shoulders. You realise that you’ve built your entire business on Contentalife.
And it was all a gigantic, momumental, colassal scam.
P.S. Watch this
Herbalife Nutrition Ltd. is a global multi-level marketing (MLM) corporation that develops and sells dietary supplements. They are absolutely not a pyramid scheme. I have to say this for legal reasons.
Again, it’s absolutely not a pyramid scheme.
Not a pyramid.