Some people claim to make a passive income reselling cheap Chinese products on the internet’s largest store. Matt Behdjou and Mike Gazzola, for instance, say they’ve made thousands of dollars with not much effort. Want to learn their secrets? Sign up for their coaching seminars and pay them lots of money so they can train you in their business models.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is successful. Behdjou and Gazzola have a growing list of disgruntled clients, some losing $40,000 of their savings after following their advice. For the Atlantic, Alana Semuels explores the Amazon-coaching market and the risky business of buying random goods from China — glass wine decanters, plastic wine aerators, jar openers, lemon squeezers — and reselling them on the world’s largest online marketplace.

In late July, Behdjou invited me to attend his Ecommerce Mentors Live Mastermind seminar, held over two days at a Marriott in Woodland Hills, California, amid the sunny sprawl of the San Fernando Valley. It was free to Inner Circle members, though attendees still had to pay for their own airfare and lodging. About 50 of them had, coming from places as far as New York; one couple had driven all night from Arizona. They included an ER doctor who wanted a passive income so she could get a vacation home in Cancun, a young couple celebrating their wedding anniversary, and a man who owned a brick-and-mortar medical-supplies store trying to migrate his sales online.

Behdjou, who is 31, opened the seminar by repeatedly emphasizing his success stories. He pointed to two young men in the back of the room who he said were making $100,000 a month selling sunglasses on Amazon, and encouraged people to seek advice from those in the room who were “killing it” with their business. Another man, who said he’d made $30,000 from selling a wrist exerciser on Amazon, implored his fellow guests to “trust the process—it’s amazing.”

But most of the attendees were not so effusive. When Behdjou asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves, many said they were struggling. “I have launched, but I really need to crank up sales,” said Alicia Nager, a 52-year-old from New Jersey. She launched a knife-sharpener business in October 2017 after deciding to stay home with her son, who has juvenile Huntington’s disease. Another man noted that he’d made money in Bitcoin but hadn’t been able to crack Amazon yet, despite trying to sell vitamins for eight months. A Maryland woman, Allyson Pippin, who sells slime, said she was about ready to scrap her product and start all over. Henry Serrano, the man with the brick-and-mortar store, had spent $4,600 on wholesale medical kits, and hadn’t made any money back at all.

Read the story

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.