The promise of free luxury cars, a lax work schedule and a six-figure salary has large numbers of Texas State students signing up to sell Vemma energy drinks.
Vemma, an Arizona-based energy drink company, utilizes social media and word-of-mouth marketing to spread awareness of its non-FDA-approved drinks and to recruit more salespeople, said brand partner Ashley Combs. Potential brand partners are required to make initial one-time purchases of the caffeinated drink Verve, available in $500 and $1,000 packages, Combs said.
There is the risk brand partners may not make a profit or earn back the money they invest in the company, but some students say Vemma is a surefire ticket to financial freedom.
Combs, nutrition senior, first heard about Vemma through friends Allison McCort, chemistry sophomore, and Colt Moncla, theatre freshman. Combs said Moncla made $1,400 in his first two days with the company.
“(Moncla) is just a freshman, and he made a ton of money. So, I thought I could too,” Combs said.
Moncla said he initially thought Vemma was a “huge scam,” but things started to make sense the longer they stayed with the company.
“If things makes sense, then they make dollars,” Moncla said.
Brand partners advertise the product through their social media sites and in person. The drinks are not sold commercially and are only available for purchase through the websites of brand partners. Vemma makes its money through the profits from these websites. Brand ambassadors get a small cut of the profit and can earn money by recruiting other people to work for the company.
According to Vemma’s website, the success or failure of each individual is dependent on their own efforts. McKinsey Flores, nutrition senior, is a Vemma brand partner. Flores made an initial $500 purchase of Verve when she first joined the company and then bought another $1,000 package for her mother. Flores made the purchases three weeks ago and has earned $1,250 back so far.
Combs said she initially invested $500 in the product but only made $40 her first month with the company. Combs spent a few more weeks of struggling to make back the money she invested, then set her sights on recruitment rather than sales. Combs found success in enrolling others in Vemma’s sales programs and is now Texas State’s best-selling female brand partner.
Vemma offers several incentives to encourage people to sign up to be brand partners. Combs said Vemma will pay brand partners $400 per month toward a payment on a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Mini Cooper if they reach a high sale level. According to the company’s website, brand partners can pick between a black, orange, white or silver exterior and their optional choice of Vemma or Verve branding.
Texas State students are often drawn into the business venture through friends, with interest meetings held in communal areas such as apartment clubhouses and library study rooms.
One such meeting was held March 18 at The Retreat student housing complex’s clubhouse. The meeting featured one of Vemma’s most vocal and successful partners, Arizona State University graduate Alex Morton.
Morton utilized strong rhetoric throughout his speech in order to attract new members. Morton compared people who make an average income to “slaves” and urged the crowd to “not listen to business professors making $50,000” and their ideas on success. Rather, they could join Vemma and potentially make millions.
Morton said the word “job” is an acronym for “journey of the broke.”
The 58 attendees raised smartphones and iPads to capture Morton’s speech. Morton said he broke free of society’s norm of a nine-to-five job, ending the speech with a declaration of “I’m not going to be told when I can and can’t urinate.”
Kirk Walden, adjunct lecturer at the McCoy College of Business Administration, said the prosperity of companies like Vemma is found not in the success stories—but in the failures.
Walden said successful outliers do exist in multi-level marketing programs, but the majority of brand partners will not be successful in the company or even make their money back.
“For students, $500 or $1,000 is a large portion of their income. I would urge them to be very careful before getting into something like this,” Walden said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the fervor of multi-level marketing programs.”
Walden said Vemma follows in the footsteps of similarly designed businesses such as Herbalife, a controversial vitamin company. Potential recruits read about the success of a few salespeople and then waste money in an effort to do the same, he said.
“I recommend a healthy amount of skepticism,” Walden said.