JavaScript and Amway: An Analogy

I originally wrote this in late 2013, expecting it to be printed posthumously. Fortunately for all of us, I survived the Christmas shopping season.

A lesson on JavaScript using a business analogy:

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an emerging entrepreneur. Having questions about getting your startup off the ground – and being tech-savvy as you are – you head on over to – a community, made possible by Stack Exchange, of exceptionally talented entrepreneurs working together to share startup knowledge – to tap into the crowd-wisdom of other peoples experience.

A Mock Q&A Experience

You eagerly post your first question – probably the one you’ve been stuck on the longest – and maybe it looks something like this:

Question: There are companies that are able to ship large products with only a nominal shipping fee. There are many, like Amazon, that are able to offer free shipping.  Logic tells me that you achieve this by negotiating with the carriers, in this case FedEx. I have been looking on their website and it is not easy for me to understand how to achieve these rates.  Does anyone know the answer to this puzzle?

A reasonable question for someone who has a product that needs to be shipped.  And in no time at all, you start to get responses!

To your surprise, the highest voted response from the community looks like this:

Answer: You should join Amway! They have already negotiated shipping for you, and they will drop ship anywhere in the world! Check it out here. I’ve been doing Amway since before tie-dye was a thing instead of a laundry faux pas. When you want to sign up, let me know, I can get you in on the ground floor.  As in, “the bottom of the food chain”.  Tee hee!

The origins of the Mary-Kay Pink Cadillac
The Amway VW Bus beats the Mary-Kay Pink Cadillac every time!

Well, now, that would be downright aggravating, wouldn’t it? This didn’t answer your question at all.  You are still no closer to figuring out your shipping strategy.

It’s a good thing this wasn’t the only question you posted, right? Maybe you had better luck elsewhere. Let’s take a look at a few other questions you posted, and the answers they received.

Question: What are some good ways to structure compensation for your sales people? We have a SaaS product and here is the structure I’ve currently defined for sales people we’ll hire:

  • $30K base salary
  • 10% of all sales of paid plans

Is that good? How would you change it?

Answer: Coming up with a solid compensation plan can be challenging. Luckily, Amway has already done it for you!  Forget trying to figure this out on your own and just sign up already! You’ll be an Independent business owner (IBO), and Amway takes care of handling how much everyone gets paid. Done!  Sign up under me, and I’ll help you build a strong, manly down-line with chest hair and mucho luchadores!

Mucha lucha, mucha lucha!

Wait, what’s going on here? Are you being punked? Is this a Q&A board for entrepreneurs or an Amway recruitment site?

QuestionI want to start a drop shipping online shop. The products can be anything that could be profitable. I’m thinking about stuff like latex clothing, toys for children, or Japanese electronics (like rice cookers).

My question: Any general advice on drop shipping? Is there a list of reliable drop shippers? What if, for example, the product doesn’t arrive or the customer claims to have not received it?

Answer: Why would you do that when you can just use Amway? More than 3 million people worldwide are already forging their own path to success. We offer opportunities, the support of a corporation that is family owned, that is financially stable and has been in business for over 50 years. Amway is a global community, operating in more than 100 countries and territories, ready to offer support and a compensation plan that paid out more bonuses in 2010 than any other direct selling company.

Don’t reinvent the wheel!

bicycle with shoes for wheels
Let’s not reinvent the wheel. Because, hey, your wheel might turn out to be a better wheel, which means my wheel wasn’t so great. And we can’t have that.

By this point, you’re doing one of two things:

  1. Rage quitting this Q&A board and hating Amway and the morons who are wasting your time by suggesting something you didn’t ask for and don’t want, or
  2. Signing up to be an IBO (hopefully with the luchadores; because – let’s face it – they’re clearly the coolest, and your chest hair could use more manliness).

In either case, none of the responses from the ever-so-eager-and-helpful masses have helped you become a better entrepreneur or helped solve your problems in any way.

The Analogy (This Part Might Hurt)

Now imagine you are a software developer trying to learn the ins-and-outs of JavaScript.  While reading various books on the topic and trying things out, you have some questions that don’t seem to be covered in the material at hand. No problem, you head on over to and start to ask JavaScript question. Only to have every question answered by someone saying “just use jQuery“.

That’s right: jQuery is to JavaScript as Amway is to business.

What just happened here?
What just happened here?

And it’s kind of offensive, you know? It’s like asking a question about how to do something in Photoshop and being told to just use Instagram.  Not cool, man!

Maybe you’re thinking “okay, maybe jQuery evangelist are like Amway recruiters, but that’s it!”  Maybe that is easier for some to digest. A softer blow, per se. But hear me out, because I’m about to back up my analogy.

Six Reasons jQuery Is Like Amway

I really want a drum roll here, but I was told I needed  a top-ten list to get that. Sadface.

1. Not Everyone Can Be An Amway Distributor

That seems pretty obvious, right? After all, if everybody were Amway distributors, who would make the products? Who would deliver the products? Who would package the products? Who would repair the trucks and planes that delivered the products?

And not everyone can be Batman, either.
And not everyone can be Batman, either.

