Early on, Blake Mallen was on the road to success. With his cum laude degree in pre-law from the University of California, San Diego, he was preparing for a future career as a lawyer. He had followed the honors-student path and was climbing a ladder that would lead to conventional success.
The only problem was that Mallen realized he was on the wrong road: that he’d already gotten lost in his early twenties.
“I remember the exact moment I was interning for a district attorney, sacrificing my summer, filing giant manila folders, and feeling absolutely miserable. But I figured, ‘it’s just a price I have to pay, right?’” Mallen explained in a TED Talk at TEDxWatts in 2018. “Then I looked around at the people in the office that had the jobs that I was supposed to go to school to get … most of them seem[ed] miserable too.”
This epiphany led Mallen to change course and embrace his riskier, entrepreneurial inclinations — which his childhood had done a pretty good job of suppressing. The fact that his mother was a school principal and his father a police officer probably played a role in that.
But once the decision was made Mallen drove himself hard on the new road he had chosen. Within a few years, he had co-founded a lifestyle brand that went global — ViSalus — and was a millionaire by the age of 25. Then he went onto to found another one, Liv.
In these endeavors, partnered with Nick Sarnicola, co-founder of ViSalus and Liv. ViSalus(now Vi) is a company promoting healthy routines that specializes in nutritional products and energy drinks promoting healthy weight management. Liv is a lifestyle company that helps people enrich their daily lives and pursue extraordinary experiences.
Blake Mallen still serves as president of both companies — along with being an angel investor, lifestyle entrepreneur, and motivational speaker.
A Philosophy Leads to Business Leadership
Mallen’s life story is at the core of his business pursuits. He summarizes this philosophy by referring to the “script” that people are expected to follow in their lives — one that is external to their own desires and created by society to serve its needs, not those of the individual.
“I call it the script because it feels like a prescription we’ve been given for how to live a good life. It serves as our belief system around everything we’re supposed to do and our internal measuring stick. It kind of gauges how well — or not so well — we feel we’re doing in life,” he explained in his TED Talk. “It’s the thing that makes some of us feel like we’re failing if we don’t get certain letters on a report card, or aren’t married with kids by age 35, or the only way we can be successful is if we’re a lawyer or a doctor or a rapper or a pro athlete.”
we’re not handed a piece of paper titled ‘The Script’ on top, but it gets communicated to us through the people around us, our education, and so on. And ultimately, that script will determine how most people will live their entire life. It’s always been that way, just nobody seems to talk about it.
Cultures develop certain norms in order to maintain themselves and provide levers of power for those at the top of the societal pecking order. It’s not entirely a conscious plan, but what’s “expected” of people is also not random.
“First, there’s always been a script. Study civilizations across the world and you’ll see that younger generations are always taught a life script based on what the economy and society needed at that time,” he continued at TEDxWatts. “No, we’re not handed a piece of paper titled ‘The Script’ on top, but it gets communicated to us through the people around us, our education, and so on. And ultimately, that script will determine how most people will live their entire life. It’s always been that way, just nobody seems to talk about it.”
And the problem, as Mallen sees it, is that the script tends to only get a rewrite after the fact.
“As technology advanced, we needed less people on the farm. So that by the early 1900s, industry jobs had actually passed agricultural jobs for the first time. And so we shifted from a farm-work to a factory-work script and designed many of the educational, economic, political, and other systems still in place today to support it all,” Mallen posits in his TED Talk. “There’s no question that scripts worked, but all only for a period of time until the world changes. You tell me, what has changed in our world since the early 1900s? The answer would be almost … everything. But I’ll tell you one thing that hasn’t changed in the last hundred years. The script.”
His rejection of that trajectory — his script — at a relatively young age (though after he’d already followed more than a few of its pages) is in large part what propels the marketing for his companies and his personal brand. It’s the inspiration for his commercial endeavors.
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The foundation on which Mallen builds his enterprises is multilevel marketing. It’s a sales model that eschews brick-and-mortar retail marketing in favor of developing a network of like-minded, motivated sales representatives. It’s not a new concept. It most likely dates back a century and, like Mallen, has California roots.
The consensus is that one of the first direct sales businesses was the California Vitamin Company (later Nutrilite), which pioneered what has come to be known as multilevel marketing. After World War II the founders of Amway became independent distributors of Nutrilite products prior to their founding American Way, the home goods distribution network that became the powerhouse that is Amway. Other well-known examples include Avon, Mary Kay, Tupperware, and Herbalife.
It was a business model that Mallen stumbled upon by chance while still in college. A high school acquaintance sent him an email, inviting him to a meeting in order to “make some money.”
“I ran into a lot of ingrained biases about multilevel marketing very fast from parents and friends, but I didn’t have any. The people I met were genuinely excited about what they were doing and the energy was intoxicating,” Mallen relates in the book What Motivates Me: Put Your Passions to Work by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. “I felt this internal battle — this was definitely not my plan. It wasn’t prestigious like being a lawyer. But I figured, ‘Hey, I’m not a lawyer yet. I’m just a college student. And maybe I can learn something that would give me an edge later on.’ It started out as my plan B.”
Before graduating and going to law school — the script he was meant to follow — Mallen had already experienced what it was like to be a team leader and the adrenaline rush of hustling as a salesperson. And also what it was like to make a fair bit of money. All of which he found suited him.
“Never while I was striving for extra credit in school, or collecting my pink certificates for perfect attendance, did I ever say, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be a direct marketer.’ But I found this work is really, really motivating to me,” Mallen shares in What Motivates Me. “I get to take ideas and make them a reality. I get to inspire others to challenge the status quo and change their health and financial situations. I get to compete and win with a great team. And being passionate about what I do is what gets me out of bed every day with a big grin.”
