How to Sell Friends and Influence People

With friends like these, who needs stores?

A newsletter about branding, startups, and mission-driven companies aiming to make the world a better place.

👋 Welcome to For The Love, so happy to have you all here! 

Today we’ll be discussing:

  • From Brownie Wise to House of Wise — the history of social selling

  • A roundup of new launches this week, including a DTC update to your favorite childhood microwaveable snack

  • The New Normal looks...beige and sweaty?

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💣 For The Love of Startups

In the past year, approximately 2.4 million women have left the workforce (compared to under 1.8 million men), both due to job loss and necessity — even now, childcare often falls to women.

While diminished income and the isolation of the pandemic would elicit compassion from most people, some see opportunity.

Those people have taken to social media to peddle everything from leggings to supplements (while hinting at their capability to ward away COVID — the supplements, of course, not the leggings).  

And while they’re selling, they’re out recruiting more sellers — an enticing proposition for those left economically vulnerable by the pandemic.

Don’t get me wrong — recruiting a brand’s biggest fans to be convincing salespeople is the ultimate goal of community engagement. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s when the goal (and the way to make money) is recruiting, not sales, that things become a house of cards. That’s why it’s helpful to understand the difference between cultivating highly active affiliate salespeople and traditional multi-level marketing programs.

Multi-level marketing programs usually require an upfront investment to buy some inventory or to get training.

Why spend your stimulus check on paying off your credit card debt or making a rent payment when you can be a #girlboss?

Recruiting posts might look something like this:

Multi-level-marketing schemes have become a huge business. According to their own trade association, direct sales totaled $35 billion in 2019 with 6.8 million sellers.

That adds up to an average yearly income of $5,176 — not nothing, but not a lot if you’re working on it full time.

Unfortunately, most sellers don’t wind up selling much beyond the inventory they purchased themselves to kick off their new business (if that).

But MLMs didn’t start with shady Facebook posts full of false promises. In the 1950s, the ability to make a little money outside the house as a woman was further out of reach. MLMs empowered women and gave them some financial independence.

One woman, in particular, kicked off the trend — Brownie Wise.

Tupperware was invented in 1942 by Earl Tupper, but it was a new product that consumers were unfamiliar with (at the time plastic was a mysterious new material). 

It didn’t sell until he hired Brownie Wise.

Being a woman and a divorcee with only an eighth-grade education, Brownie was an unlikely hire for VP of Marketing in 1951, but Earl was smart enough to capitalize on her existing success selling Tupperware.

She had taken inspiration from Stanley Home’s “home party” concept to sell cleaning products, and started her own business — “Patio Parties,” where she sold household items like Tupperware. 

She found success through inventing games (like filling Tupperware with juice and tossing it around the room to showcase its spill-proof design and durability). She made it, not only about sales, but also connection, friendship, and empowerment. She also educated guests so they could sell Tupperware themselves (the multi-level part of the business).

According to history.com there were other factors that also contributed to MLM business’ success at this time:

“They were helped along by the major socio-economic shifts of the post-war period. When World War II ended, new suburbs became destinations for families ready to settle down after the war. Husbands expected to return to their pre-war jobs, so many women who entered the job market during the war were pushed out of employment and encouraged to stay home with their children. Meanwhile, postwar prosperity helped encourage a massive baby boom. As a result, suburbs—most filled with white, middle-class mothers—were fertile ground for Tupperware parties.

The parties were a way to connect with old friends, make new ones, and participate in a booming consumer economy. Though they took place in living rooms, the events were a way to step away (if only temporarily) from the intensive domestic labor expected of housewives in that era. They were also a way for women who were discouraged from working outside the home to make money.”

Wise also tapped into something bigger — community. According to the Smithsonian:

“Wise had motivated her dealers by asking them to share their successes and expertise with one another. She ran a weekly newsletter for them and touted the idea of positive thinking, making Tupperware-selling as much a lifestyle as a job and empowering women who didn’t get recognition for doing household chores or caring for children...She listened to the women who worked for her and made marketing decisions based on their feedback. The saying she was known for: ‘You build the people and they’ll build the business’...A lot of these women were attracted not just by the opportunity to make money...but for the self-help rhetoric Wise used to work with dealers. She held pep rallies for her sales force and an annual retreat where the country’s top sellers received awards and gifts. The network of dealers and distributors also acted as a support network for those within it... If someone in the network needed help to succeed, such as someone to pick up their merchandise, the culture of the network meant they could ask.”

