Complaint Review: Cobra Group
- Cobra Group
- Category: Corrupt Companies
Cobra Group Deceptive, Liars and Untrustworthy Sales Organisation ripoff Internet
*UPDATE EX-employee responds: Some clarification of the Cobra Group experience
*UPDATE EX-employee responds: Some clarification of the Cobra Group experience
*UPDATE EX-employee responds: Unsure
*UPDATE Employee: Cobra Group - head office - not bad AT ALL
*UPDATE EX-employee responds: I was lucky to escape it by realising what they were on the observation day - Red Square Direct - part of Cobra Group
*UPDATE EX-employee responds: Cobra, Appco and its Affiliates..Very Deceptive to Young People
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So I will tell my story and give an insight to what life is like in Cobra.
Having heard some pretty nasty things about people being verbally abused and even threatened by people in Cobra for daring to speak out against them, I wish to keep my identity a secret. I will not use any real names of FRs or my owner, I will say that I worked for a company
affiliated with Cobra for between 3 and 18 months between January 2003 and December 2005 in an office in England, I will not even state which division I was in.
The best way to tell the story is to start at the beginning and give the whole picture. Some of the things I will write will even praise Cobra. I do not want to insult Cobra or lie; I feel that telling the truth is enough. The first part is divided into five stages, telling what it is like from the moment you apply for a position in Cobra, and then what it is like after the first few weeks. So from the beginning, this is what life in a Cobra Group Office is like.
To begin though, I will explain what Cobra is like. Some reading this may, like me, have left Cobra and so it may comfort you to know that you are not alone. Others may still be in it, and hopefully this may give you some perspective as to what you are in. Others may be just starting and a little concerned about what they are doing, and for others it may be a loved one in Cobra, and you wish to know what it is like in there. But first, I must clearly explain what Cobra is.
Cobra is a large, international, sales and marketing company. They have very few actual employees but thousands of associates across the globe. The company began in the late 1980s, founded by a man named Chris Niarchos, now the chairman of the Cobra Group plc. The idea was to use simple formulae for selling and teach that to new people.
The company now spreads through some of the USA, Australia, Europe, Asia and even India. The way in which it works is that it has a large and impressive list of clients such as American Express and Coca-Cola. It helps new recruits set up their own independent limited companies, and in return for some of the profits gives them access to their clients.
Therefore, there might be a company called Fire and Ice Marketing' (made-up name), which is not part of Cobra, but has access to Cobra's clients and in turn pays Cobra for all signups. Then Fire and Ice' will help a new person start their own limited company (Cobra will then pay Fire and Ice money for helping start a new office) and the new company will also have access to Cobra's clients. In this way, Cobra makes money from companies all over the world without having to do much work for it. They are also protected from any wrong doings by these companies as they are not legally part of Cobra, they are just affiliated with them. All of what I write is not about the Cobra Group plc, but about the offices affiliated to it which I have worked with.
n.b. All opinions expressed below are my opinions unless clearly stated otherwise and is therefore protected by my right to free speech. All references to Cobra refer to companies affiliated with them unless clearly stated otherwise. No real names are used in this article.
Part One: From Recruitment to Leadership in Six Weeks
Stage 1: Recruitment:
Recruitment is the food for Cobra offices. FRs (field representatives) come and go quickly. As a result, the process for getting new people in is very sales-like. To begin with, their adverts are very appealing, and seem to tick every box. Please note that Cobra's target audience is young people. Now also take into account what job hunting is like for a young person; fun job - no future, easy job - no money, great future - entering at low level position, great job, great opportunity, good money - need LOADS of experience.
You get the picture! So Cobra adverts offer good money, management for the 'more ambitious' (a common phrase from their adverts) in a fun and dynamic environment with no experience necessary. That rang my bell (no pun intended). So you ring the advert or email your CV and off you go. Many have told of how they emailed their CV and were rang by the office within an hour. I rang an advert in the paper myself but the effect was much the same; other jobs were offering interviews next week when they could fit me in but the few (yes, more than one) Cobra ads I rang all offered interviews the next day! Curious how they were able to fit me in so easily.
I was excited as was everyone else, and turned up suited and booted for my interviews the next day. At this point it is necessary to highlight the differences between a Cobra interview and a normal interview. My first interview I sat down with a MD. Just like everyone else here has stated, the 'owner' as I would come to know him was charming, articulate and inspiring. He asked me to tell him about what I had been doing for the last 18 months - two years. I told him what I had done and he seemed impressed.
This little question killed two birds with one stone as it enabled him to assess how articulate and charismatic I was and also helped him to establish negatives and buying signals for the job. As he would later tell me when I started recruiting, everyone who comes for an interview comes for one reason - because they want a job, either because they do not have one or they have but do not like it.
In my case, stating that I did not like the fact that I felt (KNEW) that I worked harder than my colleagues but got paid less than them must have had him purring. Whatever you tell them, they will try and turn it into a positive; 'Work Sundays? We work weekdays (NB, note first sign of deception here)', 'Hate early mornings? We start later and finish later so you can still go out but you get a lie in'. 'Do not get paid enough? Work hard and there is no limit to what you can earn'. 'Sick and tired of your boss ignoring that hard work you do and paying attention to his/her favourites? Here, results count above sucking up to those higher up. The list is endless. The 'interview' was your owner trying to judge what would flick your switch rather than you trying to convince someone that you are right for the job.
After a mere 15 minutes or so in which I was told quite vaguely I would be doing marketing, I was asked to come back for an observation day the next day. Compare that to other jobs who schedule second interviews one -two weeks after the first and it should be alarming. The interview with the other Cobra office across town later that day was similar. The same vague hints about marketing without really telling me anything.
The only difference was that this owner asked me what I wanted out of the job, to which I replied I wanted to progress my career. I was of course told about the global expansion and about what a wonderful opportunity Cobra was. And again I was offered an observation day the next day!
Stage 2: Observation Day:
Observation days, or second interviews involved a 'candidate' who had been successful at the first interview (i.e. at least 75% of those who walked through the door) shadowing a 'leader' through the field. I turned up with a coat in my bag as instructed and was introduced to the owner's 'second in command' (a common phrase in Cobra, as all leaders are introduced to the observations as the owner's top man, right hand man, best guy, best manager etc regardless of how good they are).
