Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian’s maternal half-sister, is just 18 years old. If you’re a fan of the Kardashians, as I unabashedly am, you know that she’s a sweet, pretty, soft-spoken kid. Kylie is struggling with her fame. She isn’t comfortable with the attention she gets and finds it hard to deal with criticism. But she’s giving it a go.
Unfortunately, recent events aren’t making things any easier for her.
Just this week it was announced that the Better Business Bureau gave her cosmetics company, Lip Kit, an “F” rating after receiving 133 complaints from consumers over the past 12 months. The news comes after recent reports of a data breach at the company and claims that her factory had an “unclean work environment,” with conditions akin to a “sweatshop.” The Lip Kit company says the packaging is so distinctive that the product is being stolen before it reaches its customers and has taken steps to resolve the other issues.
Kylie Jenner, at a very young age, is getting a harsh business lesson that some of us take years, even decades, to learn. The lesson? Most people just don’t do what they say they’re going to do.
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Kylie, of course, is the name and face of her company. I’m sure she’s the inspiration for most of the products. But make no mistake about it, the business end is being handled by someone else – cosmetics company ColourPop. The manufacturing is also outsourced to a company called Spatz Labaoratories. This is not unusual. But unfortunately, Kylie’s partners didn’t do what they promised to do. Kylie promised to lend her brand and ideas to the product. ColourPop was responsible for handling the marketing and distribution and Spatz the manufacturing. Based on all the recent news -- the company’s “F” rating and accusations of a “sweatshop” environment -- it seems that only one of the three parties actually stepped up to their commitments. Sadly, it’s that person whose name is the one being smeared everywhere.
Kylie’s not the first celebrity to learn this lesson. Actress Jessica Alba has recently been under a huge amount of public scrutiny after it came out that the “natural” products her Honest Company sold may not be so natural after all. Alba has grown her business into a billion-dollar valuation. But like Jenner, she did this with partners. She contributed her ideas, vision and (most importantly) her famous name to the company and delegated the business end to others. She did her job. Unfortunately, the business people did not do theirs. So, she’s learning the same lesson: most people just don’t do what they say they’re going to do.
So how to protect yourself from this? Ultimately, you learn that you can’t. I’m sure the legal agreements were tight when Kylie and her mom and all the Kardashian lawyers made their deals with ColourPop and Spatz. You can get references, and that’s helpful, but in the end, when you’re going to choose a partner (or a key supplier, or contractor, or employee) you’re taking a chance on their integrity. The smart business owners I know spend time thinking up every conceivable thing that could go wrong in a partnership and have a plan for dealing with it.
The legal documents and the promises are important. What’s most important is whether that partner can answer this question for you: does he/she have my best interests at heart? If the you-know-what hits the fan, will this partner be in the foxhole by my side, or stabbing me in the back and then running for cover elsewhere? The lesson is magnified when you’re a public figure and especially a Kardashian where there are just as many haters as fans ready to pounce on any mistake you make.
It’s been more than 20 years since I started my company. Over this time I’ve had partners disappoint me, suppliers lie to me, contractors disappearing on jobs, customers not paying when invoices were due and employees doing poor work. My company is called The Marks Group and when you visit my website that’s my picture on the home page. You’ll immediately agree that I’m no Kylie Jenner or Jessica Alba. But we have this in common: we’ve learned the harsh lesson that the people your business relies on frequently disappoint and that our job is to anticipate as many contingencies as possible. The good news is that Kylie learned this at an early age. Hopefully, this lesson will toughen her up for all the future business opportunities yet to come.