IBI Global / CEO SPACE, Inc.

scam, cult, or opportunity?


About

IBI Global is a networking organization claiming to offer business classes and community support for its members. Membership costs about $6000 and involves a week-long seminar. The value proposition is that IBI helps its members "achieve their dreams", which usually means starting and running a business.

Potential members may be wondering whether IBI Global is a scam, or if it's legitimate. It certainly has a cult-like feel to it, and exhibits several of the "red flag" properties of previous scams. But does it actually offer a genuine value to its members? Is it $6000 worth of value?

I don't know for certain. But I'll share my experiences of IBI Global, in case anyone finds the information useful.

Side note: IBI means "Income Builders International".

Update 2009-02

It seems IBI has renamed itself to "CEO SPACE, Inc.", and changed venue to Reno, NV. BJ Dohrmann / Bernhard Dohrmann seems to be calling himself Berny Dohrmann now. The concept appears to be the same though, and still uses the same terminology such as "fund busting" and "super teaching". After a quick google search, it appears the organization now has even more domain names, including:
  • ibiglobal.com
  • ibiscam.com
  • ibiglobal.net
  • ibiamerica.com
  • ibicolorado.com
  • ibinashville.com
  • ibinevada.com
  • ibi.org
  • ibisd.com
  • ibisuccesschannel.com
  • ibifile.blogspot.com
  • ceospace.biz
  • ceospace.blogspot.com
  • ceospace.net
  • ceospaceamerica.com
  • ceospacefla.com
  • ceospaceinc.com
  • ceospaceinternational.com (what is it with BJ and "international" company names?)
  • ceospacenorcal.com
  • ceospacenortheast.com
  • ceospacenv.com
  • ceospaceusa.com
  • ceospaceutah.net
  • ceospaceworld.com
  • ceospaceworldwide.com
  • businessblackbeltnetwork.ning.com/group/ceospace
  • ... and that's just what I found with a couple quick, naive searches.
You can draw your own conclusions about that, but it strikes me as odd, at least, to have so many different domain names with similar but not identical content. It's a pattern I've mostly seen in SEO circles (those are the companies who toss up thousands of astroturf pages in order to boost their search engine rankings).

There's a nice entry in the CEO Space FAQ, second from the top:
Is This MLM? This is not MLM in any way, shape or form.
I also see this on ceospaceusa.com, as the top question asked:
Is it a scam? ... The answers [sic] is NO
How many respectable companies deny this sort of thing as the first entry in their FAQ, or go to the trouble to host an entire domain to deny it?

Ever asked a merchant if their offer is a scam? Can you imagine anyone ever answering "yes"?

My Experiences

I first heard of IBI Global in late 2004. This was at the height of the United States' worst recession since the Great Depression, and my particular industry was hit harder than any other. So, business wasn't going very well and I was looking for opportunities in places I hadn't looked before.

A friend of mine, Will, had heard about this business networking group from his ex-boss ex-girlfriend ex-landlord E (which was my first "red flag"), and it sounded vaguely promising. IBI had weekly meetings in Denver, an hour away, so I went to some meetings with Will. I hate driving, but Will was driving, so all I had to lose was time. And if I was lucky, I might be able to find some new clients to sell IT services to. It's hard to be a successful consultant if you never get out into the world.

So, I sat through some meetings. They are generally 2-3 hours of self-promotion, occasionally with an interesting speaker for 20-30 minutes, followed by some small networking activities. I took notes during the 2-3 hours of hype, partly to jot down occasional good ideas but mostly to keep myself from getting too horribly bored. At later meetings, I learned to take my notebook with me and work online using the venue's free wireless until the hype was over.

During the post-hype networking sessions, it's mostly just a matter of introducing the "guests" (non-members) to each other and explaining a bit about what each guest is looking for. Then the groups break and people can hang around to chat for a while if they have anything to discuss.

Most of the guests seemed to be in roughly the same situation: they had an idea, or a struggling business, and wanted to make it succeed. So, they all came basically looking for A) money, B) favors, C) contacts, D) mystical magical business-fu knowledge, or E) ideas about obtaining any of the above.

