Born and based near Berlin, Germany, Erik Muenchmeyer is an international network marketing leader with teams on all five continents. Erik got started in the mid-90s, but his first company went out of business after a couple of months. This and numerous other challenges caused him to almost give up on the profession, but he kept his eye on the vision that was born the first time he heard about passive income and financial freedom. His search for a better way led him to an established health and wellness company in the early 2000s. After many defeats and several years of learning, the success he had envisioned finally came. Over the next 14 years, he built organizations with more than 100.000 consultants moving huge volumes of sales. More learning experiences ensued, and he went back to searching the market for an opportunity he could call “home.” In 2013 Erik founded United Global Team, which quickly became the fastest growing organization in his company. Erik’s goal is to have over 1 million customers within the next five years. Erik and his leaders are dedicated to helping others succeed by providing them with online recruiting systems, multilingual training tools and support, and live events around the world.—J.G.

Who introduced you to the business 20 years ago?
Being an athlete, I was spending a lot of time at the Wakeboard Cable Park near Berlin, a popular hangout for young people in the summertime. My best friend there told me he had been invited to a meeting by a professional networker. Since my friend was totally new to the business, he asked me to come along.

A few days later I found myself in a hotel lobby listening to a guy who was drawing pictures of a business structure on a piece of paper. He was representing an American telecom company.

I was a student working full time and pretty broke at the time. I left for work in the morning before dawn and came home after dark. I had no time for hobbies or fun. I hated it, so someone telling me, “You can earn a lot of money part-time and be free,” was like a dream. I saw immediately how this was completely different from a normal job.

Young and inexperienced, I got excited and jumped in. Sadly, two months later the company collapsed. I didn’t earn much money, but I had signed up a significant number of people, which got me really motivated. After our company folded, my best friend decided, “I’m never doing network marketing again.”

For me, it was just a bad experience. I saw the potential. My intent going forward was to look for a company that was more stable. While looking around I continued working regular jobs.

In 2000 I joined a company that sold financial products and services. It was an extended network from the biggest German bank. This was where I had my first big success.

I recruited some of my friends and we built a big business without any experience. I made a lot of money really fast, which made me feel like a king, but one year later I was broke. The banking sector went into a worldwide crisis, and selling financial products was no longer lucrative. When people stopped paying for the products, we had to pay some of the money back to the company, so I lost most of the income I had made.

How did you transition into health and nutrition?
While I was building the financial business, some networkers invited us to check out their nutritional products, so we started consuming them. We joined the company and built it a little on the side, making an extra 200 or 300 Euros a month. The income was insignificant compared to what we were making in the financial business, where we were used to earning a lot of money from one day to next.

We didn’t see the potential, so we didn’t take it seriously. When we lost our financial business, the lady we were smiling at some months before was now making millions, and so were others on her team who had been in the company for only one, two, or three years. That’s when we understood that selling consumables can be a big business with true residual income—something I’d never been able to achieve in my financial business.

You start smaller and work more in the beginning, but after a while, if you have customers who are using the products consistently, your business keeps growing, and some day you have passive income. This experience led me to search for a similar opportunity, and in 2001 I joined an American company that sold a juice. The company had been operating in Germany for many years already, and I built a big organization. It was the first time I earned incentive trips, so I began traveling all over the world. It was a lot of fun.

How long were you with this company?
From 2001 till 2004. I had an excellent relationship with customer support and the corporate office. The product was high quality, but I had a crazy upline—two guys who hated each other and were constantly fighting. One of them had all the details of my organization of 7,000 people at the time. One Sunday he started calling everyone on my team—customers and business partners—and telling them what to do. My people were wondering, “Who is this guy? Why is he calling me?” After that, I could no longer work with this upline, so I sold my business to an Austrian couple.

I began searching again. This time I joined an American startup that was launching in Europe. It was a big adventure and I built a big organization once again. There were a lot of problems, because we were starting out without products. We worked many months without moving any volume or making any money, which was really hard. The company made a lot of promises, and eventually we earned some commissions. I kept my organization to this day and still make a small check, because I enrolled a lot of customers.

One year into the business, however, I lost 90 percent of my team, because of more company problems. We were told the compensation plan was going to pay out 10 percent commissions, but it ended up being only 5 percent. It also had some funny caps and limits. It was crazy—and sad, so I quit.

From there I ventured out and tried something new: I joined a German company that was making mass customized shirts that sold for 20 Euros. With some friends, we built big teams in Europe with over 500,000 customers. One day the owner who lived in Hong Kong decided, “These top leaders are making too much money. Let’s stop paying them.” From one day to next we lost our business. He probably thought, “I now have hundreds of thousands of customers, we can continue selling online.” He forgot that we built it with relationships and friendships—and leadership. Two months later the company stopped shipping products. It was a fun experience and I built a lot of friendships which continue to this day.

