Say It With Beef Is In Trouble
For those of you who are short on time, I’ll give you the quick story, and the two expandable sections below will provide all of the details. I’m not asking for you to buy anything – seriously. Please read this if you have the time. Other than that, SHARE THIS PAGE. Share the CRAP out of it. If you know of an investigative journalist, let me know. Post this on Reddit, Facebook, etc. Just share it. I had an attorney contact me and say that I have a pretty solid case, but I can’t afford him. Justice shouldn’t just be for the rich.
Click to expand the following sections for the full story, and the short version can be found below.
What's This All About?
Curious how Say It With Beef went from the dream of a IT security engineer who was living in his car to a becoming a viral sensation? Interested in the deep, dark secrets of how to commit review fraud online, how Google up-ranks websites by BLINDLY gathering up reviews it finds on the site’s pages, and how an unscrupulous fellow Eagle Scout used them just to make a quick buck? Step this way, my friends – your journey is about to begin . . .
It was the summer of 2012. I had been out of grad school and working as a security engineer at a major corporation for just over a year, but one thing really bugged me: my debt. After six years of college, I had a lot of it, and I had a car payment on top of that. So, to pay it off as quickly as I could, I decided to do something a little insane: I got a storage unit, moved out of my apartment, and into my car.
The experience taught me a lot. There were numerous problems to solve like how to safely wire electricity into my car, where to park without the police showing up, how to turn my seats into a decently comfortable bed, etc, but as an Eagle Scout, it was a lot like camping. With most of my belongings crammed into a 5′ x 10′ storage unit, I realized that I really didn’t need a whole lot to get by in life. In just over a year, I managed to pay off all my debt, and I even started a blog about my experience, https://HomelessProfessional.com. After almost three years of being technically homeless, I had saved up about $30k.
A few years later, the senior director of my department nearly died and was hospitalized for nearly five months. The day before his return, his assistant emailed out to let everyone know but didn’t mention anything about a, “Welcome back – glad you’re not dead,” party. I shot back a message asking if anything had been planned, but she said that unfortunately, no one had been able to do anything. She told me that I could always plan something. However, as a Dilbert, I’m not exactly the party-planning type.
What do you get for someone who is sick? Flowers, right? Yeah, this guy regularly spent time working on his Dodge Challenger and isn’t exactly the flower type. Then, I noticed a bag of beef jerky on a coworker’s desk. Beef jerky flowers. I could totally make beef jerky flowers. After numerous trips to stores and over three hours of work, the first Broquet was born. The first picture shows what my product looks like now while the second two show the very first one – I’ve come a long way:
My coworkers thought it was the coolest thing ever and suggested that I sell them on the side for extra money. Considering the first one took me so long to make, I wasn’t exactly interested. However, since I have a degree in engineering, I started pondering how I could speed up the process. In my spare time, I did some research, handcrafted equipment, and slowly inched forward.
After another year or so, a good friend of mine told me that I needed to either, um . . . “poop” or get off the pot. He was right. I’d spent enough time talking about this “Say It With Beef” idea but hadn’t really gone all-in. I knew that as someone in his late 20s, if I wanted to start a business, it was now or never. With the money I’d saved up from living in my car, I decided to get started, dropped $8k to have a website built professionally built, left my job, and moved forward.
Odds are, you know the rest – I launched in September 2016 as a one-man show. In January 2017, I went viral when my site was featured on Good Morning America, Good Mythical Morning, and more. However, I wanted to tell you some of the backstory because I believe it’s important to explain what it took for me to make Say It With Beef a reality. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t born overnight. It took over a year of planning, literally hundreds of hours making equipment by hand, and lots of money. I’m not rolling in it, now, either – small businesses don’t make a profit for the first few years, and the same is true for me. I’ve spent every penny I have as well as a sizable portion of my parent’s retirement. What happened next threatens all of that.
On January 20th, I had to stop taking sales of Broquets after receiving 700 orders in just four days. I scrambled to find employees and figure out how to get enough raw material. In the midst of this, on February 5th, the website of my competitor, whom we shall call “Douchey Douche” for legal reasons (but you can easily look him up), went live. So did ads above Google search results encouraging people to “Say It With Beef for Valentine’s Day.”
At first, I wasn’t too concerned with Douchey Douche. My products use vastly-superior jerky since I insisted on using solid strips of meat for the “stems” instead of that recycled shoe-sole snack-stick “jerky” like they do. Also, I was fairly confident that my following was substantial enough that I could continue to expand my brand recognition and customer base. I contacted a lawyer to send a few cease and desist letters to put a stop to the trademark-infringing ads.