I soon found some people whose ideas might be opportunities to rejuvenate my then-lagging business. They needed my sort of services to promote their own idea/dream/business, and were willing to discuss details with me.

First Try

One guy was trying to rewrite some software, converting a bunch of database forms into a proper network-capable application. He even wanted to write it in my favorite language, Python. So, I immediately started investigating his requirements, to spec out the project. We talked about details of the project for a while, and then eventually he dropped the bomb -- he had no money, and couldn't pay me for the work. Oops. So, I told him to give me a call when he got funding. I haven't heard from him since.

Second Try

I learned a lesson on that first one, but my next potential opportunity didn't turn out well either. A local publisher wanted to take her business "to the next level" (a sickeningly overused and meaningless catch phrase at IBI), and I had a great idea how to do so. One of the primary things I've learned from the free software world is the importance of getting involved in the community. This publisher had no community, so I was going to build her the infrastructure to start a writers network.

Even the timing was good -- IBI's guest speaker the week before was an online social networking specialist, and he explained in plain terms why and how communities work, how to build them, and how to interface a business with them for mutual benefit. (this was, by far, the most useful and informative presentation I saw at any IBI event)

I met with the publisher a few times, trying to get more details about what she actually wanted, so I could spec out a project. This was largely fruitless though, as she mostly just avoided the topic by focusing on rather unimportant and trivial issues. So I changed tactics. I have several writer friends who have complained about the shortcomings on existing writers network sites, so it seemed I knew more about what the publisher needed than she did. I made a basic prototype, found a skilled coordinator to lead and nurture the budding community, and gave a proposal to the publisher. This was uncharacteristically enterprising of me, but I was determined to make something happen.

Nothing ever came of this, though. I wasted several days and favors trying to proceed, but the publisher basically just flaked out and disappeared. I did a few hours of work fixing the most glaring errors on her amazingly, impressively horrible web site (for example, it used to take 45+ minutes to load the front page on a modem), but she stopped responding to email and phone calls and I was never paid.

Misc

I met one other person worth mentioning. I don't recall his name now, but he approached me claiming he had an idea to solve world hunger. First red flag. He had a thriving internet business during the late 90's (flag) (during the boom when any 'net-related idea could make venture capitalists drool), but had to leave for vague personal reasons (flag) and was now starting it up (flag) again. That makes red flags two through four. He couldn't really explain his idea to me (flag), but was amazingly excited and confident (flag) that the idea would explode (flag) into unlimited wealth (flag) for everyone involved (flag). The idea somehow relied upon the internet (flag), though he didn't really seem to understand it very well (flag, flag). What little he explained sounded very much like a pyramid scheme (flag). He was at least 65 years old and not well-kempt (flag), and his business cards were pretty tacky (flag). When I later looked at his web site, it raised half a dozen more red flags, bringing the total to about a zillion warning signs.

I hear that this sort of encounter is common at IBI Global meetings, though at least (supposedly) the more blatant scammers like this guy don't tend to stick around long.

BJ Dohrmann

The founder of IBI Global showed up at a couple of the weekly meetings. I thought he deserved special mention, because he made a very strong impression.

The first time I met him, I immediately disliked him. It's hard to say why; every once in a while someone's manner or presence just rubs me the wrong way, kind of like the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard sound. It's a subjective kind of thing, but hard to ignore.

He spoke at the meeting for nearly two hours, without saying anything of substance. I couldn't remember ever hearing hype so absolutely devoid of content before. And, somehow, he didn't even seem to be paying attention to his own speech. It was as if he had done the same thing so many times before that he could do it in his sleep. And he may indeed have been speaking in his sleep; the meeting coordinator said BJ was pretty jet-lagged.

BJ's speech was curiously cultish or religious in style. He even explicitly spoke of God several times, which was notably different than any of the other IBI speakers I had heard. Others hinted at religious themes or cultlike attitudes, but BJ seemed shameless and arrogant about it. The only thing I could compare it to is the highly-targeted drivel the US president uses during his speeches, except it sounded as if the words were really coming from BJ -- not from some hired speech writer.

