Pyramid schemes are not a simply exchange of money… MLMs with products can be illegal pyramid schemes. One example of an MLM – pyramid scheme with products that got shut down by FTC is JewelWay: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/1997/11/jewel-2.shtm. The FTC says nothing about product being reasonably priced. That’s a slippery slope when people will pay thousands for a fashionable handbag.
Multi-level marketing is a legitimate business strategy, though it is controversial. One problem is pyramid schemes, which use money from new recruits to pay the people at the top, often take advantage of people by pretending to be engaged in legitimate multi-level marketing. You can spot pyramid schemes by their greater focus on recruitment than on product sales.
MLM has stretched its sticky fingers out into just about every product market out there, so it’s kinda hard to do something new nowadays. But Jamberry Nails did it. Their adhesive, custom nail designs BLEW UP when they hit the direct sales floor. They built up an army of over 100,000 consultants in the time it takes most people to get a mediocre pay raise at their 9-5.