Monday, February 24, 2020

B-School or D-School? In the Age of Transparency, Marie Forleo's Fabricated a Facade

Is Marie Forleo a Fraud
Marie Forleo's crafty marketing blurs any ability to discern quality or genuine satisfaction
with her "insanely popular" B-School
Entrance into Marie Forleo’s B-School closes on Friday.  If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not one of the wanna-be entrepreneurs she’s strategically targeted this past month via every social media platform that exists.

Or maybe it simply means you’re not on the internet at all. 

Because like scotch broom in the springtime, her pretty face is popping up everywhere.

A horde, it seems, of mostly women have handed over $2,000 to participate in this 8-week online “business school”, which Forleo created over a decade ago to assist “big hearted creatives” seek their fortune online.

Former students rave about Forleo, attributing their online success and "financial freedom" to her brilliant B-School.  

All this hype begs the question: what is the B-School, exactly?  And who is Forleo?  Does she have something to sell? 

Misfit to Millionaire
44-year-old Forleo, who describes herself as a multi-passionate entrepreneur, authored the NYT bestseller Everything is Figureoutable and has worked as a life coach since before it was cool. 

Out of disdain for anything that’s trending, whenever her name popped up in podcast interviews, I’d systematically block her out.

However, when her face ran across my Instagram feed last month, asking me if "today was the day that changes *everything*", I finally signed up for her e-mail.

She’d hit me at a weak moment.  I’d had a clueless afternoon wandering but avoiding human contact in Hong Kong, where school cancellations due to the coronavirus has left me without a job, indefinitely.

If Marie proclaims that everything was figureoutable, maybe she could help me figure this one out.

The sign-up coincided (not coincidentally!) with a three-part video series where Forleo introduces B-School.

With wavy, waist-length locks that are a little too styled, blush and foundation that are just a little too much, and a rotating assortments of pastel tops, Bambi-eyed Marie started appearing on the scene.  Or, that is, on my screen.  And in earnest, simple language, presented her business course.
“What I’m about to share is not some get-rich-quick scheme…there are no silver bullets and there are no magic formulas....If you take this seriously, if you hunker down and you give it your all, what you can achieve in modern business is so far beyond what you can imagine....We’ve got one of the most supporting and loving and generous communities you will ever find online...My goal is to help you run a business that’s highly profitable and highly fulfilling.”
Nauseating warm-fuzzies such as “standing shoulder to shoulder”, “big-hearted”, “learners are earners” and “the world really needs that very special gift that only you have” are sprinkled throughout.

Her school is right for everyone.  Coaches, makers, artists: her graduates span 148 industries, and include business newbies, serial entrepreneurs, people who know nothing about business and people with Ivy League MBAs.

“Big hearted, passionate people like you and me are wired to succeed in this digital world,” Marie coaches.  And she assures that “effective, authentic, results-driven marketing is a skill set that honestly ANYBODY can learn.”

Forleo herself, she says, went from thousands of dollars in debt and living in her parents New Jersey home with plastic-covered couches to earning thousands upon tens of thousands--every MONTH--online.  She doesn't specify what she sold, nor how long it took.  

A litany of testimonials succeed her vagaries.  Forleo has a penchant for the misfit to millionaire narrative, and for all her talk about enabling people to give back, the case studies emphasized the wealth her graduates have amassed since B-School.

The testimonials include a lead-generation expert who hit six figures within a year of B-School and just bought her dream house, a high-school-teacher gone nutritionist who now has a book deal, a podcast and newsletter with 35K subscribers, a river rafting company that earns six figures and is only open four months a year, and a jewelry maker who has to pinch herself as she now earns $150K a year.

Unbelievable success!  There MUST be fairy dust Marie sprinkles onto her student.

Mayi Carles, a B-School grad who sells coaching services and courses, recently said in a Forleo Instagram advert that she just bought her 2nd house.  I've seen Carles online for years, and the ad doesn’t clarify that it’s been a good ten years since she completed B-School.

And in an e-mail titled "Before B-School, she had no home", Forleo shares a testimonial from a recent grad who went from purposeless, in debt to her eyeballs, no business plan, no idea even of what she’d sell, to three months later having earned $2.5K as a writer—and she doesn’t even have a website yet!  Oh, and now she’s off to the Caribbean with her laptop.

Forleo breaks down what the program covers (some of these deets were fuzzy……still scratching my head wondering where the magic is in all this magic that isn’t magic), and it includes how to use Google Analytics and build a Wordpress site.

Um, isn’t this kind of Internet 101?  Things I can figure out in an afternoon at YouTube University?

Well, maybe, I figured, you join for the community--“one of the most supporting and loving and generous communities you will ever find online” is probably worth $2K, right?

