Friday, October 10, 2014

The final lessons - can a man-eating tiger ever change its stripes?

Can a tiger change its stripes, once scamming is in its blood?

(photo: Robert Hruzek)
Calling a tiger a cat, or a feline, or something else doesn't change the fact that it has stripes and is a predator. In India, once a tiger has gotten the taste of humankind - it has to be tracked down and destroyed before it victimizes someone else. Similar is the sitiuation with scammers.

Utah's sales floors have routinely simply renamed and reorganized to get out from under government scrutiny (and no longer having to pay refunds.) This is why Utah requires they post a $50,000 bond before starting - which can be paid out to victims as long as it lasts. Now, perhaps, it is the same with Utah fulfillment centers.

On the "ThriveCorporate" LinkedIn page, you see this:
"Thrive was acquired by a private equity firm and is no longer an operating entity."
Thrivecorporate.com is up for sale as a domain. (Thriveli.com and thrivelearninginstitute.com are still gateways to private training programs - but have no real web presence and no longer really show up well on Google.)

Checking the Wayback Machine, showed thriveli.com last snapshot as a fully-functioning site was Jan 8, 2014.

Checking the Utah.gov Business Search shows that in fact, Thrive Learning LLC was voluntarily dissolved on 4/24/2014.

A birdy told me recently about a new company which is at the very same address that Thrive Learning Institute and ThriveCorporate have been using: 512 W 800 N, Orem, Utah 84057

This new company is "Guidance Interactive. (On LinkedIn.)

The only other thing in common is that they both deal in three main subject areas (Internet/Ecommerce, Real Estate, and Wealth/Financial.)

Since the Guidance site lacks any sort of contact links (and is also missing disclaimer pages which the State of Utah requires, I believe) - there is no bona-fide link between the two companies. In fact, you can look up the address above and see that there have been ads to lease office space at that location.

There is a Guidance Interactive LLC which was registered by a different agent (Midvale instead of Provo.) It became active Feb 11, 2014. So the overlapping dates shows it's possible - but still no smoking gun.

It may be just an unhappy coincidence.

We'll see...

- - - -

Unless you are currently receiving services from whoever has taken over Thrive's "business coaching" contracts, the show is over. 

Good luck getting anything from Thrive now - you'll have to take it up with that "private equity firm." You may or may not be able to use the well-known private cel phone numbers of Thrive's former principals

History: Thrive itself bought out Bright Builder coaching contracts, and got the "Lightwave Builder" software as part of it. As a side note, Lightwave was already long in the tooth and was actually much more easily replaced by the constantly-updated Wordpress as a platform.

How getting a refund from Thrive worked and why

Thrive Learning started in around April 2008. The BBB has them dated to 2001, but that was a slight-of-hand, since the LLC was owned by a private equity firm (which name escapes me currently, and not really worth looking up) - that was started then. The Wayback Machine's earliest record of thriveli.com was 30 April 08.

Thrive was perhaps the first to set themselves up as fulfillment-only business. Before this, everything was in-house: sales, fulfillment, customer service.  Thrive would contract with various independent sales floors to sell their fulfillment package. Thrive's cut was 10%, and the sales floor got about 60%. (I forget who else got a split right now - this is, again, not worth my time. I'll see if I can now resurrect my copies of old posts and books on this subject, where this was all documented.)

But they also nearly doubled the asking price for that training that the in-house companies charged. Meanwhile, they didn't have a feedback loop (supposedly) on how the sales floors represented them. (Factually, they didn't care enough. Taking a trip across town to one of the call centers was always an option. You just have to decide to do it. But that means being responsible, doesn't it?)

So Thrive - on paper - was only responsible for refunding that 10%. Actually, once someone started spilling the goods about Thrive online, they would make sure that person got a refund (in exchange for removing all their content they posted) and get the money back from the sales floors.

How these refunds were funded, even though they delivered scammy services, was a bit of a Ponzi scheme. While the bulk of the sales income went to sales people, there were always new customers coming in. The sales floors could pay back Thrive from new income.

Since only about 3% of their customers actually refunded, this worked out.

Until, people started complaining to the State of Utah too much.

That list of steps they took (as posted on the left) was worked out from trial and error. Essentially, the point was to "complain like hell" until the refund arrived. The main problem Thrive set up for itself was trying to be what it was not - respectable. It's marketing scene was huge on the then-current SEO approach of setting up multiple presences on social networks. This gave them complete "dominance" on Google for most of the front page - a huge amount of testimonials about how great Thrive was. Nice sales tool.

And that worked until the complaint forums started ranking better than anything they did.  Thrive's response was to require people take down complaints and websites they had and quit saying anything about Thrive at all - and then they'd get a refund. (Now that Thrive doesn't exist is why I can actually say this.)

Note: it was the personal comments about the principals - and linking to the data online - that sped up the process. People were able to use the Internet to find all sorts of fascinating details about people (even home addresses.) The principals didn't like being named, so they pushed to get refunds sent. What these principals didn't know that a year's worth of being connected to Thrive Learning LLC was going to screw their ever being able to enjoy having an Internet presence - they went into seclusion as far as they could, which wasn't enough...

Thrive was trying to plug a leaking dike with more holes than they had fingers available. 

Thrive's problem was that they were taking people and making them computer-literate. They trained people how to search for things. They trained people to post things online. They trained people to use social networks.

