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Bidness

This week I investigated two leads for future career moves. The first with a guy named Rob, who has built a very advanced “green” house, and the second with my hairdresser, who invited me to a Fortune Hi Tech Marketing seminar. I’d like to tell you about FHTM first.

This all came up while Kelly was cutting my hair. Kelly has cut my hair since I was 12. She’s a wonderful woman: married with a great kid, active in her church, and the owner of her own salon, which I greatly admire. Originally from New York, I’ve noticed that over the years she has slowly gained a southern-ness about her, particularly in her speech. Like all good hair dressers, she’s a friend in addition to possessing the singular skill of cutting my hair best. So as we’re catching up about Thailand and marriage and being back in the States and HVAC, she tells me that she recently started a second business, and that I could too. “It’s called Fortune Hi Tech Marketing,” she says, and over the course of my haircut, explains a bit about it. I’m intrigued.

The basic premise is this: for $300, the company first helps you establish yourself as an independant representative (your own business for tax purposes) and gives you a website to conduct business through. Business consists of signing people up for monthly services through your website. Some services include all the major cell phone carriers, Dish Network, Travelocity, and vitamins. One of the first things representatives do is upgrade their phone or change their cable to Dish Network, through their personal website. Every month, when they pay their bill, Dish Network sends FHTM a portion of the bill back as a commission for creating a loyal customer. FHTM gets money this way, and from the sign-up fee which is $300. Every week, this money is redistributed to all the representatives. If you are new, you get some money back based on what you paid in bills to the services. If you are established, you get additionally $100 per person you have recruited to become a representative, until you have 12 people, at which point you level up and get $200 per person. And that’s where the success stories of making $200,000 a month come from. The sooner you get in, the better, is the implied message. Followed by: it’s not too late to join us.

Even though I initially teased Kelly that it sounded a little too Bernie Madoff for me, she invited me to see a full presentation. My thinking was: what do I have to lose? I left my wallet in the car and attended, last night, at Ragtop and Roadsters, a sort of 50’s mock up diner that is just as much a place for the owner to display his hotrods.

This is what I learned: The owner of “Fortune” is Paul Orberson. He was originally with Excel Communications which sold discount rate long distance with a similar network marketing scheme. Paul is the sole owner of FHTM and apparently re-invests all profits back into the pyramid after paying overhead for the representative support office in Lexington, KY. At a certain level, he gives representatives a three year lease on a platinum Lexus, or the cash equivalent in a check. Between talking to people and listening to the seminar, I heard several times that Paul Orberson does this out of the kindness of his heart, as a way to get people extra income during a recession, and that he doesn’t make any money on it himself. He doesn’t need to make any money, apparently, because he made his 40 million with Excel and invested it wisely enough not to tank with everybody else. Funny gut feeling number one. Funny gut feeling number two: I couldn’t help but notice the church vibe I got from the group. The professional presenter threw in several folksy godblesses and thank gods. I reckon this kind of solicit thy neighbor thing would work really well in highly-organized community churches. Especially once some of the congregation start making good money.

The gist of the business model is “network marketing.” In these times, companies are willing to redirect money from advertising to word-of-mouth referrals. By giving representatives incentives like commission, they encourage brand loyalty and advocacy for the service—though not necessarily on the grounds of the actual service. I have Sprint now, and the coverage within our home sucks. Ironically, I have to leave my home to use my cell phone. But, if I was getting a few bucks back from Sprint every month, I might not feel the same way. But all of this begs the question: if Sprint can afford to kick commissions to FHTM, are they charging everyone across the board a little bit extra? Or more important: how much less service am I getting from Sprint because of this?

At the end of the presentation, I had decided that though some people have done well with this, and more certainly will, not everyone can be a big winner. I called the corporate office today to find out 1) how many representatives there are, and 2) what their retention rate is. Of course I was told that they don’t give out that information. After prodding, I got nothing more specific than the total number of reps is “in the 100s of thousands.” I was truly surprised though, when I asked if representatives had access to that information. No. Only the corporate office. Tricky tricky. It seems to me that a large part of the cash flow comes from recruiting representatives. At what point does everyone become a representative? And then what happens? A little too mind-bending for me. I think I’ll stick with fiction and air conditioners.

Which brings me to Rob. He is the owner of Maritime Green Builders and has built South Carolina’s first Platinum level LEED certified home. There are 35 of these in the entire country. Obtaining Platinum is much harder than using all the green goodies like solar panels, fixed metal roofs, and Styrofoam insulated concrete. The trickiest part is building in a sustainable way, which includes minimizing construction waste and managing waste water run-off. These practices should be used by all construction projects, but are prohibitively expensive for many.

Rob invited me to tour the home earlier this week. When I arrived, it was a warmish 85 degrees. Inside the house, it was cool like a cave, and quiet, as the air system was only running to circulate air—not to cool the house. The house is almost 100% sealed, which allows the air system to filter pollen and dust out of the outside air and maintain precise humidity. Total climate control. Pretty neat.

He showed me the attic next. I was interested in seeing the spray-foam insulation and his solar power, solar water heating setups. The day before, I was up in a typical attic, sweating. In Rob’s attic it was only a little warmer than the foyer. That’s because the sprayfoam seal insulates the cold air, and keeps the hot outside air out. He has a solar water heater which uses glycol to assist the electric heating of water, which saves him 30% of his heating cost. He also has a solar panel that powers the landscape lighting and can be used for emergency power. All of this was immensely helpful to me, as I’ve read a lot about it, and watched videos when I could, but have never actually seen this stuff up close, in real life. It was a good example of what I hope to build myself one day. Next week, when the local electric utility comes to the house to install a new “smart” meter, I hope to be there to observe. We hear a lot about smart-grids and smart-thermostats, but what exactly does that mean? What does that look like? How does it work?

PS. How could I have told that story on Twitter?

3 Comments

  1. Rev wrote:

    Sounds like FHTM joins the ranks of Pre-Paid Legal, Amway, Quixtar, and Primerica. It’s all about recruiting. Smart man to avoid it. Very smart man.
    Can you help build a green house for our family when the time comes?

    PS No way you ‘tweet’ that. No freaking way.

    Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  2. Roman wrote:

    Reverend,

    RE: building you and the family a green house when the time comes, I’m going to say, I’d love to offer my input when the time comes, but there is quite a lot I have to learn first. Right now I’m working on some of the lowest hanging fruit, like tuning up the bicycles and building a worm farm that will turn kitchen scraps into compost for the vegetable garden. That’s stuff you can do right now, if you want.

    Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  3. Jennifer wrote:

    My husband got involved with this and it truly bothers me. I watch them on their DVD and it is like watching a cult movie. I am a Christian myself and I know a scam when I see one. My husband seems to think this is the answer to his prayers, but something in my heart tells me this is wrong. I cannot find any proof on the internet they are liars.

    Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

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