Ultralight Entrepreneurship with Kylie Jenner
This past week, an article came out in Forbes magazine about Kylie Jenner who is on her way to becoming the youngest female billionaire ever. Below is a section from the article:
“…Jenner runs one of the hottest makeup companies ever. Kylie Cosmetics launched two years ago with a $29 ‘lip kit’ consisting of a matching set of lipstick and lip liner, and has sold more than $630 million worth of makeup since, including an estimated $330 million in 2017. Even using a conservative multiple, and applying our standard 20% discount, Forbes values her company, which has since added other cosmetics like eye shadow and concealer, at nearly $800 million. Jenner owns 100% of it.
“…Ultimately their fortunes [Jenner, Kim Kardashian West, and others] all derive from the same place. ‘Social media is an amazing platform,’ Jenner says. ‘I have such easy access to my fans and my customers.’
“That and a large dose of tastemaking are pretty much her entire business, an invention of the Instagram age. Hewlett and Packard immortalized the garage–Jenner has her (or her mom’s) kitchen table. Her near-billion-dollar empire consists of just seven full-time and five part-time employees. Manufacturing and packaging? Outsourced to Seed Beauty, a private-label producer in nearby Oxnard, California. Sales and fulfillment? Outsourced to the online outlet Shopify. Finance and PR? Her shrewd mother, Kris, handles the actual business stuff, in exchange for the 10% management cut she takes from all her children. As ultralight startups go, Jenner’s operation is essentially air. And because of those minuscule overhead and marketing costs, the profits are outsize and go right into Jenner’s pocket.
“Basically, all Jenner does to make all that money is leverage her social media following.”
I know. It’s a little unusual for me to write about one of the Kardashian clan. I posted something about the Forbes article excerpted above last week on one of my social channels and the responses ranged from outright praise to unvarnished hatred. While this type of reaction would make most people uncomfortable, a strong emotional reaction is exactly what a strong brand wants to engender. Some love you some hate you, preferably more of the former. What this reaction indicates is that the Kardashians embody a set of values and beliefs that some strongly agree with and others do not. While you might not agree with their beliefs, as a business person you must admire how they have been able to get their tribe to buy in, and in turn have used that buy-in to create value.
The part of the article I specifically want you to focus on is this:
“Her near-billion-dollar empire consists of just seven full-time and five part-time employees. Manufacturing and packaging? Outsourced to Seed Beauty, a private-label producer in nearby Oxnard, California. Sales and fulfillment? Outsourced to the online outlet Shopify. Finance and PR? Her shrewd mother, Kris, handles the actual business stuff, in exchange for the 10% management cut she takes from all her children. As ultralight startups go, Jenner’s operation is essentially air.”
Let me make my point clear and simple:
Kylie Jenner has assets: her fame, her lips/looks, her following, her family, and their platform.
She combined them with a simple idea: branded lip kits and make-up.
She used readily available platforms like Shopify and Instagram, which are both affordable and accessible, to sell and promote her product.
She doesn’t own a factory, like many billion-dollar companies, instead, she partnered with an experienced manufacturer.
While these statements simplify the process, it is incredibly powerful to realize that for the first time in history all of the tools are readily available and accessible to everyone.
I am certainly not writing this to argue whether or not she is “self-made”; she grew up in a wealthy, famous family. Her success is commendable but it comes by virtue of her privilege and her mother’s business savvy. I am focused on the methods and tools enabling this wealth creation. The fact that so much value can be created from so few direct employees and no wholly owned means of production make her business worthy of a Harvard Business School Case Study. Jenner had the desire to build something and the know how to focus her energy entirely on the part of the process at which she excels—marketing— while all other aspects of her operation are outsourced to third parties.
All of the same tools and methods are available to all of us, albeit on a different scale.
We live in a time of change. Today there is nothing stopping any one of us from using the same tools and outsourcing model to build an enterprise based on our creative ideas and generating significant value and fulfillment in return.
Will it be easy? No. Will it take time? Yes, probably more than you think. You will have to persevere through ups and downs, endure many mistakes, and put yourself out there. Will you make a billion dollars? Probably not. But that is not a realistic definition of success. If you choose the right challenges, build a business that allows you to focus your energy on your superpowers, execute at a high level, and choose the right partners and platforms, you can definitely make a substantial impact and enjoy a level of fulfillment far beyond your expectations.