So they unleashed a flood of complainers who either didn't ask for a refund, or were easily put off. The complaints never went away.

And even today, all the data these missing sites had still exist in various formats on those complaint forums. Most people took that long list of complaint forums (again, it's over to the left) and posted the same complaint on all of them.

Thrive wound up being the top of a very smelly heap online. You had to usually go to page 2 in order to find something complementary.

Even today, that phrase gets tons of complaint forums and little else - while most of these posts are from 2009.

Thrive Learning LLC has simply given up the pretense and sold out to someone else (or maybe the same people - we may never know for sure.)

What Thrive didn't understand about the Internet

The Internet works on the Golden Rule. As you treat others, is how you'll be treated. Not that people didn't try to tell them. You have to deliver goods and services which are far better than people expect - and keep doing this routinely.

Sure, there are a lot of hyper-critical trolls online. These can mostly be ignored (like Rip-Off Reports, which is it's own shake-down scene.) When you have floods of complaints coming in, with specific facts - then you'd better change your operating basis.

Thrive didn't.

As said above, the list says to contact the Utah government - and people kept helping others by giving them the exact link to use, what the government contact's name was, and how to report it. This was very effective. Because that one Utah government department now was tied up with handling the complaints for this one company. And the government got tired of it.

On July 2, 2009, Utah lowered the boom. A copy of this is found on the work-at-home forum. But it's incomplete. The version I recall came to several million dollars in fines. Individuals were named, as well as other "private equity firms."

That was basically the end of Thrive. They paid their fines. They toed the line. They kept up appearances, more or less. Meaning somehow, the sales floors were bringing in income for them. You'll see that Thrive quit posting video's and articles and so on by the end of that year. And the complaints dwindled off - mostly.

(So April 2008 to July 2009. Helluva ride, eh?)

Thrive was their own worst enemy. 

They relied on naive people to stay naive. But their business plan was to train the naivety right out of them. They relied on Utah's 3-day right of rescission (buyer's remorse period) instead of keeping a policy of guaranteed results with no-questions-asked refunds. (They did say it was guaranteed - and they would stick with you as long as it took, but the real problem is that you were paying their hosting fees every month and after a year their coaching was strictly e-mail only.)

Thrive knew by their own statistics that only 3% of the customers would complete the training, that only 3% of those would actually make their money back (1 in 1,000 - about the same amount who would refund.) The guys you saw in the video promotion - they were the 3% of those - or roughly 1 in 10,000 who made the huge sums.

Saying that anyone could achieve these results was technically true. What they didn't say is that the very few individuals who did make it had also had extensive training and several failed online business opportunities before they ever got to Thrive. But again, it was the sales floor's fault if Thrive's training was "misrepresented."

You can see how a lot of this played out on Salt Lake City Weekly's article: Phone Predators. The Thrive connection is found over at SaltyDroid - years after their prime. The Internet has a long memory.

What's true about Internet Marketing

There is a lot of cr*p floating there. Wear waders and watch your step.

Thrive made their money on those people who bought into the "get rich quick" scene - and sold them a scheme/scam instead of honest training which they would have to invest years of their lives to learn enough to get anything accomplished - much less make millions "over night."

What Thrive did was to educate the naivete right out of them. Painfully.

There's a worse scene - called "The Syndicate" by the SaltyDroid.  It's a group of guys who have agreed to promote each other's "product" launches to their lists, on a schedule so they don't interfere with each other. You may have heard of these names: Andy Jenkins, Frank Kern, John Reese, Jeff Walker, Ryan Diess, and Mike Filsame. All of these are supposed "guru's" of the industry.

They use the same tactics, and promote the "latest and greatest solutions" to this same group of buyers who apparently just don't learn - and spend their disposable income on these new "solutions" like a crack addict.

The percentages are the same. 1 in 10,000 will have a major success. The rest keep their day jobs.

You can make a living online.

I do. But you start with throwing out conventional wisdom, which means 97% of everything you read, hear, or were taught. Test everything (start with what I've just told you.)

The short-hand version is
  1. Get completely out of debt. Buy nothing on credit from there on out.
  2. Start saving 10% of your income and investing another 20% (and that's after you've set aside 20% for taxes.) 
  3. Live within your means (which is that remaining 50%.)
Yes, that's severe. But it works - and is exactly what millionaires in America have routinely done. (See Thomas J. Stanley's "The Millionaire Mind" or his "The Millionaire Next Door.") U.S. Millionaires also all read and/or follow the steps laid out in Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich."

Next: find something you can offer, sell, and deliver online which routinely sells. Not something that has to be intensely sold - something people want, and have always wanted something like it. The person after them will want it, their children will want it, their grandparents always wanted something like it.

The stuff that sells routinely on line has intrinsic value - and you enhance that value with better service, better price, or better outcome.

Once your online business makes twice or more what your day job pays, then you can fire your boss (disclaimer: general idea, of course, not specific advice.)

We are, of course, moving into what you were looking for when you found Thrive Learning LLC.

Only this time, we are going in with eyes wide open.

Because we've been there, done that. Another phrase: once burnt, twice shy.

There's more work to do before I can tell you what I've figured out. But meanwhile, visit the Thrivelearning System (thought you might find that name interesting) for several series of books in this area.

Luck to us all.