I experienced an inner revolution at a fairly young age. It was a form of enlightenment for me, a fundamental shift in the way I saw potential and possibility both for my own future and for the future of others around me.
It was 1996, and I was in Cache Valley, Utah studying in the engineering program at Utah State University. Up to that point I had always wanted to build something great but even though I got an A in the introductory engineering class, I quickly discovered that engineering just wasn’t capturing my interests.
After that experience, I changed my major to business thinking I could build something lasting that way. By that time, however, I was like most college students: broke and hungry. Living off macaroni and cheese was getting old quickly, so I decided to get a job.
Of course this was before the Internet days so I turned to the best source at the time for available jobs: the newspaper. I saw an ad there inviting people to interview for a new business opportunity. I was studying business anyway, so I was intrigued and called the number.
What I experienced was nothing like a traditional job interview. I went to downtown Logan where two ladies had reserved an office with a little training room. The interview itself was really more of a formal presentation for a company that has since gone out of business. I wasn’t told about a job; I was told about an opportunity to build a business of my own.
These women opened my eyes to an alternative way of earning a living. The traditional career model is to earn an income through 100 percent of your own efforts (after taxes, of course). I knew and understood that model. My parents had lived that model. These women put forth the idea that I could earn a very small percentage (1 percent or so) of the efforts of a large group of people instead, possibly thousands of people. It wasn’t hard for me to do that math and see the scope of what they were suggesting, and I liked what I saw.
Some people might have shied away from the idea of running a business and being their own boss — especially at such a young age — but I didn’t. My family background had instilled in me some entrepreneurial, independent, provident-living principles, and I saw a way to live those principles through this opportunity. I also saw a way to take greater control of my own life and where it would lead. So I bit.
The courage to take the bait came from some of the preparation of my childhood. Let me share some of the entrepreneurial, independent-thinking principles I learned from my family upbringing. An event that occurred when I was about 12 years old is one of the pivotal experiences that helped instill these principles in me at an early age. My dad came home one day and announced that the mortgage on the house was paid in full. Now, my dad wasn’t some rich corporate executive, and he didn’t discover oil or gold in the backyard either. He was a police officer and my mom was a homemaker. Both are noble professions, but we all know that neither one pays that much money. Still, on such meager wages, they had paid off the house. In addition and to their credit, my mom and dad were only in their early 30s at that point.
Of course, the house cost a lot less than a house costs nowadays (maybe $20,000 or $30,000 instead of the $200,000 to $300,000 a starter home can cost today), so the house payments were comparatively lower. But we were still a single-income family living on policeman wages, so our income was relatively low as well. My parents were just very aware of their finances, and they made double or triple house payments each month, saving an enormous amount of interest.
When you stick to a plan like that over time, it results in a free-and-clear home in far less than the banks’ 30-year target. So, at age 12, I learned the value of careful financial planning and management. The lessons didn’t stop there.
Resourcefulness and entrepreneurism were additional lesson I learned in my parents’ home. My dad was something of a mountain man and would go into the mountains and trap wild game, skin the animals, and sell the furs. A bobcat pelt could go for as much as $700 in today’s dollars. If he could trap 50 or so of those animals, he knew he could bring in a significant amount of money. And with low policeman wages trying to pay off the house in half the usual amount of time, every little bit helped.
On top of that, my parents would run a fireworks stand every summer around the Fourth of July, bringing home a piece of that seasonal industry. The point is that my parents weren’t content to just sit and draw a policeman’s salary; they were always looking for opportunities and ways to make additional money.
Their example has influenced me throughout my life. They are the reason I learned that careful financial management can lead to financial freedom on almost any income — no matter how small. I also learned that it’s better to be paid for one’s results, rather than one’s time or effort. Punching a clock is no way to really get ahead in life — though it can certainly keep you afloat.
My parents weren’t afraid to be their own bosses — though my dad certainly had a boss and a chain of command in connection with his work as a police officer. In their side businesses, however, my parents were responsible only to themselves. I saw that example and learned that it was okay to be your own boss.
My parents never aspired to be corporate executives and have a private jet or anything like that. Instead, their humble, quiet example taught me a different view of success and how to achieve it — a view that made me very open to what the two women in the downtown Logan office were pitching in 1996 to a hungry, broke college student.
I recognized during my university days that I could go the traditional route and get into a business somewhere and be very successful that way. People do it all the time, and I say good for them. I think that’s great but also realized that these women were offering me a different-but-equally-valid path to get to success. I didn’t see it as a get-rich-quick scheme either. This was a way to legitimately focus my efforts, channel my talents, and earn a good living.
Comparing the two ways of making a living, it was obvious that it’s better to earn a fraction of a percent of an army of people than to do the equivalent amount of work myself. It clicked, and I wanted in.
Interestingly, and as you may have recognized, their offer was a chance to join an MLM, or a multilevel marketing company. Most people in America run in any other direction when they hear the MLM pitch, but I was totally oblivious to the concept – I had never heard of it before.
