Hey, you there. You look pretty smart—you’re reading The Observer, after all. What would you say if I told you there are ordinary New Yorkers out there making more money in a year than you’ll make in a decade? I’m not talking about bankers and movie stars. Heck, I used to be a waiter for 20 years—now look at me. You must have noticed how shiny my shoes are. Want to work for yourself? Go on vacation every month? Retire at the age of 29, then retire your mother? You didn’t wake up this morning planning to start a new life, but opportunity just knocked—you don’t want it to move to the next door. Did I mention you get a free BMW?
On an evening in June, in a nondescript, white-walled room in Williamsburg, a small crowd of sundry millennials in folding chairs listened to a variation of the above script. The opportunity knocking was WorldVentures, a six-year-old company based in Texas with a sales force of tens of thousands in 21 countries that pulled in $91 million in revenue last year. WorldVentures is ostensibly a travel club that grants members access to discounted vacations, but its sales reps are selling more than cheap hotel stays. In fact, they seem to expend most of their energy shilling for WorldVentures itself.
The pitch hinges on a video of average-looking people partying in exotic locations, followed by a stream of babbling from semi-suave pitchmen who claim to be making thousands, tens of thousands, more than a million a year, working for themselves. There’s a jumble in the middle of the presentation about “left and right teams”—a reference to WorldVentures’ complicated, pyramid-shaped payout system—but the main point is that you can “make a living by living,” if you act right now.
Pete Eggers, a tall, blond 29-year-old from Iowa, paced in front of the little room and down the aisle. He’d flown in to star in the massive WorldVentures training convention scheduled for Queens the next day. The small crowd seemed unnaturally jazzed, cheering and whooping like an MTV studio audience and guffawing at all the cheesy jokes. Such “biz op meetings” are customarily filled with plants, one former WorldVentures pitchman told The Observer. Indeed, it seemed as if about two-thirds of attendees were already in the fold, surrounding a half-dozen or so obvious new recruits.
“You know what mailbox money is?” Mr. Eggers asked them. “It’s money you get in your mailbox. I open my mailbox and I get usually a check for usually $5,000. Then I walk inside, and then I take a nap.”