At 21 years old, Kylie Jenner has lived more than half her life on reality TV as part of the Kardashian family. For many people, that makes Jenner easy to scoff at.
However, Jenner is very close to becoming the youngest billionaire in history to have built her fortune without an inheritance. And she's done it in a way that illustrates two critically important lessons about business in the digital age. So whether you love her or hate her, if you're an entrepreneur, you should pay attention, because these lessons extend far beyond cosmetic or celebrity businesses.
Business is speeding up.
We don't yet live in a "Jetsons" world, but the speed of business is accelerating every day. One of the easiest ways to see this acceleration is by looking at product lifecycles. A lifecyle is basically the length of time between the first sale of a product and the last sale (or obsolescence) of that product.
For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, companies would sell each model of a car for about 10 years before replacing it with an upgraded version. As of 2017, that length of time is just three years. In other words, Volkswagen is releasing a new model of the Golf every three years now, rather than every 10. And it's only getting faster.
Zara is another well-known instance of this trend. Zara has been successful largely because it is able to bring new fashion products to market more quickly than its competitors. And in the tech world, the lifecycle of mobile applications is now measured in days, rather than years, months or even weeks.
But what does this mean for your business? And more interestingly, what can you learn from Kylie Cosmetics?
Lesson 1: Agility is paramount.
In a world where the pace of change is accelerating, the most important skill you can develop, as both an entrepreneur and as an individual, is agility.
You can no longer rely on brand recognition or your past success or even your ability to predict trends. You must be able to adapt quickly to take advantage of changing consumer preferences, technological disruptions and new ways of reaching your customers.
Kylie Cosmetics is a great example of how to be more agile even as a new or small company. Despite grossing hundreds of millions of dollars per year, Kylie Cosmetics has only a handful of employees. And yet, the company is able to constantly release new products, typically based on the most recent tastes and preferences of its customers. At the time of this article, Kylie Cosmetics sells more than 290 products.
Your business doesn't necessarily need to release hundreds of products. The lesson here is simply that you must be more agile in adapting to the desires and preferences of your customers. Here are two ways that you can do that.
1. Rely more on specialized contracting.
Kylie Cosmetics performs none of the development or manufacturing of products themselves. Everything is handled by a company called Seed Beauty, which specializes in getting products developed, produced and to market very quickly. In fact, the timeline from concept to consumer for Seed Beauty is just five days.
Your company must adopt a similar approach. Today, you can access companies around the world that provide services ranging from development to production to logistics. So it rarely makes sense to handle any of this inside your company. Even if you provide services, portions of those services are often best delegated to specialized outside companies that can adapt and deliver those services quicker than you can.
2. Build autonomy and stay lean.
One of the biggest roadblocks to being more agile is having too many people involved in making decisions. If five people need to sign off on a decision, it will take exponentially longer than if one person can make that decision.
Kylie Cosmetics delegates most decisions to its partners. Seed Beauty handles research, development, manufacturing and sourcing decisions. Shopify handles many ecommerce, tech and fulfillment decisions.
Depending on the stage of your business, it might not be possible to stay quite as lean as Kylie Cosmetics. In that case, you must build an internal culture of autonomy where the vast majority of decisions are made by empowered employees rather than by a committee or entrepreneur at the top. Valve is an excellent example of this approach.
Lesson 2: Stay on the ground and co-create with your customers.
You must be constantly in conversation with your actual and potential customers. Jenner does this mostly through her social media channels. But she also holds occasional pop-up markets in malls around the U.S. In every case, she is always engaged with her potential customers.
Your customers might not be avid users of Instagram and Snapchat. Nonetheless, you must find a way to engage with them on an ongoing basis. Prior to the internet, this was logistically impossible or at least very costly. Today, it's an absolute necessity.
Jenner doesn't dream up products and then test them on research groups. Her products are actively co-created with her audience. By continually engaging, she is allowing her potential customers to influence and
take part in the product-creation process.
Even if your clients are enterprise companies, you still must find a way to engage with them as often as possible and give them a hand in creating your products and services. Marketing today is not distinct from your product creation.
You may not be a celebrity, but your business can still take advantage of the same tools.
It's easy to see how Jenner and her company are different from your circumstances. But that's not a profitable or empowering way to look at her success. She is incredibly adept at taking advantage of the current business environment and technological tools available to her.
Luckily, those tools and tactics are also available to you and your business. And if you're able to stay agile, lean and engaged with your customers, then your business can benefit in precisely the same way.