Entrepreneurial visionary, benefactor and savior of broken dreams? Or mastermind of a grand pyramid scheme of continental proportions?
Our November story on Vijay Eswaran (“Selling a Better Life”), who makes the Malaysian Rich List for the first time, at No. 25, prompted an outpouring of reader reaction. It’s drawn more than 35,000 views online and 167 comments, and nearly 5,000 people had shared it on Facebook as of February 22. Most of the feedback was full of praise. Some of it was downright slanderous, not only toward his multilevel marketing company, Qnet, but also toward FORBES ASIA.
“Dato Vijay is one of the most incredible, successful entrepreneurs in the world,” according to Mohamed Abdullah, posting a comment. Egidius Mwabuki said, “Unbelievable!! … with this, business life has changed. I have started to dream again and my dreams have begun to come true one after another.” Prashant Sharma offers, “Big thanks to Dato Vijay” and compares Eswaran with Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the like. Qnet executives logged on as well; so did a number of academics in a debate on whether any such company that enlists an army of independent representatives to pitch its products to friends and neighbors can be a legitimate business.
Others had a darker view. Pawan Sood said, “One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out why Qnet is a scam.” Juliet Thomsen goes further: “Wow!!! FORBES promoting a fraud; I guess true journalism is indeed dead.” And Ashu Dutt claims, “Qnet openly uses your article to mislead people on their credibility. … Hundreds of homes have been destroyed.” He didn’t provide evidence.
Sucheta Dalal, an Indian financial journalist who crusades against scams and promotes workshops on how to avoid them, made the most of our story, flatly calling Eswaran’s company a fraud in her Moneylife blog. In a Twitter post she laments, “It’s pathetic how Qnet is leading people to financial ruin.” And in another she suggested we had been bribed to run the story. We offered her a chance to make her case by debating Eswaran’s chief lawyer online. She ridiculed the offer and refused to accept it.