Although my parents had instilled invaluable principles within me, their mentoring came with no specific plan for my path to success. They hadn’t ever gone down the “networking marketing” path (network marketing is what MLM is generally called within the industry today). Additionally, the profession itself was still fairly young. Over the next few years, several network marketing companies made headlines with their lavish parties and lifestyles, but I hadn’t been exposed to any of that yet. I’d hardly even heard of Amway, beyond the fact that it existed. I had no concept of how a network marketing company was structured or how the pay scale worked or anything else but I was willing to learn.
The MLM’s product was a line of dietary supplements, but that didn’t really matter to me. I was sold on the idea of being my own boss and being able to multiply my own efforts through a team of, potentially, hundreds or thousands of other people. I was less concerned about the product. In my eyes, that was just a vehicle, a method of movement. I saw the value in the structure of the company and didn’t just get involved after that... I swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker all the way down to my toes. I jumped in with an almost reckless abandon and fully immersed myself in the concept of network marketing and the networking profession. I bit so hard that when I found out the company didn’t really have a presence in my hometown of Idaho Falls, Idaho I moved back home. It was only a couple months after my initial meeting with those two women, and I was ready to break open a new area and build out my network. I was ready to go to work.
I started out by making contacts and invitations to come to an introductory event I was setting up. I reserved a space at an awful, rundown recreation center in Idaho Falls. The center was right on the river, and the meeting room only cost me $20 to reserve for the evening. I suppose I should have seen all those things as red flags, but I was too impassioned to notice. This was back before the days of PowerPoint, so I had to do all my visuals on an overhead projector and a chalkboard. We didn’t even have dry-erase boards at that point.
I arrived early and set up a really nice product display and got everything ready. I had invited my parents and a bunch of their friends to come and give me a chance to present. I was still new at the whole thing, so I thought it would be wise to start close to home. I thought that would be safer than starting with total strangers.
By 6:45 p.m., no one had shown up. The meeting wasn’t supposed to start until 7:00 anyway, so I wasn’t particularly worried yet, but I had to start considering the possibilities. I stayed patient as the clock passed 6:50, then 6:55, until it reached 7:00. I still didn’t have a single warm body in the room with me and I started to do what’s called “the walk.” The walk is when you check around the conference room, go up the hall and peek out into the parking lot, then hurry back to the room to make sure you don’t miss anyone. I did that until about 7:15, at which point I finally realized that no one was coming. Not even my parents. My first event on my own and it was a no show. I sat down and looked at my product display and said to myself, “Well, that’s a sweet product display.” Then I packed it up and went home.
Everyone had their reasons for not being there, of course, and I don’t remember any of those reasons now, but it was very discouraging all the same. It would have been really easy to quit at that point, and I think many people would have. Around that same time, I realized that I must have been one of the only people in the world who didn’t know what a network marketing company was all about, or at least the only one who didn’t think he knew what they were about. Shortly after moving home, I started to learn the popular public sentiment about companies like mine. I started to hear terms like “MLM” and “pyramid scheme.” In fact, I had an aunt who had made it her mission in life to antagonize me about the whole opportunity. I loved her to pieces, but for months and months her first question to me when we would meet was always something along the lines of “Have you made any money yet?” This didn’t stop me. When I signed up, I knew I was signing up for something difficult. It was a simple concept on paper but I knew it wouldn’t be easy in practice, so I was ready for the hardship and I kept going. I kept setting up meetings and inviting the people I met.
One of the products we had was a water filtration system and I made that my flagship product. I decided to really get into water and focus on that product. It was the easiest thing to sell, too, because it really worked. All I had to do to sell it was get into a person’s home. We had some simple tests we could run to show the potential customer the impurities in their tap water. Once we showed them the test results, we could run some of their water through our filtration system and show them the results again.
The tests made it pretty hard to walk away from the product. Who wants to be drinking all those chemicals? Bathing in them? Washing their clothes or their children in them? The answer is nobody. So I’d lead with that product and secure the sale without too much difficulty. My tactic was to get in and show the test results, then let the person try the product for a few days. We had a great conversion rate on that product and my business started to grow — slowly at first, but then more and more quickly as we picked up team members. Obviously, when I went in to make a pitch I was hoping to recruit a new member of my business organization, but I was happy to just have a buying customer too.
Over the next five years I worked my MLM business basically full-time. I would do eight to twelve events a week in an effort to reach out and build the business. Part of my time was also tied up in recruiting and training my new team members. To accelerate the growth of the team, I put ads in the newspaper (something that worked back then but which I would never do today) and talk to everyone I met. I was dedicated and driven, and I was going to make a success out of the opportunity or die trying.
Early on in my time with that first networking company, unrelated to the business, my dad announced that he was taking the family to Disney World in Florida and asked if I wanted to go with them. I wasn’t established yet, so I was still in “starving student” mode. I agreed to go only if I didn’t have to pay my way because I couldn’t yet afford it even if I’d wanted to. As it turns out, my dad’s high school buddy lived down in Florida. They’d stayed in touch over the years and he’d agreed to let us all stay at his house.
