This letter was sent to all LDI customers, prospects, and affiliates on June 14, 2018 as a “State Of The Union” regarding LDI and the online business education industry.
From the desk of Jeff Lerner, Lifestyle Design International CEO
You are receiving this because you have previously purchased training from us here at Lifestyle Design International (“LDI”), have expressed interest in our services, or have inquired about promoting our services.
This letter is not selling anything, and there is no direct action to take.
In it I’ll be covering several topics, which I’ll first summarize as a convenience so that if none of them are interesting to you you are spared reading the entire letter to find out as much.
In this letter I’ll discuss:
- The difference between an online business education company and an online business opportunity
- Where LDI fits within those 2 categories, and why
- Some observations and opinions about the state of affairs online regarding the spectrum of companies that make up the “online business education” sector
- Clarification of LDI’s mission and what makes us unique in the marketplace
LDI is a very young company, still less than a year and a half young. We have emerged as one of the stronger players in online education and for that we are immensely grateful, but our rapid growth at such a young age requires constant attention to our brand, reputation, and message and to making sure we control the narrative online.
This letter is a step toward that.
In the last 10 years the Internet has seen the emergence of a number of companies promoting varying combinations of information, tools, and opportunity around building an online business. The Internet is the hottest emerging economy the world has ever seen, so for obvious reasons millions have flooded online seeking opportunity. To service that demand hundreds of companies have appeared forming a new industry that can broadly be called “online business education”.*
*A quick note for clarity -“online business education” means specifically education about online business, NOT online education about business (such as an online MBA program).
In reality this industry covers a broad spectrum of companies that includes “picks and shovels” companies on one end offering web builders, software plugins, analytics, and other tangible, easy-to-value marketing tools, and far on the other end the online business opportunities aka “biz opps”** with vague offers promising a “turnkey system”, “done-for-you business”, “guaranteed profits” or other too-good-to-be true claims (which I will not justify by labeling “products” because they do not represent production of anything other than soon-to-be dashed hopes).
**To be fair there are less scammy biz opps than what I describe but as a practical matter that whole end of the spectrum is so polluted it is of little use for consumers to wade through it.
In the middle of the online business education spectrum, the proverbial gray area, lie the education companies themselves.
At its best an online business education company is a collective of elite entrepreneurs who produce training that truly captures what they know and seeks to translate it to the aspiring online entrepreneur who can be propelled years forward and spared thousands of dollars worth of crippling mistakes by getting the right education from the right people.
At its worst an online business education company is not much better than the scammy “too good to be true” biz opps, preying on people’s ignorance, selling what may seem like relevant information to the uninitiated but which invariably has key elements withheld or outright misinformation and is designed to confuse and frustrate so that customers will feel the only way to truly “get it” is to buy more training.
While this distinction of intent (to educate or to confuse) is certainly black and white, I call it a “gray area” because at first glance the 2 approaches my seem nearly indistinguishable, and clever practitioners of the latter approach can quite easily masquerade as the former.
In light of all this, it is no wonder that in the last few years regulatory authorities have increased scrutiny around this entire spectrum of companies.
Some recent high-profile actions by the Federal Trade Commission make it obvious that the entire online business education space is “on the radar” and that any company that wishes to grow to levels that should be exciting to serious entrepreneurs should expect scrutiny and in fact welcome it.
We at LDI are in line with this view. As we endeavor to become the largest, most impactful, and highest quality company in the online business education space, in fact as we work to define that space and be its gold standard practitioner, we are excited to have the brightest of spotlights shined on the entire space so that bad actors can be run off, scams can be stunted before they get traction, consumers can be educated to differentiate between value and hype, and ultimately the most ethical and high value programs can grow taller while all the twisted nails get the hammer.
At LDI we are leading by example, operating not only as an open book but also working to contribute to the conversation and provide guidance to help consumers make informed decisions and develop their own instincts rather than simply wait for regulators to tell them what’s good and what isn’t.
The essential question in assessing this space of companies comes down to one basic element: does xyz company, product, service, or training promote a “lowest common denominator” model of success (“anyone can do it”, “the system does all the work”, “no skill required”, etc) or is there an honest conversation being had that says success is primarily self-determined, rarely fair, and that the best xyz company, product, service, or training can do is shift the risk/reward ratio but not fundamentally change it?