After researching the owner of Douchey Douche, I learned that this wasn’t the first time that he had ripped off another company for a quick buck before abandoning the idea. Also, his parents own beachfront resort properties in Newport Beach, California, so he was just some guy with mommy and daddy’s money to play with. Say It With Beef meant something to me, and unlike him, I was willing to put forth the time, money, effort, and sacrifice to make my business a success. I believed I could outlast him by just doing it better and working harder.
A few months later, I noticed that Douchey Douche had launched roses after “months of research and development.” It turns out the owner’s wife ordered one of my rose Broquets using her maiden name so they could reverse-engineer them (I have the purchase record and everything). So, I occasionally kept tabs on their site and Facebook page to make sure he wasn’t ripping off more of my products. Then, in August of 2017 (shortly after he responded to one of my cease and desist letters), I noticed something was up. Since he launched his business, his Facebook following had been a fairly-consistent 300 or so. However, it had suddenly jumped up to over 2,000 – well over my page at that point in time.
I started watching his growth and keeping track of dates, times, and the number of likes. In under two weeks, he went from 301 likes to 8,000. I put the numbers on a chart, and if you look just at the final four points, the growth was almost perfectly linear as you can see in the second picture:
No one has linear growth. NO ONE. Also, growth that fast was ridiculous. Obviously, he was using some sort of automated service to pump up the appearance of his company.
In his July 20th response to my cease and desist letter (literally a week before his Facebook boosting started), he stated, “[A]s a matter of planned marketing changes completely unrelated to your letter, the phrase ‘say it with beef’ is no longer a part of our marketing copy, and that should alleviate SlWB’s expressed concern.” Translation: “You pissed me off by calling me out. I wasn’t going to take my knock-off company seriously, but now, out of spite, I’m going to do everything I can to destroy your silly little business.” Awesome – how honorable of him.
I reached out to Facebook with a complaint, but the response was less than satisfactory. Since there wasn’t a good way to report an issue like this, I filed a copyright violation. Facebook told me that Douchey Douche’s page didn’t violate any copyrights. I explained that I couldn’t find a better place to submit my complaint and asked them to look into Douchey Douche’s suspicious activity, but I was again told to pound sand. I wasn’t too worried, though. Based on everything I had read, boosting your Facebook page with a fake following doesn’t jive well with their algorithms, causes issues with your advertising, and is essentially the social media equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
It was another year before Douchey Douche became a problem again, but this time, it was for real. I had noticed that his website had a reviews section, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, a friend of mine accidentally bought Douchey Douche’s product instead of mine because their page popped up first in search results. I was used to Douchey Douche’s ads coming in above mine because he can afford to spend more on them than I can, but he was never even on the first page for any of the search terms like “beef jerky flowers” or “jerky roses.”
I began to do some digging, and what I found wasn’t pretty. There were thousands of reviews, and 100% of them – without exception – were five stars. ALL of them, even the ones with negative comments from the customers:
All of this seems wholly inconsistent with what’s on his Facebook page. Even to this day, he zero customer reviews on Facebook. Also, just like the Facebook likes, with the exception of peak periods like Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day, the growth of reviews was linear:
I went back and looked at his Facebook growth, again. This time, I compared it to my own growth and a few other related businesses that have peak sales for Valentine’s Day. I wrote a program to record likes from their pages every 15 minutes. While everyone else was averaging 1-2 likes per hour, he was averaging 11. Also, note how his growth follows a very repetitive pattern:
This is certainly more than a little suspicious. I decided it was time to contact Shopify and Facebook (again), but this time, I would send a letter via certified mail along with the evidence I’ve shown on this page. The response? You guessed it – Facebook was silent, and Shopify told me that due to privacy policies for their users, they couldn’t tell me anything about internal investigations of users (or even if they intended to launch one). Since then, nothing has changed, and Douchey Douche has added over 1000 reviews to his page. Great.
Here’s another thing. On April 29th of this year, Douchey Douche launched “Awesome Gifts Co” as a “gender-neutral” alternative to their current branding. Here’s the growth of their new company’s Facebook page:
They announced this on their current Facebook page that has 30k “followers.” If he actually had that many followers, wouldn’t you expect their new page to have more than a single like? Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I’m just sayin. I fully expect this to shoot up once they start creating fake likes on this new page, though.