You learned something from every gig.
Yes. I learned that selling clothes comes with a lot of challenges. Product would sometimes take six to 12 months to ship. Then it was not the correct size. But we enjoyed some parts of it, like having our own fashion shows.

After this fun adventure, I got involved in a company that sold gold and silver. I made it big really fast. A good friend of mine is still in this business. I left because having worked in the financial company, I didn’t want to go back to working in a volatile and speculative market, and experience all the stress that comes with that.

At that time, it was not easy to find a good product company. There were no new companies launching. Eventually I joined an American coffee company. I worked really hard and hit the Diamond rank. I also started building in Asia. Many crazy things were going on inside the company, mainly due to big egos fighting with each other. Different Leaders were stealing members from other teams. Corporate people and office staff were also invited to take positions in the compensation plan, and in the end it was like a Hollywood movie. I remember getting text messages with threats that someone was going to kill me.

The compensation plan was really aggressive, meaning you could make big money fast, but it was nearly impossible to build residual income.

It was also a typical “stage” business: leaders would show off their Lamborghinis and Ferraris, flashy rings, and big checks. But there was no organic growth behind it. There was no team culture inside the company. For some people it worked, but for a normal guy like me, who’s not a big fan of “making show,” it wasn’t a good fit.

Your values didn’t align well with the culture.
Yeah, I didn’t see myself building a future there. I was making good money, but 95 percent was coming from new people. I was living in fear, constantly thinking, “What if next week I don’t sign up any new people? I’ll lose 95 percent of my check!” I finally stopped my activities and did nothing for eight or nine months.

I didn’t know what to do. I was thinking about leaving the profession, because of all the crazy stories and money games. It seemed as though every other company was doing the same thing. When you see all these people jumping from company to company, it looks like a crazy business.

In November 2013 I finally found my current company. It wasn’t big or “sexy” in any way. It had really good products—and a strong product focus. Nobody was showing off. That was important to me. It was a level playing field for everyone. We have a healthy culture with a good family feeling. People listen to you; no one’s arrogant or aggressive. It made me realize, “How cool to build a little bit more undercover.”

Over the years I had seen examples of leaders who had built a sustainable business in one company. For example, I knew a lady in a wellness company who had been making six figures a month for 15 years. It’s not a “sexy” company, but they have a super easy plan and she creates a really nice culture.

After seeing all the show in other companies and the big motivational events, I was thinking, “I just want to build a solid residual income. Rather than becoming a big millionaire, I want to have a little more peace and a better lifestyle.” When I found my company, it felt like a welcome home. That’s why I joined.

You became successful very quickly. What did you do when you started over?
I hadn’t been working for many months, so I had very little savings left.  I was using my credit card to order products. There were no tools in German, and we had no meetings. I made a commitment and started calling people. I never used my old downline. I was working 20 hours a day reaching out to new contacts. I was making three-way calls and doing webinars. I was talking about the products. I was sending samples. I shared the plan. I was helping my downline to do the same.

I went into massive-action mode. For many months I did not take a single day off—no holidays, no Christmas, no New Year’s, no birthday. For many people, this would be too extreme, especially when you have a family, but for me it was my last chance. I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life—and it worked. I found likeminded people who felt we could do network marketing differently, so we worked without all the big show, without big pressure, without pushing big packages, without big motivational seminars.

We worked undercover. I was not posting everywhere, “I joined a new company. Come with me!” Most of the people who knew me didn’t know I had started a new business. It might have been easier if I had told them, but I wanted to create results first. Later some people heard about our success, so they reached out and started joining.

People could tell that this was not a hobby for me. They could sense I would build something big. Nobody was inquiring about my past successes. Nobody was asking, “How big is your check?” or “What rank have you reached?”

I believe when people asks you this, there is something wrong. I gave people the feeling that we would be building something big in the next three years, and the rest was lot of action. I did tons of trainings and meetings, online and offline. After a while we did some road shows. It was not easy—and many people looked at us with disbelief.

What was that skepticism about?
We had to prove ourselves, because nobody believed that you can build a big business without the typical big-ticket packages and big motivational seminars. Instead, we had thousands of customers and a lot of powerful product testimonials. This made us unstoppable and the business crossed the border into other countries. Six months into it, I was earning more money than I ever made in the coffee company.

My goal was not to make millions. I was so busy I wasn’t thinking about that. I was looking to create a good passive income and develop lasting friendships—a stable monthly income with 90 to 95 percent coming from reorders. My checks were growing from $5,000 to $10,000 to $15,000, $25,000 per week. I was not buying new clothes. I was not buying a new car. One and a half year into it my old Audi was completely damaged by hail, and I sold it for 500 Euros. I had no time to buy a fancy car. I was not thinking about it. It was also proof that you don’t need a flashy lifestyle to build a big business. This culture was duplicating and we created a lot of low-profile, six-figure earners—just doing it old school.

