“Hi there, Dominic here.”
If you’re a Singaporean who watches YouTube, you definitely will have heard of this line time and time again. You probably have got a rough idea of what the man who owns that line does as well. It is likely, too, that amidst your annoyance, you probably have raised your eyebrow and thought – ‘is this guy legit?”.
For the ones out there not in the loop, Dominic Tay is Singaporean who’s part of the lucrative course selling industry. He advertises an Amazon eBook selling course through his YouTube ads in which he is quick to let his audiences know he is a self-made internet millionaire who wants to share with others his recipe for success.
But Dominic’s intentions, along with that of other course providers, haven’t been too well received. A screen grab of Dominic’s ad is featured on Annoying YouTube ads: SG starter park, and browsing through Reddit’s /r/Singapore one will be likely to find mocking comments mimicking his ‘Hi there, Dominic here’ introductions which has become a meme. Some of your friends might have even done it in person.
Apart from Reddit’s /r/Singapore, Hardwarezone community, a Singapore-based forum, had expressed their disdain as well. Warning about stocks/forex guru trading courses in the market, a running blacklist contributed by its forum’s members has Dominic’s name included, along with other persons they deem phony.
I, too, shared the sentiments of the online communities. Yet, as I did my research, I could not find any substantial evidence which backed mine as well as the community’s views. Most of the accusations seemed to be mere speculation by ones who had not attended his course. If Dominic’s course was indeed dodgy, wouldn’t there surely be dissatisfied accounts of attendees lying around?
I wanted to find out more.
On 9th July 2019, I made my way up the tenth floor of International Plaza, and entered a room which spotted the logo of Ace Profits Academy. I was about to attend the preview session of Dominic’s Bestseller Income Seminar, a course which sold the idea that one could, without writing expertise, publish eBooks on Amazon for a profit, and which, in Dominic’s words, was ‘easily valued at S$5,000’.
Upon registering at the reception, I was given a sticker with my name written on it and was asked to paste it on my shirt. When the time for the seminar’s commencement arrived, we were then led into a modest room where rows of chairs sat before a screen.
An assistant of Dominic greeted us, introduced us to the day’s agenda and raved about Dominic, before informing us that any form of recording was strictly forbidden and instructed us to put our phones to silent. Glancing to my left, l noticed every window panel was blocked by a row of curtains, not allowing one ray of sunlight in. It reminded me a little of how casinos were designed to keep natural light out.
A while later, Dominic, dressed in a jacket with a t-shirt beneath, strode before us. Right away, he jumped into his presentation. There were no greetings or introductions. It was a little strange to say the least.
Dominic began by sharing with us about the thriving eBook market on Amazon. Slides displaying statistics were flashed on the screen before us. Then, in a tone that of a magician about to bring a dead rabbit back to life, he told us that one did not require any writing expertise whatsoever to partake in this lucrative business.
“Would you want me to tell you how?” He asked us. Similar phrases would be repeated throughout the session.
The trick, Dominic said, was to outsource everything from the book’s cover design to the content within to freelancers. This, he claimed, could be done in a mere three hours and for less than a hundred US dollars.
Dominic then compared eBooks to its physical counterpart. He spoke of how with Amazon as a medium, one’s eBook could be exposed to the global market. Except for the initial process of publishing, each sale thereafter would be automated. He added that given that time zone difference between the US/UK and Singapore, once a book was published, its author would be making money as he slept.
“Imagine if you sold physical books instead. What if someone placed an order at 2 a.m.? How would you process that sale?”
My thumb instinctively ran over my little stubble as his question entered my ears. Though I had zero experience in commerce, I thought it was quite apparent that the seller would simply process the sale on the next working day. I wanted to raise my hand and air my thoughts but decided to wait for a more appropriate time.
He then touched on the drawbacks of working for people and shared how publishing eBooks allowed him to work from the comfort of his home. He told us he would rather remain at home that day in the company of his young child, and he surely could, if not for a promise he had made to himself years ago – to help others begin with their journeys of passive income.
Peering around, I noticed that a good number of the audience were smiling and nodding. Myself, I was curious as to what percentage of his income was in fact made up from sales from this course.
Next, Dominic showed us photographs of him and his family in different countries, and made sure to let us know it was him who had paid for all their expenses. I wondered how much, in monetary value, Dominic had pegged this segment as (he valued his preview session at S$5,000).
“Would you like to know more?” Dominic asked us.
“Yes!” The audience replied.
Dominic then shared with us the beginnings of his journey as an internet entrepreneur. He related his story of how he was met with his mother’s opposition at the outset. She, he recalled, nagged with a tone of doubt as she told him to find a proper job. His mother simply could not fathom how one could made money via the internet.
