MMM is trending here in Nigeria. Every week, I get an average of five invites across all social media platforms to join the MMM ‘movement’. In the unlikely event that you have not heard of MMM having just emerged from a cave to miraculously run into this article, MMM is a platform which in summary, claims to operate a mutual aid programme requesting participants to provide money to others and promising returns of 30% of such monies after 30 days. It is a global platform touted as a Ponzi scheme (as it obviously is) and reported to be operated by Sergei Mavrodi, a Russian jailed in his home country in the late 1990’s when his earliest schemes ripped Russians millions of Dollars and led to many suicides. The Nigerian adaptation is an ingenious creation displaying an understanding of the culture, beliefs and thought processes of the typical Nigerian. Its model stands out as a lesson for all entrepreneurs looking to push their products into new markets.
Apart from these lessons however I have had the opportunity to disuss the platform with colleagues and there seems to be no debate on the status of the platform as a Ponzi Scheme as it does tick all boxes. See http://nairametrics.com/how-to-know-if-its-a-ponzi-scheme/ for hints. Regardless of its status as a Ponzi scheme however, I still get people telling me how it is still a useful source of quick cash before it crashes. For the following reasons, this position as pragmatic as it sounds does not quite resonate with me and I believe with a lot of entrepreneurs out there trying to build a product.
Promise of big money consistently with little work. Entrepreneurs know that there are of course things that you can do to make money without having to work all that hard. But, it’s just not possible for everyone who joins a business to be able to make so much returns without working. Making money takes work. Entrepreneurs also know that NO business on earth can consistently provide such returns. Businesses have ups and downs simple.
The Principle of value. Real entrepreneurs understand that real wealth is generated from the creation of value and not from instantaneous windfalls resulting from concocted trade-offs. They understand the paradox of the lottery winner…money minus value does not equal wealth.
Understanding Money. Real entrepreneurs understand that money is really not valuable in itself. It is valuable because people agree to make it a medium of exchange for REAL value. Its utility lies in its use as current (hence currency) for the movement of value thereby obviating barter. A system running merely on the exchange of money for profit is nothing but a SCAM. Participating in a system like that is lending credence to the scam.
Not an investment: I have heard people liken the MMM system to investing in shares. The comparison is laughable. When an investor buys shares, he is taking real risks to contribute into an entity that undertakes in the creation of some sort of value. Investing in shares takes careful thought, analysis, and assessment. He does not expect consistent returns. By buying shares, the investor expresses faith in the vision of the company and faith in the management to execute the vision. It takes knowledge to avoid serious burns. So NO, MMM is not comparable to investing in shares.
The issue of focus: Entrepreneurs are busy trying to create and perfect systems, solve problems, devise innovative answers to challenges. They are going to look at a get rich quick scheme as mere distraction in terms of the time and resources to be expended into chasing a venture that provides no ultimate value addition to themselves or the society.
The Moral question: If you are sure that a system is a scam propped up by the resources of naïve but trusting participants being manipulated by experienced “confidence men” with an uncanny understanding of human greed and a history of taking advantage of it, would you still support it with your money?
The understanding of risk: Proponents of the scheme tout the cliché; “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” because it paints the contrarian picture of a daring risk taker. Entrepreneurs however understand the difference between gambling and enlightened risk taking. A gamble is taken without understanding or control of the variables which are to determine the desired outcome. Investing involves enlightened risk taking which entails an understanding of key variables and a reasonable grasp of possible eventualities. If I commit to give my money to a scheme over which I have no control, because of returns of which I have no sight, I am not investing, I am gambling.
The times are hard. Nigerians are seeing the MMM scheme as some sort of christ which will save us from the harsh realities of the current recession despite the obvious signs that it is not. To all those who cannot resist the temptation of quick easy cash, please proceed with extreme caution. To all those who do not participate in the scheme as a matter of principle, know that you are not alone.
Enyioma Madubuike is a lawyer, writer and entrepreneur. Join him on Twitter where he engages in public interest discussions @philkingenyioma