A Scoop on the Online Coaching Industry & Fake Gurus

Bakul Badwal
11 min readFeb 19, 2023


Some online marketing gurus have lost the plot.

FYI — For anyone scammed by gurus and predatory online marketers, file an FTC report. The FTC is actively pursuing online coaching scams bizop scams.

This has taken years to truly realize. But it’s VERY important to share because many young professionals continue to fall for online gurus.

And I am in a unique position to have an inside scoop on some of the biggest “online coaching” businesses in the marketing industry.

The truth is that some of them are a quasi MLM but slightly more sophisticated version of it so it’s not as plainly obvious.

And MASSIVE amounts of educated people that could otherwise go on to do much bigger things in the real world are being instead on social media being brainwashed by marketers into joining these MLM scams.

Think gurus and their courses.

I feel victim to a bit of this when much younger fresh out of college — but I was able to see it for what it really is after a few years.

There are those however who are legitimate, have a great product, and real world business experience before they turned to coaching others.

But they are hard to differentiate, and this article is not about the legitimate ones.

The legitimate ones are not usually the loud ones coaching others or flexing on IG anyway — they’re more so the DOERS — this is not about them.

Though they can also be coaching and consulting — just because someone is a “consultant” or coach doesn’t mean they’re an MLM scammer.

It’s a grey area and not super black and white.

But here’s how to suss out the difference below.

I was in this industry as a naive client — I built a boutique online fitness coaching business in 2016 after I graduated from a top public university.

I was looking for a way to make uncapped online, be able to travel, be a digital nomad, and have freedom.

I was sharp, had a science degree, had extraordinary leadership experience and extracurriculars, and now looking back I could have recruited for a real industry (I did not want to go to med school).

But I was a naive college graduate not knowing much about the real world of business and work. I wasn’t a business or finance major either so maybe a bit more naive.

I knew better than to fall for obvious scammy ads and claims of income— and my experiences were still VERY beneficial for building real world street smarts and knowledge of marketing and sales at an SMB level.

Now I was doing a B2C offer so it was not an MLM — it was a high end fitness coaching program and I was qualified to do it, and I gave clients GREAT results and build a stellar product.

But I fell for the scammers in this industry at first. The ones posing as mentors.

In total I’ve spent at least 40K on “coaches” and another 50K or so in ads in that business alone during my time in this “industry.”

And sure I made some ok money (nothing to write home about — not millions — many of the non experts who make millions in online marketing do it through coaching coaches to coach coaches all the way down).

The Dark Truth

You know who they are — they are the loud people on Instagram posting their paydays of 20K, 50K, boasting about their clients having record months.

Maybe the paydays are real, maybe they’re not.

For some, they are. But that alone is impossible to tell legitimacy from.

Some are a bit less showy and don’t do the luxury car route.

Some are more legitimate and focus on client/product results and do not oversell their marketing.

I even did sales for some top guys who I still believe were great and we were truly changing the world and helping people make money and impact their own clients.

And the ones whose companies I joined were all more legit than most so this isn’t about them.

To be fair — not every online B2B marketing coach is a bad idea.

At the end of the day it’s just another business model — one of providing advice and guidance — and it is a free market— but it’s small business, unregulated, and many do see some value.

Alex Hormozi, one of the most successful from the online marketing industry has had a legitimate exit.

His company Gym Launch was acquired for over 40M from a private equity firm American Pacific Group.

His product was NOT an MLM. He is legit as far as I can tell.

Which makes it hard to see the crap from what’s not.

But overall — a fair amount of the industry has become a cesspool of naive, uneducated people “coaching” other naive people.

Blind leading the blind.

All in all I spent 25k on my first coach who actually was a great leader and I learned a ton.

My gripe is when it’s a 20 year old coaching business for 25K or other high ticket — what skills can you possibly have to coach someone?

And many people doing this actually never produced results in their own business before coaching others — this is something important to verify.

My Credentials & Qualifications

I made just over 80K in gross sales in my fitness coaching business back in those days, with extremely high customer satisfaction and reviews. It can be proven with screenshots and audited merchant processing statements.

