Carl is a former Cydcor Account Manager from Orlando who, after sharing details of his experience online, was threatened by his owner.
He shared with us his experiences with cult-like atmosphere meetings, the dangers that come with door to door selling, and ultimately what his reasons were for finally leaving the business.
HOW DID YOU APPLY FOR THE ROLE?
Despite my academic credentials, I had never worked anywhere full time, having worked part time with my parents in the family property management business, and then also worked part time for Kaplan as first an SAT tutor in college and then an LSAT tutor in law school.
I kept applying and applying, and I would not even get call backs. Then I read in a job advice board that entry level positions throw JD’s in the trash thinking;
1. It’s a joke
2. The person must be mentally ill, or
3. The most terrifying of all, the guy is some kind of labor organizer.
So I did what they told me to and knocked off the JD from Prestige U and the LSAT tutoring off my resume, leaving a void that was filled by claiming I worked for my parent’s real estate business, which was kind of true. I did however leave my master’s degree and my SAT tutoring experience.
I would just go on Indeed or Careerbuilder, apply to one hundred entry level jobs at one time every day. Marketing Consultants of Orlando must just have been one of them.
I received several emails from weird places that seemed fake. Pretty sure some of them were from this outfit. Certainly several were from other Cydcor places in Orlando. I remember one very well: Ample Opportunity Inc, because the name seemed so striking.
I remember very clearly that I received the phone call when I was by a Walgreens. I remember this because the voice said they wanted me to come in for an interview tomorrow, and I was so thrilled that FINALLY someone called me that it created a flashbulb memory. I remember it all almost exactly. The woman gave me some name, but I never met anyone there that called themselves by that name. (This is one of their tricks. They try different spiels and ads, and assign them to a different fake name to track which “bait” is most effective at trapping prey).
The woman on the phone told me they were thrilled about my managerial experience with my parents company, as well as my ability to train people. They then asked if I could come in the next day for an interview.
WHAT WAS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE BUSINESS BEFORE YOU ATTENDED THE INTERVIEW?
Next to none, other than it had to do with marketing. I looked them up and thought I had found the wrong website. The website was the typical Cydcor joke, something that looked like a middle schooler’s Angelfire page circa 2000. It was laden with meaningless corporate speak, the kind of nonsense people would say in ‘Office Space’, all “promoting synergy and maximizing lateral opportunities”. The phrase “Fortune 500” companies shows up a lot, I guess to grant legitimacy to their operations, though it only made me wonder how this operation could possibly work with Fortune 500 companies. All that kind of complete utter nonsense, not so much corporate speak as a rank parody of corporate speak.
I was raised under the ideal that there was no such thing as a demeaning job as long as it was paid, so the idea of a “scam job” was itself incomprehensible to me. A contradiction in terms. But I went in very confused, and with warning signs flashing, because it was clear to me even then that there was something fishy here. These people presented themselves in some particular way, that clearly could not possibly be what they actually did.
The website also mentioned “other offices”, yet it was clear that “Marketing Consultants of Orlando” referred to only this office, so even at this stage it was clear this was part of some larger organization. One of the things I made a point of asking during the interview was what the name of this organisation was. But Ashley Allen (the owner) sidestepped it with “we are one of hundreds around the nation” without mentioning names. In retrospect, that should have been my GET OUT NOW sign.
HOW DID THE INTERVIEW COMPARE TO OTHER INTERVIEWS YOU HAVE HAD?
The thing I remember most about the interview, in terms of what differentiated it from other interviews, is that it was NOT AT ALL ABOUT ME, it was about them. Ashley Allen didn’t ask me about my qualifications or my experience or anything. On every occasion that the conversation went back to my resume, it was only because I took the initiative to point it out. For example, she mentioned that the job involved training, and so I took the initiative to mention being an SAT tutor for Kaplan. But had I not taken that initiative she would not have looked at my resume at all, as far as I can tell.
So I got to the place, and I was confused because the sign at the office door said REGUS, NOT Marketing Consultants of Orlando. Turns out Regus is a company that rents out short term office space. Yeah, talk about the ocean of red flags.