Ya’ know what? Let’s bring this a bit closer to home. What if all the doctors stopped being doctors and instead became Amway distributors? What happens when you, your spouse, your child or any other loved one became sick? Who would provide much needed medical care to people in need?

Likewise, if everyone just uses jQuery, who will know the JavaScript it is built on and maintain the library? Who will provide bug fixes and new features as browsers and the EcmaScript specification evolve? We need people who know JavaScript, so don’t discourage others from learning JavaScript by telling them that the answer to all their JavaScript questions is to “just use jQuery”.

2. Amway Only Makes You An Expert In Amway

Success with Amway doesn’t make you a business expert any more than buying Ginsu knives makes you an expert chef.

Oh, see, you need those trays, too...
See, you need those trays, too. And a cutting board.

Likewise, learning jQuery will not necessarily give you any insight or expertise with JavaScript. So many people I talk to don’t understand how to do anything with JavaScript unless they use jQuery.

Some of those same people are writing jQuery plugins. If the person writing the plugin doesn’t have a firm grasp of JavaScript, that plugin could introduce all kinds of performance and compatibility issues on any site that makes use of it.

jQuery is not a language. Confining your understand of JavaScript to what you see through jQuery-tinted lenses will cripple you as JavaScript developer.

3. Your Success Is Outside Your Control

Last time I checked (who am I kidding, I never checked, someone told me this), Amway distributors received a 3% rebate on all products they purchase.  Purchase $100 worth of product, and you make $3. This is not success.

If you want to be successful at Amway (or any MLM for that matter), you have to build your down-line, because you make a percentage of what they purchase, as well!  If you have 9 people below you who each spend $100, you’ll make $30 (including your$3). Or something like that.

I got 20 dollars in my pocket
So, maybe you end up with $47. Whatever.

The point is that your success is not something within your control. You depend on others for that.

If you depend on any 3rd party library – jQuery or not – without understanding what it does and how it is built, then you have outsourced your success. If that library fails, and you don’t know how it works, you fail.

This was the reality when I first started making web applications and rocking a cool, multi-colored jacket of my own. JavaScript libraries would suddenly stop working in new versions of browsers, and the library authors had abandoned them.  If you didn’t take the time before the crap hit the fan to know how things worked under the hood, you were up a creek without a paddle – and other metaphors for unpleasant experiences.

4. Amway Isn’t The Only MLM

Not by a long shot.  There’s Mary Kay, Avon, NuSkin, MonaVie, doTerra, Primerica… The list goes on and on!  No, I’m not about to link to any of them here. That’d be like voluntarily putting myself on a Montgomery Ward mailing list!

Neither is jQuery the only JavaScript library. Nor should it be! Contemporaries of jQuery include YUI, MooTools and the Dojo Toolkit, just to name a few. Some, like Prototype, were decidedly BAD. Then there’s ExtJS and Sencha Touch, both of which do things similar to jQuery. And jQuery is largely incompatible with Angular or React.

There can be only one
No, stop! The Olsen twins made it work, so can we!

In fact, John Resig, the author of jQuery, wrote a book called Secrets of the Javascript Ninja with the express purpose of teaching you “the knowledge you need to create a cross-browser JavaScript library from the ground up“. If he wants others to know how to roll-your-own cross-browser JavaScript library, there must be a good reason for it, right?

Don’t misunderstand; current research on Internet trends indicates that jQuery is being used on roughly half of all websites worldwide, so it’s a clear leader.  But the internet is a fickle thing, and that could all change in the blink of an eye.

5. Business Problems Have Business Solutions

If Amway solved the shipping and compensation problems, then the solutions to those problems exist. In fact, thousands of companies worldwide have solved these problems without Amway.

If I ask a question about JavaScript, and someone tells me that jQuery solves that problem, all they have really told me is that a JavaScript solution to that problems exists – after all, jQuery is written in JavaScript, and anyone can look at the jQuery source code to see how they did it.

We would do better to explain how the problem can be solved using a pure JavaScript implementation. After all, if you don’t know that, you have no business answering their JavaScript question.

GI Joe Knowing is half the battel
I always wondered what the other half was. Now I know! And knowing is…WAIT A MINUTE!

6. Amway Is A Lifestyle

If you have a product and you need to ship it, you can’t just “add Amway” to your business and have it solve your shipping problems. Nor can you fire all your employee and have them sign up as Amway IBOs to overcome your compensation model shortcomings.

Amway is a lifestyle, and it’s all-or-nothing.

For all it’s hype to the contrary, jQuery also feels like an all-or-nothing kind of commitment. If all I need on a page is something simple like Pickaday, having to include jQuery just seems like overkill.

When Amway Is The Right Answer

I will concede, there are times when Amway is the right answer. Not surprisingly, they are the exact same times as when jQuery is the right answer to questions on StackOverflow.

  • When the OP tags the question with jQuery
  • When the OP mentions jQuery in the question or specifically asks for a jQuery answer
  • When the OP specifically asks for a 3rd party library solutions

That’s about it!  Otherwise, it is up to us to help others become better by teaching them the ways of the JavaScript Ninja, instead of recruiting them to be in our down-line.

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