It’s fair to say anyone presenting themselves as a pick-up artist can expect to take a bit of flak these days. High-profile cases including the controversial Julien Blanc being barred from the country have led to many holding a pretty low opinion of the practice.
But while Blanc is not coming to these shores any time soon, there are still UK-based coaches exporting their own brand of seduction tips across the world. One such is Richard La Ruina, founder of PUA Training and author of The Natural.
When we catch up with La Ruina he’s in good spirits but keen to distance himself from the rather sullied image Blanc and others have earned in recent times.
“There have been a lot of bad people associated with the movement,” he concedes. “But with us we always try to get the women’s point of view. We have lots of women working for the company. Morally I would never condone lying or going for the one night stand.”
Shy 21-year-old virgin
La Ruina’s own journey to seduction coach began when, as a shy 21-year-old virgin, he decided he needed to brush up on his own methods for talking to women. And since doing so he has become a very successful entrepreneur – as well as finding love in a long-term relationship.
Going even further back, he came from a single-parent family of slender means and dropped out of college to start work at 18. He worked for software company Autonomy, then still a start-up, before moving into stock trading. But despite this early professional success he was still frustrated by the fact he saw himself as “bad with women and bad socially”.
“So it became my dream to start a business in that area (life coaching). So I thought it would be a dream job where I would be making a profit from coaching these guys and helping them to talk to women,” he explains.
But what started out as a lifestyle career choice quickly turned into a big business and La Ruina soon found himself heading up a pretty serious operation. He started separate companies for coaching men and women and both raced to annual turnovers in excess of $10m.
And all of this was achieved pretty much single-handedly. No external funding was sought and most of the heavy lifting in the early days was done solo.
“I registered the website, got the hosting and designed it myself. Then I wrote all of the content and started throwing AdWords traffic at it. I started to get some customers from that so it was break even from pretty much day one.”
In those early days a typical week would consist of four days of face-to-face coaching sessions – which typically last around 10 to 12 hours. The rest of the time was spent on the day-to-day running of the business and building a sustainable customer base. And despite working in a non-traditional industry, La Ruina has always seen himself primarily as an entrepreneur. However, for the business to take off he clearly had to learn how to talk to women himself.
“I spent six to nine months on my own learning the theoretical knowledge,” he says. “And I became quite good at talking to women for the first few minutes. So I thought that I had something to teach. A lot of the guys at the time were charging a few thousand pounds for the same service.
“My first price was £195 for 12 hours, which compared so favourably with the competition that I got customers.”
The moral question
It’s clear that La Ruina has used his business acumen to very good effect. But many will question more than his financial success. As alluded to earlier, there are those for whom simply operating in the sector in which he has made his name amounts to being a misogynist monster.
So how does he ensure his own personal brand is held high and separate from those within the industry, such as the infamous Julien Blanc, who undoubtedly demean women with their practices? It’s certainly something that has provided barriers to the growth of the business.
“There are definitely problems within the industry,” La Ruina concedes. “We’ve had a couple of TV shows go through but others have been blocked because they think it wouldn’t go down well. And while people are happy to cover when it goes wrong, often the big decision-makers in the media are reluctant to cover any of what we see as the positive aspects – when formerly shy guys are able to meet women with more confidence.”
This is all very well, but is there a reason to treat some in the pick-up industry different to others? Aren’t they all preaching an approach to women that objectifies them in some way? Perhaps unsurprisingly, La Ruina takes a different view.
“On a personal level I don’t like the association,” he says. “If someone Googles me and looks at the results they’re going to have a negative view of me. I understand that and it’s just the way it is. I stand by what I do morally, my mother is cool with it.
“Some of the negative perceptions come from the fact there is no nice language to use when it comes to attracting women, seducing women etc. Whatever terminology you use it sounds shady. And there have been a lot of bad people associated with the movement, so that makes it harder.”
Understandably, La Ruina is very keen to distance himself from these unsavoury characters and feels he does so both through his company set-up and the methods he teaches.
“We want a guy to be naturally good in his relationship with women. A lot of programmes will teach guys to tell stories or present a false version of themselves; but that’s not us. I’m pleased the guys who we deal with aren’t the cocky bad boys,” he says.
Whatever your view of the methods, for both the company and the customers the effectiveness of the coaching is clearly of prime concern. So how is this measured? Despite admitting he doesn’t have any hard statistics, La Ruina does has received some pretty warming personal testimonials.
“We try to get some results on the actual day. And then we’ll want to see them speak to women, make them laugh and maybe get some numbers, so the results should be there on the day itself,” says La Ruina. “And longer term I often get messages from guys saying they’ve got engaged and that’s down to us. Some have even said their wife has just given birth and their life turning around is down to us.”
The story of La Ruina is one of huge commercial success. In his industry, he will always face acrimony from several groups, and others from a more scientific background may question his results. But neither of these are challenges faced alone by the pick-up industry. Speaking to him he is very easy to warm to and I’m inclined to believe his assertions that he is genuine about respect. Of course persuasion is part of his skill-set but it’s easy to give him the benefit of the doubt.
What is certainly to be celebrated is another young entrepreneur making a name for himself on the global scene. That is something on which we can all agree.