We flew to Florida to stay for two weeks at their house. That was when I met his family and specifically, that’s when I met his daughter. She was, ironically, going to school out in Idaho not far from where my family lived, but she was home on break for the first few days of our vacation. She left just a couple days after we arrived but I got to meet her just long enough to stir my interest. After Disney World, I looked her up, we dated for some time and eventually married. I don’t think our dads ever dreamed that their children would end up married to each other. My father-in-law has joked that he would have moved farther away if he’d known his daughter was going to marry one of Vince’s sons. All joking aside, God knew we would be right for each other and both of our fathers are exemplary men for our boys to follow. I am ever grateful for that fateful trip to Disney World.
While Keri and I were dating, and then after we were married, I was still working my networking business. I was doing everything I could to grow my team and increase my producer base. I was having some success by this time, but it was erratic, to say the least.
Having never been in network marketing before I was just doing what I’d been told. I’d been advised that having a training program was crucial, so I had one. I quickly learned that when I was enrolling people, the biggest question they had was “How do I sell this stuff?” Since then, I’ve learned that the “how” is less important than the “why.” If people know the “why,” they can figure out the “how” all on their own, but that’s another story.
To answer that “how” question initially, I did a lot of training and a lot of my training was around the concept of landing a large first order. I was still new, so I was just teaching what I’d been taught. I didn’t know that there was a better way. Thanks to my efforts and the efforts of my ever-expanding team, we soon had thousands of people involved and my income grew as my organization grew. I was finally having some success in the network marketing business but my income was hard to predict. I’d make $20,000 one month and then $5,000 the next, never knowing what the following month would bring.
I still made it work, however. I just had to work that much harder to find new people to bring into the team, new customers and business partners. The months where I was successful in finding new people meant I was successful in making money. If I didn’t find as many new people, I didn’t make as much.
During this time Keri and I moved to Scottsdale, Arizona to live with my in-laws, who had recently relocated there from Florida. There’s something about living with one’s in-laws that everyone should have the opportunity to experience. You gain a much better appreciation for your spouse and where he or she came from. You also learn how to be ready for anything.
While we were living with my in-laws, my parents came down to visit. My wife was out with her sister, and my parents teamed up with her parents and sat me down in the living room for what I would now consider to be an intervention.
They proceeded to tell me that I was being irresponsible by pursuing a career in network marketing. They told me that I wasn’t being a good husband or future father by being so reckless. Once they had established that I was delusional and irresponsible, they shifted gears and started telling me that I needed to give up network marketing and find a “real job,” one with benefits and security. They went on for half an hour or so about how I needed to get my act together and give up the fantasy of network marketing. I know they only had our best interest at heart and I do not fault them in any way. The interesting thing was their timing. I wasn’t yet “raking in the money,” but Keri and I were starting to see some progress.
Keri proved to be invaluable during this process when she became aware of comments made during “the intervention”. You see, coming from a home where her own parents were self- employed, she had learned to have gratitude for the God-given freedoms we enjoy. Knowing that we all have a stewardship to seek out, gain knowledge, and ask for Gods help to develop and flourish within that stewardship. She had learned to take to the Lord in prayer our questions about desired paths, and that after receiving answers, we move forward with all we have. Taking faithful steps into the unknown are all a part of my wife’s history, an invaluable part, as she watched her own parents valiantly struggle and grow, win and lose in the world of business. We are accountable to God for how we move forward, and not just endure, but thrive in our ups and downs. She believed in me, and that we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.
Our parents were right; stability is good, desirable, and necessary. Her parents knew the struggles and blessing of self-employment, my parents new the stability of a good job.
Part of the problem was that a lot was going on behind the scenes that our parents couldn’t see. What they could see was the glitzy lifestyle that the company culture exuded. Keri never fell for that, she came from a solid hardworking, humble background. Muscles were built into her family but they came from work, sweat, and learning. Some in the company I worked with constantly touted “Fake it until you make it”. That never sat well with us. Keri would retort “Faith it till you make it, for if you don’t, then it was never real and fake is all a person turns out to be.”
I’d been taught what to do to have success. I was following those steps and I was having success that our parents couldn’t yet see. So I thanked them for their time and concern and went to the meeting I’d scheduled for that night and continued to do all the things I’d been taught. It was that simple. At least, it was that simple until we got a call one fateful morning. At this point, Keri and I had been married for a bit and we were finally starting to feel secure enough on this income rollercoaster that we could take the next step in our family life. We decided to have a baby.
The crucial call came shortly before Keri was due with our first little boy. The news was not good. My network marketing company no longer existed. Locks were on the doors of the main company for reasons that were never made clear to me. It was over, and there was no mistake about that. There would be no more product shipments, no new enrollments, and no more training. Everything was being liquidated for pennies on the dollar. We were done.
We later learned that the owner of the company had been foolish and had gotten caught up in the glitz and glamour of being at the top of a successful company and had brought the whole thing crashing down with his poor choices. Overnight, we went from having a team of thousands and a pretty decent paycheck, to having nothing – no income and basically no team. And this was just as my first child was about to be born.