I talked to the girl there, whom I assumed was the girl who spoke to me, but she says she didn’t. She basically seemed to have not worked there. She might have been a temp or even provided by Regus. I don’t really remember seeing her again. She pointed to where five or six other people were waiting. There was an older gentleman there, balding, maybe 50. He asked me if I knew anything about the company. I said no. He wasn’t hired of course.
I was led to the back by this chubby energetic guy who turned out to be the assistant manager. He did not introduce himself as such. He asked me how bad the traffic was as small talk, and then he told me that Ashley would conduct the interview. He never told me she was the owner. Ashley turns out to be this very short chipper blond woman. Pure energy. I would never have suspected she was the owner from the way she was dressed too.
Again, Ashley talks super fast. She started talking about how this was a start-up full of high energy people and they have so many people flying in from around the country to be part of this new start-up.
She asked me one question point blank: “What is the most effective form of marketing?”
I don’t know what I answered. But the correct answer was “Face to face, person to person”.
I don’t think I left with a good understanding of the job, other than that there would be marketing and face to face interaction. The entire interview was about how quickly everything was growing. The fact that I had a background in education was good because I would be useful as a trainer, and that was only mentioned because I brought it up. The whole interaction took less than 15 minutes.
I was then told that I had passed, and was to come back the next day for the second round of interviews. Since I knew there would be interviews the next day, I didn’t ask too many questions right then and there.
The next day I went back to the offices and was introduced to some guy whom I was told was my second round interviewer. He told me he was up here on a business trip, but failed to mention that he was paying for it. He took me to his car, which was this old Ford Explorer that reeked of cigarettes and was full of papers and clothes. I mean, for all I know, this guy was sleeping in it. He then took me to a Panera Bread across the street, for what would ultimately be the “opportunity” speech.
He told me that I would basically be selling door-to-door on the street. This was the first time this was mentioned. The way I understood it, and this may have been motivated by my misunderstanding that I was being brought on as a trainer, is I was going to sell door to door for at most two months, as a sort of experiential learning adventure, so I would know what kind of skill sets I would have to inculcate into the people I was training. Honestly, looking at it with 7 years of hindsight, I just don’t think I understood that this was a ‘harass people at home during dinnertime’ kind of opportunity. They knew I had a Masters, and this was a marketing gig right?
He told me to come back the next day for what I understood to be round 3.
Round 3 turned out to be the day of observation. That is, going out to the field. The Person who took me out was some girl. I don’t remember much, it was 7 years ago. I do remember she sold 6 ATT U-verse (the campaign we ran) packages, one being to a follow up from the day before. It seemed easy to me. She then told me to show up the next day for the final interview with the ‘owner’. It was made clear to me that this was a big deal. It was only when I showed up the next day that it was clear to me that this was Ashley.
Again I asked her what the ‘real name’ of the company was. I had noticed on the day of ‘O’ that the orders were placed from the agent’s phone, and that she identified herself as a member of a different company. The phrase “Cydcor Southeast” appeared often, though I had not caught the exact name at the time. She just said there were many offices, and brushed it aside. That should have been my leave signal.
DID YOU NOTICE A CHANGE IN YOUR MANAGER’S BEHAVIOUR BETWEEN YOUR INTERVIEW AND YOUR TIME AS A REP?
Yeah, but I think that is reflected in later answers better than in isolation. I will say that my lead made it clear that there were discussions behind the scenes with the leads only, when the real Ashley would slip out. He kind of let himself slip this out during one of my two retrainings.
WHAT WAS YOUR DAILY ROUTINE, IN OFFICE AND IN THE FIELD?
Again, it has been 7 years so I don’t remember the exact hours. I had to come in like a full hour before the atmosphere meetings, so that my lead could have coffee with me and the other members of the team. My lead would spend an hour having a “meeting of the minds” with Ashley and other leaders. I suppose this was a pep talk of sorts? If I hadn’t sold the previous day, and I didn’t sell most days, my lead would spend like 30 minutes going over the whole sales method, roleplay style, with me. Then you go in at one o’clock for 45 minutes of atmosphere. My lead was more committed than most, and I think a genuinely good kid. Yes, a kid. I’ll get to that later.