My leader took me out and talked to me about the job. When I asked him if it was commission based he replied that it was. Sensing that I was wavering he took me to the Carphone Warehouse whereon he pulled a wad of cash from his pocket to pay his phone bill. I was impressed. This too is a common tactic of Cobra, impressing the obs with how much money they have by flashing cash, buying them lunch etc.
I was then taken to a fairly rough area along with my leader and several others. They all seemed so positive; one even went as far as saying: 'I never knew there could be a job like this'. Of course, only one of them had been there longer than three months. My leader did really well and 'rang the bell' (hit the expected daily target of sales for a leader).
Back at the bus stop, we met up with the other FRs. Gone was their positivity and beaming smiles, replaced now with glum depression. I asked how many sign-ups they had got and was told that 'we don't talk about how many we've done'. The reason for not talking how many sales you did - according to Cobra - is that it won't help you achieve your sales. However in jobs I have had since then, all sales for every day are reported in the office for all to see.
The real reason Cobra does not want FRs discussing sales (in my opinion) is because most of them do not sell many. I later found out my leader was the only person to sell anything of substance on that fateful observation day. Had I known that at the time I would doubtless have thought twice about joining.
Stage 3: The Final Interview:
During the course of the observation day you are told three pillars upon which Cobra is founded: The Law of Averages (1 in 10), the 5 Steps (the 5 stages of a sale) and the 8 Steps (8 guidelines to success).Upon returning to the office, you are given a test and asked about your day and questions about what you have learned. Your leader then takes your test paper to the owner who ask the leader about the ob, and then, after leaving them to wait for a few minutes asks the leader to go out and make them think that the owner is wavering and that the ob still needs to prove themselves.
This involves the leader implying to his/her ob that the ob needs the job more than the job needs the ob (of course the opposite is actually true). This is done firstly to make the ob think Cobra is not desperate for them to start and also uses the old sales impulse of fear of loss' which makes anything you cannot have or might lose much more desirable. Telling the ob that the owner is unsure of whether or not they want them makes them think that it is a pretty hard job to get and has them frothing at the mouth.
Some owners and FRs would happily tell the most outrageous lies at this point. One good one was that if there had been more than one ob that day, any that had run off were said to have been sent home' leaving the one who stayed thinking they must have done well to be asked to stick around. Another absolute whopper told by some owners was to tell up to five obs that there was only one position available. It could leave an ob feeling special and important about being the only one who did not do a runner on the observation day (but could backfire almost comically if three obs all made it back, leaving the owner to say they made room for three because he/she could not decide between them).
The owner then conducts a 'final interview' as it is referred to in the presence of the ob, or a 'close' as those in Cobra call it. It is called a close because it is the final step towards selling the job to the candidate, it is NOT an interview AT ALL!
Once it gets to this stage, the ob WILL be offered the position. During my time at Cobra, only two people who made it back from the observation day were not offered jobs. One came back purely to shout at the owner for wasting his time and the other had been on an observation day so far from home that they could not run away. Others turned the job down, but all but two out of literally hundreds were offered the job.
The way Cobra sees it, if you can survive the observation day without running a mile, you are perfect for the job. All owners have a set spiel for the close, as they would in the field, all culminating in an offer to start the next day. It is possible in fact for a candidate to ring an advert at 10:00 on a Tuesday, have an interview at 15:00, an observation on Wednesday and start on Thursday. 48 hours from ringing an advert to starting work, why so fast? Impulse purchasing is the most effective as any sales position will teach you.
Stage 4: The First Month:
Having started in your new job, you will arrive bright and early and be introduced to the 'top people' (those who have been there more than two months) and asked to fill in the necessary paperwork. Then you are asked to do some practice pitching and then go into the meeting. In that meeting on my first day I was impressed by how nice everyone was. They were so positive and seemed to welcome me immediately.
It all seemed so innocent but what I later found out when I myself became a leader was that those in Cobra were taught how to act and how to welcome a newcomer to Cobra, to ensure they stuck with the job. What followed was much shouting and cheering and I was introduced to the office as though I was visiting royalty. Then it is off to the field.
The first few days are invariably tough, with the newcomer shadowing their leader for much of the first day and only going on their own for brief periods, getting longer each day. I started fairly quickly and got into a steady routine of dropping a few pieces. Now I must point out that it was only during my third week at Cobra that I made as much as I had in my previous job (from working literally twice the hours) but everyone was so happy and positive that I felt so much a part of what was going on, I never thought about leaving. So I toiled day in and day out and then began to ring the bell myself.
Stage 5: Promotion:
If a new start makes it through the first couple of weeks, they will likely stay in Cobra for at least a couple of months. For most, this is spurred on by a rather meaningless promotion to leadership. Different offices had different criteria; some would insist on a FR hitting the leader's bell several times over in succession, some required that they hit it just once. My office used leadership as a carrot that was dangled in front of the FR by not letting those not yet promoted on nights out, and keeping them out of meetings.
When promoted, the new leader was asked to come up to the front of the morning meeting to wild applause and have a little speech. After that, they came in earlier each morning to attend a leader's meeting, but as my girlfriend pointed out to me when I got home that day, I was not getting paid more for this promotion. And then life in Cobra could really begin.
Part Two: A Day in the Life of Cobra
Stage 1: First Thing in the Morning:
A good leader would arrive at his/her office between 09:30-10:00 to help out with things like sorting out the necessary merchandising materials and get with the right people like new starts, visiting owners or even just your own owner. If other FRs were around, then they would huddle around a whiteboard while one of the top leaders would perform an impact; a little sales buzz session to inspire and help everyone in the own sales. Failing that, a little practice pitching would take place.
At around 10:30, the leaders would be called in a leader's meeting where things not normally discussed in front of new people could be mentioned. For example, someone being sacked (i.e. someone who quit), problems, bad attitudes and anything negative that could be worrying the leaders was spun into a positive. The leaders would then go out to meet their respective new people before the day continued.