Assurances of building castles in the air assuaged me more than a Netflix-binge.  I found myself watching Marie’s videos repeatedly.  And e-mails with titles like “Is B-School Right for You?  Find Out 👉” started showing up in my inbox.  She was reading. my. fucking. mind.

I don’t really have a business idea, or a product….yet, should I sign up?  

B-School felt like the dress that looks really good in the dressing room, but you aren't sure you'll ever wear.

I clicked through to the B-School sign-up page, which had headlines that assured me “I was there for a reason” and “that inner voice was correct. Your feelings are on point.”  Hm...for a school about business,  she talks a lot about listening to and trusting your feelings.

A corner box indicating recent B-School registrants popped up with a Klondike-Gold-Rush kind of frenzy.

Hm...., again.  That’s a lot of signups in the few minutes I’ve been on here.  How much money is she making with this?  And how much community can you really achieve in a group this size?

“There’s something about the mirrors in those places,” my sister would lament, after agonizing over t-shirts in the dressing room at Mervyn’s, and returning home with a doozie.

Did a smoking hot woman have me bewitched?

I needed external confirmation.  And went to the internet for answers.

Smoke and mirrors indeed.

Marie the Mirage
A simple “Forleo B-School” Google search brings up scores of pretty blogs full of fluffy copy from B-School attendees ranting and raving about the program—and who receive $1,000 for anyone who signs up through their site.

A more probing “b-school sucks” or “b school scam” search reveals more of the same glossy reviews and a thin layer of dirt.  I found a @bschoolsucks twitter account with two followers, some critical but moderate Reddit threads, and this critical but still congratulatory post.

For someone with her caliber of success; Forleo mingles with Hollywood’s loveliest (Oprah, Sir Richard Branson); it’s inevitable she's garnered critics.  Droves of them.  Some genuine, some trolls, but they exist.

Yet they don’t seem to exist online.

If Google is a Goliath, then Forleo is King David, discerning the weakness in its armor and slaying with dozens upon dozens of affiliate reviews.

But if the only information about Marie is from profiteers, it’s impossible to tell who the hell she really is.

"It’s not about what you sell, it’s about how you package and position it," Marie cites as the crux of her methodology.  Her book Make Every Man Want You: How to Be So Damn Irresistible You’ll Barely Keep From Dating Yourself sold just because of the title, she says in her videos.  Had it been named A Guide to Living in the Present Moment, it wouldn’t have sold at all.

Who was this dolled-up woman, promising me through my computer screen that I could have it all?  

Behind Oz’s Curtain: Marie Kool-Aid
With my shovel and spade, I kept digging through Google search results and finally broke through the impenetrable topsoil of affiliate reviews to the 2011 blog post “Broke, Happy & Hot: #1 Reason I’m Not Going to B School”.

In the post, artist Gwyn Michael writes she's too broke for B-School (at the time its byline was "Rich, Happy & Hot").  She speculates it may be a lot of sizzle without any steak, then corroborates that Marie's addictive and she's off to watch more of her free videos.  

But it was in the 630 comments, from people who’d either completed B-School or who were on the verge of punching in their credit cards, that I knew I’d come across fertile soil.

Real people wrote these comments, using English and not fluff-jargon.  Artists, writers, makers, seasoned in digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and the struggle to make a living from art.

Their camaraderie had the intimacy of a “let it out” session you’d have with a few family members after Thanksgiving dinner.  The REAL safe where you can rant without inhibition.

And man do they let their hair down.

“Marie Forleo is a total fake and today the 6 or 7 thousand people that enrolled are running like headless chickens in the Facebook group called B-School Babes” one review starts off.

About the B-School program, they say:
“Marie Forleo promises a Ferrari in her marketing videos – but you get a bicycle.”
"She’s selling snake oil disguised as Chanel perfume."
“The program is a bunch of slideshows….stuff you can find for free all over the internet…or from an online marketing for dummies book at the book store.”
“B-school forces you to do a BRAIN DUMP.  Endless worksheets asking you stupid questions so you write everything and do a brain download.  2 months later you realize all you’ve been doing is writing nonsense and have NO business started.”
And Marie's marketing:
“The ONLY reason why you can’t find bad/negative reviews is because ONLY affiliates write reviews and they get a 50% commission for each program sold (USD $1,000)”
“Marie is spends too much $$$$$$$$$$$$ in the video campaign but NOTHING in the program itself.”
And the “unparalleled” B-School community:
“There is no real connection.  A feed with thousands of comments from TOO many women.”
“They’re not the sharpest pencils.”
“The community is filled with highly overwhelmed and highly emotional women which slows you down.”
“The B-School Facebook group can be like such a cult sometimes, since all negativity (and thus healthy critique) is banned.”
“I stay away from the “community” – it’s a black hole, it swallows you.”
The most disconcerting reviews were those written about “Marie Kool-Aid”:
“I find what she is doing to be even more damaging than merely robbing people of their $2K (which is damaging enough!).  She’s creating an entire movement of people who are convinced that great packaging and positioning is ALL that is required to have a great business.  So no, she’s not helping people share with the world “that special gift that only YOU have”, she is helping them learn to be hucksters.”
“This woman is all about sales sales sales… if she was so dedicated to making a “contribution” she would be more generous inside the program which is old, outdated, GIVES BAD ADVICE and keeps you stuck.”
“In her productivity bonus, Marie Forleo says: “WHEN I HIRE SOMEBODY, I CHECK THAT SHE DOESN’T WANT TO START A BUSINESS, I WOULDN’T WANT HER TO LEARN ALL MY SECRETS AND USE THEM TO START HER OWN.  Shocking words!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Two commenters provided links that no longer exist: one to a Quora forum "Has Anyone Enrolled in B-School and Been Disappointed" and the other to the url "MarieForleoSucks.Com".  (What kind of cachet does Marie have, to be able to clean up all around the internet?)