Then it was off to the field. You were basically supposed to have eaten by then, but I never had. I ate the same thing for breakfast/lunch every day; 2 bean burritos and a “one dollar any size” extra large coffee, because it was 3 bucks and all I could afford. Then I would drive to the other end of Orlando, of which six of the eight weeks involved heading to the Pine Hills section; the most high crime area of Orlando. I’d get there at about three, and I’d have six hours to knock on 135 doors, then go back at 9 so everyone rings the bell at 10, then you get out at ten 45 then you get home at 11, You have one uniform, which is soaked and stinks, so you need to wash it. I’d wash it every night then collapse into bed at 1 am, to then wake up again at 7 am.
My lead took a shine to me, and retrained me twice. It was bizarre, because he was literally 19 and I was 27 going on 28 with a law degree and a master’s before that. Not that he knew that, I knew it was best that he not learn that. He had also apparently moved of his own volition, and not as a part of a previous office that moved down. There were other people in the office that had moved down with Ashley to escape her scandal-plagued previous office in Pittsburgh; MMI/Moxie Marketing. But he moved expressly to work in this “Great opportunity Ashley gave him.” That was how he spoke of it, The “Great opportunity that Ashley gave him”. It was very much the same face and behaviour you see when you meet someone who has “found God” in his new sect. His extreme gratitude to Ashley, that he kept expressing to me genuinely whenever we were alone, was my first hint that there was something cultish here.
WHAT WAS THE COMPANY’S PAY STRUCTURE? DID IT DIFFER TO HOW THEY EXPLAINED IT TO YOU?
Pure commission. You sign up the customers to the “Triple Hitter” ATT U-verse package (internet + tv + landline, cause you know everyone wants landlines in the 2010s) and you got a hundred dollars, assuming they actually went through with the hook-up several weeks later. You see zero money until then. Then there were lower payments for lower packages, down to 20 dollars.
I was told I could take one of 2 options. A salary of 400 or 500 dollars a week, or commission where I could make so much more.
I’m pretty sure that if I had asked for the first one, they would have told me that I had not passed the background check, or gotten rid of me somehow. NO ONE ever got anything but commission. In fact, everything I know about the business tells me that it was basically insolvent, and there was NO WAY they could ever offer the first option.
Then they make you fill the government form that makes you a subcontractor. In other words, a form which declares that you ARE NOT LEGALLY an employee of “Marketing Consultants of Orlando.”, not that they explain that to you. Then they give you your tax form. My assistant manager told me “a good way to get the most money from your sales is to put a number like 3 or 4 here so they take out less tax….” in other words he wanted me to commit TAX FRAUD. What percentage of people did this and understood that at the end of the tax year they should have “realized” their “mistake” and given all that tax money to the IRS in one lump sum. I am going to go with NO ONE. So not only do they basically push their employees into bankruptcy, they also expose them to tax liabilities and IRS collection efforts. Whee!!!
WAS THERE MUCH DISSIDENCE BETWEEN YOUR FELLOW REPS AND MANAGEMENT?
Not in front of the management no. However, my lead made it clear that there was basically no dissent allowed because the positive mindset was all important. People “disappeared” all the time. Sometimes it was obvious they toasted, but it was understood in an almost unspoken manner that some were let go because of their “bad” attitude.
I do remember one incident very clearly where I was accosted in the parking lot by a fellow employee after bells one evening. She waited until there were no superiors around, and basically asked me to split my territory with her because her territory was dry and she needed to be able to make a sale. I have no idea if that would have even been allowed, but I remember it as a great example of how desperate the financial situation was for most representatives, and how they felt the need to go against management, if only out of sight in the parking lot.
WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT SITUATION YOU HAD FOUND YOURSELF IN WHEN WORKING IN THE FIELD?
Jeez. Once to get into a gated community my lead (who was retraining me) and I vaulted over a low wall and ended up in someone’s backyard before bolting for the street. What if there was a rottweiler back there? Or worse the homeowner with a gun? In Florida we have the Castle Doctrine, which means that a homeowner who sees two young men vaulting over the wall and landing in his backyard could have justifiably shot us as self defence.