I sometimes hear people talk about network marketing as some sort of scam, where average people can’t make a real go of it, or it’s just a refuge for con artists. Unfortunately, that does apply to a miniscule number of people who choose to go into network marketing, as I suppose it applies to some people who go into police work, accounting, or construction. The few bad apples spoil it for everyone else who are trying to do things right and spread the success around. In reality it’s not an accurate description of the vast majority of those in network marketing. We’re not that different from the corner store that popped up down the street from you recently. We want to earn your business, as does the corner store. We just have a different, more effective method of distributing products and drumming up that business. Instead of sitting on the corner with a building full of product, we actually go out and prospect for customers to buy product directly from us. We believe in our product enough that we want to evangelize it. We want to tell people about it in a more effective way than just blasting the airwaves full of commercials to which no one pays attention. Still, the nature of networking is both good and bad in terms of a business model, and the success can easily go to a person’s head if he’s not a good person at the core, bringing the whole thing crashing down on everyone else’s heads.
The idea of being involved in a “pyramid” shaped distribution network never really bothered me. But having my business ignorantly labeled as a “scheme” in occasional conversations never felt particularly good, especially given that I was engaged in a legitimate business. If you have a $1 bill, pull it out and turn it over. If you don’t have one on you, try to imagine one or do an Internet search for the back of the $1 bill. As you look at it you will see a pyramid on the left side. Do you know why? Because a pyramid is about the most stable structure that exists. Many of the Founding Fathers were Masons and they understood the innate strength of a pyramid, both symbolically and physically.
Do you know how many levels there are in the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill? Thirteen. There’s one layer for each of the 13 colonies because the colonies were going to come together to support each other and a higher ideal. Notice also that the pyramid is unfinished, symbolizing room to grow, the ability of that pyramid to take on more weight and structure. The Founders used the pyramid symbol because they understood how strong the structure is and how it can stand the test of time.
That’s why the great structures of Egypt were built as pyramids. The ancient Egyptians certainly had the architectural ability to create other, magnificent structures. We have so much of their culture preserved today in what they built thousands of years ago, but nothing has weathered time like those pyramids. The ancient American peoples built with pyramids too, and many of those pyramids stand today. Even mountains, in effect, are pyramids; they just happen to be pyramids with round bases built on huge scales. Still, they have a single point at the top — a summit — and sloping sides down to a wide base. The pyramid is inherently stable and long-lasting. What’s more, every company and even the government are actually structured as a pyramid, though many refuse to acknowledge that idea. In a company, you have the executives at the top, some number of layers of management going down to the line workers who run the production. You could look at that as the base, but it’s really not. You and I are the base of those pyramids. We’re the consumers. We purchase the products and start the flow of money and power upward.
If everyone in the country suddenly, simultaneously stopped buying shampoo (or soda, cars, toilet paper, Styrofoam cups, etc.) the companies that sell shampoo and other consumables would quickly burn through all their reserve cash and go bankrupt. They rely on us, the base of the pyramid, to support the rest of the infrastructure.
And government is no different. “We the People” form the tax base from which all of government is funded — or should be funded. Whether you tax the rich or the middle class or everyone, those people form a pyramid. If they all suddenly left the country, the whole government infrastructure would collapse under its own weight. Sadly, if the government continues to grow at a faster rate than the base, it will eventually collapse in the same way for the same reason. The top of the pyramid should never outgrow the base. That’s a fundamental law.
Violation of that law is the reason that in some places, network marketing has developed such a bad name over the years. People at the top have a huge pull on them to let their egos out, to swell up their pride and get greedy — as in almost all industries and pursuits. When that happens, the organization beneath can’t grow quickly enough to support the imbalance at the top, and the whole structure collapses.
That’s why Ponzi schemes, which are NOT network marketing organizations, are doomed to failure. Mathematically, the scheme itself will eventually require more people than there are in the world, and the whole thing will fall apart. Network marketing companies that focus on the compensation plan, rather than quality product, run that same risk. Any product distribution chain that focuses on profits rather than product runs that risk. Some of the network marketing companies of the 90s were built that way, and they collapsed, just like many other companies.
The fact of the matter is the network marketing of the 90s is dead. In the 90s — when I started — the profession was all about the compensation plans and fast talking. It was all about frontloading and closing the deal. It was all about the cars, the houses, the jewelry, the trips, the triple-diamond-presidential-grand-poobah-plenipotentiary-ruler-of-the-universe club, and all the other attendant benefits. It was all about being at the peak of the pyramid and not about cultivating a strong base.
That’s gone today. I’ll admit that I got sucked into it a little bit at the time, but Keri was a great grounding influence on me. As soon as my ego started to inflate a bit, she’d come running with a pin, or a hammer and nail, depending on what was needed to pop that balloon. No matter how hard I tried to get sucked into it, she would keep me out and help me keep my head and priorities straight.
Having that first network marketing company come crashing down was something of a wakeup call for me. It was a reminder that success can’t be built in the clouds but must be cultivated on a principled foundation, grounded firmly until it grows to touch the clouds. You can’t skip the foundational component. You have to grow the base before you can grow the peak.
When that first network marketing company came down, I lost most of my team. I’d built up a network of thousands of people and most of them left to find other work. I couldn’t blame them. I didn’t really have anything to offer at that point.
I didn’t lose the whole team, however. Some of us were still sure that the solution for quality, residual income was in network marketing and we were ready to find a new opportunity and get on board with it. We understood that the company leadership may have been wrong but the concept was still right.