A grin then emerged on Dominic’s face.
Smiling, he explained to us how her tune turned to that of utmost support and her doubts transformed to praise after he presented to her cheque after cheque from Amazon which grew substantially from month to month.
His mother, once a disbeliever, had took a 180 degree turn. She even asked him to show her the ropes after she learnt from him that anyone with a laptop and an internet connection could replicate the process, stating:
“A good parent should never be a financial burden to his/her kids.”
Those were strong words and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of emotions it would stir in the hearts of the fellow older attendees present, some of which, perhaps, were currently or soon to be financially dependent on their children.
Three hours. That was the amount of time Dominic claimed his mother had put into publishing DASH Diet Recipes Jumpstart Cookbook back in 2014 after he had run her through the steps. He used her as an example of how even one who lacked tech savviness.
With that, Dominic put forth testimonies in the form of pictures and videos (again, I wondered how this quantified towards the S$5,000 value).
One lady named Alicia claimed to have made $5,000 in ten days after attending Dominic’s course.
Another was of a Thai participant who went by the name of Hunsa, whose testimonial can be viewed here. One of her published books was revealed to be 10-Minute Methods To Create Inspiring Leaders: Positive Change In Life In 7 Days.
Another book Dominic showcased was LIVING THE LAW OF ATTRACTION – 40 PRACTICAL EXERCISES: Daily Exercises To Attract Anything You Want Into Your Life, a book published by a Vietnamese student of his. This book was cited as an example of how one could succeed even with rudimentary knowledge of the English language.
I pulled out my phone and began googling the books’ titles. Both books seemed pretty solid. The cookbook supposedly published by Dominic’s mother averaged 4 stars over 28 reviews while his Thai student’s book averaged 4.5 stars over 8 reviews. I was quite taken aback. It seemed that the books were legitimate and his students’ products had indeed been modestly successful. Could it be that Singapore’s online communities and myself had been mistaken about Dominic?
Still, I found it strange that Dominic had yet to reveal a title of his own, a practice I thought would be a norm. Think about it this way. If I were a legitimate trader selling a trading course I would definitely showcase my past results as proof. Likewise, if I were a journalist applying for a news outlet I would definitely attach a portfolio including some of my past pieces. That would only be normal, wasn’t it?
From there till to end, I tried to find a gap in which I could voice my questions. Yet, it was not possible. Dominic was droning on and on in a seamless speech with the kind of tone and pace which implied that no disturbance was permitted, and no questions should be asked. It’s a subpar explanation, but I hope you get my point.
The following slides displayed pictures of the past courses he held. The pictures were mainly of happy, hopeful-looking attendees holding up their laptops which showed sleek, nicely done book covers (done by a hired freelancer) on their screens. It was evident that almost all pictures and videos were taken at the end of Dominic’s two-day course, before the participants had a chance to put the taught theory into practice.
“Would you like to know more?” Dominic would ask once more.
One perk of being part of his course, Dominic stated, was the fact that members could review the books of one another on Amazon, thereby boosting each other’s visibility and rankings. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant but it sounded like a “I scratch your back and you scratch mine” type of deal where participants would confer their fellow reviewers five star ratings without discretion in hopes of receiving a similar review in return.
I hoped that was not what he meant, for that would be unethical and against Amazon’s community guidelines on book reviews which states that one example of reviews they do not allow are that of when “An author posts a positive review about a peer’s book in exchange for receiving a positive review from the peer”.
Towards the end, Dominic began speaking to us as if we had already signed up for his paid course. To an audience which had yet swipe any cards, he said things like ‘You must bring your laptop’. It felt strange and reminded me of a property agent my father and I had come across recently, who, too, at the end of the viewing spoke to my father as if he had already made the decision to purchase the flat.
My memory of what took place next was vague for it happened so fast. I remember Dominic asking us to raise our hands if we were interested in his course. A good number of hands rose. The aunty seated beside me looked at me sheepishly, as if unsure, then around the room and eventually raised her hand (she would later leave without signing up). Dominic’s assistants then walked around the room and handed the ones who had raised their hands a form.
Suddenly, a fervour enriched Dominic’s voice. In a frenzied tone, he hurried us to write our names and details down as fast as we could. He was about to give us a very special offer which would only last for a very limited time. I thought of the Value Dollar shop and its ‘fire sale’ or ‘closing down sale’ which it unabashedly advertised perpetually. But this, however, felt more covert in nature.
“Look at the top right corner of the form. Do you see a price tag of S$4,995?” Dominic asked.