There were also the two occasions in which someone actually opened the door holding a handgun in their hand. Once there was a guy who had already told me to get lost, but I STILL had to knock on their door again in order to “triple loop”. He made sure that I saw the gun and told me not to come back. The other time was in Pine Hills (the most dangerous neighborhood in Orlando). I knocked on one door a little too insistently, and a guy came out with a handgun. He put it away the moment he saw me and apologized, “Shit, you startled me” he said.I’m wIlling to bet money he was in the drug business and thought I was someone sent by a rival to cap him.
WHAT EXAMPLES OF CREEPY, MOST CULT LIKE BEHAVIOUR DID YOU OBSERVE?
Well obviously everything about the atmosphere meetings. But the thing that creeped me out the most was the control of language. Anyone who has read Orwell’s “1984” is familiar with the idea of totalitarian groups reducing the vocabulary of the group to stop them from being able to express ideas contrary to those supported by the leadership of the group. At Marketing Consultants of Orlando you are forbidden from EVER using ANY kind of language that expresses doubt. Every statement must be a statement of ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY, to an extent that is in fact empirically and epistemologically impossible, and if you fail you WILL be corrected in public and cut down if necessary.
REP: “I plan on signing up five people today.”
Management : “Wrong, you WILL sign up five people today.”
REP: “Hopefully I will be in leadership next month”
MANAGEMENT : “WRONG, you WILL be in leadership next month.”
Every day before heading out to the field every person in the office, EVERY person, had to list their GOALS by shouting them out loud while everyone chanted “goaaaalls!”, and they had to be in the above format of ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY. Everything was “I WILL”. I remember that irritating me to no end, being by nature a skeptical cautious person allergic to such proclamations.
I also remember being skeeved out when I was invited to a party at Ashley’s house, and it turned out that Ashley lived there with her mother and AT LEAST SIX of her employees. That definitely struck me as very cult-like.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER OF THE ATMOSPHERE MEETINGS YOU TOOK PART IN? COULD YOU DESCRIBE THEM FOR PEOPLE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE CONCEPT?
You go into a room with no chairs, and you have to stand the whole time. More accurately you hop, skip, and dance the whole time, you are in CONSTANT motion. One of the more recent hires, likely someone who sold well the last day, gets to give a lecture. This is treated as an honour.
Said lecture always involves repeating the sales mantras, and reassuring everyone that the key to success is to slavishly adhere to the mantras and that if something goes wrong you need to believe and apply the mantras.
FOR HOW LONG DID YOU ASPIRE TO BECOME AN OWNER?
Never! Not once, which was probably the biggest source of conflict between myself, Ashley Allen, and the rest of the management. I did not intend to make this my career. In MCO at the time the tiers went sales rep, account exec, team lead, corporate trainer, assistant manager, your own office. I hadn’t heard of this corporate trainer role *within* an office at any other Cydcor location. But that is the one I wanted, as I wanted to eventually move into education. The fact that I did not dream of running my own office did not sit well with upper management.
DURING YOUR EIGHT WEEKS AS A REP, WERE YOU TOLD THAT YOU MADE ANY PROGRESS TOWARDS BECOMING AN OWNER?
Yes, in the sense that I was always JUST ON THE CUSP of making it to leadership, only to falter the next week.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU DID DIFFERENTLY DURING YOUR TIME THERE?
Apart from walking out during the initial interviews? I wish I had done research and created a dossier on Cydcor, printed out 20 copies, chosen a day to retire, walked into atmosphere holding the 20 copies, handed one out to every person there, and then walked out.
WHAT DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO FINALLY LEAVE?
Firstly, they kept insisting that I take “business trips” to places like Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Tallahassee, because everyone above me insisted this would really boost my numbers. It became clear that it was six to a room AND I HAD TO PAY ALL MY EXPENSES. Indeed, the fact that we were being packed like sardines into some flea-bitten roach motel was sold to us as a benefit, because we would not have to spend so much on rooms, which again each employee had to pay for.