How to interpret oodles of well-concealed criticism?  As an affiliate review put it: "Say what you want about Marie, she manages her online reputation like a BOSS."  Which, of course, is doublespeak for, "Marie buries critics by paying off people like me to rave about her."  

Marie the Magician
This rot beneath the floorboards finally provided a glimpse at the real Marie Forleo inside the pretty packaging.

In her B-School introductory videos, Marie states:
"Modern marketing is all about adding value and building real trust way before you ever ask for the sale...it's about being honest and transparent...there's nothing gross or pushy or scammy about it."  
But burying criticism with a quid pro quo isn't transparency.

And she's clearly marketing B-School using schemes not covered in the program: nowhere does she say B-School teaches affiliate marketing.

And making undesirable websites and forums go "poof" is not part of "a skill set that honestly ANYBODY can learn."

Not at all, in fact.  That level of manipulation borders on wizardry.

$2,000 For a Kick in the Pants
Despite withholding her marketing tactics and the “business secrets she won’t share with ANYONE”, does Forleo teach anything worthwhile in her business school?

For sure, it teaches basic internet skills, which, yeah, an orangoutang could learn on its own.  But, without a kick in the pants, would it?

As one reviewer from Gwyn Michael’s post wrote (the only positive comment I came across):
“I wanted all the information in one place, presented in a clean and appealing format and that is what I got.  I don’t really mind that I could have found similar materials for free on the web….I needed a kick up the bum to actually work on my business, so an outlay of $2k made me stick to the program….My business is doing well (and no, I am not an affiliate!)  It is doing well because I applied consistent effort to it.”
I’ve been there.  I’ve been the artist with customers who RAVE and want more and more of what I’m making, but who’s earning NOTHING.  Why?  In part, I’d assess, because my marketing consisted of a lame Twitter account, a blog I’d take 12-months breaks from, no Instagram, and boring and sporadic newsletters.

Sometimes a “get REAL, girlfriend” splash of cold water is what’s needed for a business to grow. And maybe, for some, Forleo provides that.

The only other tangible benefit she offers, that I can see, is what the Wizard of Oz offered to Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man: by having faith in her promise that “success comes from consistently taking action”, you will eventually get there.

Although the materialistic, ruby-studded “there” implied in the testimonies is probably unattainable.

Could I have leveraged a handmade wallet business (without outsourcing to sweatshops China, which is antithetical to the "handmade movement") to $150K a year?  Doubtful.

Her implicit “if you aren’t pinching yourself because your life is a sheer fantasy, it’s because you haven’t put in the effort” is sheer nonsense.

And nowhere does she point out that no musician became a concert pianist in 8 weeks.  No matter how amaHAZing her program is, she can’t assure you floods of sales for your scarf and hat business if you’ve just learned how to crochet.

Developing that kind of skill, entirely separate from business, takes a decade.  

And the Verdict Is....
Guru or a charlatan?

I cannot say.  But, Marie (I'm looking at you!): someone who has real faith in the product they're selling would say: “bring the critics on!”  Instead, you bury dissatisfied women underneath affiliate reviews.

And I won’t be taking B-School to find out.

This afternoon I balked at $45 Bobbi Brown foundation that I REALLY NEEDED, so won’t be coughing up $2K to figure out if B-School is “magic” or just a bunch of mantras and common sense I can apply on my own.

Have you taken B-school?

Please don’t say you've 10X-ed your income working four-hour days and spend the afternoons swimming in a pool of gold coins.

Cause if you do, I'm going to tell you to pinch yourself and wake up.  

1 comment

  1. It is interesting to see all of these courses that helps people become an entrepreneur. It definitely takes some time to build some wealth, but there is a right direction to take towards that, especially with getting some of the right resources on hand. 2k isn't exactly easy to hand over, so it really needs to work! There's always a risk involved with taking these courses. Of course, you can't always trust the reviews @__@. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

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