So, after the speech, BJ led the small group of guests in an activity. He went around the circle one person at a time to talk briefly with them about who they were and what their "dream" was. I don't know whether he helped anyone, but he did display an impressive ability to instantly come up with marketing ideas and ways of tricking consumers into spending more money than they intended. He was full of ideas for bundling or gift-wrapping or bulk-selling useless junk along with products, to jack up the price and get consumers to buy far more than what they actually want.

When it was my turn, he listened for about 10-15 seconds until he heard something he could latch on to, then interrupted and, smoother than teflon, started trying to sell me on his other business baby -- "super teaching". It didn't sound like he was trying to sell me something, of course. He said he knew some people who were a perfect match to help with one of my projects, and claimed he'd do me a favor by hooking me up with them. I didn't even know I'd been conned until I got home and looked up the stuff he told me about. He didn't mention, of course, that he was the founder and driving force behind the company he told me about. The "guys he knew" were actually himself and perhaps some of his employees. That would have been rather important and pertinent information to volunteer, but admitting it would have ruined his sales pitch.

I encountered him again at other meetings, but other than not trying to talk to him, the results were much the same.

Just a moment or two around BJ Dohrmann makes my bullshit meter go off the scale, and I can't stand to be around him. It's probably because I value honesty, openness, and trust above all other things in the people I interact with, so I simply cannot stomach anyone with that much skill and practice in the art of deceit. I don't think I've ever met anyone who could look me in the eye and misinform me as smoothly as him. Most people at least display some inkling of regret, nervousness, hesitation, or other signs of a conscience when they deceive. But while most people lie about as well as a squirt gun shoots, BJ seemed like a fire hose of hype and deceit.

One meeting with BJ Dohrmann was enough to give me complete confidence that I cannot trust him in any way, and has instilled in me a massive "anti-trust" in anything he's involved in. As the heart of IBI Global, he is one of the main reasons I now avoid IBI.

Update: Even Worthless Diamonds are Forever

2006-04-10
So, while reading a blog entry from an IBI graduate, I noticed something interesting in the comments. Someone calling themselves "Art Flores" claimed that BJ Dohrmann is "a two-time felon" and served "jail time in the 70's for the railcar scam and ... felony convictions for International Diamond Corporation".

A quick google search later, I was able to verify that BJ Dohrmann served felony time for fraud in 1976, and later went on to do the diamond scam. Art (the comment author) didn't give enough detail about the "railcar scam" to verify it, but given what I did find, I'm inclined to believe it's not made up.

He was going by "Bernhard Dohrmann" at the time, but he's the same guy. It's understandable; I'd probably avoid my real name if the top google result for it was an article about my past crimes and the jail time I had served for them. As I view the results page, I see, in order, an article about his diamond scam, then a book by him about "Perfection Can Be Had" at amazon, then a legal document detailing a recent court case he lost, then lost again on appeal, less than a month ago.

So, BJ Dohrmann has a history of involvement with large-scale scams, and got caught and convicted more than once. He was the "marketing director" for IDC, which used aggressive and technologically-advanced direct marketing to sell investments in worthless diamonds over the phone and through "diamond-investment seminars" in expensive hotels.

Contrast that to what he's doing today. He's the founder of IBI, which uses aggressive in-person marketing and technologically-advanced "superteaching" to sell start-up business investment advice through "free enterprise" seminars in expensive hotels.

The biggest difference I can see is that, while it's easy to have an expert evaluate the worth of a diamond, there's no easy way to determine the value of a seminar.

Will's Experiences

Will is a friend of mine. I've known him since 1994 or so. He has a lot more experience with IBI than I do, which I will summarize here.

