At 30 years old, Harbinger is a clean-cut guy with a law degree, a faux-hawk, an easy smile, heavy black boots with shiny metal buckles, and an iPhone that seems more appendage than possession. He finds it myopic to teach straight seduction and scoffs at companies run by men who identify themselves as "pickup artists.""I think those guys are pretty ridiculous," Harbinger says. "Imagine if you went to the doctor for a smoker's cough, and he gave you cough drops instead of telling you to quit smoking. Most guys in this industry don't know how to help people. They just know how to mask the symptoms."
Nick Savoy agrees that "like any field, the industry has good and bad companies within it," but he considers the Love Systems approach honest: "Of course we teach guys how to pick up women," he says. "Yes, that's what we do. That's why they come to us." He argues that knowing how to pick up women improves self-esteem—a genuine service, if not a magic bullet for all of life's problems. "We've done this for tens of thousands of men," he says. Considering Love Systems' wild popularity, Savoy's stance is difficult to argue.
At The Art of Charm, Harbinger refuses to teach stock pickup lines, or, in pickup-artist-speak, "routines." Rather, he and his team pinpoint an individual's insecurities and force each client to meet them head-on. If a client has social anxiety, Harbinger wants to get to the root of it. What, exactly, is making him anxious?
Sometimes a client's social anxiety stems from his belief that he has nothing interesting to say. Harbinger aims to dismantle such self-limiting beliefs by coaching him on how to approach strangers, how to network effectively, and how to tell an engaging story, focusing on "vocal tonality, eye contact, and body language." Reminiscent of a football coach honing a player's skills, Harbinger will videotape a client talking to people and then make the client watch, pointing out what he's doing right and what he's doing wrong. Then Harbinger will make him do it all over again.
Harbinger believes deeply in this direct, get-your-hands-dirty behavioral approach and scoffs at ambiguous self-help advice, at the prospect of mantras or the idea of looking in the mirror and insisting, "I'm happy!" He's even critical of therapy, except when it comes to serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. "Guys will go to therapy for years and nothing happens. We make their lives better in six days." He continues, "I teach from my own experience. I've lived all over the world, so if a guy wants to know how to make a circle of friends in a new city, I can tell him how to do it. I've done it a million times. If he wants to make a career move, I don't just give him vague advice about making contacts. I give him my contacts."
Because he spends a lot of his time networking, Harbinger has gathered some valuable contacts. Recently he attended Summit Series DC10, an exclusive networking event for young people in leadership roles. When he doesn't have the contacts his clients need, he teaches them how to reach out. "I couldn't necessarily call Bill Clinton for a round of golf," he says, "but I definitely know how to contact his office if I need to."
Mike Bailey, a Muay Thai kickboxer who runs his own small ad agency in Los Angeles, decided to go to an Art of Charm boot camp because "I knew there was nothing physically wrong with me. I've always had women in my life, I love my job, but still I knew there were opportunities I wasn't capitalizing on. I knew something was missing."
Looking at Bailey, who is six feet tall, muscular, and handsome, one can't help but wonder whether men who "have it all" simply suffer from chronic dissatisfaction: Why settle for making millions when it's possible to make billions? Why settle for monogamy when the world is rife with gorgeous women?
But Harbinger insists that that's not the whole story: "A lot of guys have situational confidence. Maybe a guy's in great shape and he's rich, but his love life is a mess. And if a guy's depressed about one thing, other things start falling apart. He starts doing poorly at work. He self-sabotages. You might look at him and see a good-looking guy with money, but you can't see what he feels."