Like me, you probably go to Amazon to search for products, rank and sort them based on reviews, and pick something from there (and perhaps even buy it somewhere else). You trust reviews, and you depend on customer feedback to guide your purchases. These days, reviews are critically important:
I’ve got some news for you: those reviews are likely fake. I know, I know – you’re a savvy shopper, you’re already aware that Yelp is full of crap, and you can weed through fake reviews. After all, fake reviews can’t be THAT prevalent. Also, private websites are more trustworthy than places like Amazon, right?
I’m gonna burst your bubble. I didn’t think it was that bad, either, but it’s stoopid-easy to create fake reviews on a private site, and the problem is WAY worse than I thought. Remember, I used to work with a team of white-hat hackers. I’ve seen some really sketchy stuff, but this made me both angry and a little sick to my stomach. This activity even has a name: “astroturfing.” Basically, you’re planting fake grass on your website to make it look better than it really is.
Wanna know how easy it is to find people to write fake reviews? Head on over to a website where you can hire freelance writers like Fiverr.com, search for “review writer,” and find someone in the Philippines who speaks English to write reviews for you.
Well, lookie here? While it’s not uncommon to hire Filipino customer service assistants, it’s all too suspicious that Douchey Douche has someone from the Philippines listed as a manager of their Facebook page – it’s probably the same person they paid to write reviews for their website:
Here’s how people get five-star “verified” reviews on Amazon – this is where you will lose all faith in the honesty of reviews:
- Find a freelancer who speaks English.
- Have them buy your product, but don’t ship it.
- They write a review (preferably over a VPN so it looks like they’re based in the US).
- Refund their purchase via PayPal plus a commission for their service.
- Congratulations! You now have a review by a “verified” customer.
That’s Amazon, though. How about privately-run sites? There are numerous plugins that let you add reviews to your website, and they allow you to do a number of things:
- It is possible to change ANYTHING about the review – the rating the person’s name, what they wrote, etc.
- Reviews can be deleted. Amazon, Facebook, and Yelp require a manual request to have reviews deleted, but with these plugins, you can delete reviews without limitation.
- Plugins provide a way to import reviews in bulk in case you’re switching from one plugin to another, but this opens up the door for obvious abuse by letting people import fake reviews by the thousands.
- Many plugins lets you mark reviews as “Verified” by simply adding an order number. No need to do the “purchase/review/refund” dance like you do on Amazon!
- Imported reviews can have their date set, so historical fake reviews can be added. This way, it looks like your reviews are spread out and not all added on the same day.
Since seeing is believing, here ya go. I signed up for “Stamped.io,” the plugin Douchey Douche uses, and this is a video of me uploading and modifying a fake review:
Here’s the final piece of the puzzle. When you do a Google search, sites that have reviews will often show the star-rating next to the search result. When Google gathers data from a website, it gathers reviews if they are present, and it uses this to determine where a site should rank. If you have a lot of reviews, your site gets up-ranked. HOWEVER, Google does absolutely ZERO analysis of the reviews it finds to check for odd patterns or suspicious language like Amazon and Yelp do. It just BLINDLY pulls in what it finds and up-ranks sites accordingly. Want to rank #1 on Google? Whip up a bunch of fake reviews, import them into your review plugin, and Google will do the rest. That’s EXACTLY what Douchey Douche did to me, and it is RAMPANT.
Still trusting those Amazon reviews . . . ?
What bugs me the most about Douchey Douche isn’t that they’re my competitor. It isn’t that the owner seems like a spoiled rich kid who decided to rip off and ruin another business just for fun because my cease and desist letter pissed him off (I don’t begrudge his family’s wealth – that’s not the issue). It’s the fact that, like me, he is an Eagle Scout. A Scout is to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. How is what he is doing any of these? The Scout Oath starts with, “On my honor.” Is deceiving customers, creating fake reviews to boost your business, and attempting to destroy a the startup of fellow Scout honorable?
Not once have I paid for a review or given an incentive for someone to leave me positive feedback (it’s actually illegal to provide incentives like coupons, rebates, etc. in exchange for reviews unless you clearly disclose that people have been compensated for their feedback). While friends and family have indeed left me reviews, I only permitted them to do so if they had actually purchased my products. I intentionally picked a review platform that doesn’t allow anonymous reviews because I believe that reviews should be trustworthy for my customers. Heck, I don’t even delete or hide negative comments to posts on my Facebook page, but just go TRY to leave negative comments on his posts – they won’t last long.
