Meet Mike Winnet; entrepreneur, self-confessed ‘demotivational speaker’ and best-selling author on Amazon.
You may know him from his daily satirical posts showcasing the most ridiculous, self-congratulatory garbage on LinkedIn, from his YouTube video series or his popular podcast.
For some time now, Winnet has been taking the piss to much success; highlighting the mindnumbing stories posted by ‘motivational speakers’ and everyday users who just happen to record themselves donating spare change to homeless people.
Winnet has also embarked on another project – one that sees him expose self-proclaimed business moguls, known as ‘contrepreneurs’.
You know who these people are. They stand out like a sore thumb, selling out speaking tours to promote their ‘get rich quick’ schemes – most of which are certainly scams in some way, shape or form. Every one of these business moguls has their own secret trick for near-instant success but, if you want to know their secret, you need to pay.
The contrepreneur industry in Winnett’s crosshairs is not new. For as long as coins have jingled in people’s pockets, these con artists have existed.
The snake oil salesmen of old who promised ‘miracle cures’ may be long gone, but their spirit, methods and tactics remain. In 2019, these modern-era snake oil salesmen wax lyrical about their rags to riches stories, plant over-enthusiastic actors in the crowd and present you with ‘last chance’ special offers to buy largely meaningless products.
The range of sectors and industries that contrepreneurs operate in varies greatly, encompassing e-commerce, property development and, more recently, cryptocurrency.
“What started off as a joke has kind of now snowballed and has ended up with us meeting Gary Vaynerchuk and generating interest from Netflix,” Winnett explains. “All I’m doing really is making honest observations about the industry.
“You know, it seems there’s not one person out there who isn’t a TEDx speaker or an Amazon ‘bestseller’ so I thought why don’t I just go and do those things and show people how easy it is and mock the whole industry.”
Winnett’s initial interest in this area came following the acquisition of a business he helped set up in 2015 with three friends. In 2017, when the business was sold, he took time out and began thinking of ways to invest. This period saw Winnet bounce back and forth with advisors who, despite their claims of incoming success, couldn’t really offer concrete proof.
“I started to look for ways to invest my money and that’s kind of what got me onto the idea of whether people selling investment opportunities and ‘how to get rich quick’ guides actually achieved success through these methods,” he explains.
“I went to see 15 different advisers who were telling me to put my money into this, or into that, or into the Cayman Islands, and I would always ask them the same question; show me what you’ve achieved, don’t tell me what I can achieve or what results I could get,” Winnet adds.
Not a single adviser he met was able to provide him with concrete answers or showcase the results thus far, he notes – and this is when the cogs starting turning.
Fooling the Masses
There are many reasons for the growing popularity and success of these contrepreneurs, but central to this he argues is the ability to tap into our inherent desire for gratification, riches and the high life.
“I’d say it’s because a lot of people are just lazy and stupid,” he jests. “You’re never going to run out of people looking for shortcuts to success.
“With half of these people, I think more fool you, because if you go to ten different property development conferences but don’t put anything into practice, then it’s ridiculous to think that you’re going to be successful.
“In fact, just by the nature of you being in that room I’d probably say that means you’re not going to be successful.”
Simply put, Winnett adds, how many successful people will be scrolling through Instagram or LinkedIn trying to look up how to make a million pounds in six months? On the face of things, contrepreneurs target two types of people, Winnet believes:
- Those who crave success without the pesky hard work that comes with it, and
- People with more money than sense who are looking to bolster that bank balance
The darker undercurrent to this industry, however, is that it isn’t just ‘lazy’ people as he jokingly implies. On many occasions, vulnerable people are being hooked in by the promise of fast-track success and this is an aspect of contrepreneurs’ tactics which deeply concerns him.
“It’s obvious to me sometimes [contrepreneur tactics] but there are other times where I can see how people could be fooled by this,” he concedes. “Although I said that some people are stupid or lazy, there’s also a group of people you realise that are actually vulnerable.
“The greedy people who are lazy, so to speak, you think well they’ve walked into it really. But there are also vulnerable people who fall victim to this and they are the real victims here, in my opinion.”