I love how you describe the change of culture you experienced, and how that’s working very well in the long term. It’s hard work, but it does work.
It absolutely works, and it was also confirmation for me that I had made the right choice. In 2013 I said, “I have to leave this profession.” I was thinking that you have to do a little lying, that you have to exaggerate and mention miracles. There’s so much nonsense going around in the network marketing space. I don’t trust most networkers. This was a problem for me. I couldn’t work like this. I firmly believe everything comes back to you in life—the good and the bad. If you over-promise or miss-represent things, the truth eventually catches up.

My business could be five times bigger if I worked it more aggressively, with more pressure and with a few lies. But I know that if I did this, someone would take it back from me. What you earn in an unethical way does not stay with you.

The same applies to “stealing people.” In my previous companies lots of people would come to me and ask if I could register them, because they were unhappy with their upline. I always said, “I respect the other lines. I cannot do it.” At the same time, other leaders were stealing my people. I was thinking, “I do it the right way, but the other guys have big success.” I started wondering if I was in the wrong profession. The success we created in my current company was proof that it also works in a correct way.

Many people were searching for an ethical way to build a business. This greatly contributed to our success. I have a lot of people now in my business who would have never done network marketing before they joined my team, because they had the same bad experience I had. It was hard work to bring them into the business, but they are happy now—and very loyal, as they are tired of all the craziness.

It’s really sad to think that millions of people leave this profession because they joined the wrong company, or they had bad experiences with some crazy people in their upline. This happened to me 20 years ago. My first experience was horrible. I should have left, but I gave network marketing another chance. Now, I’m a top earner—and I have a lot of top earners in my organization.

Is there more corruption going on in emerging markets where there are fewer regulations?
It’s the same everywhere. All over the world you have money games. All over the world you have bling bling companies with big stories—and one year later the top earners move to another company.

The key to sustainable success is massive action. There is power in numbers. If you make no presentations, you cannot build a business.

This being said, there are lot of cultural differences which are good to know. For example, in Asia people need to see you in person. In most countries I know, there’s not as much online business building going on. People meet in coffee shops and bars. In Asia you can call prospects at 11 PM and invite them to a meeting one hour later—and they will come.

In Europe, you can totally build online. You can make three-way calls and register people without seeing them in person. If you ask someone to meet you at 8 PM, they will be there at 8 PM. In some countries, they come minimum one hour later, because that’s the norm.

The key principles are the same all over the world. Some cultures are a little bit different. In Asia or Thailand, it was my experience that when you do a meeting, you have to pay for all the food for all the people. In Austria, it’s normal if you are a guest speaker or leader that you’re invited; your hosts pay for your meals and hotel room, to show they are happy that you came.

Also, in Asia and Latin America many leaders want money up front. Everybody is saying, “I’m the best, I’m the biggest, I get paid before I start.” In Europe, most people get started without asking for deals. That’s what I love. I never got a deal. I found out that this is not normal in network marketing. That’s crazy and really sad. Some countries are crazier in that way than others.

While some things are a little bit different internationally, most things are the same. For example, meeting in a hotel lobby to talk about the business works all over the world.

What are your dreams and visions for the future?
My first and most important goal is that everybody in my family is healthy, starting with myself. I have some good friends who are fighting illnesses, which reminds me that a healthy body is the foundation for a good life.

Next comes traveling the world. I want to take my family and own some properties in different countries. I want to build more friendships all over the world. I want to help more people directly and indirectly to achieve their dreams.

For example, this month I go to Portugal to launch a new team. Next month I go to Greece and Cyprus, where a lot of people are hungry for a better financial outlook. I love to see how they grow, and that we can change the lives of a complete family. It’s no longer about earning more money for me. Earning $10,000 a month or $100,000 a month doesn’t change the way I live. I don’t need an airplane or a big boat or a Ferrari.

Earning more feels a little bit better, but helping all the people and building relationships and friendships is the best. I have so many friends now because of network marketing all over the world. We are in over 200 countries, so I hope one day to have friends in each country. I hope there will be people who are happy that I was there to help them and train them; that they learned something for life, or are making good money and have a better financial situation. That is what I love.

My goal is also to learn more. Many people don’t understand that being a seven-figure earner doesn’t mean you’re a top leader. I don’t have the feeling that I’m at the top of my game. I want to continue to sharpen my skills. I’d love to learn more languages, like Spanish and Portuguese.

The learning never ends in our profession. Recently I saw my best friend who first introduced me to the business. He is living in Munich now, and ever since our “bad experience” 20 years ago, he’s been very negative about network marketing. I was in Munich for an event so he stopped by. He told me, “Erik, you made the right decision—and you are doing it right.” Finally, after 20 years, he got it. It also works the right way.