I never thought that Say It With Beef would make me a millionaire. As is, between the cost of rent, labor, supplies, insurance, utilities, etc., the additional money I’ve spent on ads in an attempt to beat Douchey Douche has put me in a hole, and I have yet to make a penny for myself. I just wanted to have a chance at starting my own business and maybe use it as a springboard to fund some of my more tech-related business ideas (like the fact that my website became the first serverless eCommerce website in the world back in January . . . but that’s a different story). I wanted to do well enough that I could help my parents retire earlier. The two best parts about owning Say It With Beef have been hearing from satisfied customers and knowing that my silly little business is the primary source of income for a mom and her two sons (I used to be the main income for three families, actually). She was able to buy a house last year because of Say It With Beef. I wanted to be able to keep providing fun and unique products for my customers, have more employees, and be able to provide a better life for them. Early on, I had met with the local high school to discuss providing funding tutoring programs for any students that work for me, and I had hoped to be able to do that long ago. I have so many products that I had hoped to introduce by now, but I’ve not been able to do so and may never get the chance.
Given an uneven playing field, there’s no amount of money I could ever spend or quality of product I could provide to fight back against Douchey Douche. With far more funding behind him, all he needs to do is out-bid me on ads and pump his site full of more fake reviews. My only options are to continue doing what I’m doing and slowly bleed money on ads until I have to close my business or go for broke and try to fight back legally. The second option certainly isn’t inexpensive, but since it’s the only choice that doesn’t have the guaranteed result of failure, it’s my best bet. It just makes me sad, frustrated, angry, and even feel like a failure that I lived in my car for three years to save up enough money so I could take this shot in life only to have someone – a fellow Eagle Scout, no less – take it all away by playing dirty, and there’s really not much I can do to stop him. I haven’t given up hope and I’m not done fighting. I don’t think Say It With Beef HAS to be a lost cause, but unless something changes soon or I can get some help, the future doesn’t look very promising.
I’m sure we can all agree that review fraud and astroturfing activities hurt consumer confidence as well as any small business (online or physical) that is trying to play by the rules. Know what else it can hurt? Public safety. What if an Amazon seller pumps up the reviews of a toy for infants even though it is made out of flimsy or potentially unsafe material? You may have gotten a great deal on that five-star rated bumper-jumper for you baby, but if the door clamp is made out of cheap plastic and winds up breaking . . . (Oh, shoot – I literally just made that up on the fly. Turns out it really happened).
How about poorly-made electronics? These days, USB and laptop chargers (and even the cables themselves) require VERY specific circuitry in order to safely support rapid-charging technologies. Ever seen a lithium fire? They’re not exactly pretty. Nor is that five-star review that led you to buy an uncertified charger.
This is a huge deal, and it goes far beyond my little business of selling meat flowers. We need to fight back, and I need your help if we have any hope of succeeding. For the sake of Say It With Beef and hundreds of other small business who are trying to be honest and play by the rules, please consider helping with the information provided below.
How Can I Help?
In each section below, I have pre-written material that you can copy and paste into the submission forms for each company, organization, or person. It’s pretty simple. If you have contacts whom you think could help (an insider, someone in the media, a rich uncle, etc), contact me via the final section.
|For a big company, Google tends to be surprisingly responsive. However, they sure don’t make finding submission pages very easy unless you pay for their G-Suite business services. This seems to be the best link to submit a complaint:
Once on this page, here’s what you need to do:
To go a step further, there’s always snail-mail, and sending this letter may help to get their attention – just make sure to change the fields in [brackets]:
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
|Being a Canadian company, Shopify is actually pretty easy to reach and rather responsive. The easiest way is to use this form:
Shopify Acceptable Use Violation Form
Once on this page, here’s what you need to do:
It would be hardcore if you sent a letter like this one to Shopify, but remember: they’re in Canada. To send a letter there, you need to add three stamps to the envelope. Also, make sure to change the fields in [brackets]:
150 Elgin Street, 8th Floor
Ottawa, ON, CA K2P 1L4
|Facebook is a tricky beast to contact – they’re not very responsive, they don’t make it easy to find any actual submission forms online, there’s no “email” addresses that they use, etc. From what I can tell, this is the best way to reach them:
Once on this page, here’s what you need to do:
If you wanted to be AWESOME, you can also send that as an actual letter to Facebook’s legal department. Here’s their address:
1601 Willow Road
Menlo Park, CA 94025
|This might be the best bet of getting something done from a government perspective. The AG is the appropriate agency for cracking down on things like this. If you want to submit a complaint via the web, start here:
On to the form. Fill out the “Your Information” section with all of your personal information. Then, use the following for the “Business Information (Complaint Against)” part:
To go old skool, you can send the print version. Fill and print out this PDF – I’ve already taken care of most of the fields. Then, print out this document to include with the form (don’t forget to change the red text!) and mail it to the following:
Public Inquiry Unit
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
|Surprise, surprise – as a government agency, FTC’s form is a bit of a pain, and there’s no section that fits this scenario quite right. I hit up their support via their in-browser chat, and they recommended starting here:
Now, the fun part – the unending form:
|***Update: I’ve been told that the Canadian Competition Bureau is responding to say that this issue originates in the US, so it is outside their jurisdiction. Since it is occurring on a store hosted on Shopify (a Canadian company), I believe it is still a matter that involves them. If they get enough letters, they might take action. However, if they reply and start asking why they’re getting the same letter from so many people, you might just respond by saying that Douchey Douche is on Shopify, Shopify is Canadian, and the Bureau needs to investigate the review fraud being allowed to occur on Shopify’s systems.***
Oh, Canada – sometimes, they make things so much easier than the US government. The Competition Bureau is basically the equivalent of the FTC, and they have been cracking down on fake reviews for several years before the FTC. Since Shopify is a Canadian company, filing a complaint here is definitely worthwhile. Start at this page:
Competition Bureau Complaint Form
Next, the form:
Please input your address so we can look up your congressional district and get your members of Congress. We’re not storing anything – it’s just searching from this site. You can use this letter – just make sure to change the fields in [brackets] if you plan to send it by snail-mail.
There are a few things I really need to help keep Say It With Beef afloat. I don’t think the business is a lost cause (not by a long shot), but I definitely need some help if I am to continue:
- I had a marketing agency working for me last year, but they cost WAY too much money and didn’t show a meaningful ROI. I really need help with marketing, but I’m not exactly rolling in spare cash. If there’s a freelancer or smaller agency willing to give me a hand with the understanding that I can pay more once their efforts pay off, it’s something I definitely need.
- Between the normal expenses that any small business faces and trying to out-bid Douchey Douche on ads, I’ve spent a LOT of money, and there’s not much more that my family can provide to help. If you’re an investor or someone who would be interested in partnering with me to take Say It With Beef to the next level, let me know.
- I’ve not had much luck finding a laywer to help me with my case. Honestly, none of them ever respond. Maybe they were just too busy or this isn’t in their area of practice. If you know of someone who could help, that would be great.
Have anything else that could help? Do you know someone on the inside at one of these companies who could lend a hand? Maybe it’s possible to get media attention on my issue to expose this problem beyond Say It With Beef. I’d certainly be interested in your feedback. This contact form goes DIRECTLY to my personal inbox, so feel free to drop a message.
I have a competitor, and for legal purposes, we shall refer to them as Douchey Douche Co. Some of you may have thought that we’re the same company. We’re not. Lately, he’s been creating loads of fake reviews on his site. Here’s why that’s a problem. On a private site, you can upload reviews in bulk, and there isn’t any verification to ensure that they aren’t fake. Google then BLINDLY gathers them from your site and up-ranks you for having more “user generated content.” It’s that simple, and it happens all the time.
That’s exactly what my competitor did to me, and as a result, he’s beating me in Google rankings for search results like “jerky flowers” and “beef jerky flowers.” I’ve lost a lot of sales and spent a bunch of money trying to fight him with ads, but that money is almost gone, and if nothing changes, I may go out of business. What he’s doing is illegal, and I’ve tried contacting Google, Shopify, Facebook, and even my Congressman, but I’m just one company with four employees, not Amazon. No one cares.
They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I need you to SQUEAK. That’s why I put together this page to make it dead-simple for you to email, call, or write letters to the people and companies below. I even put together pre-written letters so you can just copy, paste, and send. It doesn’t get much more simple than that. Check out the “How Can I Help?” section above for more details.
Please consider helping out. If it takes 15 minutes, I’d be surprised. This issue isn’t just hurting me – it’s hurting any other small company that tries to play by the rules.
Beyond contacting the people and companies in the section above, the biggest thing you can do to help is to SHARE THIS PAGE. I just want my story told. I want to put a stop to this and make a difference. Do you or someone you know work in the media? The more momentum I can get, the better chance I have of making an impact.
Thank you again for your help and your support of my business. I hope we’ll still be around the next time you need a way to Say It With Beef to someone special in your life.
Owner and Lead Carniflorist