I then worked as employee for some of the biggest guys out there for a few years, so have seen inside how many of these businesses operate.

Let’s just say there is a big difference between consulting in the professional services world (big firms like McKinsey) vs. this sort of legit SMB small business consulting vs online guru “coaching” (what this is about).

Now I’m not saying that corporate consulting is all roses either — I’m sure there’s plenty of drawbacks there and dubious results.

And many argue that it is also a circlejerk in a way.

Bust many of these online coaches and YouTubers are LYING about the money they make. And that’s a problem because that’s their primary marketing angle.

They want to convince you to buy their service so you too can be just like them and “have it all.” — and maybe you can. But you’ll too end up having to coach others to coach others if you go a certain route.

Advice for 20 Somethings

This is the issue working in a “company” run by 20 somethings with little real world business experience who flaunt on IG.

It’s the wantrepreneur generation.

Many have big egos because they made a few million selling dreams to people so they think they are big shots in the infinite game of business — but compared to real world entrepreneurs who do not flaunt on IG…

Some arean MLM with a different name and slightly different grift — the EASY way to make money in the online COACHING industry is to coach others to coach others — B2B.

Now keep in mind of course that not every B2B coach is a scammer. It all depends on their product, their offer, and if they actually deliver on their marketing promise.

Many of them do not. But the ones that do — if the user finds value commensurate with the amount paid — then that’s great and not an issue.

It’s really just paying money to someone for guidance to achieve X result that they have done themselves (but what if they have not done so and are still coaching?).

Many barely have a real product, oversell, and underdeliver. Using the same webinar tactics and high ticket sales scripts to hard close and manipulate people.

And these days some of them also made financing companies to allow the people buying in to take on debt to finance these programs.

It’s not an outright scam but it’s somewhat of a pyramid scheme.

My other gripe is that a lot of them have the audacity to brainwash young people to tell them to drop out of college and buy their “setting” or “high ticket closing” course.

Why would you want to set appointments for other high ticket coaches?

What is the long term trajectory of this sort of work?

Why would you give up having a professional start in a real company and set your career up properly, and instead coach others when you have real world skills and experience?

Who decided some 20 year old mindset coach’s program is 20K?

Now if we’re talking some executive coach who has a proper educational background and maybe even a certification in some methodology, life experience, older, past clientele like executives, that’s a VERY different story.

But online coaching from 20 year olds is a joke — unless they’re coaching something they’re a verified expert in and the value is truly there.

“Business Coaches” in their 20s (what business experience do they have besides telling others to grow their business or coaching?

Have they had an exit?

Do they even know how to read an income statement or balance sheet?

The irony is there are FAR better vehicles for wealth than SMB ‘online coaching’ — but it can be a lifestyle business model.

An online coaching business I found caps out around 2–3M top line revenue per year unless one has a larger team.

It’s a service based business at the end of the day (well there are also info product ones).

What’s interesting is that many times people in that industry look down on degrees, higher education, non-internet work.

I wonder if the proliferation of this industry was partly a result of a decade+ of ZIRP and now that that has come to an abrupt end, this industry will be imploding in 2023.

Society will look back on it in 10 years, nothing can be erased from the internet and many of the scammers won’t have a reputation in the years to come.

These are NOT people you want to be affiliated with if you’re an educated professional who prefers to err on the side of real value and innovation.

But numbers aside — many become slaves to greed.

Nothing else or even education has no value?

Most billionaires have degrees and they’re certainly not coaching people to coach others.

See how low level and unsophisticated the worst of this industry can bein the infinite game?

Social media (mimetic desires) brainwashing is real, 20 year old gurus are should not beadvising everyone to be a coach if they have zero valuable skills much less product market fit.

Not every entrepreneur wants to be doing the same SMB side hustle.

Have some bigger ambitions, seriously — or not, it’s your life.

Many billionaires of today had careers where they gained valuable industry experience which then catapulted them into a far greater business vehicle than coaching coaches.

Be mindful of what influences and models of the world you’re exposed to.

I’m not saying not to get rich but do it with integrity. 100% support being as wealthy as you want to be.

