When Stephen Findeisen was in college, at Texas A. & M., a friend pitched him a business opportunity. He was vague about the specifics but clear about the potential upside. “It was, like, ‘Don’t you want to be financially free, living on a beach somewhere?’ ” Findeisen, who is twenty-eight, recalled recently. After attending a weekend presentation, Findeisen realized that he was being recruited to join a multilevel-marketing company. “I was, like, What are you talking about? You’re not financially free! You’re here on a Sunday!” He declined the offer, but a couple of his roommates signed up. They also got a subscription to a magazine about personal and professional development. One day, Findeisen came home to find copies of the latest issue on the coffee table. “I remember clearly thinking, We have four copies of Success magazine and no one is successful. Something is wrong here.”
Findeisen has been leery of scammers since high school, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. “She was sold a bunch of snake oil, and I think she believed all of it,” he said. She recovered, but Findeisen was left with a distaste for people who market false hope. After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, he sold houses for a local builder. In his spare time, he started uploading to his YouTube channels, where he put his debunking instincts to work in short videos such as “Corporate Jargon—Lying by Obscurity” and “Is Exercising Worth Your Time?” Initially, subjects included time-management tips and pop-science tropes, but his content really took off when he began critiquing sleazy finance gurus. These days, his channel Coffeezilla has more than a million subscribers, and YouTube is his full-time job.