Since Forbes announced that Kylie Jenner has officially become the youngest person to reach billionaire status (tough luck, Mark Zuckerberg), there's been no shortage of people "calling her out" on social media for her less-than-humble beginnings.
Let's get one thing clear from the get-go. That kind of behavior is pathetic.
Whenever anyone achieves any modicum of success, there will always be a dozen other people telling them that they don't deserve it. But, guess what? Kylie's paid her dues, whether you like it or not.
Let’s do some math.
Kylie was worth approximately $5 million in 2015 when she turned 18. In the nearly 4 years since then, her net worth has skyrocketed to $1 billion, making her the youngest billionaire in the world. That’s a 19,900% percent increase. That would be like having $10k today, and turning it into $2 million by 2023.
How many people do you know who could make that happen?
Okay, so your next criticism is probably that that Kylie came from a rich family, that she had advantages that the rest of us could only dream about. If that’s the case, why isn’t every Kardashian/Jenner worth $1 billion?
The next top earner in the family is Kim, who is worth around $350 million, way less than half of what Kylie’s worth despite being the catalyst for Kardashian fame. Kendall, the sibling closest the Kylie in age who collaborated with her on many brand deals, is only worth $30 million. The youngest member of the family makes more than all her sisters combined.
How Kylie become a billionaire? It wasn't by sitting on her butt complaining about her sisters' successes. It was by a series of smart business decisions that leveraged emerging trends and technologies to make her empire into what it is today.
How Kylie Made Her Money
The Kardashian clan made their debut in 2007 with Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Fans of the show were instantly charmed by the family's luxurious lifestyle, juicy drama, and sweet family moments. Kylie was 9 years old when the show premiered, and although she didn't appear often in the show's early years, she started taking up more and more of the spotlight as she grew older. By 2014, she was making a reported $500,000 per episode.
That's a lot of money, but it's nowhere near $1 billion. That's what her critics fail to acknowledge. Kylie didn't just make appearances on her family's tv show, stirring up drama swinging on stripper poles or absently scrolling on her phone. She's been hustling since she was a preteen.
At age 11, Kylie made 100,000 on an endorsement deal for Kardashian-themed nail polishes. Since then, she's modeled and endorsed countless brands like Puma and Topshop. She also collaborated with top clothing brands to create their own fashion and beauty collection called “Kendall + Kylie.” (Note that she was still getting second billing to her sister at the time).
If that wasn't enough, she also appears in her own mobile game, is listed as an author of a young adult novel, and launched an app wherein users paid $3 a month just to see exclusive content from her everyday life.
Those endorsements, collaborations, and appearances paid off in 2015 when "King Kylie" took the social media crown, claiming the top spot on Snapchat as its most-viewed account and making the top 10 list of most popular accounts on Instagram. At this point, she started to differentiate herself from the rest of the Kardashian family and build her own brand separate from that of her sisters.
Most of her $1 billion comes from her company "Kylie Cosmetics," in which she personally invested $250k to create. She leveraged her massive following to launch a hugely successful makeup brand in an already-saturated market. On the day Kylie Lip Kits launched, her products sold out in less than a minute.
Yes, Kylie did hit the jackpot in the lottery of birth, but she could have just as easily settled for her $500,000 per episode salary and left it at that.
Kylie has been working to build her brand since before she finished high school. She's amassed a following that's larger than most countries. She's a model, author, businesswoman, taste-maker, fashion designer, makeup artist, and mother. Now tell me, What have you done lately?
The Power of Branding and Social Media
Kylie has been an extremely shrewd businesswoman when it comes to building her brand. Her social media is filled with luxury cars, extravagant fashion, and exotic vacations. Everything she posts is carefully cultivated to portray a certain image. That's the Kylie brand, and that's how she convinces people to buy what she's selling.
Take the Kylie Cosmetics line for example. It's an open secret among makeup lovers that Kylie's formulations are suspiciously similar to that of the wallet-friendly brand Colourpop. Not only that, but both brands are manufactured by the same company, Seed Beauty, which is owned by (you guessed it) the founders of Colourpop cosmetics. What a coincidence!
For all intents and purposes, both Kylie Cosmetics and Colourpop sell basically the same product. Besides the branding, the only other difference is the price. One of Colourpop's lipsticks costs $6.50 while Kylie's brand costs $16 per pop, making Kylie's brand about 2.5 times more expensive than the low-budget option. Why can Kylie charge so much for such an objectively cheap product?
One word: Branding.
Kylie's worked hard to build a following and a brand that most digital marketers can only dream about. She has direct access to over 128 million people's Instagram feeds, and countless people set out to copy her aesthetic choices--from her body conscious fashion style to her funky hair colors to even her famously plumped lips. Her life is her brand.
That's the future of professional life. Personal branding through social media is everything.
In her interview with Forbes, Kylie acknowledged the huge role that social media has had in her success: “It’s the power of social media. I had such a strong reach before I was able to start anything.”
And it's true.
People consume so much media from places like YouTube and SoundCloud and Instagram. Whether it's art, film, or music, most Millennials and Gen-Z'ers are getting their entertainment for free from social media. Regardless of what you think of the former SoundCloud rapper, Post Malone is now a household name. Then you have people like Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie), Mark Fischbach (Markiplier), and Lilly Singh (||superwoman||), who create countless hours of content on YouTube and all have followings that rival that of any A-list celebrity.
Social media is a level playing field. It's not like the film or music industry where you need to have connections or wait for someone else to give you a chance. There's no gatekeeper telling you that you can't sign up for your chance at stardom. Social media has given us all a once-in-a-lifetime chance to cultivate our own brands and show them to the world.
And maybe that's why people are so intimidated by Kylie's success. It's because they realize that their own excuses are all B.S. You don't need a manager or a PR person to help you get your foot in the door. It's all on you. If you fail, it's because of something you did, not because you didn't have the opportunity.
Does having a famous family help? Yup. Is it necessary for success? Not at all. Your life is what you make of it. Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity for anyone who wants it to grab their slice of the pie.
So, if you're one of those keyboard warriors whining about Kylie's "privilege" and doing nothing to further your own success, it's time to get real about what's really holding you back.
Kylie isn't a threat. She's an inspiration on how to use modern tools to your advantage.
Now turn off Netflix, and get to work.
Thanks for reading! Reach me on Twitter @realmikespeer to talk branding, entrepreneurship, business, and marketing.