Stage 2: Pre-field Preparation:
After the leader's meetings, more serious practice pitching could begin, with new people being taught the tricks of the trade, along with larger impacts, invariably played to the tune of deafening pop music. This helped to shake everyone from their early morning slumber and to make sure people spoke louder (to help them in the field) and then crew meetings were held. A crew is a group of FRs trained, either directly or indirectly by the same leader and as such are a close-knit bunch; they go on nights out together, have a crew name and a chant or song (the idea is that a leader's crew will one day become his/her office).
The crew meetings generally involved leaders promoting how wonderful they were and how they would soon be owners. After 30-60 minutes of pitching, the morning meeting would convene. The morning meeting was an entirely different kettle of fish to a leader's meeting; nothing negative was discussed. There would be universal Cobra chants and more shouting and cheering.
The owner would then read out the list of bell ringers from the previous day (unless there were none) and promote upcoming events like rallies, conventions, future campaigns, road-trips, new territories (all this will be discussed later).Then the owner will divide the office into sectors or groups of people, all going to different territories. If there are any observations to take out (and in large offices there usually are), then certain leaders will be assigned one for the day.
For those without observations, the task is simply to collect the merchandising material for the day ahead, put on your coat and head outside so buy your lunch from the nearby McDonalds, Greg's, chippie or Subways etc (if you have new people on your crew you should buy their lunch for them too).Those running sectors must sort out the maps for where they are going and those with observations greet the candidates waiting for their day ahead. Then, when everyone has eaten their dinner off the back of a car or a bus-stop, the FRs trudge out into the field for another day.
Stage 3: The Territory:
The field is a big place, for some divisions it meant standing in a supermarket, but for most (including mine) it meant going door-to-door. The territories were by no means close by all the time. An office in Southampton might find themselves making the long journey to Brighton every day, an office in Newcastle might make the trip to Middlesboro (or even the Scottish borders!), an office in central Birmingham could go to Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
For sectors lucky enough to own a car, this would mean everyone chipping in petrol money, for those not so lucky, a miserable date with public transport awaited (at costs of up to 10 per day!).And of course, if you had new people on your crew, you paid for them as well!
Stage 4: The Field:
On arriving in the territory, the sector would be divided into pairs and given a few houses (80-100 usually) and then set off on their work. A first lap of the territory was intended to 'get rid of' all the house wives, pensioners set in their ways and a variety of other people not likely to buy and get some sales if possible.
By about 17:00 the sector could meet up for a short break at a cafe or pub, or sometimes just at a street corner. Anyone acting negative was quickly cheered up and the FRs then set out for prime time. Decision makers of the house and those with money come home and real selling begins. The day will involve a lot of negatives as most people say no to you as in any sales environment but Cobra teaches you to persevere and ignore those idiots who do not buy from you. This carries on until about 20:30 when the door-knocking ends and people re-convene at the car or bus-stop/train station for the long journey home.
As explained before, FRs typically were sent miles out into the field. Even in a car, people could arrive back at 21:30 and for those taking public transport it could sometimes be 22:00! Of course, if you have made 100, you think nothing of the travel, only of how well you have done, but all too often, leaders make that long journey home having made just barely enough to cover their daily expenses, and sometimes not even that.
Stage 5: The De-Merch and Bells:
The De-Merch process begins as soon as the FRs come back to office. Their sales are tallied up onto sheets and their forms collected ready to be sent to Cobra. It would seem that that should be the end of the day, as the FRs have now sold all they can and sorted out their paperwork but that is not the case. Leaders will take their new people aside and talk to them about their day.
This is crucial as new people very often have poor sales tallies. A new person coming home to his/her mum or dad or girlfriend/boyfriend and explaining that they have made 25 will be followed by that new person being persuaded to find a new job and not turning up the next day. So the new person is made to feel like they are doing brilliantly and that they will soon make it. They are then sent home happy and smiling to tell parents and partners how they will soon be a leader. If a new person has done great then they might be invited to stay for a little while and learn more.
Meanwhile, observations are taken back to go through the rig moral of the close interview while FRs return from the field and practice pitch with their crew. Leaders wishing to leave to catch the end of the football, see friends etc are encouraged to stay for later. Some offices will then perform the ritual of bells.
This takes place after all the observations and new starters have gone home and involves all the leaders and some non-leaders standing around in a circle around a real bell. The FRs then clap their hands in a tribal-like fashion to loud dance music as one by one, all the leaders who have rang the bell (between 60 - 80 depending on the office) come up and ring the bell to wild applause. Those who have scored one sale below the bell are then hauled up to do a chicken dance, as they have not hit their target.
It would seem to the unsuspecting eye that there are only two types of people at bells; those who have rang it and those who have chickened. Of course, many (most in fact) in the crowd will likely have scored below a chicken and many others who have done worse will be sent home. But it is all great fun and leaves you feeling great, especially if you go up and ring that special bell.
After bells has finished, the FRs either go home (unlikely), speak with their owner about how to improve or that they want the next observation (common) or go to the pub (most likely). The weary leaders (merchandisers are usually discouraged from attending) then sit down for a couple of pints and chat for an hour or so before last orders. This is like a ritual, and it is almost compulsory as you must, as a crew leader, spend time with your guys which involves spending money.
After that, a few select leaders will go out for yet more drinks at a classy club or bar, those not performing or out of favour go home. Then it is off to whatever place still open that serves food at around 0:00 - 02:00 and home and to bed before getting up early for another day in Cobra. Make no mistake, Cobra is NOT a job, it is a lifestyle.
Despite what sounds like a hard day, Cobra can be and indeed for me was, a lot of fun. Many jobs leave you coming in tired and hung-over and greeted by people just as miserable to be there as you. You will encounter people who are not motivated by their job and see it as just something they do in order to pay their mortgage and give them enough money to get drunk on a Saturday night. Cobra is very different; you come in to see people enjoying what they do and motivated to make something of themselves in life and excited about the day ahead.
