Inside the Garage of the Internet's Most Hated Self-Help Guru
Tai Lopez became the most hated guy on YouTube after a video ad ("here in my garage") for his self-help service went viral. I pushed past the Lamborghinis and the "67 Steps Program to the Good Life" to see who Tai Lopez really is.
All photos by the author
If you've watched a video on YouTube in 2015, chances are you've seen Tai Lopez. Lopez bills himself as a self-help guru on the "good life," who can help you reach your full potential through his "67 Steps Program to the Good Life." His famous video advertisement, shot selfie-style, extolls the virtues of knowledge over materialism—moments after showing off his Lamborghini. The commercial, dubbed "here in my garage," became so instantly loved/hated that parody and remix videos soon followed, and the internet collectively wrote Lopez's business off as a "get rich quick" scheme.
Those who have tried Lopez's "67 Steps Program" also have their complaints. One such man, Scott Godar, purchased the program and made it through 15 hour-and-a-half videos of Tai talking before he asked for a refund.
"Tai seems like a very knowledgeable person, a very smart person, but he's an internet marketer. That's all he is," Godar told me. "I've watched a dozen and a half motivational videos on YouTube and got more out of them than Tai's program. They are one in the same and preach the same regurgitated information. Read a Tony Robbins book for God's sake! Tai's program is Tony Robbins and YouTube motivational videos rolled up into hour-and-a-half long sessions of listening to Tai talk."
The program—which includes the aforementioned 67 steps, videos of Lopez pontificating, life-coaching calls from Lopez, book-of-the-day recommendations, and other "super bonus content"—costs $67 per month. A recurring complaint among those who have signed up is that they didn't realize they were entering into a recurring billing cycle or that they weren't able to cancel their subscription. Others have argued that Lopez's advice isn't all that novel, since many of his talks piggyback off more established luminaries of the motivation and business spaces. Many point to Jack Canfield's The Success Principles, a 2006 book with it's own 67 steps, which they claim Lopez straight-up stole and repackaged.
A few months ago, Tai released the follow-up ad to his Lamborghini spot, this time showing off a Ferrari. Who the hell is this guy? I wondered. Is Tai Lopez a snake-oil salesman, a business savant, or something else entirely? I met up with him at his house in the Hollywood hills, in the very garage where he filmed his most famous video ad, to find out.
Lopez lives in a chic, modern house on a winding road. Like most of these mansions, the unassuming, single-story-appearing front leads into a multistory dream home with a breathtaking view from its perch on the side of a mountain. Despite having no qualms about asking every single renter I know how much they pay per month, it seemed a bit gauche to ask Lopez how much his mansion is worth. Zillow creeping later that night gave me a good idea, though, as neighbors on his block were listed at between $900,000 and $3.4 million in value.
"The modern world makes it hard to be happy. We're bombarded with stuff. I know it's an oxymoron, because I have the Ferrari and Lamborghini." — Tai Lopez
The interior of the house was well-decorated, but lived in. Naturally, books were everywhere, in keeping with Lopez's "book-a-day" ethos. The place wasn't dirty, but could've used some tidying. For a guy teaching others how to best organize their goals and lives, you'd think the dude could just make a stop at The Container Store. Lopez pointed out a not-quite-as-fancy couch in the living room that was his reminder of worse times when he was literally sleeping on a couch.
"That's the couch?" I asked.
"No," Lopez replied, "but it sorta looks like it."
According to his assistant, the home and cars belong to Lopez. "Tai has never rented a car except from an airport on a business trip," she said. The home, along with his others, is owned through his companies, LLCs, and estate trusts, not rented out like a tawdry porno shoot, as many have asserted online.
"I did a video earlier this year, that one in my garage," Lopez said after he took me for a spin in his Ferrari. "It's almost the most watched video campaign in history."
I didn't bring up the absurdity of touting viewership figures on an ad you're paying to put in front of eyeballs.
I also didn't tell Lopez that many people watched it because they loved to hate him. Instead, I asked about the point of the video.
"I think it has an important message," he replied. "It looks like it's about me showing off Lamborghinis, but that's what I call 'interruption marketing.' We see about a minimum of 2,000 ads a day in the modern world." The Lamborghini, he explained, is designed to break through the noise—so that you can learn about Lopez's self-help program, which he says actually has nothing to do with material wealth. He knew the ad would catch peoples' attention, but he says he "had no idea people would find it this interesting."