“Would you like me to give you a very special discount?”
“Yes.” The majority replied.
Dominic then instructed us to strike out the S$4,995 price tag with our pens and change it to S$2,499. The room rose to a stir and the next thing I knew attendees were queuing before a table where a row of NETS terminals lined up as if the clock struck 12 commencing Black Friday.
The quickness of everything surprised me. For a modest transaction like this, I had thought there would be at least a Question & Answer session first. But no. For the past two hours, the only voice we heard was that of Dominic’s.
Only after the attendees were scattered about, some queuing up to make payment, some having made payment, some having left, was there a pocket of time for questions. But this was different from the classic Q & A session in a sense it was more of a one-to-one conversation rather than a question posed before the crowd.
A few of us gathered around Dominic, waiting for our turn to ask questions. There was a mother with her twenty two year old son whose faces spoke of ambition and voices were laced with sanguinity. There was a fairly senior man whose eyes were gleaming, perhaps hoping he would not be a burden to his family.
There was an aunty who nodded with each sentence uttered by Dominic. And there was me who had many burning questions.
I was a little disappointed that by the time it got to me, the other people surrounding Dominic had dispersed.
“Hi Dominic, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but as for yourself, have you published books on Amazon?”
“Is it possible for you to divulge a few of your titles?”
“I can’t reveal them.”
“Why not? As an attendee I feel I would certainly be more convinced if I could see for myself proof of your successes.” (not really, I guess, considering the amount of people who rushed right to the sign up desk)
At this point, a green-shirt man in his twenties stepped forward, joining our conversation. I would later learn that his name was Jack.
Dominic explained his reasons for this practice. He claimed that students in the past had tried to copy his books and told me he did show an example, it being the book his mother had published.
Still, I could not understand his reasoning. The word ‘publish’ meant to ‘prepare and issue for public sale’. Why would one publish a book if he did not wish for his book to be publicised?
“It doesn’t seem to make much sense to me. There seems to be no reason for an author to keep his titles secret – aren’t books meant to be publicised? After all, greater awareness of one’s book often translates to more sales, right? Going by your logic, wouldn’t Tim Ferris (author of The 4-hour Work Week) or other authors want to keep their books secret in fear of plagiarisers out there?”
“You have not been through what I’ve been through, so I get why you might not understand where I’m coming from.”
This sparked Jack to speak up and echo my sentiments. He too was perplexed at Dominic’s secrecy.
I imagined if I was an aspiring painter and was looking for an art school to enrol it. After shortlisting a school and heading down, I ask the receptionist if I may take a look at the teacher’s past works to learn more about his style. No, the receptionist says. We’re afraid of copycats and reserve our right to keep the works of the teacher’s private.
By now, except for a young lady who stood at the corner of the room, most attendees had left. In one of her hands was the sign up form and on her face, a deep musing. She was having a conversation with one of Dominic’s female assistants.
“May I know what you are standing around here for?” A long-haired, bespectacled assistant of Dominic’s approached me with the tone of a police sergeant.
“The cost of the course is pretty steep. I want to stay around and absorb as much information I can before I make a decision.”
“It’s not expensive.” She said. “You will be able to earn that sum back in at most a few months.”
“Hi, may I ask if you’ve published eBooks of your own too?” Jack, the green shirt man chimed in.
“Yes I have.”
“Do you mind sharing your titles with us?” He continued.
“No. It’s private. But if you join the course I’ll share them with you.”
It was then I overheard snippets of the conversation between the young lady and an assistant of Dominic’s. The young lady was having a hard time making a decision while the assistant was assuaging her concerns. I found myself interrupting their conversation.
“The course in August won’t be the last one and there’ll be future courses held, right?”
By doing so, I hoped to remind the young lady there would still be future editions of the course. We humans often don’t make the best decisions under time pressure.
“I’m not sure. Dominic’s a busy man and we don’t know when he’ll have the time to hold the next course.” The assistant replied.
Unsure, indeed, considering as of today, two months later, his ads still stand between me and my YouTube cat videos.
When I returned home, I revisited 10-Minute Methods To Create Inspiring Leaders: Positive Change In Life In 7 Days, the book Dominic’s Thai student had published for a more thorough analysis. As of 18/07/19, the book had nine reviews, five of which being 5/5 while the other four were 4/5 (as of 18/09/19 there are seven left, presumably because Amazon removed two fake ones). This seemingly successful front, however, crumbled as I looked further into each of the reviewer’s profiles.