Short version: Will got dragged into IBI. He borrowed money and went to the IBI seminar. He got really hyped and tried extremely hard to make his business dream materialize. He participated in the "IBI community spirit" by investing a lot of time, effort, and favors into other people's dreams. He tried to recruit new members. He even went back to a seminar as a graduate, months later, as he kept trying to make things happen. But in the end, the result was:
  • Nobody called back, returned email, or in any way followed up on their promises and apparent interest in him.
  • He received zero investment, favors, or useful contacts.
  • He now owes everyone he borrowed "tuition" money from.
  • He met a bunch of flakes.
  • He made some backstabbing "friends".
  • He met a few con artists, and got scammed.
  • He got sued by a con artist, and wasted money going to court in California to defend himself.
  • IBI Global is now threatening to sue him for blogging about his experience. Apparently, this is why there is no negative content about them online. They bribe/sue dissenters.
... and the saga continues. He thought the pain was over, until recently when IBI found his unfavorable review and started tossing litigation at him. Who knows where it will go from here?

Update 2007-02-04

It seems Will's legal problems with IBI are over. From what I hear, IBI sued him, lost, and both parties have been ordered to leave each other alone.

IBI put a new site online (IBI scam dot com) in response to Will's criticisms, calling him a bitter e-tabloid writer. It says a lot of other things too, but the bottom of the page says everything you need to know:
IBI is not a scam.
IBI is a blessing.
Copyright 2006, IBI Global, Inc.
The other interesting part of that site is that it claims IBI has a 10,000-to-1 satisfaction ratio. Given the half-dozen or so unsatisfied members I've met, I have a hard time believing that number. In my limited experience, the ratio has been about 20% satisfied, 20% dissatisfied, and 60% unsure.

The scam site indicates that the proof behind the 10,000-to-1 claim is on IBI's main site, and then goes on to say their "track record is well documented on ibiglobal.com", but I have not been able to find any of this data. The links go only to the site's front page, which doesn't help. I haven't found any relevant data through searching or browsing, either. After reading nearly every piece of text on the site, I see no data even remotely in support of that satisfaction ratio claim. There appears to be no documentation at all of IBI's "track record". If anyone has direct links to the data behind the claims, please let me know.

I did find one link on IBI's site which looked like it was intended to support their claims -- a video called "Proof Positive". It's a 17-minute promotional video containing nothing resembling proof. But it's incredibly positive.

Side note: Although the tone of the video is very positive, the numbers given suggest that the average IBI graduate not only fails to make enough money to pay for the $6000 seminar, but actually takes a loss of somewhere between 45% and 100% on their investment.

Let me explain where this figure came from.

Due to its nature as a promotional video, it's probably safe to assume that only the best examples are chosen, and information is presented in as positive a manner as possible. So, even though "tens of thousands" could be anywhere from 20,000 to 190,000 (any more would be "hundreds of thousands"), it's probably somewhere between 20,000 and 90,000 (more impressive terms would be used for 100,000+). Also, "millions of dollars" could be anywhere from $2M to $1999M, but if it were $20M or more it probably would have been phrased as "tens of millions" -- so, estimate about $2M to $19M.

Two of the claims in the video included numbers:
  • "Tens Of Thousands Of Successful Graduates From The Last 16 Years."
  • "Millions of dollars in revenues are being generated from ideas created here"
Together, the above two can give a rough ballpark income of the average IBI graduate. Between 20,000 and 190,000 graduates have collectively made 2 to 1999 million dollars in revenue, resulting in somewhere between $10.50 and $99950.00 per graduate. Using reasonable-sounding numbers of $10M and 50000 members, that's $200 each, roughly 3% of the forum cost, not including travel expenses. Being optimistic, assume that's $200 per year instead of $200 total. So, the average member takes a 97% loss on their investment in the first year, and then takes 30 years to make back their money (not accounting for inflation).

For comparison, putting that $6000 tuition fee into a 5% CD account at a bank for 30 years would yield more than 4X as much money.

To skew the numbers a bit more in favor of IBI, assume that the "millions of dollars" go only to the new members. Over 16 years, 50,000 members would be 3125 members per year. That would then mean about $3200 per member, or an average loss of 47%. That's the mean average, though. And according to IBI's videos and claims, some people get quite rich, so the distribution would be rather uneven. The mean average may be $3200 per member, but the mode or median average would be closer to $0.

So. Using the numbers from IBI's "Proof Positive" promotional video, it can be reasonably inferred that the average IBI graduate makes little or no money from their investment.