Our next attempt came in the form of a company that sold Website templates. This was around 1999 and the Internet was just taking off. Our premise was that you could make a lot of money by getting in on the Internet when it was just starting. In addition, my upline leader was so good, so dynamic in front of a room, that she could sell anything. The compensation structure at that new company looked promising so we joined on and started selling my upline leader. We weren’t even selling a product anymore. These were my dark days in network marketing, but from this experience I learned to look for three product traits before investing my time and resources into a company. We’ll cover those traits in just a bit.
After about three months my wife and I were looking for a new home again because the Website template company had failed to pay us for any of our work. We were fighting hard to maintain the team but people were dropping right and left to find other work because none of us could afford to be working for free. We settled on another little networking startup company and began gearing up our distribution organization yet again.
This time, we chose a company with a tangible product that I felt had some real potential. It was a vitamin spray that met the three traits I had identified after the last failure, so we got everything in place and went to work.
Three months later, the company failed. Turns out, the leadership had no idea what they were doing and the company was under funded. It had ramped up too quickly, outstripped its supply chain, and grown itself to death – rookie mistake. Again, we didn’t get paid.
At that point, we really only had one team member left: me. Keri and I were done with the MLM industry. We’d expended all our assets over the previous six months of not getting paid, and we had nothing left. We were so far under that we didn’t even wait for the dealership to come and repossess our car, we took it to them. I didn’t want the neighbors to see what we were going through as we filed for bankruptcy. We had to give up our house and move into a tiny, nasty basement apartment.
I can remember one evening when Keri hung up the phone and turned to me. It was just before our son was born, and she had tears in her eyes. She said, “Don’t they know they can’t get money out of a turnip?” We just didn’t have anything left to give. If we’d had the money, we’d have paid our bills. We weren’t, and aren’t, the type to make an agreement and then walk away. This was the hardest time in my life. I had built a great business team and made all kinds of promises to people about how we were going to take care of each other, and now, for reasons beyond my control, those promises were breaking all around me. I couldn’t keep the team together on broken promises, and everything fell apart very quickly.
At this point in my life I had a choice to make. I could continue to go straight down the path of probable destruction, or I could do something to stop the hemorrhaging and bring my family’s financial situation back to health. During those years as a network marketer, I’d actually made a statement on stage that went something like, “I am permanently unemployable.” The idea was that we had this big, great team, and I would never be able to find a job that took care of me and others the way that team had. I ate my words, tightened my belt, and went out to find a job.
In hindsight, I can see any number of things that I could have changed to prevent my family from suffering through this tragedy. I could have better scrutinized the Website template product and taken my team elsewhere. I could have looked at the management structure in the startup and taken my team elsewhere. I could have set aside more of my earnings and held more money in a “rainy day” fund. Truthfully, I wouldn’t change anything. As awful as it was to go through at that time, I survived it. My family survived it. We made it through, and we learned and grew so much from those experiences. To change things would rob us of everything that we gained by being tempered in that fire of hardship.
If not for those experiences, how could I go to a person today and say to them, “I’ve been there. I’ve lost my house and car. There’s a way out.” If I hadn’t been through those learning opportunities how could I mentor others through it?
So, as painful as it was to go through that time in my life and take my lovely wife with me, I wouldn’t change it. We learned and grew too much, and it taught me a stability and determination that has served me since. I know my limits better than most people, so I know just how far I can push to get results.
For a short time after leaving the vitamin-spray startup, I got a job working in an anti-telemarketing firm. The founder absolutely hated telemarketers and was trying to develop a product that would make life miserable for them. It was really fun to be on the other side of the sales channel looking at ways to shut down direct sales, but I knew it wasn’t a career for me. I took the job to put food on the table for my young family.
Thankfully, my background left me well positioned to take a job in network marketing again. The difference is that I wasn’t going back into the distribution and sales side. I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to make that journey from scratch again, now that my team had all gone their separate ways. The shift back into the distribution side would have to come later.
Instead, I got a job with an essential oils network marketing company on their corporate side. The woman who had been my old upline leader got me started there. She’d found a job with them as their marketing director and she recommended that I come in and interview. I did, and I got hired on to build a training program for them, which was something I’d done plenty in my previous opportunities. Interestingly, I’d actually been a distributor for the company for years, but I hadn’t really involved myself with the business side of things because I liked the products and was just looking for the discount.
Although I had been introduced to and fallen in love with the product years before, they changed their business plan so frequently, their compensation structure was impossible to predict. So, instead, I just quietly ordered and used the products and didn’t worry about the business.
Once I signed on as an employee my job was to develop a training program and implement it throughout the organization. It really wasn’t any different than what I’d done before and what I’ve done since. And, it’s what I enjoy, so it was a great fit.
Up to that point, there was no formal training mechanism in place for the company. When new distributors came on board, they were basically left to fend for themselves. Any training was informal and done purely on the distributor side, with upline leaders training their downlines. My goal was to create a series of trainings for the distributors, teaching people how to build a distributorship business, and another series for the product, teaching people about how to use the oils and what oils to use for what ailments. As it turned out, we trained mainly on the product, not the business.