Jackpot has a total of 1937 reviews, almost (if not) all of which are for books. In a short frame one week frame from 11/07/19 – 18/07/19, he had left a grand total of 40 book reviews, all of which he rated five stars, on books from Reiki Healing to Instagram Marketing to How to Analyse People to The Mortgage Handbook to Swing Trading to PHP programming to Italian Short Stories. It almost seemed as though his job was to purchase books and leave five star reviews for them.
The other profiles mirror Jackpot’s. Their purchase history only include eBooks and many of their purchases overlap with one other. The following is a table I created to highlight this anomaly.
I thought it was reasonable to believe that these four accounts had been employed to leave highly rated reviews on Dominic’s Thai student’s book. As one who relied on reviews when making a purchase, I found it very upsetting. Was one supposed to play detective each time he or she sought to make an online purchase?
Still, there were no negative reviews. I decided to buy a copy of the book and assess it. I felt that if it was a good read, and that it was likely an organic reader would rate it 4 or 5 stars, the fake reviews would then be less of an issue. But as I flipped through it, I felt as if it consisted of merely snippets of information found on the internet bundled together, peppered with poorly written paragraphs written by a primary school student in English remedial class. It was tough to even consider that a book.
Though the other book Dominic showcased, LIVING THE LAW OF ATTRACTION – 40 PRACTICAL EXERCISES: Daily Exercises To Attract Anything You Want Into Your Life, had only one review, it came with a fairly interesting description.
“You have been trying, strugling for so long but still not make it?… Your life will never be the same after 40 days of doing the exercises. You will take yourself to a quantum leap to have whatever you want… Live your life to the full potential!…”
And this is the author’s biography:
“Worked for a public Hospital as a cardiac surgeon for 16 years… Now, his clinic helps over 100 people a day!… He has many awards of the government about the Good Action of Taking care for Patients…”
The practice of publishing under pen names is fairly common. George Orwell was a pen name for Eric Blair while Mark Twain was a pen name for Samuel Clemens. It is important to note, however, that those authors did not come up with fictitious credentials for their pseudonyms in hopes to bolster sales. So unless that Vietnamese student of Dominic had indeed worked as a surgeon for 16 years, it would be pretty dubious to claim such credentials.
I borrowed a sample of the book and it too was disappointing. I felt Dominic using these books as examples was like a builder showing pictures of a dilapidated dwelling to prospective homeowners. I could not fathom why he would do so. I guess it might have been the fact that during his preview session there wasn’t sufficient time for one to research the books thoroughly before one was blasted with the limited time offer.
One might comment that perhaps I am expecting too much considering the fairly low prices ($2.99). I beg to differ. The well written 4-Hour Work Week costs $12.34 and has 416 pages, working out to be about $0.03/page. Compare this to 10-Minute Methods To Create Inspiring Leaders: Positive Change In Life In 7 Days which costs $2.99 has 32 pages which works out to cost a whopping $0.09/page.
One may argue that it is unfair to compare the books in this manner. After all, one is independently published while the other had been published by a powerhouse. Still, I’m pretty sure if 100 random people bought the book and read it, 90 would end up very disappointed while the other 10 would end up cracking up because of how hilariously terrible it was.
By now we’ve established that the books of Dominic’s students have a pattern of being bolstered with fake reviews as well as being of shoddy quality. With that, I wondered how many of his students actually made money from their published eBooks.
Trawling the internet, I came across a blog owned by a person who we shall call John. John had attended Dominic’s Bestseller Income Course. An amiable and helpful chap, he was very much willing to share with me his experience. It must be mentioned, though, that he was under the impression I was interested in signing up for Dominic’s course when he spoke to me.
Our conversation via email and Facebook went as follows:
Me: How do you feel about Dominic Tay’s course overall?
John: His course is fairly technical and structured in how to find out what books are being purchased in Amazon Kindle (how to find out), how to choose which topics to go for, how/where to outsource to whom, how much to pay, what is the time frame for it to be finished by outsourcers/freelancers, how to write your sales page, how to choose your keywords to increase sales etc. I found him very approachable, and the course very systematic with very hard outcomes-driven step by step.
Me: Did you manage to publish your eBook in the end?
John: Unfortunately I hadn’t published my eBook (caught up with life, work, two young kids. But these really are excuses if you compare to what he taught: it’s really straightforward.)
Me: Do you still keep in contact with Dominic/other participants in your class?
John: Yes, of course. He responds too via email. I believe all participants get to join the forum (there’s a forum with some activities and discussions there, which are useful).
John then added:
“I’ve been to a few different types of seminars, and there are a few out there that are ‘concept-based’ and you have to figure out by yourself, but I’m happy and not paid by anyone to say that his training will guide/teach you how to choose titles that are more sell-able on Amazon, and how to publish it by yourself or outsource entirely – the freaking blueprint is fairly good (he’s very organised and structured).”
