Do the Hustle! Can WorldVentures Use Pyramid Power to Become the New Amway?

Manic multilevel marketers mine for millennials

Training events are among the key techniques by which the MLM industry keeps its sellers motivated. At WorldVentures, company executives work hard to maintain the image of a fun-loving, globetrotting family. Flawlessly-produced recruitment videos show people drinking, dancing, and playing in the sand in various vacation destinations. “You should be here! You should be here!” they chant at the camera. Reps are encouraged to go on DreamTrips, vacations that turn into pilgrimages to Las Vegas or Cancun that include company pep rallies and one-on-one dinners with higher-ups. WorldVenturesTV has uploaded 113 videos to YouTube taken on vacations and at company conventions like Millionaire Bootcamp 2012 and WorldVentures UNITED! 2012.

Wayne Nugent is the co-founder and “Chief Visionary Officer” of WorldVentures. “Ernst & Young is the second-largest audit company in the world. They gave us the Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2010,” Mr. Eggers told us. Actually, Mr. Nugent and his co-founder Mike Azcue were two of 38 entrepreneurs nominated in the Southwest Area – North region, which includes North Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Before starting WorldVentures, the two worked together at GT Trends, another travel-based MLM with a less-than-stellar reputation. “After a short involvement, they disagreed with the business methods practiced by GTT and both men voluntarily resigned,” according to a WorldVentures-owned website. In 2011, they both admitted to willfully evading  taxes from 2004 to 2007: Mr. Azcue owed $18,340, and Mr. Nugent owed $60,712.

Smooth-faced, tanned, and broad-shouldered, Mr. Nugent appeared on stage in Las Vegas for WorldVentures UNITED! 2012, dressed in a pink suit jacket with his black hair in an Elvis puff. He improvises his speeches. “There’s a real world, but there’s our world,” he riffed in the closing of  his keynote to the WorldVentures faithful. “And that’s a world I get excited about my little girl being born into. And I get excited when we travel around the country! And I get excited when we’re traveling around the world, and there’s these WorldVentures babies! And we’re getting together. That’s what I’m seeing and feeling. Why? Because that’s what I’m experiencing in real life. It’s happening right now. And if you’re right here at the beginning, maybe you’re not seeing that all now. But it’s there and it’s good.”

The rambling speech earned a roaring, standing ovation from a crowd of more than 4,000, most of whom paid $199 to attend. Mr. Nugent apologized for skipping the afterparty, and ran offstage to catch a flight.

In their time with WorldVentures, Los Angeles couple Roger Yack and his wife Sabine drank “little sips of the Koolaid,” Mr. Yack said. They estimate they spent about $30,000 on conventions like UNITED! and other “training” events before they stopped working and were dismissed by the company. “I believe that the line is that people that attend those trainings earn five times more than people that don’t,” Mr. Yack said. “Those 1,000 people spend $298 just to hype and ‘rah, rah!’ like crazy. What WorldVentures was really good at was creating a culture.”

WorldVentures’ training director, Marc Acetta, is known for dressing up in costumes—dealing out cards and sipping whiskey as a character he calls The Gambler, or muzzling a woman’s breasts as Jim Carrey’s character from The Mask in a performance enhanced by a strobe light and cheap pyrotechnics. “You want to get in my business?” he asks an actor. “It’s a travel business. You’ll make a shitload of money. Want to do it?” When the man hesitates, Mr. Acetta spritzes him with a water gun. “Sit down, John. You don’t qualify.” Even one WorldVentures detractor described Mr. Acetta, despite his dopey stage antics, as “brilliant.”

“It’s basically the most expensive high school pep rally you’ll ever see,” said Steve Hilger, an attorney representing a former WorldVentures high earner, Randy Ostram. Mr. Ostram is involved in a lawsuit against WorldVentures in Louisiana. His claims include that WorldVentures allowed a pair of reps, Eric Allen and Chris Dorgeat, to swap people in and out of lucrative places in the upper echelons of the pyramid. The pair also created a “straw man” position for Mr. Dorgeat in the name of his brother, Mathieu, in order to reap the benefits of having two spots, the lawsuit says. Later, Chris Dorgeat placed one of his personal recruits, James Lee, into “Mathieu’s” spot, according to the suit.

Although claims in multiple lawsuits allege that WorldVentures promotes its top reps even when sales goals aren’t met, the company positions itself as a meritocracy. Boosterism is central to the MLM ethos. WorldVentures biz op meetings are “invite-only,” which confers a sense of magic and mystery and filters out any uninvested strangers who might break the spell. “You get paid what you’re worth,” Mr. Eggers told prospective WorldVenturers. “If you’re lazy, you get paid nothing. If you work hard, you get paid a lot.”

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