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Selfie Made Success

What does it mean to be “Self-Made?”

Forbes Magazine set out to make headlines last week by declaring Kylie Jenner “The Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Ever.” For my fellow readers that also live under a rock, Ms. Jenner is one of the Kardashian Clan of reality TV fame. She owns 100% of Kylie Cosmetics, estimated value $900M, plus money she’s already pulled from her company, her social media accounts, and endorsements puts her fortune at over $1B. At one point, there was a Go-Fund-Me page started by her fans to get her over the $1B mark (it netted about $268). I swear I’m not making this up.

The Internet has lost its collective mind because Forbes calls Ms. Jenner “Self-Made” – and before I jump on that bandwagon, I would say the truth is in the middle.

I have never done a good job keeping up with the Kardashians. I think Kylie is the model from the failed Pepsi ad a few years ago {Edit: That was Kendall}. I did some research and from what I’ve read, the tailwinds helping Ms. Jenner’s company find success is substantial and significant. She came from a very wealthy family, has been part of a reality TV juggernaut, which gave her modeling career momentum, which coincided with the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, which helped her build a massive social media following. I would also bet that she had access to a massive network of people with the ability and knowledge to help get her business off the ground.

When she started her company (which outsources manufacturing & distribution) she had an Insta-customer base and demand for her products was high. One post on Instagram and the products would sell out. Later, Kylie Cosmetics partnered with cosmetics retailer Ulta to carry their products, which drove sales further and resulted in the current valuation of her company.

I do give Ms. Jenner credit for figuring out how to monetize the conflux of fame, social media, ecommerce and retail. It’s also a very Gen Z story – an “instant success” taking full advantage of new social platforms like Instagram. I’ll also give her credit for not being satisfied to be just an “influencer” and spokesmodel/shill for some global cosmetics giant.

From an operational standpoint, Kylie Cosmetics is very lean – with a handful of employees, mostly managing marketing. All the labor-intensive work like manufacturing and distribution is outsourced. They do not have huge physical assets like factories or distribution centers. And her company is worth more than many Fortune 500 companies that have been around for decades with massive footprints and thousands of employees.

While I do congratulate her success, I also agree with the critics about hanging the label “Self-Made” on her. Kylie Cosmetics has none of the hallmarks many of startups have. As I’ve learned the origin stories of many companies by listening to NPR’s “How I Built This” – most are like Homer’s Odyssey – one trial after another, a couple of lucky breaks, and eventual success, rarely overnight. Common to many of the stories is the chutzpah to bet it all on their company. The appetite for all-in risk is often the difference between entrepreneurs and the rest of the working public.

Which maybe is why so many people reacted negatively to the Forbes article. We like to root for the scrappy underdog – the guy who is sleeping on a couch at the office because he lost his apartment. The woman raising two kids by herself and shipping packages out of her spare bedroom at night. People putting in the sweat equity on their business.

As an entrepreneur myself, I will be the first to tell you the risks involved in starting your own company can be terrifying and a self-check on your self-confidence. I would also say that I have not done it by myself. I have a supporting cast of professionals I can call with questions - from my accountant, to my lawyers, to friends in the industry, to professionals I’ve worked with as candidates willing to give me advice. I’ve learned from early on that one of the keys to success is to surround yourself with smart people.

As professionals, we are not all going to end up starting our own business or side hustle. But we can help those who do.

Do you have friends or family starting a business? You can help them grow. Whether it’s with expertise, making connections to people that can help them, or simply patronizing their business.

Maybe there is a local coffee roaster or brewer you can choose to go to vs. a big corporate chain. Maybe it’s making the effort to buy produce from the local farmers market over the big grocery store chain. While those businesses probably won’t end up in the stratosphere like Kylie Cosmetics, you will be helping put food on their table, pay their bills, and hire people from your community.

We can all use a little “self-made” help.

Thanks for reading. Are you at a crossroads in your career? Is starting a business or side-hustle in your future? Ready for a career change? We can help – whether it’s connecting you to employers or helping you figure out what you want to be next, we’d love to hear from you.

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