part [2 of 6]:

The Rise Of Funnel Hacking Culture

Cheat sheets, swipe files, easy money, high end offers, 7-figure paydays and lookalike marketing

How did all these cheat sheets, proven formulas and stories of internet fame with 7-figure paydays come to be?

Published on April 2nd, 2020
by Michelle L. Evans

In part 1, we discovered:

  • The temptation of hacks, shortcuts, and proven formulas
  • The truth about online business celebrity influencers

online marketing: the new frontier

Let’s turn back the clock for a moment to the late 1990s and early 2000s when online marketing was the brand-new land of untapped opportunity.

'You've Got Mail'

In the early dotcom heyday people were actually excited to get email. They opened it. They read it. They acted on it. They believed it. They loved it.

It’s weird to think about getting excited over email.

An example is the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Here’s what Meg Ryan’s character says about receiving email: 

'I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: 'You've got mail'. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beat of my own heart. I have mail. From you."

Yep, times have definitely changed.

Back in the days when AOL was cool, FrontPage was a cutting-edge website tool, everyone used dial-up and smartphones weren’t yet invented, how we interacted with the internet was TOTALLY different. I mean, remember this?


Those early days were a modern-day gold rush and everyone wanted to be a part of the excitement.

Venture capital was thrown at any company that had ‘dotcom’ in the name (even if it was a crazy idea) and new companies were popping up every day.

In those days, you could make a lot of money if you were even slightly technical with an exciting idea because everything was fresh and new. The market was wide open… and people weren’t jaded yet. 

And marketing and sales looked very different:

  • A banner ad cost less than a penny to get clicks to a website.
  • No one cared about privacy policies or truth in advertising because online marketing was moving so quickly it was hard for the general public (and lawmakers) to keep up.
  • The word ‘spam’ was something you could eat (not email).
  • It was simple to buy or rent an email list cheaply to get in front of hundreds of thousands of people with any offer for very little money.

Around this time, Seth Godin released one of my all-time favorite marketing books “Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers”.

This was an eye-opener for the marketing world. Over the next few years entrepreneurs and corporations had to make a choice:

option 1: build a foundation of trust

Many large, well-known companies today (Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Zappos, etc…) decided to use this new frontier for good. They worked hard to create permission-based experiences for their customers. The key to that was TRUST. They knew exploiting online interactions for short-term profits was NOT the path to a long-term profitable company.

Option 1 is a smart choice for sustainable, profitable long-term growth.

option 2: exploit the system

Of course, other online marketing pioneers exploited these loopholes and opportunities as fast as they could because they *knew* this wide-open easy-money opportunity wasn’t going to be open for long. It was a digital age gold rush. They lived by the motto: make a lot of money fast and move on.

They came. They exploited. They made a lot of freakin’ money.

(Spoiler Alert: Many of them got caught too!)

Unfortunately these ‘exploit the system’ internet millionaire stories and bad marketing practices are still taught today…

the birth of the online marketing gurus

For the ‘exploit the system’ crowd, the golden ticket was to build a big email list as fast as possible.

A sizable email list opened a lot of doors for these early adopters because they could sell: 

  • Their own stuff (PDF, DVD, CD, book, event, etc...)
  • Other people's stuff (as an affiliate and make money off other people's products)
  • Or rent their email list (make money even if their email list didn't work)

It was a short-term money grab fueled by ego, greed and hype (and many people and companies got in trouble for these sketchy marketing practices.[1]

It was during this time that many of the online business celebrity gurus who shaped our industry got their start. (You know many of their names and if you want to dive in further, the footnotes await you!)


Everyone knew things were changing and they were in a race to make money before the online gold rush was over. 

It was the wild west. No rules, very little competition and eager eyeballs ready to click on cheesy banner ads, scammy-looking squeeze pages and sign up for anything that sounded remotely interesting.

TIME was the biggest enemy. Every day that went by without selling something was a huge missed opportunity. But these guys knew there were only so many offers that they could create.

That’s when many early online marketers realized they could make more money faster if they eliminated competition and worked together.


That’s when some influential early online business celebrities formed a group called ‘The Syndicate’.

The Syndicate is a closed, paid group of former competitors working closely together to help one another share email lists, coordinate product launches, release dates and enhance social proof for each other.

Yep, they enhanced social proof for each otherremember this, it’s a BIG key and we’ll come back to it in a minute.

Here’s what Frank Kern has to say about The Syndicate:

"Have you ever noticed that all the people in the Internet Marketing world are promoting each other? I mean, we're not psychic. It's not like, 'Oh, I suddenly realize he's having a launch today, I have to nail it'. We all work together, all the top people work together."

Video and The Syndicate insights from The Salty Droid | Read the full article on The Syndicate from Salty Droid here.

Syndicate members worked together to ‘collaborate’ on prices, manufacture hype, share ‘proven’ formulas, tips, hacks and more. They propped each other up while pushing ‘business-in-a-box’ offers out there as fast as possible so they didn’t miss any money-making opportunities.

Did The Syndicate work for them? Yes, at least for the short term. They DID make money because of their built-in hype machine to manufacture testimonials, results and excitement. They provided invaluable social proof even if the social proof was totally made up.  

And meanwhile, thousands and thousands of people tried to implement their half-baked ‘proven formulas’...

The result? Pretty soon almost everyone looked the same… sounded the same… launched the same. Even though these proven ‘business-in-a-box marketing’ approaches don’t actually work unless you have your own Syndicate to endorse and market you.

They don’t work because all that sameness is a race to the bottom, where quality suffers and no one wins. Most of us didn’t build a business with visions of being a sad, discount version of someone else. In this environment, innovation and creativity die, and as consumers of these products we’re being ripped off.

However, Syndicate members became self-fulfilling internet marketing gurus because they had a secret that you and I don’t have in the form of Instant Credibility + FOMO Hype.

They were endorsing one another as ‘the hot new thing you MUST HAVE’ which is powerful social proof.

Every time you see a ‘big name’ launch with tons of people talking about their must-have course, let the buyer beware: their offer and promised results may not live up to the hype.

Watch The Verge Scamworld: ‘Get rich quick’ mutates into an unstoppable monster

Next: Part 3 (of 6): The Dangers Of Funnel Hacking The Online Business Celebrity Crowd