Lopez is full of contradictions like this. One of his claims to fame is his commitment to reading a book a day—though he has advised people to get others to read books for them, which puts a big, honking asterisk next to that claim. While he emphasizes that knowledge is more important than materialism, his office is filled with books. It looks like a Barnes & Noble window display, with the towers all meticulously askew, pristine spines all facing outward.
"The modern world, however, makes it hard to be happy. We're bombarded with stuff," he said. "I know it's an oxymoron, because I have the Ferrari and Lamborghini, but I read a book on happiness from a top scientist specializing in happiness. He talked about the difference between conspicuous and inconspicuous consumption."
Lopez went on to tell me about how, just the other day, he made the decision not to buy a Rolex because he realized it wouldn't make him happy. "That said, if I was the last guy on the planet, I would still head right to a Lamborghini dealership and grab some of those," he added. "Those are just fun to drive."
I asked Lopez how he accrued so much money and he told me about his first taste of entrepreneurialism, when he was 19 years old, running a farm in Virginia. He says he told the farm owner, "If you put the money up to buy the cows, I'll do all the work, then you get paid back first, and if there's any money left over, we'll split it." He claims he made $12,000 that summer.
Lopez told me his "family situation fell apart," so he went to live with the Amish for two and a half years. It was there that he says he learned what little value there is to material wealth. "The Amish are the coolest people," he said. "If I had a million dollars in a sack I had to leave with somebody for ten years, I'd find a random Amish family and I guarantee I could come back in ten years and there'd be the whole million there."
After that, he says he became a certified financial planner and started working in wealth management in the early 2000s. He says he was the "founder, investor, advisor, or mentor to more than 20 multi-million dollar businesses." Of these, he is probably best known for owning several dating sites for gold diggers, including EliteMeeting.com, ModelMeet.com, and MeetingMillionaires.com. Each of the sites dealt with complaints ranging from fake profiles to unauthorized charges on credit cards tied to accounts. One complaint, from 2009, called Lopez "the most unscrupulous dirtbag on the planet."
Lopez shrugged off my questions about this part of his career. These sites were "just part of [his] portfolio," he said, despite the videos of him on each of the sites. And the complaints? Lopez says their scant handful of Better Business Bureau complaints were nothing compared to the thousands big competitors like Match.com received.
According to his LinkedIn, Lopez started his self-help business in 2001. He describes his program as a series of "online education systems that help people solve the 4 hard problems of life."
Lopez knows that some people see his business and think it's a scam. He says those assertions are baseless.
"Basically, the only people who say this are people who have never tried any of the programs. The positive testimonial rate is beyond belief. Literally thousands—even tens of thousands—of people love it," he said.
He also added that there is a 100 percent refund rate for anyone who isn't satisfied with his products, and so "therefore, it logically could not be a scam since anyone who wants their money back gets it all."
This seems to somewhat be at odds with some of the personal testimonies about trying to cancel subscriptions to Lopez's programs, but others have said they were able to secure their refunds.
"When people hear me or anyone talking about money, there's a part of their brain that immediately thinks: Get rich quick scheme. But there have been get rich quick schemes since the dawn of time and I never say anywhere that you're gonna get rich from my steps," Lopez said. Which is true, I guess—he never says you're going to drive off in a Ferrari tomorrow—but he does imply that you'll be able to drive a Ferrari someday.
Leaving the Lopez estate, I was unsure if I'd even peeled back the first layer of this onion. I followed up with Lopez and his assistant, but even then, it was difficult to tell if he was knowingly scamming people or honestly trying to help them. Lopez has a habit of speaking in riddles, and seemed more interested in quoting public figures and going on an endless catalog of tangents than giving forthright responses to my questions. Like a feral child raised by Ted talks. But there were also times when I saw his humanity shine through, and against all odds, it made me feel for him.
For all his wealth and success, Tai Lopez doesn't have the bravado or swagger of someone who knows in his marrow that he's done something substantial. He spoke multiple times over the course of our conversation about searching for happiness and, if I had to guess, I'd say he hasn't quite found it yet. Maybe he's internalized all the online hate, something he had to know he'd get when starting this kind of venture. Maybe the struggle to prove himself weighs heavy. This is a guy who has "MENSA Member" in his Twitter bio, after all. Maybe he even feels some guilt about siphoning money from people with nowhere else to turn, even if nothing illegal is going on.
Lopez says he's focused more on fulfillment than momentary happiness. I sincerely hope he finds both, two things everyone deserves, although I doubt they will come in the form of another exotic car.
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