At LDI we celebrate the risk/reward ratio of being an entrepreneur. We do not downplay it or wish it away. We also recognize and even promote the idea that being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. Organizations that breed success are typically those who maintain high standards, not those who lower standards so people feel warm and fuzzy about their participation.
We at LDI believe there is a need online for someone to be the “Navy SEALs” of the online education space, weeding out the unqualified, unmotivated, and entitled through an online business education version of BUDs training, where few holds are barred and painful confrontation is a sign that the process is working. There are plenty of companies in the space that have elected to be more like the local little league where everyone gets an award for trying, but few actually blossom and develop. We believe someone needs to take a stand and unapologetically focus on producing elite entrepreneurs!
From our point of view that is done most effectively by avoiding the temptation to use typical online “business opportunity” language. Such language is short-sighted, fraught with pitfalls, and marginally ethical.
A company like ours that wishes to blaze a trail online of legitimate entrepreneurial education must develop an easy heuristic for identifying and filtering “business opportunity language”. Not just a standard that can be applied by attorneys and regulators who make a living determining such things, but something that can be easily applied “in the trenches” daily by every team member, from the CSR taking a phone call from a person who has perhaps watched one too many videos online about “turnkey systems generating profits while you sleep” and wants to steer the conversation that way, to the copywriting vendor who wants to turn in sales copy to our Marketing Department that will convert (so they don’t get fired) but also not violate a compliance standard. We need “rules of thumb” that give rapid feedback, are broadly applicable, and are simple enough to remain front of mind.
Frankly, consumers do too. Their demand is what drives the whole industry after all… if their demands change for the better the industry as a whole becomes better.
Here is our rapid, broad, and simple test…
Question: In reference to a possibility of earning income or building a business how does one determine if the conversation is crossing into undesirable “biz opp” language?
Answer: If you remove the income potential from whatever is being discussed is there still sufficient value in whatever is being sold to justify the cost to a reasonable and informed person?
Admittedly it’s a qualitative tool, all heuristics involve human judgement, but it’s the type of “smell test” for “good faith” that is written in universal code that most people of sound mind and instinct can agree on.
It’s a question every education company dealing in business education should not only ask themselves regularly but their customers as well. It is a question we not only ask our customers but also teach them to ask when looking at our products and any educational or opportunity products for that matter.
Constantly asking this question also provides a useful pre-screen for regulatory issues where individual elements of a program may be innocuous in isolation but can compound to create the kind of “ick factor” that leads to customer complaints, refund requests, merchant processing issues, and ultimately legal issues.
Always asking this one question is a great vaccine against “slipping to the dark side” – ultimately character in business is about the little things and how they make people feel and unless you ask such questions (and listen openly to the answers), the collective “feelings” of your customers are hard to read and this type of slippage can be hard to measure.
One of our guiding principles here is the Maya Angelou quote (which I paraphrase):
“People will forget what you say and forget what you do but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”
Asking how your customers feel about what you offer can be scary for a company. When dealing with products that trade in what is “possible” (weight loss, dating, money, happiness, etc.) it is especially tempting to try to control the feelings of your customers by telling them what you think they want to hear (“this will be easy”, “anyone can/should do it”, “you can’t fail because our system does all the work”, and so on). The problem with this (aside from legal questions around misleading or deceptive trade practices) is that it assumes the worst about what people want to hear. In my experience the people you want in a program, the people who will eventually become undoctored testimonials, case studies, and success stories, would much prefer to simply hear the truth and opt-in or opt-out on that basis.
From a practical standpoint though the reticence around taking such a transparent stance as educators of entrepreneurship, i.e. openly stating that any form of entrepreneurship (online or offline) is hard work and high risk, does have a basis in logic. A logical operator of an online business education company might wrestle with how open to be because,
- No one wants to march on principle right out of business with products that no one would ever purchase because they sound unappealingly raw and challenging, and
- One of the noblest parts of the online business education mission (and that of education in general) is to inspire based on what’s possible, not discourage based on what’s probable.
It’s a tricky balance and one which I encourage every consumer, educator, administrator, and regulator to appreciate and consider.