Speaking to John, I did not have any reason to believe his relationship with Dominic stretched further than that of an organiser-attendee’s relationship.
Still, I found his account intriguing. Here was a participant who had not published a book eight months after his completion of the course (which sold the idea that one merely had to put in three hours of effort). In spite of that, he was still wholly satisfied and spoke highly of Dominic.
I asked him if he could help me acquire a few titles which his fellow course members had published. Although he agreed, he did not get back to me on that.
Meanwhile, as I researched more about Dominic’s course, I came across a Quora question – ‘What are Dominic Tay’s passive income seminars like?’.
The question was answered by a person who went by the name of ‘Charles Hernandez’ who spoke well of Dominic’s course and stated this was ‘just my personal sharing and I am not paid by Dominic Tay from you attending this course. Anyways this http://bit.ly/2vxDRhT link here is free to sign up.’
Looking at his profile, I saw that he had posted many similar answers for other paid seminars, all with one similarity – they all link back to seminars affiliated with Ace Profits Academy.
‘Just my personal sharing and I am not paid by Dominic Tay from you attending this course.’
By now I was quite puzzled. When I first contacted John, I was not expecting him to speak highly of Dominic’s course (as I read on his blog he had yet to publish an eBook). Yet, I was at an impasse. I could not find others who had attended Dominic’s course. This roadblock, however, was overcome when I recalled that Dominic’s YouTube channel was full of video testimonials, some of which had the names of past attendees listed.
With the help of Facebook, I managed to message 13 people, of which only two replied (this was no surprise as Facebook hides direct messages from strangers to prevent spam).
The conversation with the first person (whose date of video testimonial was two years back) I contacted went like this:
Me: May I ask what is your perception of Dominic’s best seller course, and if you had managed to publish an e-book?
Him: I’ve yet to publish a book due to personal reasons but I aspire to pick up again soon.
Me: I see. Do you mind sharing how you feel about his course?
Him: It was very informative and it is definitely beyond just eBook publishing roadmap, but also teaches how one can build up credentials for the next thing – successful business online and offline – Dominic the coach is the best example.
Me: Woah, you speak of Dominic with the same level of praise as with the other person whom I contacted. That’s very interesting to me. Actually the reason why I’m contacting people who have attended Dominic’s course is because I feel he oversells his course, understating the difficulties of deriving substantial income from publishing eBooks.
Dominic said his mother had only taken three hours of her time, and the freelancer three weeks. But so far both you and the other person I contacted have yet to publish an e-book even after one to two years.
There was no reply after my last message.
Once again I was intrigued. Similar to John, his man spoke highly of Dominic even as he had yet to publish an eBook in two years. What was going on?
Even the next attendee, the most interesting of the three, whom I spoke to would not be able to answer my questions.
Let’s call him Mark. I was very excited when Mark replied my Facebook message for his video testimonial on Dominic’s channel stood out from the rest. Unlike many testimonials which were taken during the course itself, his video was taken a substantial period after he completed Dominic’s course. He, too, was one of the rare few who spoke of numbers and figures (income earned) and exclaimed that he had succeeded deriving an income from publishing.
Mark, like John, was very helpful and responsive. Our conversation on Facebook went as follows:
Me: Hi Mark, it is possible for me to ask you a few questions about your experience about Dominic’s course?
Mark: Sure, it’s all in the testimonial though.
Me: Right. May I know if you’re currently still publishing eBooks on amazon?
Me: From the testimonial you seem to have really made it. Do you know if majority of the participants enjoy a success as similar to yours? Also, do you mind sharing any of your e-book titles?
Mark: It wasn’t easy to make it. I had to put in loads and loads of hard work, and additional research after. Sorry, I would rather not share titles but I produce across various genres. As long as you have the passion, you can definitely succeed. The first 3 months were really tough but it got better after that. It changed my life though – so I owe Dominic that.
Me: So for one to succeed he has to put in considerable work, nowhere near the 3 hours effort as Dominic said in the preview seminar?
Mark: Well 3 hours to set up. It’s enough to get u by. But if u want to REALLY succeed, u got to put in more.
Me: I see. Thanks for sharing. Appreciate it.
Mark: No problem. It definitely works though.
So there we have it. Three attendees approached. And while only one of them succeeded and derived monthly four figure incomes, all three spoke highly of Dominic. Since Mark did not divulge his titles, there was also no way for me to assess his eBooks, and find out if his eBooks too shared similar shortcomings to the two examples Dominic had listed.
That, however, would soon change.