The second factor came to me a week before I finally quit. Going home after “bells” I noticed a Burger King had a sale of Whopper Jr’s for 99 cents.
I drove up and bought one. Biting it into it, I realized it was the first time I had tasted meat in at least two weeks. I was SO BROKE that I could not afford meat, not at Taco Bell, not at Burger King, not anywhere. I cried while eating that burger.
Third thing, no one who works at Cydcor can afford to fill their gas tanks. The day after the burger incident I ran out of gas on the on ramp as I turned onto the freeway heading to work. I had to push the car down the ramp against traffic until it hit grass, then I walked with a gas canister to the nearest gas station. I Paid for two gallons of gas with whatever coins I had, then managed to drive to work to get chewed out for being late.
Fourth was the anger. I started to notice I was always angry. While washing my one allocated uniform shirt every night, I would fantasize about getting into fistfights with strangers, a fantasy I have never had before or since. Once I noticed that in myself, I started noticing it in others. If I mentioned that a would-be-client had told me to get lost or whatever, the instant joke answer back was always “why didn’t you kick them in the face?”. This was from MANAGEMENT mind. Now we all knew this was a joke and not a recommended course of action, but the fact that everyone wanted to physically assault our customers when they did not buy our BS was a big warning sign that subconsciously we all knew this was nonsense, and that we resented the universe over it.
Fifth and finally, my body made the decision for me. Ten+ miles of walking six days a week plus poor nutrition = perpetually swollen ankles. I woke up one morning and the moment I got out of bed my ankles BUCKLED under me, sending me crashing to the floor.
I wasn’t hurt, but I literally laid on that floor crying for at least an hour. That was it. I never called or anything. Just vanished.
A month later I finally rolled up to hand in my one shirt and collect my last check. By that time I had published my BlogSpot. Ashley had deduced that it must have been written by me. I think the vocabulary tipped her off, all of the other people in the office apart from Ashley and myself lacked college educations. I mean the average (median) age was maybe 20 or 21.
She offered to give me a hundred dollars CASH if I took it down. I told her I did not write that blog. She then turned to threatening me, telling me she had hired a private eye (LOL, just LOL) to track down the IP and come after the author for libel and slander and what not.
Just two problems there Ashley. I went to law school (something Ashley is just finding out about as she reads this, because she WILL read this), so I know that truth is a defense against libel and slander, and every word I wrote was true.
Secondly, I used the Wi-Fi at the UCF libraries down the street to actually POST the BlogSpot, so in the event that the imaginary PI actually gave her an IP address, it would have narrowed the suspect to a pool of about 70,000.
So I just looked at her and said something like “I wish you well in your investigation. Now where is my check?”.
DID YOU KEEP IN TOUCH WITH ANYONE IN THE OFFICE ONCE YOU HAD LEFT?
WHAT RESEARCH DID YOU UNDERTAKE AFTER LEAVING?
Everything you see at http://marketingconsultantsoforlando.blogspot.com/
Found out the history of Cydcor/Smart Circle/Credico. All the stuff you covered extensively.
As for Ashley Allen, she had previously run an outfit in Pittsburgh PA called “Moxie Marketing” which then changed its name to “MMI Marketing” to avoid being Googled. It turns out that outfit closed because the State of Pennsylvania was launching an investigation into it. So you know, cool…
Of course Marketing Consultants of Orlando has also changed its name since then. It now calls itself “MCO ORLANDO”, but it is the same nonsense run by the same Ashley Allen.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SALES REPS STILL UNSURE ABOUT LEAVING?
THIS IS LEGALIZED SLAVERY, AND THE DAY WILL SOON COME WHEN THIS MODEL OF EXPLOITATION BECOMES ILLEGAL. MARK MY WORDS. STUDY ALL OF THE STORIES ON THIS SITE.
I also recommend the YouTube channel: Precision Independent Media. Precision has made a documentary on Small Circle, and they have dozens of in depth interviews with fellow survivors. Watch as many of these as you need in order to have the courage to get out!
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