Mallen and his partner Sarnicola were perfectly positioned to take this experience in multilevel marketing and adapt it to the tech explosion that was becoming the Internet — and the soon-to-follow wild world of social media. A fascinating, powerful tool was being invented.
A New Marketing Tool
Unlike more established multilevel marketers — i.e., older ones — Mallen and Sarnicola had grown up with the Internet. It was already incorporated into their lives. It was not a stretch for Mallen to adapt what he had learned about traditional networking sales to the hyper network that the Internet made possible.
“Both used ‘word of mouth’ to grow networks of people, and both moved products and services to those networks. Emerging social networking platforms (Friendster and MySpace at the time, and then later Facebook) were becoming much more efficient at building connections (exposure), while the older network marketing model still proved to be much more effective at monetizing community (conversion),” Mallen told a BuzzFeed contributor for a 2019 piece entitled The Industry Pivot: How Network Marketing’s Viral Facelift Attracted A New Generation Of Social Entrepreneurs. “I started training Facebook as a business tool back when people mostly saw it as a social college platform. I remember always starting my training events by saying that Facebook isn’t just for college students — you can utilize it to build a business, and here’s how.”
This ability to use new forms of guerilla marketing and social media “events” to create buzz for their companies was a vital aspect of their rapid growth. Mallen used his marketing savvy to adapt the traditional network marketing tactics of community building and viral advertising and plugged them into the Internet.
Founded while Mallen and Sarnicola were still distributors with another firm, ViSalus Sciences (now Vi) was envisioned as a lifestyle brand focused on health and weight loss. It was a modest success until, in 2005, a new partner — Ryan Blair — infused the company with capital and joined it as Chief Executive Officer, while Sarnicola became Chief of Sales and Mallen Chief Marketing Officer.
After weathering the 2008 Great Recession — and driven by its Body by Vi Challenge marketing platform — the company grew rapidly at the outset of the century’s second decade. Its core product line is meal replacement drinks, snacks, and supplements that allow people to manage and maintain weight. Support and encouragement is also a vital part of the company. As embodied in its “Body by Vi 90-Day Challenge” — known as “The Challenge” — the company provides not only a tactile product line but also a support network. This ties into Mallen’s philosophy of changing one’s “script.”
“There’s an obesity epidemic in our country. I find nothing more rewarding than to hear stories of people who transformed their own lives — their health and their confidence,” Mallen related in What Motivates Me. “These people give our company the credit, but they did it themselves. They did all the work. I didn’t spoon-feed them healthy food. I didn’t wake up every morning with them to jog. They did it.”
The company relies on a network of independent distributors, known as Promoters, who market and sell the company’s product line in 14 countries. Using social media campaigns, Vi built not only a sales community but also a network of customers who supported one another in pursuing better nutritional habits and healthier lifestyles.
The same kind of interconnected web of salespeople and customers — both enthusiastically supporting one another — is at the core of Liv. The core concept is that Liv helps people cross experiences off their “Bucket List” and transfer them to their “Liv List.”
The company provides access to “extraordinary life experiences” and activities meant to “enrich daily living.” Mallen is the president of the company. Its mission fits in with his broader thoughts about living a life of one’s own choosing, of writing one’s own script.
“It’s about quality. Which means it’s ultimately about the things that we enjoy or make us happy. And judging by all the seemingly unhappy and unfulfilled people in today’s world, improving or elevating our lifestyles is so needed right now. We’re infatuated with the idea of being successful. And, of course, success is a big part of our lifestyle. It’s definitely important, but it’s just a piece,” Mallen writes in a blog entitled Wanna Start a Lifestyle Revolution on his website. “There’s other big pieces of lifestyle that people gravitate to, like happiness. Personal fulfillment. When we think of our quality of living, some of us will talk health. Relationships. Spirituality. They’re all important to how we live and why we live. But, they’re all pieces of something much bigger. I think lifestyle sits above all of it.
Our quality of life transcends any one piece. It’s a key concept to understand about life, for if we focus too much on one piece, we lose sight of the others. And over time, and without us even knowing, life becomes limited, unbalanced, and its quality reduced.”
Along with Blair, Sarnicola, and Todd Goergen, Mallen formed the private venture capital fund HashtagOne. It has provided over $1 billion to companies in both seed money (aka “angel investing,” the first stage of funding for startups) and Series A preferred stock to tech companies.
The company not only provides capital, but also guidance and networking for early-stage entrepreneurs. Mallen and his partners share their collective experience and wisdom with entrepreneurs who are trying to write their scripts.
Tying It Back to the Beginning
The expansive business ventures of Blake Mallen all tie back to his fateful decision to not follow the chosen path (or respond to this by acting out in blind rebellion). He was looking for a third way and found it quickly, threading the needle between the two poles of life choices.
“I call the first camp the traditionalist. You’re still holding onto the old script. You did everything right, but there’s a part of you that just feels like something is missing. You continue doing what you’re supposed to do, hoping that one day it will all pay off … [you] don’t want to piss off [your] parents. I know this camp well,” expounded Mallen in his TED Talk. “The second camp I call the rebels. You rebel against the old script. You know something is missing, but you don’t quite have a new proven script to follow. You might feel misunderstood by others, maybe sometimes doubt yourself, but you’re hoping that one day, you’ll figure it all out. I know this camp well too.”
He eventually realized that he needed to build his life — and businesses — on his own terms. To, in his analogy, write his own script. And he quickly realized that his narrative would resonate in the marketplace.
“You see, after studying hundreds of creators over nearly two decades, I found that we all have at least one thing in common. At some point, we decided to stop trying to be the person we’ve been told we’re supposed to be and to become the person we’re meant to be. We shifted our script,” he said wrapping up his TED Talk.