How to start a Ponzi Scheme

A Charismatic Leader

First of all, your company needs a leader. Duh. Every great venture needs one. But what you are about to start is a bit special. You are about to spread lies and scam people, yet get people to trust you. You need to convince and inspire your clients. As genius salesman Jordan Belfort (aka the Wolf of Wall Street) describes in his straight-line system there are 3 components that people need to have in mind for a successful sale:

  1. They trust and connect with you
  2. They Trust your company

A “Product”

A quick recap on what is a Ponzi scheme:

  • Get experts to endorse you (real or fake) that know the secrets of Wall Street. Get their name on your product. Have them be on the board. PhDs, MBAs, CFAs, ex-MBBs are your best friends to help build trust in your product.
  • Buzzwords buzzwords buzzwords. Nowadays you can get away with almost anything if you master the tech lingo.

Gullible Inner Circle

Next step is to build a team. There are two schools of thought here. Either you gang up and conspire together to scam as many people as you can. Or, you choose the way of the snake and decide to keep the secret of the investment to yourself.

Dubious Marketing Practices

Once the team is solidly seduced by the idea of getting rich while helping the financially stupid, let’s get them to work. We want to spread the word and look as serious and trustworthy as possible.

Mystery/Controversy

Nowadays we only speak about startups that raise money. Obviously, it’s going to be very difficult to find a serious investor willing to put money in your empty shell. It does not mean that you can’t spread rumours about potentially interested parties. When you do this, make sure to spread many rumours at the same time. Make sure to be as vague as possible about outcomes and timelines. Everything should happen next summer, before Christmas, in a few months, etc..

  • An incubator in Amsterdam has heard of you and are wanting to take stakes in your startup.
  • You’re pitching a guy from Y combinator in SF
  • Someone from Paypal (or N26, Revolut, Klarna) absolutely wants to embed this in their business.
  • An early investor in Netflix is looking into reconverting in fintech and has asked you to go to NYC to discuss opportunities.

Market Segmentation

You’ve guessed that regular markets might in the developing world be a hard sell. Even though you might be able to find thirsty gullible investors, regulators might get ahead of you and shut you down before you could even start playing the game for real.

Legal comes later

After you start operating your business or at least started making noise people will start to ask questions. Thanks to your successful market segmentation your target will buy it all and won’t want to know how your promises can be real.

Conclusion

This is a very dangerous game. It usually never ends well. My advice would be this: Don’t gamble the money too much. I think the 101 rule of drug dealing applies here. “Don’t use the crap you’re selling”.
You, above anyone else, should know that if returns seem too good to be true, they probably are.

Waïna Landauro is driven to work for good, using technology through business. IESE MBA class of 2020, Google internship summer 2019, & startup adviser for ASICS

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