Another bonus of highlighting Tupperware salespeople? Free press — local papers were more than happy to publish stories about young industrious women hitting sales milestones and winning prizes including cars and vacations. 

Despite the fact that Wise was integral to Tupperware’s success, and the face of the business, making history as the first woman to appear on Business Week, her contribution was not reflected in her compensation. Earl grew jealous of her and she became frustrated with his micromanagement, and in 1958 Wise was ousted without stock and just one year’s salary as severance.

Obviously, things have changed since then. Importantly our social circles have expanded past the people we can walk or drive to, and we can capture people’s attention without being in the same room. 

This is good for direct sellers in terms of reach but, given the emphasis on recruitment, certain social circles can get quickly oversaturated with the same product, making it even more difficult to make money.  Not to mention irritating everyone you know, from friends and family to that kid who lent you a pencil in 2nd grade. 

But as we saw with Tupperware parties, there are some good things here — a potential pathway for more women to work flexible hours and make money, build community, and connect with other like-minded women. 

This is where House of Wise comes in. Founder Amanda Goetz explained:

“House of Wise is not an MLM, because it's not multi-level. So the way that we treat our Wise Women is that they're micro-affiliates, meaning they're not an influencer don't they don't have 1000s and 1000s of followers, but they have influence, whether that's influence over their family, their friends, and they care about talking about things that they love. That's how women purchase most of the time.” 

Amanda was very familiar with the MLM model — having grown up in the midwest, where they’re particularly popular, the products were regularly popping up in her Facebook feed.  She realized, while it was problematic, there were clearly elements that were very appealing to people.

“I spent a lot of time just talking to them about ‘What attracted you to being a part of one, what's working, what's not working?’ And also just researching MLM mechanics. And so let's start with why are people attracted to it? The majority of women said I want to have money that my husband can't touch, like, it's just mine that I can spend on me…so that's one, they're looking to make money. What's not working is that there are, in some instances, high upfront costs, so you have to buy this product, and it's in your house. And now it's not authentic, because if you're promoting something on your Instagram story, because you have 2000 of them in your garage, that doesn't come across as authentic, you're just pushing a product, right? Second of all, it's a pyramid scheme, so the more people you get under you, the more your percentage grows. And so in that, people who are just starting out make like nothing, and in fact, they're probably in the red if they had to do the high upfront costs. So I took those two things and said, ‘Okay, there are some, there are some pros, there are some cons.’ And the other pro is that some women want to feel a part of a bigger mission and brand, and so there's an identity piece that comes from it.” 

House of Wise a line of CBD products aimed at women, to help with stress, sex, and sleep. 

Amanda first tried CBD after a particularly stressful period of her life and was initially nervous about it — having grown up in the midwest she hadn’t had much exposure to CBD or cannabis. She was also hesitant to share her experience with others. 

“It started helping me and I started to feel better...And yet there was this stigma I felt around telling people because I was a mom of three and leading marketing at a big company and having a public brand. And so, I was scared to talk about it. And I'm pretty open about everything, I talk about, divorce, infertility, miscarriage, I'll talk about those things. But this one, I was still like, what will people think about me?” 

But once she did, she realized how receptive and curious her friends were. So she decided that was how she had to start selling it — 

“It was really intentional, just because of how I spread the word about CBD in my life...It was because I talked to them, not because they were hit with an ad on Instagram. So the DTC mechanics don't work in this category, one because Facebook doesn't allow for it. You know, you can't advertise cannabis. And two, it still requires a lot of education. And so it was very intentional that people hear about House of Wise from a woman in their life...There's something here where people need to feel like there is a person and a brand that they can connect with and identify with, and remove the stigma give somebody permission to explore this.” 