I did say I would praise Cobra some and here I have. Cobra can be the best few months of your life, indeed many students who do it as summer work think it is fantastic working there, especially as you feel a part of something. The problem is not that being in Cobra is torture, it is that they drum a lot of false hope into you, so you are excited about a day you fervently believe, nay KNOW will come, when in fact it almost certainly will not. Sometimes a harsh reality check, while sobering, can be good for you, but this does not exist in Cobra.
Part Three: Progression or Bust:
Part A Stage 1: Getting to Ownership
Talking about progression in Cobra is a funny thing for me to do as it was something I craved dearly when I was there but never achieved (just like 99% of those in Cobra). The system after ownership is a simple one (on paper). A leader must directly train 3 new starters to leadership, those leaders then in turn train people and so a crew is built.
Once the crew hits 1,400 pounds profit per week in production the crew leader is given a pin to wear on his/her jacket and in most cases is given a bonus in their wage each week. If the crew leader then directly trains another two starters to leadership and hits 2,800 per week they become an assistant owner, go in the field less and less and receive 20% of the office profits until they have saved about 10,000, after which they will open their own office. I never saw anyone in my office get promoted anywhere near that, but the owner never stopped talking about it.
This golden carrot is dangled in front of the leaders daily, and they are encouraged to select a new city where they wish to relocate and discuss it with their crew regularly. To help them on their way, they are asked to attend pre-management meetings. This is where new leaders, or those close to leadership from several offices converge on one office (usually on a Saturday) and are bombarded with the structure for promotion. They are also drummed into excitement about the history of the company and its founder's humble beginnings.
The process is made to look simple and owners frequently lie to new starters about how hard it is (one owner from another office even claimed EVERYONE made it to ownership so I was told!).
Part A Stage 2:
Should an FR make it to ownership, it is by no means plain sailing from thereon in. From ownership, there is much hard graft and toil with a small office, trying to make ends meat. The average weekly expense of a Cobra office is 1,400. Now take into account the average weekly take home pay of an FR is just 250.
If a new owner starts with five leaders doing that amount each week plus going into the field him/herself, he/she will bring in 1,500 per week, or enough to pay the expenses plus 100 profit. Even if the leaders make 500 per week each (unlikely) then the new owner will be left with enough to cover his expenses plus maybe 500-600 per week in profits to keep. Only by expanding beyond this simple formula can an owner survive and most do not.
For those that do make it is a question of getting your leaders promoted to ownership and once a certain number have been churned out then an owner is promoted to Organisational Head and then to Vice President. However, somewhere around 9,000 Cobra offices have been started up around the world, but only about 800-900 are still operating! Some of the others were offices that failed but were then rebuilt but that accounts for a small few. Most offices fail and that is a fact.
Part B: Stage 1: The Decline:
For most people in Cobra, the two above sections were dreamt of but never achieved. The following section will detail what happens to most FRs.
After any amount of time in any job, staleness will start to creep in for most people. In a job that requires a fantastic attitude and total commitment, this can prove fatal. The staleness can creep in for a number of reasons, e.g.: A sudden dip in sales, lack of progression, mental/physical exhaustion, parents/partners persuading someone to leave or maybe just an FR waking up and looking at themselves really hard.
For me, it was a little bit of all of the above and it proved my undoing. The problem is that Cobra is extremely tough work; it involves walking in the rain for 8 hours a day having people say no to you constantly for six days a week with no holidays and little chance of success. However these symptoms kick in, they ALWAYS result in reduced sales and hence less money.
One might ask why an FR will not just simply have a chat with his/her owner and say that Cobra is just not for them and leave? The answer is that Cobra encompasses every part of your life: Your have no time to see your old friends and so your fellow FRs are your only friends (many FRs often live with others from Cobra in a shared house which makes it even harder to leave as the landlord is very often the owner!), your whole time is spent in Cobra, even Sundays usually involve a get together with your crew for a drink, a trip to the cinema etc.
This makes it extremely hard to break with Cobra, becoming harder still the longer you have been there. Also, it is important to remind the reader that very often friends and loved ones are sceptical about Cobra from the start. My parents questioned where the job was going and my girlfriend never got to see me. It is very hard to admit to having failed and having been so wrong for so long to everyone, and come home tail between legs begging for those you spurned to take you back. So FRs stay, often with disastrous consequences.
They stay because they cannot and will not accept defeat and seem to be spouting pro-Cobra remarks almost out of habit rather than belief, like a football team losing 5-0 still gamely trying to score. I will never forget the day before my leader quit, on the bus on the way home I was buzzing having smashed the bell, not knowing he had made less than 20 or that he had had a couple of bad weeks on the spin. I was talking positive in front of a new starter as he almost robotically chipped how helpful each sale was. Just over 12 hours later, he was gone.
The decline in Cobra leaves many FRs staying against all odds. One FR in particular from my office stands out; he never rang the bell, ever. He also never stopped talking about what he would do when he was an owner, how rich he would be and how he would look back at the times when he made 20 a week and laugh all the way to the bank. But yet he was always asking to borrow money, and even begged me once to buy him a sandwich because he had not eaten in two days.
Many times I saw him at the local Sainsbury's with a bottle of beer in hand because it was 'all I can afford'. He was gaunt and looked undernourished and was eventually evicted for not paying his rent, and slept in a bus shelter towards the end of his time on Cobra. But he would not leave.
This is the problem in Cobra; people leave jobs all the time, but it is easy to do; you just go for an interview or your day off and after maybe a few failed attempts you get offered the job you want. During this time you are paid from work and when you leave, there are no hard feelings.
In Cobra, you cannot take days off, even though you are self employed because you are treated like a moron if you take a day off, and as you see what other jobs offer you lose interest in Cobra's warped world and your sales plummet. If you were to ask for a day off for personal reasons, then your owner would probe into what they were while other jobs would accept that it was personal and simply ask you to make up your hours or take a day's holiday. The problem with Cobra is that those who fail to make it have no easy way out and are trapped in a world in which they cannot survive, leaving themselves ruined.
Of course, Cobra convinces you to stay. Day after day you are reminded of the owners that battled against adversity to get where they are. What is wrong with that? Not much really, they are telling you not to quit and while tough it is not morally objectionable to tell people to keep on trying at all.
What is objectionable is that they scare you about the outside world. I have heard many owners tell horror stories about how other jobs pay next to nothing, and they are usually just God awful jobs in terrible call centres and supermarkets where the people just do a basic job for basic pay.
If you leave so you are told you will never succeed. You will be doomed to a life of mediocrity. Telling someone they should stick at their job because it is great is fine, telling someone they should not leave because there is nothing else for them is more like emotional blackmail.
Part B: Stage 2: Leaving at Last
As stated above, leaving Cobra is incredibly hard to do. I was nearly in tears when I left because my dreams were in tatters. All those months I had dreamt of ownership and now I KNEW I was not right for it. But when agonising over leaving, the only thing that held me back were my 'friends' in Cobra. The money I was making was appalling, I had even had to cancel the standing order for my rent to have enough to eat and I was deep within my overdraft, but still, I paid for observations and new guys.
This again is a problem with Cobra; they will drum into you how you are making 350 - 450 / week whereas bog standard jobs that other young people work pay 200 - 250 after tax. Please consider that the pay you receive in Cobra is untaxed when you receive it. A weekly wage of 350 will go to about 280 IF you ever pay tax. Then take into account that aside from your daily trip to the office you will pay about 25 - 35 / week in travel for yourself and observations and new guys, and 25 - 35 / week in food for yourself and new guys from local fast food places.
In the end you are on roughly the same pay as any low - paying job, you just work much harder for it. Now take that same formula on reduced sales of say 200 - 250 / week, and suddenly you could have as little as 100 left to pay your rent and bills and enjoy what little free time you have! Hence a typical trail of debt and borrowed money from friends.
Despite all this, leaving Cobra is also nowhere near like leaving another job. In other jobs you sit down in private with your boss and just tell them you are leaving. They will then either try and persuade you stay or just accept it but regardless of that that will act very professionally. You then work out your notice and move on.
In Cobra, there is no notice. You hand in your ID badge and leave straight away. As far as Cobra is concerned, you are now dangerous, as if you stay, people may ask why you have left. If you mention that well paid job you are going to, that break you need to relax, the low sales or how little chance you have of making it, the others may start to think about leaving as well. In many offices, a top leader leaving will spark a rash of leaders walking out the door, the reason is that these leaders were close and all it takes is one quick phone call to ask why someone is leaving and the others will contemplate leaving too.
It is no coincidence that the only leader to ask me the reason why I left also quit within two weeks. My owner was quite rude to me, and called me a loser for not doing what he/she did. Cobra is like a family, and leaving it is like turning your back on your own flesh and blood, but you treated like a villain for wanting something else from life.
Another very important point is what the other leaders are told about you after you have left. The problem that Cobra faces is that they have drummed the idea of success and how wonderful Cobra is from Day 1. If a leader quits, then others will quite rightly ask why they have quit. This will then make them realise they get paid slightly more now than your average bog standard job for working TWICE THE HOURS with no holiday, stability and little chance of progression in tough circumstances.
So owners will explain that a leader was 'sacked', implying that the owner got rid of them even though the FR wanted to stay. This is virtually NEVER the case. I have spoken to many people supposedly 'sacked', all of whom quit. I know for sure I quit, but when I bumped into an old FR who had left Cobra (and hence no longer saw me as something he had stepped in) he said the office was told I had been sacked for closing a new starter's sales for him! Can you believe that? I was doing what I had been taught to do from the moment I first went training and I was 'sacked' for that. I was not sacked, I quit, as does virtually everyone who leaves Cobra. And so I left to rebuild my life.
Part B, Stage 3: The Aftermath:
My life immediately after Cobra is a depressingly familiar story; bad debt, back rent and council tax to pay, direct debits being rejected and admitting to my friends and family how stupid I had been. I ended up surviving thanks to my parents bailing me out and a friend who was kind enough to let me sleep on his couch until I got a place sorted out. I worked in a job I hated because it was the first job available and I desperately needed money.
However I am pleased to report that after a few months my life is back on track. I have a nice place to stay and my direct debits comes out of my bank without any worries. I have a job that pays ok but I am looking for better (of course I am able to still look for something while working there). My debt is falling away and I have an active social life with a good circle of friends who I see regularly, and I am able to keep up my hobbies like going swimming and supporting my football team. This is a common tale; initial hardship followed by an FR picking him or herself up and starting afresh, but it took me the best part of a year to do it. During the time I was in Cobra and the time it has taken to rebuild myself, many of my old friends have shot in front of me.
To see the effects of Cobra, it is interesting to compare and contrast the progress of those who left and those who stayed. I bumped into guy who lasted a week on my crew a few months back and he is starting a career for himself as I should be soon. I did of course apologise for dragging him round in the snow for a few days making virtually nothing but he seemed fine and was forging on ahead, happy in his life. I see him all the time on the train he is doing great.
For those who stayed? When I left my owner boasted that he did not care as the other top guys would be owners too within a few months. Sure enough one of them was promoted to crew leader within a few months. Half a year later I saw him again, although he did not see me. His head was bowed, he looked haggard and spent, no tie on his neck and he needed a shave. Clearly not an owner, I wondered how he really felt deep down. Another leader who boasted to me how he would make it, I saw looking equally exhausted, standing outside in a suit far too nice for going in the field having a smoke. Please remember, that these people - according to the boastings of my owner - were supposed to be owners months earlier.
Part 4: An In-depth Look at some of Finer Points of Cobra:
Cobra is littered with its own little phrases, chants and even gestures. I shall try to explain some of them here:
Juice: Cobra's slogan stands for: 'Join Us In Creating Excitement'. It can be used to in the context of 'juice by you', meaning well done or 'juice by that' meaning that something is fantastic. It is used to be a more meaningful expression than just 'well done', juice is 'Cobra well done'
Negghead: A person who is negative, can mean a customer or an FR not towing the line or just complaining how little money they make etc. This is used so that anyone being negative is insulted to the point that they will shut up, as no one wants to be a negghead, but they could cope with being called a 'gloom monger', a pessimist or something to that effect.
Toast: An FR who has quit. Again please note quit and NOT fired. This is used because both quit (the truth) and fired (the lie) would invariably give rise to the question 'why?'. The owner does not wish to say why an owner quit (for reasons stated in the previous section) and does not want to increase the lie further by making up a reason why they are fired. So the owner simply says that someone is 'toast'. This means 'they are gone, end of discussion' and the FR is then never mentioned again.
Billy / Todd: The perfect customer, the one who will sign up to any service. Not all offices used them but those that do use it in almost every other sentence. It is the opposite of negghead, as it is praising that customer who signed without even comparing the price.
Other Aspects of Life in Cobra:
The Dress Code:
Cobra offices do not ask their FRs to outright wear a uniform, but it is curious how I seem to be able to spot a group of Cobra FRs from a mile away. From the beginning they turn up in whatever shirt and tie they could scrape together but once promoted or just before that, they adopt a more universal, Cobra image. This image consists of dark suits of course and the tie always tied in a Windsor knot. Add to this a heavy black over-coat and you have the image complete. What is wrong with that? I am not accusing Cobra of anything here, but Cobra FRs stick out like a sore thumb.
Since I have mentioned these several times I must explain what they are. Put simply, it is when a small collection of people or sometimes even a whole office spends a week or even two working out of another office in another city (sometimes you will travel to a city with no office and pitch there). It is promoted as helping you progress by showing you a new city and learning how people in other offices work.
In reality it is also a very good way for owners to get around the problem of the administrator going on holiday or running out of territory (I have spoken to former FRs who were bluntly told they HAD to go on a THREE WEEK road trip as their was no territory, needless to say, they were quickly fired'). If there is an office there then as many as possible will be put up in the homes of fellow FRs and if not they will stay in a cheap hotel or youth hostel, all of which the FRs pay for of course, including the travel.
To put all this into context, I went on a road once and made 250. After paying for petrol to get up there and for nights in the youth hostel I was down to about 140. Of course all my meals were takeaway as I was not at home, which set me back to about 60, minus transport and it was 45, a few beers in local pubs and it was 30 left to pay my rent, gas, electric, water, TV license and council tax for my place back home which usually set me back about 150 / week. My owner would not have cared, after all, he made 250 off me for doing nothing.
Now please note that I was one of the highest earners of the roadtrip, many there ended up losing even more than me. Roadtrips were ENTIRELY financed by the FR but allowed owners to reap the benefits of often untouched territories without having to spend a penny.
Rallies / Conventions:
The UK Cobra Rally is held once a year, usually around August time in London (at the Hammersmith Apollo). Some leaders describe it as 'a rock concert meets a football matches' answer to a convention'. In my opinion it is more like and act of worship, with FRs from all over the place converging on one place to sing the praises of Cobra.
I loved it on the two occasions I went but now I wonder if it was not just a little scary, like an evangelical sort of event. The leader of the Cobra Group and the Vice Presidents from the UK all stood up and talked about how wonderful it was to be rich. These conventions are like the morning meeting times 1000. Instead of reading out bell ringers they read out how much owners pick up in overrides (money Cobra pays them for producing new owners), instead of promotion to leadership it is promotion to assistant management, ownership and above. There is loud music and lots of cheering. There are also regional rallies which are a little less raucous but essentially the same thing, while some organisations will also have other conventions that work in the same way, with much hollering and stamping.
These events generally take place on a Saturday, with all travel paid for by the FRs and might (if the rally takes place far away) involve a night in a hotel (again it is the FRs who foot the bill).
These events ensure that FRs believe in what they are working towards. They must see that there is more to what they do than knocking on doors. It does drum you up into a frenzy, so you think you have to go out and pitch so that one day you can go up on stage and pick up an award.
Crews form an essential part of Cobra. As briefly stated in previous sections, the basis is a group of FRs trained by one leader which forms that particular leader's crew. As soon as a leader hires' a new starter, their crew can begin. But crews are more than just training; crews become en entity within an entity. A crew name is formed such as the Golden Generation' (just a name I made up). When an FR on someone's crew becomes promoted they can begin training others and become the head leader's second generation' and any that they train become their third generation' and so on. See the below diagram as an example:
The Golden Generation:
Paul Steven Peter
Philip, Martin Gary, Alan, Robert Ben
Sean Eddie Greg Michael
John is the crew leader, and has only three first generation leaders, but he has 13 people on his crew in total. Even Michael, Greg, Sean and Eddie are on his crew and can help him get promoted. If Steven were to toast then Gary, Alan and Robert will become John's first generation.
It is very important to bond with your crew for when (or rather if) you start your own office. This is done in many ways; firstly with a crew board, which is just a notice board with photos of guys on the crew (swiftly removed once they toast), pictures of things the leader and any others wish to buy (like a car, a nice watch, an expensive suit, anything as long as it is not a holiday) and other such goals. When a crew begins to grow in size then the crew leader is encouraged to pick a new city to set up his/her office and post this on the crew board.
When training a new member it is important to build a good relationship from the start. On the observation day one is supposed to ask the ob all sorts of questions about where they live, with whom and what they do for a living. Again, this kills two birds with one stone as the leader gets to know the potential new starter and also establishes what sort of negatives they are likely to receive from the new person (e.g. someone living on their own will need money as they will not have parents to fall back on whereas someone living with their parents will likely come home to discerning voices if they start slowly).
When hired the leader will pay for the new recruits travel and food for the first couple of days but is also encouraged to buy them a drink or take them out, and thereby make them feel welcome. This will make them stick at the job. Interestingly enough, other jobs do not encourage the experienced people to bribe the new ones to make them stay! When going further, crew nights are arranged, where the crew will go out for a few drinks (with the leader paying for as much as possible) and meeting up on Sundays as well to ensure that everyone is still happy to come in again on Monday morning.
If a leader becomes a crew leader and then an assistant owner and then finally an owner, they will then have to switch territories. In some cases the new owner will work out of the same office as his/her promoting owner to save costs, however Cobra generally does not like this as it leads to territories being over-stretched and leaving lucrative new territories untouched.
