Last year, Forbes predicted that Kylie Jenner was on track to become the world’s youngest self-made billionaire ever.
Last week, the magazine published its ranking of America’s 400 richest people and declared that the 21-year-old Jenner had become “The Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Ever.”
Several parts of the internet — which has fueled Jenner’s sizable fortune — disputed that description.
Yahoo Finance decided to ask a couple of experts who were following the story closely.
‘They provided little to no verification’
CelebrityNetWorth.com, which routinely fact-checks celebrity wealth claims, found Forbes’ methodology a little faulty.
CelebrityNetWorth’s CEO Brian Warner pointed out that Forbes used a proprietary formula to estimate Jenner’s worth.
“Forbes calculated Kylie's $900 million net worth by assuming Kylie Cosmetics was worth $800 million and that Kylie has a separate net worth of $100 million,” Warner wrote. “They provided little to no verification to these shoddy numbers.”
In a cover story last August, Forbes “used what they claim is a ‘conservative’ 8X multiple (annual profits multiplied by 8)” to calculate the how much the company would be worth in a sale, Warner says.
Given that Kylie Cosmetics is not a public company, the only verification of these numbers provided to Forbes is their source: Kris Jenner, Kylie’s mother and manager.
And Forbes has previously had vetting issues with its billionaires list. According to Michael Cohen, his former employer, President Donald Trump, inflated his assets to rise on the list each year. And Forbes itself reported that Wilbur Ross, currently serving as President Trump’s Commerce Secretary, inflated his self-worth by more than $2 billion to the magazine for years.
“It seems clear that Ross lied to us,” Forbes reporter Dan Alexander found in 2017, “the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004.”
Of course, this is not to say Jenner is inflating her assets to Forbes. But it does support Warner’s point that Forbes’ valuations are not to be taken as canon.
“More often than not, the celebs themselves don’t even know their own net worth,” Warner from CelebrityNetWorth told Yahoo Finance. “Reporting on celebrity wealth can be a minefield. Not only do we have celebrities with personal motives trying to push us one way or another, we also are bombarded daily by their legions of fans trying to prove [someone] is worth so much more than we currently estimate.”
Tom Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals,” studies millionaires and their habits. He agreed that Jenner’s net worth “valuation is probably 33% wrong.”
Bloomberg, citing its own Billionaires Index, estimated that Jenner is currently worth $1.02 billion. And Forbes stood by its report.
“The Forbes Billionaires list is the most-trusted barometer of the wealthiest people in the world – and has been for 33 years,” Forbes told Yahoo Finance in a statement. “Generally speaking, we are conservative in our assessments but, from time to time, may raise or lower valuations as more information about a specific individual becomes available. With Kylie Jenner, specifically, we have seen detailed financial statements and have spoken with numerous analysts who also have verified our findings. We remain confident in our assessments.”
A look at the numbers
Kylie Cosmetics reported $330 million in sales in 2017, a full $70 million less than the $400 million estimate Kris Jenner had previously told Forbes. CelebrityNetWorth reports that the company’s revenues are growing by less than 10%. And sales of the reality star’s eponymous lip kits were down 35% year over year at the time of the original 2018 Forbes report.
That same August 2018 story acknowledges the possible lack of transparency in placing a value on Kylie Jenner’s so-called self-made empire:
“When pressed on these not-so-flattering sales figures, Kris Jenner told Forbes that ‘revenue was up considerably in the first six months of 2018 compared with the same period last year. A claim that Forbes couldn't verify.’”
Warner says often “celebs don’t know what net worth means. ... They can’t email us and say ‘I made $40 million according to Forbes last year – why didn’t you increase my number by 40?’”
Net worth is the value of all financial and non-financial assets of an individual, including debt, and is calculated after taxes.
“For our part, we try to absorb all data points and report in the most balanced way possible,” he says.
“The people who don't love Kylie being described as ‘self-made’ take issue with the idea that someone who comes from arguably the most famous family on the planet, and has unlimited financial resources and, most importantly, an enormous marketing platform to market something... is not self-made,” Warner said.
While the Kardashian-Jenner family started without fame or notoriety, the machine the family has become was not created in a vacuum.
As a whole, “the Kardashians represented the perfect mix of proximity to fame” —their father Robert Kardashian was a close friend of O.J. Simpson and represented him during trial; and Kris eventually married former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner — “infamy, and attractive people ... in a social media era where we all live vicariously through our friends and celebrities,” Warner said.
When compared with other celebrities who are “famous for doing nothing,” the Kardashian-Jenners have taken their arguably unearned fame and leveraged it to create an inescapable empire of clothing, mobile apps, cosmetics, and various iterations of their reality show.
Corley said Kylie Jenner shouldn’t be made out to be a fraud simply because she used the resources available to her.
“Typical self-made millionaires will spend 12 years or more building their brand, trying to sell whatever they’re trying to sell,” Corley said.
Jenner was lucky to have the chance to build her brand first, without juggling the other aspects of starting a business. Corley attributed that strategy to mom and manager Kris Jenner, whom he calls a brilliant business mind.
For that, he said, “she is self-made. Somebody didn’t hand it to her. She went on social media and posted pictures, and ... she built an enormous following... they’re staring right at her. All she had to do was create a product.”
Not everyone agrees with the already advantaged appropriating the term “self-made” to describe their relatively easy road to success. The people of England “are OK with the Queen being rich and famous and living a fabulous life. She is a symbol and a statement,” Warner said.
But “if the Queen of England started a company and used her platform and fame to make it successful, and then called herself ‘self-made,’ I think the people of England would have a problem.”
Back to reality
Warner sought to take a “more reality-based” approximation of the 21-year-old’s fortune.
He estimated the cosmetics company would sell for somewhere closer to $400 million — not the $800 million reported by Forbes last July. And Warner factors in something he said Forbes seems to have forgotten about: taxes.
“After Kylie gave 20% to the U.S. Treasury for long-term capital gains and 13% to the California Franchise Tax Board, she'd be left with $268 million,” he said.
By these calculations, which factor in $60 million worth of non-cosmetics assets, Jenner’s net worth, if she were to sell her company, would settle in around $328 million, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.
That’s to say: Forbes’ estimates are inflated, making for a great headline and source of online chatter (such as this article), but it’s likely far from accurate.
Corley, though, said Jenner is only just starting to build an empire. “I wouldn’t be surprised if five years from now, she’s worth 10 times as much,” he said. The question is: 10 times as much of what?
Katie is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @hashtagkatie.