On top of exploring CBD together, Wise Women can support each other in other ways too, connecting, and building community in what is a particularly isolating time.

“What we do with our Wise Women is that they are now a part of our community, which means we have a Slack channel, we have a newsletter, I share behind the scenes of what it's like to build a company, we talk about our sex lives, we talk about professional lives. We're treating women as whole beings, and they're part of that community and then they all make the same percentage. So there's no multi-level, you don't have to jump through hoops to get your percentage up everyone gets 25% commission.”

I was curious to know if groups of friends all became Wise Women, would it become competitive, like in the MLM model?

“So the way that this happened with Glossier, and other big brands, what you find is, there is a subset of people who are attracted to the mission and the brand, they'll buy product, but they really just want to be there for the community, the content, the swag, all of that. Then there's a subset of people who are great at creating content, like maybe they're photographers, or they like to create videos with their phone, and they're excited about that. Then there are people that are really good at selling, they have no problem talking on their phone. To assume that every single person falls into that third bucket is actually just an assumption because that's not the case. Not everyone is comfortable doing that. And so it shakes out like it does, where it's not cannibalistic it ends up becoming more of that 80/20 rule where you do have 20% of people who are your power sellers, and they're going out and they're selling and they're making a lot of money. But then you have other people who are just advocating for the brand itself. They may get the House of Wise sweatshirt and wear it and post about it. And that's okay, too. As long as I'm helping people, be more in control of their life, and they're helping spread the awareness of the brand. It's a win-win.”

Unlike an MLM, it really is a win-win. At the very least, they get a discount on products, and get to be part of something larger. House of Wise is taking the economics of affiliate marketing — how many social media influencers make money — and building up a much stronger community than just a bunch of people driving their following towards a link or code.

“Women are talking about their relationships and asking questions about divorce and things that you can't talk about in public social media...We have channels for sleep, sex stress, and those are channels for people to talk about their experiences with the product, but also like, what other products are they using? What's the routine? We had a whole thread around, what does your personal intimacy routine look like? How do you actually get yourself in the mood? It kind of spans everything from, let me tell you guys about how I'm approaching fundraising, to anybody try the sex gummy last night? And it literally spans all that, because women are not linear humans. We can't just be like, this is my headspace right now. And I'm only thinking about that because that's just not how we operate. And I love that...I hadn't found a community that I felt like I could bring my whole self to both my professional self, my sexual self, and my health and wellness self, and that's what I feel like this community is becoming for me and for other women.”


🔥 For The Love of Newness

Snow Days just launched pizza bites “without all of the crap ingredients.”

Umamicart is a new Asian grocery delivery service with sashimi-grade Hamachi, Pocky, and everything in between.  

A new line of grown-up gummies, Grummies, launched with all-natural ingredients, and flavors like apple cider vinegar flavor.

Fellow Creatures is a new line of milkless (aka vegan) chocolate. 

For performance body spray that isn’t Axe — Offcourt is here.

Boy Smells, a line of gender-neutral candles (including Cowboy Kush), now sells Cologne de Parfum.

Omsom and Sanzo teamed up with Disney for the premiere of Raya and the Last Dragon — Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess. (Also, I’ll be discussing this and more on Clubhouse with Omsom founder Kim Pham, this Thursday @ 6 pm ET.)

Yola Mezcal got a sleek new re-brand (but kept the recipe from 1971).


🔍 For The Love of the Details

According to Suit Supply THE NEW NORMAL Is Coming, and the new normal is...

...moist?

We were quarantined so long we forgot what kissing is? 

We certainly forgot about dress codes. Did jacket guy in the middle not get the memo or did everyone else not?

And what Yeezy meets Hunger Games world is this? Who does a girl need to battle to get herself a suit? 

I find the idea that this was photographed during the pandemic is particularly disturbing...that is unless they are all first responders...wait, is that how we administer CPR now? 

Thank you for being part of For The Love! 


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Written by Aja Singer, a brand and creative strategy consultant interested in all things startup, mission-driven, and community. Born in Canada. Based in Brooklyn. You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter.