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Online Dating Magazine > Reviews > Instructions to my Officers

Book Review:
Instructions to my Officers

Review by Joe Tracy, Publisher of Online Dating Magazine

Book
Instructions to my Officers

Author
Herb Vest

Published
August 2004

Online Dating
Magazine Rating

7.5/10


Instructions to my Officers Review:

Instructions to my Officers gives readers a look into the mind of the most controversial online dating service CEO in the industry - Herb Vest. Written by Vest, CEO of True.com, Instructions to my Officers is a guide to entrepreneurial strategy. The book, while interesting, is unconventional in many ways. Right off the bat, there is a Disclaimer that reads, in part:

"This book contains material that may be offensive to some (make that a whole lot of) people. It contains low, foul, vulgar language used solely for dramatic effect and to evoke scorn from the reader..."

 

Like his online dating service, True.com, Vest is very controversial in the book. But the interesting thing about reading the book is that it gives you a blueprint into Vest's thinking. And Vest knows that people don't like him because of his business practices. On page 18, he says:

"It is true that many people do not like me. So many, in fact, that I saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. I almost started the I Hate Herb club. I carefully laid out a business plan for this venture. It was simple. By charging a $10 membership fee, I would soon become the wealthiest man alive."

Vest says that he is not liked because people don't like a revolutionary. And, lets face it, in many ways Vest's ability to create controversy in the industry makes him stand out. Some may call this a revolutionary and others may call it a pest problem, but the fact remains that Vest has grabbed a piece of the online dating revenue pie using his methods.

Let's examine some of those methods.

True.com started grabbing media attention by doing mandatory background checks on new members (a great idea), while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to convince state legislatures to require online dating services to do background checks. The appearance became "True.com is concerned with the safety of online daters". Yet reading his book sheds a new light on what he was doing:

"Use regulatory restraints to your advantage," says Vest on page 62. On page 63, he expands by saying, "Employ lobbyists to protect your regulatory flank. Although distasteful to some people, companies often use laws and regulations to control competition."

Vest also says to provoke your competition into attacking you first. He says that getting others to attack you helps you achieve legitimacy.

It's obvious, when reading Instructions to my Officers, that Vest believes in taking advantage of legislatures and the media to artfully slam competitors while looking like the small guy fighting back. I'm surprised at how much Vest expresses this because he has handed his competitors words on paper that can be used against him. State legislatures, in which he convinces to create a background check bill, might reverse those efforts when they see what he says about using legislatures to promote a specific agenda.

As you read, it becomes clear that True.com doesn't appear to be looking out for the consumer, but rather for its own position in the industry. This is further revealed by True.com signing an exclusive contract with the largest online provider of background checks before trying to get legislation passed forcing other online dating services to do background checks. If you are truly concerned about online daters safety, then why the exclusive contract? He answers that on page 63:

"Tie up suppliers with exclusivity contracts. This will frustrate the competition enough to allow exploitation."

Yet even during this talk of "regulatory restraints" and "exclusivity contracts" Vest manages to express the importance of putting the customer first.

"However, first and foremost, the company exists to serve its customers," he says on page 76. "This is the purpose for its existence: to make people's lives better."

It's a great thought and sentiment, yet when you look at True.com, it makes you scratch your head. True.com has become one of the most complained about online dating services to the Better Business Bureau. Right now there is a class action lawsuit against the company for its billing practices. True.com has made it hard for members to unsubscribe from the service, forcing them to call a phone number (during set times) versus being able to cancel online. All of these tactics only annoy custsomers. So why use such tactics, particularly when part of your battle plan is to serve the consumer? I'm afraid I may never get a real answer to this question, unless Vest writes a followup book, "Instructions to my Consumers".

Instructions to my Officers isn't just a book on the philosophy of the building of True.com. It actually mentions little about True.com, even though you can see how many of the philosophies of the book are applied to the company. Instructions to my Officers is about an overall controversial business model to increase business and eliminate competition. The book covers financing, marketing, branding yourself, and using legislatures to accomplish goals. In reading the book, I found the political chapters most interesting, because it helped explain a lot of True.com's behavior in state legislatures. In Chapter 11, The Political Paradigm, Vest says:

"State legislatures are particularly vulnerable to influence from special interest groups because they are less in the media spotlight than the national Congress."

You start to see where the whole True.com movement to legislate online dating background checks came from.

But not everything in the book is controversial. There are some gems that stick out as you read. For example, Vest talks about how at H.D. Vest Financial Services, he would rotate his employees to different departments every three months. This effectively helped everyone master all the company positions while aiding to develop future managers. Whenever the company was overwhelmed in one area, someone from another department could step right in to help without further training because they had worked that job. Gems like this provide valuable insight for all businesses.

The book is written much in a military style, using military verbiage in several places. For example, branding is "artillery" and an advertising combination is "infantry". But then there will be several pages where the military verbiage disappears altogether. The book also is mixed with "Herb Stories", practical lists, parables, and biographical facts (i.e. Vest was accused of cheating when he was in the 8th grade). Vest even includes his resume in the book (why? I have no idea). There isn't a consistency to the style and presentation of writing, which makes it difficult to fully appreciate.

Inconsistencies aside, Instructions to my Officers (which I've heard was once required reading for new True.com employees) contains a business philosophy and mind set that is controversial, yet sometimes effective. Thus it is vital for open-minded business people to peruse in order to understand the type of business tactics that may be used on you.

In my opinion, every CEO of a competing online dating service should make this the next book they read in order to better understand the mind set of Vest when it comes to competition. Some might consider the book self-serving, but I see it as a rare opportunity to see the blueprint of someone trying to be a major player in the online dating industry. Because of this, I give Instructions to my Officers a rating of 7.5 out of 10 and recommend it as essential reading, particularly for executives in the online dating industry.


 


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