These marketers act like marketing and selling junk and promises to others is the only way to make big money and they need to flaunt it to justify their subconscious guilt.

Real entrepreneurs never act like that. They’re not flaunting their watch on IG. Once you get big enough you realize that stuff is just a distraction from playing the game — it’s a booby trap.

It only causes trouble and comes from deep rooted insecurity.

But seriously, stay in university, kids.

Higher ed (and SELF ED above all) broadens your horizon and exposes you to more mental models of the world.

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

Don’t be a short term thinker.

The side you don’t see about self employment in creators and these sort of businesses is that many take home less bottom line net operating profit than even someone in an average 80k/year job does post tax.

Meanwhile, a career creates possibilities for non linear gains — think of the strong exit opps in the real world from options like banking, consulting, tech, etc. with paths to C suite.

Many of the worst offenders churn clients, threaten people who become delinquent, etc.

Occasionally some of the better ones have good ideas -

But remember most of them are 20 year olds-max 30 somethings with zero real world business knowledge of what makes true product market fit, have never raising funding, never had a board, probably never had an exit and are really just a small business self employed person.

Which is fine. But why pretend to be someone you’re not?

And this is the problem: online marketing and leadgen has become zero barrier to entry and is not very sophisticated.

Unless you’re elite at it but then you’re probably not coaching others… you’re just doing it either FOR others as revshare or your own thing.

Many recruit high ticket / remote closers (that sometimes pay for the privilege to sell for them) — and these closers close others on their programs.

How they set up their business is usually so uninspiring that they pay these closers a commission only variable comp of 10–15% or even 20%.

Enterprise level AEs in tech can do 300k+ per year with a real company and product at least — for the most part.

But many high ticket closers are just 20 somethings with zero real world experience making 30K a month sometimes as a result.

This is due to inefficiencies in this industry because it’s so new and emerging.

My Thesis

I have a thesis that if economy has a harder landing than we are thinking this year into next, we will see a lot of these creator economy and coaches coaching coaches people realize this exact thing and they’ll be forced to stop.

The market will also continue to get more sophisticated as more people get scammed by the bad coaches.

The naive people they prey on won’t be able to buy their stuff anymore — not with the trends in consumer spending and debt and the continued collapse of trust in influencers.

But people who do MLMs are usually so naive that they have zero understanding of finance or macro usually.

The guru bubble is due to implode.

What will not collapse is REAL marketers who help real businesses to make money — but often this is not coaching, it’s actual DOING.

Most likely helping real businesses — most of the agency guys just help mom and pop small businesses.

At least that’s a completely different story and potential there than just straight scamming. Also more valuable to the real economy.

Everyone now wants to be online agency owners, SMMA, setter, YouTuber etc. due to social media trends.

This means less competition for real world bigger stuff.

See the big picture now?

Mimetic desires can be a distraction to real purpose and value unless you actually have something worth teaching and coaching on after experience but even then… are you not settling for a “lifestyle business”?

AI, AGI will destroy their business models and decrease margins (that’s why they need to do high ticket — their ads ROAS don’t allow anything less anymore), and regulators are starting to fine some of the most egregious guys now.

This needs to be the attitude society has before 20 year old TikTok gurus fool more naive people into buying their high ticket courses with promises of escaping the 9–5 (sure of course that can be done in a business but in this model it’s just replaced with selling to other naive people usually).

DO NOT trust any revenue figures anyone in the ‘online marketing’ world says at all. If you end up trusting anyone flexing on 50 podcasts and flexing on IG and you get scammed… that’s on you.

Real companies don’t gloat about that stuff and public companies you can just see their SEC forms. Or at least ask for an audited P/L statement at the least.

You’d be alarmed how many of these “online business owners” don’t even do bookkeeping.

Again, there are some genuinely talented and great people in the industry and many who have built legit companies — this is not about them. But as with any industry, it can be hard to see the bubble until you get out.



Bakul Badwal

Crypto Research Analyst turned Web3 VC, GTM web3 consultant | VC Scout & BizDev | Yogi