But last I checked medical schools, law schools, engineering programs, computer science programs, etc are still graduating smart and vital people that love to learn and want to work, and no one’s out there dumbing them down. I’ve yet to see a medical school include “anyone can do it”, or “we teach you to perform a brain surgery through simple mouse clicks” in their pitch.
And yet people still pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their programs…
Obviously there are people out there who want real opportunities, are willing to learn new skills, and are willing to work hard for them, so why do some online business educators act like this isn’t the case?
The problem arises from a specific allure that certain industries offer (industries like Internet business, real estate, trading stocks, multi-level marketing, etc.)
These industries allow for very appropriate use of terms like “leverage”, “time freedom”, “no boss”, and “no ceilings”. These adjectives are an obvious part of what make these industries attractive to work in. Unfortunately industries that have these traits sometimes attract people who want to exclude terms like “hard work”, “learning new skills”, and “adding value”. I call it a conversational “downward spiral” where a conversation that starts about building a business from a home office turns into a conversation about getting paid from the living room couch while watching Family Guy reruns.
Some companies fall into this spiral gradually, even unconsciously, while some start out at the bottom as if on purpose, but however it starts we believe it is an avoidable dynamic that any company can choose to eschew or, if they are already in it, to pull out from (maybe ‘detox’ is the right word).
And frankly based on a decade of observing the industry I would say that, all moralizing aside, any company that wants to grow to a meaningful size and be around more than 3-5 years had better heed this notion, which we at LDI believe as a guiding truth:
Education about online business can be fun, positive, and inspiring (ie attractive to sell) while still meeting the standard of truth-bearing and having a value proposition that stands on more than income potential.
In our first year and a half as a company LDI has lived and thrived from the truth of this sentence, and in our next 10 years as a company we aim to show how powerfully true it is.
There is HUGE demand in the marketplace for online business education that is results-based, transparent, accessible (not easy, just accessible), and not based on misleading messaging.
In selling online business education, being upfront is far more profitable that being deceptive, and selling real skills and training is far more profitable than selling anything based on “positioning”, “qualifying”, or anything based on recruiting and a compensation plan for “affiliates”, “consultants”, “partners”, or whatever euphemism one applies to mean “person who thought he/she was signing up to learn something but ended up getting recruited into being a recruiter”..
There are dozens of companies we wish would get that memo and a few that have recently gotten it loud and clear from the FTC, but obviously there’s only one company we can control.
So hopefully in lieu of having thousands of individual conversations with consumers about what makes LDI the “gold standard” company, or at least as a reference point in such conversations, let me spell it out here:
- LDI does not sell products that teach you how to become an affiliate of LDI
- LDI does not sell products that qualify you to earn commissions at any level
- LDI does not involve building a downline
- LDI is not an MLM
- LDI does not use “pay to play”
- Your LDI Advisor tells you about our entire product offering upfront (no buy this then later find out you also need this…)
- LDI sells education only. There are no business opportunities available for purchase
- LDI sells training that is designed to teach you skills, not sell you more training
- LDI’s training is taught by successful online entrepreneurs who have found mainstream success in online business outside of our own ecosystem (we don’t create our own “success stories” then tout them as trainers)
- LDI has a high percentage of repeat customers
- LDI has monthly and annual programs with far-above-industry-average satisfaction and renewal rates
- LDI has a free affiliate program (no purchase required) however it is invitation-only and is not a part of our curriculum
- LDI is based in the United States and operates in full view of industry regulators
And so on…
At LDI we have some strong opinions about our industry, and take seriously what we do and why we do it. Our mission is “Building the Complete Entrepreneur” and we believe that process starts with trust.
A “Complete Entrepreneur” trades in trust, it is one of the most valuable currencies in business.
For us to credibly teach it, we have to model it.
Our members have high love and trust scores for our training, member experience, and company as a whole. A few minutes in our Facebook group makes that obvious.
We are excited about what the next decade holds as entrepreneurship on the Internet continues to emerge as one of the most exciting tools the world has ever seen for helping ordinary people build extraordinary lives. We are privileged and humbled to be at the forefront of this emergence and hope that by modeling best practices an entire industry will be inspired and encouraged by what is possible.
Thank you for reading this letter. If you made it this far, perhaps you care about the online business education industry like I do.
Lifestyle Design International