I enjoyed the work, and I loved many of the people I worked with, but as time passed it became clear I wasn’t really a good fit for the company culture. I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the executives and the decisions they made. I also ached to be back out in the field. When I had told distributors at events that I was permanently unemployable, I was being serious. I didn’t like the corporate life that revolved around showing up at a set time and leaving at a set time, putting in the “seat miles” in between.
I wanted the freedom to go and do and be rewarded for my intelligence and effort, not for my time. So a few years in, I started looking around for an established distributorship that I could buy. I didn’t have any luck. Funny thing about network marketing is that the successful people don’t generally want to give it up once they get going, and the unsuccessful people don’t stay in it long enough to create a business worth buying. Keri and I had actually been running several small side businesses, our goals were set, but we were not satisfied.
So I kept looking, without success, for several years. I actually found several perfect spots but I couldn’t get anyone to bite on selling to me. I could have gone and started from scratch, but I had already built several businesses that way and lost them due to company problems. I didn’t want to start over again, although this seemed like a solid company. Not to mention that after three or four years on the corporate payroll, my family was used to a certain level of income again — steady, predictable income. To start from scratch would have meant giving up that income again, and I wasn’t quite ready to do that.
Then one day I was playing basketball with some guys from my church, and I’d brought my oldest son along. He was sitting on the sidelines and watching us while I ran up and down the court.
I don’t even remember how I got roped into playing in the first place. Because basketball isn’t really my sport, I wasn’t really into the game. I was just kind of trotting back and forth and taking a few shots when I got the chance. Halfway through the game, my son finally yelled at me, “Come on, Dad. Get off the bench, and get in the game!”
I stopped right there in the middle of the court and turned to look at him. He was talking about the actual game of basketball that I was engaged in at the moment, but I heard his words in a whole different way. I realized that I wasn’t really in the game of life anymore. This was true of my career and my life. I’d taken the corporate job, and it had served a valuable purpose, but that purpose was served, and the need had passed. I had moved beyond it, and now I was just leaning on my job as a crutch. I knew that I wasn’t a good fit for corporate life. That’s not where my passion lies. I loved training, but I knew I could be a much more effective trainer if I were free to do it on my own terms, and was doing it to build my own business and future. We wanted out of where I was, for reasons beyond our own entrepreneurial spirits.
My son woke me up to my reality that day and I decided it was time to get serious about making a change. I wasn’t just going to shop around for a distributorship that someone else was willing to sell; I was going to start actively looking for the next step in my career, my next adventure.
Around that time, in early 2008, I started to hear some rumors about a new startup company. I knew most of its principals from my associations within the field of network marketing and some from my time at the job I had at the time. Some of them had also tried out the corporate side for a time before moving on, and I had gotten to know them during their tenure.
At that time I’d been at my corporate position for about seven years and I really did want to get back out in the field. When my son told me to get off the bench and get back in the game, it just hammered home that need in my mind. I couldn’t deny it anymore, so I started doing some asking around. I started trying to find out more about this new startup and what kind of an opportunity it might be.
The problem was that I couldn’t get any details from anyone. No one who actually knew anything would tell me anything about it, because some of the principals had come from my employer and I was still there. Those principals had signed non-solicit contracts when they left, contracts that prevented them from coming back and trying to headhunt at my company, and these people were true to their word. They had integrity. That meant that they couldn’t tell me anything about what they were doing. So the only bits and pieces of information I could get came to me circuitously, as rumors and possibilities. None of it was straight from the source, and I had no way of knowing whether or not any of it was true.
I actually ran into one of the prospective founders at the store one Saturday and thought to myself, here’s my chance. I’m finally going to get some answers. This particular founder had been a close colleague for a number of years. We had traveled and trained together extensively. I thought that if anyone was going to tell me anything, it would be him. When I saw him at the store that day, by total coincidence, I knew I had to make my move. I had to find out more.
I went over to him and said, “Okay. What are you doing? Because I’m hearing all this stuff, so just tell me what you’re doing.”
He looked at me and smiled and said, “Oh. Hi Justin. How’s your wife doing?”
I wasn’t going to have any of that. I wasn’t going to let him get off so easily. So I continued, “No, no, no. That wasn’t the question. Let me rephrase the question: Tell me that you’re not starting a company.”
He dodged again. “So, how are the kids?”
But now I had him. “Okay. If you weren’t starting a company, you’d just tell me that you weren’t. But, since you won’t say that you aren’t, and you won’t say that you are, it means that you are; you just can’t talk about it with me.”
That gave me at least one essential answer without him actually saying anything to me. I could safely surmise that he was indeed starting a company.
There wasn’t a way to back him into a corner on how the business was going to be structured or what they would be selling or any of the other details, but at least I knew there was a company being started.
I knew this meant there was a chance to get back in the game. Unfortunately, it also would require a leap of faith on my part, and on the part of my family.
We couldn’t get any of the details about the company, so if we were going to join up, we were going to just have to step out into the darkness and hope that there was something there. That meant walking away from a pretty decent salary, benefits, and great bonuses. It was not an easy step for me to take, but Keri was ready. Because of her childhood, she knew the hardships that came with owning your own business. She also knew one very important fact. I would be happier chasing my dreams than building someone else’s. She encouraged me to quit my job and said, “We will live on rice and beans until you find what makes you happy.”