So all the licenses are sorted out and the new owner will relocate to a new city with no debts as Cobra loves to tell everyone at every available opportunity. There is of course a reason for this. First of all, they new owner has spent months saving rather than spending the first months repaying a debt.
The second reason is that they do not pay for anything. A new owner will typically bring between three and five of his/her most trusted leaders from the crew. They might go as far as arranging accommodation, but all expenses of moving in (as anyone who has moved house will know are considerable) are footed by the leaders. Deposit on a shared house and moving all their stuff to the new city come from their own pockets, not to mention any days that could have been spent selling are spent settling in.
As a result, leaders lose out big but the new owner does not have to spend anything, and hence they do not have debts. Another reason is that many Cobra offices share an office space with another Cobra office. I have seen one floor of a city-centre building housing up to three offices. This is something no other businesses would ever consider but helps fledgling Cobra offices take off. Still that is preferable to an owner of another division in a nearby city who ran his office out of his own house because he could not share an office (he interviewed people at a local hotel!).
Tax is another strange aspect of life in many offices affiliated with Cobra as virtually no one pays it. The owners all pay it of course, not wishing to get their business shut down but for FRs it is a different story. In Cobra, you are self employed and as such should register your income to in turn pay your tax and national insurance (as much as no one wants to).
However I never met a single FR who paid tax in Cobra ever! I have heard owners defend this by saying that they encourage all FRs to register themselves as self-employed and pay tax. This, in the case of my owner and every other owner I came across is a big fat lie. There may have been owners urging their FRs to do this but I certainly never met any of them. My owner even kept telling us to put it off until the office was bigger where we could all sit down with a professional accountant to do our taxes. Of course, this never happened.
Now, it is not legal to outright accuse Cobra of trying to stop their FRs paying taxes for clandestine reasons so I will not do that. I will however put forward a possible explanation for why no FRs I met ever paid tax (and EVERY owner I met either NEVER encouraged them to or actively discouraged them from doing so): The average weekly pay for a Cobra FR is 250, according to my owner.
My leader (and indeed every other one I ever met) used to remind us how other jobs paid so little (how people usually ended up with about 200 after tax and national insurance). But now take that 250 and remove 20% (a fair and standard amount) for tax reasons and it becomes just 200. Take someone making 350, thinking they are the bee's knees and a high flyer around town and remove 20% and it is a more modest 280. Then take a higher earner on 500 per week only getting 400, really hitting the pockets.
But worst of all consider someone struggling with their sales, only making 180 (maybe enough to just about live off) only getting 144 and going overdrawn! For their seventy hours of hard toil in the field they have pulled in the equivalent of just over 2 for every hour worked! It could be the case that owners in Cobra take the attitude that if the FRs avoid paying tax then one of two things will happen; either the taxman will come round when the FR is an owner or close to it, and in which case they can afford to pay the tax bill, or they will have toasted already and which case it is not the owner's problem any more. I cannot accuse but I can suggest, I will leave it to the reader to make up their own mind.
n.b. As an interesting footnote, FRs do not get paid when they are off sick, yet they are also not encouraged to purchase some form of insurance to cover this as any accountant would advise a self-employed person to do. An FR breaking his or leg might be off for four months. Does that have anything to do with Cobra not wanting their FRs spending money on things that do not make them feel rich and deplete their wages yet further? I cannot accuse but I can suggest.
Cloak and Dagger:
I have to be very careful what I write, as I do not want to commit libel, but there are many things that I heard in Cobra that were not true. Many have been discussed above but many have not, but just for simplicity's sake, he is a bullet point list of many of the things that the office in which I worked lied about.
Being told the owner was wavering when I came back from my observation day when he/she was perfectly happy to hire me then and there.
The owner repeatedly telling obs that there was only one position available when he/she was prepared to hire them all.
Telling the FRs that he/she had started the office with the people who had been there the longest, when if in fact the people he/she had started out with had all left.
The owner claiming that at least a dozen leaders (including myself) were sacked when if fact they quit.
Claiming that we had access to many of Cobra's biggest clients such as Pizza Hut and Barclays, when in fact they were part of a different division.
Claiming that obs who had run off had been sent home in order to entice the obs who had come back to start
Many other white lies may have slipped through but those were some of the biggest and ones that cannot be denied. But little lies were not the only things about Cobra that some might describe as being sneaky. Among other things was the fact that it was never advertised that the job was commission only or that it involved door to door sales. The name of the office was also never even mentioned in most of the adverts and was not even written outside the building!
Another aspect are the websites of these companies. Many companies in the Cobra Group do not even have a website. Those that do follow a very set formula; there are NO photos of the office or of people in the office (usually not even a photo of the owner). The say nothing about direct, commission based selling, or door-door tactics. The descriptions are extremely vague (even links that say Clients' tend not to mention any of the actual clients). The only link that proves useful is applications'. Again, I leave it to the reader to judge for themselves about this.
Various divisions of the Cobra Group office uses something called a bond'. This is where a certain portion of an FRs pay for a sale is held back and returned only if the sale is completed'. In the division for a major gas and electric company that Cobra uses, this would mean if the subscription is cancelled before the switch over goes ahead, in the charity direct-debit division, this would mean a donor cancelling before a certain length of time had elapsed.
This ensured that the company represented by Cobra did not lose money, as they only ended up paying for sales that would make them money. So, for example (not real figures being used btw), if a sale would give an FR 45, he/she might only receive 30, with the other 15 being held back in the security bond. For every sale that was cancelled, the whole 45 would be taken out of the bond. What was left at the end was returned to the FR.
For example: An FR sells home telephone subscriptions. They sell 150 subscriptions over a 10 week period making them 6,750, but they would only be paid 4,500 over that 10 week period in the pay packet. The other 2,250 is put into their bond. If 40 people then cancel before their phone package is switched over then 40 x 45 would be taken from the security bond (1800), leaving just 450 which would then be paid to the FR. If 50 people cancelled then the FR would receive no bonus money at all. To make it worse though, if for example 60 people from that 150 cancelled early then 60 x 45 would be taken from the security bond (2,700), leaving a figure of - 450! This would mean money being taken from the FRs pay packet to make up for this.
