Exceptional Businesswoman or Starving E-commerce “Guru”?
Reputable business and thought leaders of all types give out their advice regularly, as paid or free consultants, and for various reasons (financial, personal, etc.) they are sought out for their particular expertise and foresight. They may sell books and give speeches for profit, but it’s likely not their first or primary source of wealth and popularity. On the other hand, marketing and e-commerce gurus are often self-proclaimed experts who grossly overstate their abilities and are obsessively marketing themselves as successful, using luxurious homes and cars materialistically, to push their followers into a particular investment or business scheme.
The media has been very keen to show New Zealand what a successful woman looks like through Iyia Liu and her press releases, so how does her business sense really hold up? Ms Liu technically started selling her business growth course and consulting services about two years ago, but the Herald’s continued interest in writing puff pieces for Iyia and her students (despite multiple concerns regarding the accuracy of her entrepreneurial feats) has given me enough motivation to investigate further. I’d hate to rip into Aimee Shaw of the Herald, but her reporting isn’t in the consumer’s best interest (e.g. Defunct Cryptocurrency Scam Sell My Good).
In a strategy that appears eerily close to Sam Ovens or Alex Becker’s infamous sales funnels, Iyia Liu aims to teach her students how to emulate the supposed success of Waist Trainer and Luxe Fitness, using Shopify and Instagram influencer marketing. The course itself seems to be a staple item that is promoted to fans of Ms Liu and members of her networking venture, Girls in Business.
Over the past several years, e-commerce has fuelled numerous “insta-famous” rags to riches stories, creating a lot of hype around the marketing strategies that Iyia used in order to grow her own brands. One search on YouTube reveals a stream of videos by marketers like Alex Becker, Gretta Rose Van Riel, and Dan Lok trying to sell their motivational backstories, along with upselling fans to purchase thousands of dollars worth of online courses and seminars. However, as we have extensively seen with Ms Liu, the legitimacy of these backstories and the results of these courses are questionable at best.
Most e-commerce “gurus” do not make most or any of their money by selling physical products. Instead, they sell digital courses that can make a large profit passively. Lessons often contain ramblings about “The Hustle”, which represents the entrepreneurial drive to succeed; presenting textbook business and personal management tips that are often marketed as the secrets to success.
With the ability to easily manipulate Google results and buy positive reviews frivolously, gurus often slip under the radar and sneak themselves into the Forbes list, even with a falsely reported net worth.
Questions everyone must ask before buying from e-commerce gurus:
- What is the profit margin (not ambiguous sales figures) of “successful” students?
- Why is someone selling a course and not participating in the market themselves?
The reality is that anyone buying Shopify courses will find themselves in some of the most saturated markets, such as beauty and fitness; These businesses may also make a very marginal profit from their large initial investments once taxes and influencer marketing costs are realised.
Interestingly, financial and product failure is often dismissed as expected teething issues, because somehow the gurus can do no wrong with their advice, at least according to fans. And for every example of a failure that comes out, there is a success story that is readily available for use in order to immediately discredit the critics.
I had a look into Iyia Liu’s “How to Start, Run & Grow Your E-Commerce Business” modules, and while there were some helpful pointers to take home, it’s sorely over-valued for what is presented. The provided lessons sound and read more like a dictionary than a how-to guide and explain only a limited number of ambiguous examples of how to apply what is being taught. In other words, the course isn’t very hands on. Some might find success in using her course as a starting point, but it might come down to other factors such as luck and a decent amount of starting initial capital for trial and error.
So instead of turning $6,000 into $3.5 million that Waist Trainer purportedly achieved, Iyia’s example students are now investing $16,000 or more of their own money towards high-risk startups in an attempt to achieve a turnover of at least $1 million. Not to mention, they have to navigate the unforgiving Chinese supplier market, which has been known to push lower quality products and higher prices onto non-Chinese importers.
Important note: Keep in mind, Iyia and her business partner only put a few thousand into Celebration Box and expect $2 million in turnover. An initial investment of $16,000 is a lot, and in the case of Tribe Skincare, $40,000 is almost 7 or 8 times more than the $6,000 Iyia reportedly had initially invested in Waist Trainer. Barriers to entry are seemingly higher and there’s very little transparency behind how much these businesses are spending to obtain those sales volumes on marketing, product labelling, supplies, GST, and more. For anyone starting out in this business, be careful and don’t lose your life savings to people that are selling you dreams!
Another point to make is that Iyia openly encourages business owners to remove reviews if they can’t achieve 5-star ratings when they start out and to essentially lie to customers about how popular a brand is through misleading sales figures. I’m sure this advice continues to work amicably with Celebration Box (which apparently couldn’t cover all of its costs), as it seems that instead of promoting genuine businesses, she is teaching people how to lie to themselves and their friends.
The problem here is not about paying $395 for an overpriced course; In fact, taking a paper in university can be just as underwhelming. But people have to realise that e-commerce gurus are continually misrepresenting themselves and a prospective entrepreneur’s potential success. They almost always set up their courses and correlating support groups on Facebook so that students will eventually buy more courses and consulting services later on, even if they’re just rehashed compilations of free Shopify tutorials on YouTube. And in the case of Sam Ovens, a student that makes millions in turnover is heavily encouraged to fork over tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend one of his elite mastermind courses. If Iyia’s offer to provide help for no extra charge lives up to its promise, it may be valuable for some people to work with her. But with the way her numerous other ventures have performed, it’s uncertain if her advice is worth more than a free search on Google.
On top of the several problems that seem to persist with her businesses and the lack of progress on Iyia’s first home in Coatesville after several months, it appears that even Iyia hasn’t yet found her own keys to success.