After a two year investigation, Herbalife has agreed to pay a $200 million fine to the FTC and act in accordance with prescribed measures. With this morning’s announcement of a settlement, investors and proponents/opponents of the MLM industry alike are attempting to process what it all means for the Company’s future. Before we provide you an in-depth analysis of the stipulations found within the FTC’s Order for a Permanent Injunction and Monetary Judgment, it’s important to remember that these prescribed actions only apply to Herbalife and not multi-level marketing companies collectively. In response to a question in which she was asked what kind of implications the settlement will have on the network marketing industry , FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez stayed mum on its long-term implications and stated rather plainly that the FTC would soon be providing additional guidance on legitimate network marketing companies. That aside, let’s get down to business and clarify what the FTC’s order does and does not say.
THE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS
In Part 1 of the crowdfunding series, I discussed the rise of the crowdfunding phenomenon and Title III’s recent enactment under the JOBS Act. While Title III may appear to be an attractive avenue of capital fundraising for entrepreneurs and startups, founders of a network marketing company may find it a boardwalk littered with more stops than gos. As for crowdfunding as a MLM product service or offering, in my opinion, its a chance to go directly to jail.
TITLE III CROWDFUNDING AS WAY FOR MLMs TO RAISE CAPITAL
If you remember, the benefits of a Company looking to use Title III appear numerous. Title III provides the ability to raise up to $1 million without having to deal with burdensome SEC requirements. For an MLM looking for startup funding, what’s not to like? Well . . . er, money for one. The logic goes something like this: you have to have money if you want to raise money.
The term “crowdfunding” has been thrown around a lot over the past several years. But what does “crowdfunding” really mean? And how does crowdfunding, particularly the recent enactment of rules from Title III of the JOBS Act, relate to network marketing?
At its most basic, crowdfunding is the pooling of financial contributions via the internet for a project or enterprise. The ubiquitous nature of the term has led to a great deal of confusion. However, “crowdfunding” is most easily understood as an umbrella term referring to three different models for raising capital: donation-based, rewards-based, and equity-based. Before discussing the challenges more commonly associated with equity-based donations, let’s cover the more commonly known types of crowdfunding.
DONATION AND REWARD-BASED CROWDFUNDING
Congressman Marsha Blackburn, House Representative of the 7th District of Tennessee, has proposed the Anti-Pyramid Bill Federal that aims to clarify the differences between pyramid schemes and legitimate network marketing companies. If you’re connected to the network marketing industry, whether as a distributor, executive, vendor or owner, the importance of this bill (or a modified version of this bill) is vitally important.
The Need for Clarity
As many of my readers know, I have aggressively advocated for almost a decade for the need to create cleaner guidelines in the industry. The “ocean of gray” that has separated legitimate direct selling from pyramid schemes has predictably led to some very serious challenges. As I accurately predicted in my first e-book titled “Saving the industry by defining the gray,” the fuzzy lines that distinguish legitimate and illegitimate network marketing has greatly contributed to today’s problems. In an environment with ample wiggle room, pyramid schemes can operate under the guise of legitimate network marketing. Zeek Rewards, notable ponzi scheme, did this better than all others. The veneer of legitimacy offered by legitimate network marketing allowed Zeek to amass tremendous influence and inflict significant harm. This, in turn, affects the entire profession.
Out of all of the topics covered in MLM law, there is not a single topic more obfuscated and misinterpreted than the 70% Rule. This rule has been purposefully screwed up by MLM critics in an effort to craft a narrative that suits their agenda. Candidly, I’m shocked that neither myself nor my peers have addressed this sooner. The rule is incredibly easy to understand ONCE YOU UNDERSTAND THE HISTORY.
The Origins of the Seventy Percent Rule
The Seventy Percent Rule was one of the “Amway Safeguards” that the court highlighted in 1979 when it found that Amway was NOT a pyramid scheme. The summary of the rule: In order to qualify for downline bonuses, Distributors had to move 70% of their existing inventories to customers OR distributors. The spirit of the rule is designed to ensure that Distributors were not “garage qualifying” and sitting on inventory. The inventory had to MOVE to other people.
When Paul O’Neil delivered his first speech as CEO at Alcoa (the aluminum manufacturing giant), he shocked the audience of shareholders when he disclosed his top priority for his tenure as CEO. Instead of doing the usual dance where the CEO talks about increasing sales, increasing margins and driving down costs, he talked about something that seemed completely unrelated to revenue. His top priority: worker safety.
Worker safety!? The shareholders were appalled. After all, what does safety have to do with share value on the New York Stock Exchange? Countless shareholders immediately dumped their shares, thinking that Alcoa hired an out-of-touch powder puff CEO…someone who lacked the guts to make tough decisions and focus on the bottom line.
The result? During O’Neill’s tenure as CEO at Alcoa, shares more than tripled in value. O’Neill explained his logic when he said, “I knew I had to transform Alcoa. But you can’t order people to change. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”
I recently fielded a phone call from a business owner who asked me the following question: Does my business model qualify as a multi-level marketing company? It’s a good question whose answer invokes a variety of possible legal implications.
THE MLM LEXICON
With no single authority providing some sort of precedential definition of “MLM,” the best way of boiling the concept down to its essential elements is through the lens of different authorities and sources.