These numbers may be wildly inaccurate. The only real conclusions I can draw from the video are that it is neither proof nor positive. And as far as I can tell, IBI provides absolutely no proof or documentation of their "track record". The closest thing provided are videos of a few people claiming to be satisfied. That's like saying 9 out of 10 dentists prefer your toothpaste, but only when you hand-pick 10 dentists.


Long Version

I was going to give details here, but it's probably better if you go read Will's version on his site. Somehow, he became Google's top site for the phrase "IBI Global scam". He has practically written a book on his experiences.

Update 2007-02-04: Oops, that page isn't there any more. Try the copy at the way-back machine.

Other Notes

I noticed something odd during the IBI events I attended, and while listening to reports of what the "free enterprise forum" was like. Two things about the seminar were repeated over and over. One was that the seminar was a "transactional" event, meaning that deals get made, checks get signed, and commitments are made. The other thing repeated was that seminar participants should not actually sign anything or make any commitments during the seminar. Does that sound a bit conflicting to anyone else?

The first claim is made to give people a reason to spend $6000 on the event. The idea is "why not go, if I can get investment to jump-start my business?" But the second claim is made (presumably) to avoid legal problems and complaints. The IBI staff know damn well that the seminar participants are, quite simply, too intoxicated to be making any significant decisions. They even (to IBI's credit) go out of their way to explain the surreal atmosphere during the event, and how it's a bad idea to sign anything when you're exhausted and not thinking clearly.

Why are the participants exhausted and not thinking clearly? Because, from what I hear, the seminar uses somewhat cult-like mild brainwashing techniques such as sleep deprivation, an unnaturally touchy-feely environment, strong social pressure, constant surveillance, and sensory overload. There is strong pressure to conform, to be friendly both physically and socially, to be happy, and to be positive at all times. Part of the pressure comes from the camera crews constantly wandering around the seminar, and the live video feeds of the audience during "superteaching" presentations. Anyone not paying attention or following the rules is likely to be put onscreen in front of everyone else, then chastised for their lack of conformance.

But if you want to be an IBI Global "graduate" without the pressure and the work of going to the seminar, don't worry. The only things you have to do to get a diploma are A) pay $6000 or so, and B) show up at the graduation ceremony. Unless you can't be there, of course, in which case I hear they can sign your diploma and mail it to you. You could, in theory, get an IBI "degree" simply by sending a couple of letters -- a check, and some lame excuse for your absence at the ceremony. ... that is, if you wanted an expensive piece of paper.

Conclusions

From what I can tell, the primary value of IBI Global's seminar is that it gets people excited. You're not going to succeed if you don't even try, and IBI gets people to try. But you can get motivation for far less money, by going to motivational seminars (I hear Tony Robbins is pretty good), by getting involved in your community, or even just doing some serious introspection.

IBI also seems to have a notable secondary value -- its free local meetings. The meetings facilitate a small degree of networking, which can occasionally get the right people together. Though I never made a dime from my experiences at IBI, I did at least find some prospects.

I haven't heard anything great about the actual classes at the IBI forum. The classes (or, workshops, really) are not recognized by any university or other organization, and don't seem to have helped any of the IBI graduates I know. You can likely get a far better business education by buying some books to study on your own, participating in your community, and going to local networking groups.

The "Free Enterprise Forum" sounds, from what I hear, like it's just a self-help seminar which trains people how to sell self-help seminars. I can't say for sure, but that's the impression I get. Even looking at the success stories hyped by IBI itself, it seems that the successes are largely in the same type of business as IBI -- selling promises. And in this case, since it's a self-help service, IBI is selling promises it (by definition) cannot keep.

It's important to note that, while IBI loves to take the credit for its members' successes, it refuses to take any blame for its members' failures. After all, when you're selling self-help seminars, it's terribly easy to blame the customer when they fail to help themselves.

In short, IBI is not a magic bullet. Success is not easy, nor is it simple enough to learn how to do in a week.

Links

These related sites may be of interest:
Last modified: February 15, 2009 @ 3:21 MST
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