I walked away from my corporate career and went to talk to that same principal and the other owners about their new venture. They could talk to me now because I had severed my ties with my employer. That’s when I found that the new company wasn’t actually ready yet. Nobody was going to be paid for at least six months, possibly more. Even with this reality, that first night Keri said to me, “Don’t walk back, run back!”
The thought of not having an income for a number of months was unnerving, however, the opportunity and potential were both there; they were just a bit further out on the time horizon than originally anticipated. At this point, we had some savings and a 401(k), so we didn’t walk from everything straight into nothing exactly; it just meant we were going to have to live very frugally for a while.
When I signed on with this new venture, I was signing on to a dream. Really, that’s all it was. The original five founders had come together to share a common dream about a company and a proposed line of products, but nothing had really come together yet. We didn’t have any sales materials, Websites, brochures, or product samples. In fact, we didn’t actually even have any product yet.
We didn’t even have a name. We called ourselves “NewCo”, which was short for “New Company” because we didn’t yet know what we were going to name ourselves. With all that nothing in hand, we hit the road to talk about what was coming, even though we didn’t have anything tangible coming yet. All we had was a vision and faith….
…And one box of sample product. We had one box of selected essential oils and they were light-years beyond the quality of anything I had experienced up to that point in my life. I’d thought I’d known essential oils from my prior experiences but this was a whole new level of potency and quality.
The problem was that we only had that one box, which meant we couldn’t give out any product samples, and we had to be very careful about what happened to the box. We would pass it around at events so that potential customers and distributors could smell the product, but we had to watch the box like hawks to make sure everything came back. We couldn’t even let people use the oils yet, because everything would have been used up in very little time. We couldn’t afford to lose any of the samples because at that point, they were irreplaceable.
I actually have people who come up to me today and tell me how they wish they had known about dōTERRA (we finally did name the company) in the beginning. They wish they could have gotten involved right at the start. My answer to them is “you are.” We’re only ten years in, and things are still just launching in most parts of the world, including here in the USA.
My other answer to them is “be glad you’re involved now and not back then.” Now we have Websites, support materials and product samples — and product. Even when we first started getting product in, there was a lot of room for improvement. Initially, our labels washed off. The glue for the labels was water-based, and it would come apart if it got wet or even too humid. It was always fun trying to guess which oil you had after the label came off. That’s no longer an issue. That problem, and a host of others, has been solved. But to solve those problems, we had to go through that process. Someone had to cross all those rivers and build all the bridges. Someone had to fail the trials and make the errors so that we’d know where and how to improve. Anyone joining today has the advantage of almost seven years of learning and experience to build on. We had none of that initially.
When people come up to me and tell me they wish they’d been there in the beginning, they’re really saying they wish the tree had grown up all around them so that they can sit on their hands and make money without any effort. It doesn’t work that way. If you don’t work, you won’t be a top Wellness Advocate, which is what we call our distributors. If you do work, you can be the top Wellness Advocate regardless of when you joined.
I, like many others, earned my position by putting in all that time and effort for no pay at the start of the company. We earned our positions by selling people on an idea with no name and a box of sample oils. We put in all kinds of effort and time, and built a great business, yet even I, who was there from the very beginning, have to continue to work at my business every day or it will go stagnant and disappear over time. No one gets a free lunch.
Business doesn’t work that way.
That first box of product samples I mentioned earlier, in fact, was critical for us. When I signed on to a new, nameless startup, the thing that kept me on for all those paycheck-less months was that box of product samples. I knew what was coming, and I knew it was amazing. We didn’t have anything else ready yet, but at least I could get the vision of what was going to be.
I had been working at the other company for years, and I thought I knew what quality essential oils were. When I was introduced to the oils that dōTERRA was going to sell, I couldn’t deny the difference. In fact, one of the things they did to confirm my enthusiasm for the new path I had chosen was to pass me a bottle of my favorite oil. They passed me that bottle, I took a sniff, and I was all in. I soon discovered that there was a whole world of essential oil manufacturers out there that my former company didn’t have relationships with. Some of them were cheap, discount producers and made products unworthy of buying, but a few made the very highest quality products. Those were the producers dōTERRA went to for our products, and the difference was obvious.
The product was the big sales point for me. Once I smelled that quality difference, I couldn’t go back. Additionally, I didn’t want to go back to the management team and structure I’d left behind. I’d had my run-ins with them, and we’d frequently had differences of opinion.
I knew most of the owners of dōTERRA because I’d worked with them before in various capacities. I knew their character and integrity, and I knew their style of management and their vision. I knew that I would be so much happier working with them than I ever could have been with the steady paycheck and great bonuses I was leaving behind. So I was totally sold on dōTERRA even before it had a name.
Having the best quality product, however, means nothing when you haven’t started getting the product in to ship yet. Having great leadership doesn’t mean anything when they have no money to pay anyone yet. That first year, while we were getting everything set up, was extremely uncertain for everyone. The owners had planned for a long burn time before the revenue started, but that didn’t make it any easier on them to see the money going out when nothing was coming back in.