One big problem with bonds for FRs was that the owner must request for the bond to be paid to an FR. If the FR is still in Cobra then they will receive the money since it keeps the FR happy. This becomes difficult when the FR in question leaves Cobra.
In all my time since leaving I have spoken to many FRs in person and online and have heard of only one who received any bond after leaving, and even he admitted to having to pester the office to death on several occasions before he eventually got some, but not all of his bond back.
EVERYONE else I have spoken with has either been told they will get it eventually or is told that their bond has conveniently gone negative and they are hence due nothing at all. Again, I cannot outright accuse Cobra or their offices of deliberately withholding money, but it does seem curious to me that many FRs (myself included) received regular and substantial bond while still in the business but ran into administration difficulties and negative bonds after they left. Judge for yourself.
Ah Saturdays, the part that no one likes to talk about. Cobra offices work on Saturdays as well as Monday-Friday. Some call it a sell out, some call it a half day, all work long hours on it. The Saturday was NEVER mentioned in my office in interviews. Sometimes it would slip out during observation days but in many cases (myself included), it was not mentioned until the new starter was already pitching where it was passed off as fantastic day to make money for so little work.
Depending on the office, Saturdays would work differently. Some offices like mine, referred to it as a half-day'. This involved coming in it about 10:30 and leaving at about 17:00, just a casual six and half hours of work! Others would set certain sales targets (such as the bell or just below it) and say that FRs could go home once they had sold that much but not before. Some offices (thankfully not one where I worked) would pitch until 20:30! Although they could be great days for selling, they could also be awful days just like any other. You could make good money. These days are covered over, but they do exist in EVERY office.
Employed or Self-Employed:
By legal definition, you are self employed within Cobra. There is no fixed wage or hours, benefits etc. You go out and sell and receive money based on that. However, there are many aspects of working within Cobra that are just like being employed.
The first aspect is the prickly subject of taking time off, which was frowned upon. Essentially, in Cobra, the head office shuts down for two weeks at Christmas and you are not allowed to knock doors on religious bank holidays. Other than that, you work, and you do not stop. A typical response to a question about holiday time would be: Why do you want to go on holiday, you can't make money on holiday'. Or if a leader suffering from burnout asked to take a couple of days off the response from the owner would be: You'll never get to ownership if you start taking days off, you need to be in the field for your crew'.
The owner has no power to say that you cannot take time off work as you are self employed and therefore free to work when you want. However, they severely discourage you. There of course a reason for this. Cobra, while leaving an FR vulnerable in that they could work all week for virtually nothing is also a good way to make a lot of money very quickly. I have made 300 in three days, and have seen some FRs do that it two! Of course in other self-employed jobs, like say taxi drivers, making a lot of money really quickly leaves them two options, either taking an extra day off or just making more money. But they have the choice.
In Cobra you do not. If you make 350 -400 from Monday-Thursday, you do not have the option of taking Friday and Saturday off to take care of those little things you want to do, you just go in and work more to see how much you make. If you eventually bug your owner you will be allowed' to take time off but be warned; you are now out of favour, out of the Cobra circle and looked down on. You will get no observations for a while now and will probably be stuck in a sector with the worst and most difficult FRs to teach you a lesson.
Cobra treats time off in this way because letting one FR take time off is like opening a can of worms. If an FR takes a Saturday off because of burnout then others will soon ask about it. If people treat Saturdays as optional, virtually no one will work them and the office profits will drop. Then FRs will start trying to make lots of money in three of four days in order to take the rest of the week off. It is an FR's right to do this, but it is dangerous to Cobra and so they do everything they can to stop it happening.
n.b. To flesh out my point I will tell the story of an FR in my office. Her brother came in to visit from out of town and so the FR wanted to spend more than just a couple of hours after work with him. Knowing that the owner would say no, she rang in the next day (Friday) to say she was sick and then went out with her brother. Unfortunately we all went out for a Friday night drink and saw her and her brother in town, drunk as could be. Needless to say the FR was fired' (yes she quit as well) shortly after. But the next day in the leader's meeting, the owner said: If she had asked for the day off I would have said yes . you're not getting any obs for a month but you can have the day off'. And there you have it, not even the visit of a family member is enough for the owner to just let someone take a breather without trying to blackmail them into working more.
To further illustrate my point, there was once a Monday I had off. I asked for it off and my owner said no, but said I could take it off if I made more than 500 from Monday to Saturday before. My previous best had been only 400 and so it was quite tough but I managed it (just!) and took Monday off. It was the best Monday of my time in Cobra. I had time to spend some of the money I made. I bought some new ties and a suit and several DVDs and had a nice lunch, plus I went out on Sunday night and got nicely drunk. These days off gave me time to enjoy myself, but Cobra severely discourages them. Again, what is the criticism here? Well, again it is up to the reader, but I will say this: What good is money, when you have no time to spend it.
To give another example, over the Easter weekend, we were not allowed to work Good Friday, Easter Sunday or Easter Monday by law. But we WERE legally allowed to work on the Saturday. The owner spoke to us in the morning meeting about how he was very sorry, but we could not work the Friday or the Monday, but we could work the Saturday. In reality, we all wanted Saturday off as well as Friday and Monday but met with stern disapproval at the idea of not working the Saturday. All but one of us sloped off early, desperate for a break after months of hard work.
The same logic applied to leaving earlier after work. Upon coming home from the field and doing your paperwork, your necessary work was now complete. Surely, an FR is now free to go home? Not always! On many occasions, I and fellow FRs would come back, de-merch and be ready to head off to go out, go home, or just watch the football. But we were told to stay behind and create an atmosphere'. Going home anyway would be greeted in the same way as taking time off; by being excluded from the Cobra circle.
So there it is; what life is like in Cobra, the things they tell you and the tings they won't. All the secrets and truths of the organisation are here. Doubtless this article will come in for criticism as will I. I will attempt to answer these criticisms before they even come in since I have a fairly good idea of what they will be: Firstly there will be the soft approach, where some owner will claim something like: I'll admit it, the hours are long and the work is hard, it's not
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