Social Media Frenzy
It is the social media-focused world we find ourselves in today – one which bombards us with images of celebrities and millionaires – that has led to the ongoing rise of the contrepreneur, he believes. Social media is perpetuating their success by providing a platform to promote themselves and establish a brand, while a lack of regulation in this area continues to enable them.
“It’s not right at all,” Winnet says. “I think the wording and marketing contribute to this and it’s a very unregulated industry. Some of these people’s intentions aren’t pure – they aren’t for you. There’s only one person they’re looking out for and that’s them.
“They’ve all got the same script, the same backstory and they all claim to be giving back to a group and to society, but they’re giving back to a group that has money and are desperate to escape the rat race.”
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Winnet has encountered people who have fallen prey to contrepreneurs in the past. Some examples, he believes, highlight the lack of regulation and poor ethical standards – with under-18s signing up for property development mentoring courses then failing to get a mortgage because they’re only 16 or 17.
“Should they have been allowed to be upsold a mentoring course despite being too young?” he asks. “Me, personally, I’d say that’s unethical. But then they would say ‘oh well they should rule themselves out’ and question why they are there.
“I think this is the whole thing; I think they hide behind the unregulated part of it and take advantage of the grey areas.”
A key weapon in the contrepreneur’s arsenal is the ‘best-selling author’ tag that many plaster all over social media. Contrapreneurs rely heavily on this to develop a reputation as a well-known and successful businessperson.
Indeed, glance through marketing material or websites for such individuals and this will be a common hook they use to draw people in – and it’s a very effective method.
“It’s a way to establish authority,” he explains. “I did a thing called the ‘Contrepreneur Forum’ where I broke down the six or seven steps that they use and establishing authority is one of those steps.”
Earlier this year, Winnet set out to prove just how worthless the ‘best-selling author’ tag has become and expose the methods of contrapreneurs the world over. By all means, he is now a best-selling author himself, and the story is far from complicated.
Achieving this was a quick and easy process, he says. Albeit short-lived. More or less all that is required is for an individual to set up an author profile, format their book and pages, submit the piece and click publish.
Although Amazon claims to carry out ‘manual checks’ to prevent people from gaming the system, in Winnet’s experience these checks were far from adequate. Only a few people actually purchased the book itself and the reviews were largely from his friends, associates and followers on social media.
“It says it’s going to go through a 72-hour manual check, which is obviously bullshit because 24-hours later our book was actually live,” he says. “One of the instructions in the book was ‘you are now part of this scam, leave a 5-star review’ and I think it was 86 reviews we had by the time it was pulled.”
The book, which was virtually devoid of text, was live for nearly two weeks until Amazon finally pulled it. This experiment highlighted two important points for Winnet; it showed the ease with which one could become a supposed best-selling author and establish authority, and also exposed the lacklustre processes Amazon has in place.
After all, this book could have contained anything, he jests. “This leads to bigger questions, in my opinion,” says Winnet. “You know, what if we had put indecent images in that book? What if we had put bomb-making instructions in there? I think that’s the reason Amazon banned it because it showed holes in the process and that people can exploit the system.”
Addressing the Issue
Winnet is keen to emphasise that his work exposing contrepreneurs isn’t down to having a chip on his shoulder. Nor is it because he thrives on being negative toward others online – that’s not what he’s in this for. Ultimately, this comes down to what he believes to be a moral and ethical debate over the promises made by business ‘moguls’ and the rewards they claim are achievable.
“I’ve got no problem with testimonials or scarcity tactics,” he insists. “I’ve got no problem with doing a time-limited offer because these are all real tactics elsewhere that work and that’s fine with me. What it comes down to, though, is authentic versus inauthentic and that’s my problem with it.
“Rather than have a plant in your crowd, have a real testimonial,” Winnet says. “Don’t just tell me about everyone that’s made millions, perhaps tell me about those people who didn’t get the right results. That’s the problem, all I want is a bit of clarity in the market.”
Long-term, this is an area that he believes must be regulated. Questions over how greater regulation and transparency can be achieved, however, he can’t quite fully answer. Regulation across several sectors is a difficult task.
“I think there definitely needs to be more transparency in this industry and rules around what they are allowed to say and not say,” he asserts. “I do think we are seeing changes, though, especially on Instagram with people doing paid promotions.
“In this case, I think there should be something similar or comparable to let people know what they’re dealing with.”