Keri had immersed herself in financial education, reading a number of books after our earlier financial fall – books to teach her how to better manage our household. We’d been through the dark days of collection and bankruptcy, and we weren’t anxious to go back. It was humiliating and difficult enough the first time around. We’d fully climbed out of that hole during our corporate job time, and Keri was determined to not let us fall down there again. Her motto, which became useful in creating stability for our family became, “Sacrifice now to have more later.” I was also determined to make sure that it never happened again. In fact, that’s one of the things that drove us to work so hard to get dōTERRA up and running.
It’s important to explain how the owners of the new company we were building put everything on the line for dōTERRA, including their homes, their life-savings, and all of their combined financial resources. Most of them did not take a salary for the first year or more. Any of us that were there in that startup phase sacrificed all financial stability to help get the ball rolling. We were fortunate enough to begin the company with a small group of team members who were passionate about our product and had really captured the vision of where the company could go. Truly, the credit for our success belongs to these amazing, passionate and determined leaders who were willing to put it all on the line and work hard when we had little more than a vision of where we wanted to go.
For the first three years of my association with dōTERRA, I was still driving my 1997 Honda Civic – the basic transportation that had faithfully carried me back and forth to my office cubicle for years. It was red except for a different shade of red on the trunk and front bumper. By three years in, the business had grown, the product was available, and we were making money. We were, in fact, making enough money that we could have bought a new Honda Civic every month, but I was still driving that beater from the late 90s.
Because it got great gas mileage, it ran well, and it was paid for. My wife’s financial discipline and our determination to live well within our means had taught me that there was no reason to go spending money to replace something that wasn’t broken. I didn’t need a new car when the one I had worked just fine. My ego didn’t demand that I be seen driving around in a fancy car. That all changed when I realized that my car was actually hurting my business.
I pulled up in front of the building one day just as a group of partners from Asia were out taking a smoke break. They all saw me and started talking. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I could understand their looks well enough and I knew that they knew approximately how much money I was making. They knew my level in the company, yet here I was driving this old beater of a car. The story didn’t match between what they were being told regarding the possibilities with dōTERRA and what they were seeing in terms of my outward show of success. I realized that the inconsistency could drive away potential business and that was when I decided I needed to get something new.
Many of my financial decisions have been made that way since our financial fall. Before that failure I got sucked in (to an extent) to the multi-level marketing culture of big trips, big houses, and new cars. Keri did a great job of keeping me grounded, but I still got sucked in a little. After those dark days between companies, we decided to keep our heads on straight and not fall for the hype anymore.
In many instances, dōTERRA operates in the same way in terms of finances and decision- making. Decisions aren’t reached in terms of what will best help the Triple-Diamond President’s Club and the company’s owners. Decisions are made to best help the product, the company as a whole, and the base of the distribution organization. Rather than focusing at the top and potentially unbalancing things, focus is directed at the base, where the business ballast is, to strengthen the core of the business.
We focus on the benefits of our product and not our compensation structure. In that regard, we’re kind of the opposite of many of the other companies I had worked with, and we’re better off for it. We’re also kind of the opposite of that vitamin-spray start-up company, in that dōTERRA rapidly became cash flow positive and debt- free. We didn’t start that way, but we made decisions to pay off debt and secure the business rather than bonusing everyone with fancy trips and other bells and whistles.
Still, in the beginning days of the company, things were difficult and tight. We were traveling and laying the groundwork for what was to come, and that required investment, although nothing was coming in just yet. We had to pay for the business long before the business began to pay anything back.
And that’s how business goes. You must put the effort and capital in before you can pull anything out. People often fail to recognize that connection, and they often fail because of it. In a relationship, you call it “sacrifice.” You sacrifice your time, effort and attention in order to curry favor with someone else, whether it’s a friend, family member, significant other, or spouse. You give up something now in order to secure something even better down the road, and the moment you stop giving to the relationship, it starts to fall apart. That degradation may start slowly, and take a long time, but it starts immediately, make no mistake.
Business works the same way. You have to sacrifice. You have to give up time, effort, and money now in order to secure dividends down the road. And just like a relationship with another person, if you stop investing — stop sacrificing — the business will immediately start failing. We were all on board with dōTERRA, we wanted to see the company succeed, and we were willing to give our time and effort without pay to see it through. It was hard, but it was worth it for what we have now created.
Ultimately, we decided on the Latin name, dōTERRA as the name for our company, which means “gift of” (dō) “the earth” (terra). Incidentally, it’s pronounced with a long-O sound: dō, as in “no” not do, as in “dew.” Some people disagree on that point because they like the action implicit in the verb “to do,” but that doesn’t change the correct pronunciation or the history behind the concept of a gift from the earth.
Once we had a name, we could start looking into things like Websites and support materials. Then we started to get product in and we started to sell our products and change lives. Since that time business has taken off. We’re still in the beginning stages, in my mind, but the company has grown enough and made enough to pay off its start-up debts and establish itself as a stable, lasting company. Because of an amazing team we’re enrolling more than tens of thousands of people in our business organization every month. It’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the company’s potential but it’s a good start. Our mission to heal the world, physically and financially has never been more secure.
In the book you will find detailed lessons I have learned over the years to aid in your success and learn from failure.
Dream, Struggle, Victory!