Millionaire Entrepreneurs: Self-made or Silver Spoon?

Forbes’ annual “30 Under 30” list celebrates the career trajectories and accomplishments of outstanding millennials around the world. Over the years, it has generated an insurmountable amount of media attention, recognising the best young people that the entrepreneurial, science, art, education and tech worlds have to offer….

My invite definitely got lost in the mail. It’s totally fine though, I like hardly even care.

Anyway… As well as coming in at #19 on the list for the Retail and E-Commerce sector, cosmetics mogul and reality star queen Kylie Jenner is also on her way to becoming the youngest ever self-made billionaire, according to Forbes.

Kylie Jenner a Billionaire before age 24?
Quite possible.
I would sooner be convinced that the tinder profile for ‘Jason’ aged 43 (which boasts only three very pixelated images that largely resemble a young Harry styles) is not a catfish, than to be able to justify such a claim about the Jenner descendant.

Before her 113 million Instagram following clan comes running at me with pitchforks, let it be said that I am not taking a shot at the star from a business or personal perspective. Alas, at the crux of my concerns with the Forbes cover story is more so to do with the media conglomerate itself; and the pervasive yet potentially corrosive way in which society speaks about millennials and ‘million dollar success’.

Kylie Jenner was destined for a life of wealth and lucrative brand endorsements after being born into one of the most business driven, reality television dynasties there is. And while I’m sure her hard driven work ethic is what turns the wheels of her current $900 million net-worth (and $400,000 Lamborghini Aventado), it is having a platform on television from before the age of 10 that puts the keys into the ignition. So, the question still stands, how does this extreme leverage warrant the title of “self-made”?

As a society, we have become accustomed to a subjective and highly selective mix of media coverage following these high society 20-30 year olds, which in turn, has created a sub-genre of journalism all on its own.
The narrators tone is always the same in such fairy-tales; implying that the business mogul transitioned themselves from rags to riches through the sheer power of positive mindset and relentless drive; and also utilises some innate moral virtue to conflate their ability to manage money.

*rolls eyes* Call me the evil step-mother, but I call bullshit.

As always, it can almost be guaranteed that towards the end of this hypothetical (but not?) tale there will be some oblique disclaimer. Usually skirting the details of the level of financial assistance that the savvy business person received from their own ‘fairy god-mother’; a.k.a. investment prodigy uncle, CEO mother-in-law or recent inheritance arrival etc.

“None of us are entirely self-made”

These promising ‘from nobody to somebody’ stories are implicit and merely reveal the tip of the iceberg. “Lists like these — which fetishize achievement, particularly at a young age,” says Aditi Juneja, who was included inForbes’ ‘30 Under 30’ list this year.  “They diminish the hard work done by people in more challenging circumstances and add to the myth that if you just work hard enough, you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. They ignore that some people have neither boots nor straps. None of us are entirely self-made.”

Another prime instance of the misleading silver-spoon entrepreneur can be found through the infamous ‘Avo-toast’ scandal circa 2017. It all began when Tim Gurner, a 36-year-old developer worth $460 million, called out Australia’s youth for their [supposed] weekly consumption of the lavish and costly delicacy…avocado toast.

*Shudders* What monsters!

According to Gurner, this sort of spending habit is at fault for creating the artificial divide between young people and their ability to purchase a house before the age of 25. The property tycoon stated, “When I was trying to buy my first home I wasn’t buying smashed avocados for 19 bucks and four coffees at $4 each.”

However, many have flagged reports that the business mogul received a cute $34,000 loan from his grandfather to ‘kick start’ his first estate journey at the age of 19. A kick-start that any coffee drinking, avo eating millennial could only dream of receiving.

Alongside the ignorance to the advantageous financial starting positions of entrepreneurs like Gurner, also comes the lack of knowledge surrounding current economic and social plights.

For instance, Gurner (and most of the mainstream media) forgets to consider that young Australians are currently facing the “very real possibility that their generation will be the first to be worse off than their parents;” and not because of the youths love for a bit of greeny goodness smeared on top of some toast on a Sunday Morn’. In fact, the Foundation For Young Australians coins this epidemic to three long-developing trends, 1. Youth unemployment, 2. Rising debts and 3. Soaring house prices.

Then, there’s student debt. Major Key [to consideration]. A study conducted by The Institute of College Access and Success, saw Seven in 10 students who graduated from University in 2015 accumulate loan debts at an average of $30,100 per borrower. That’s a record high, and up 4% from the previous year.

Of course, magazines keep publishing these stories of entrepreneurial derring-do because they want clickbait – and what better way then to inspire us to read an article than to toy with the idea of how easy it is to achieve success. They tell us that expert work ethic and grit are all you need, when the harsh truth is that opportunity; family connections and honest unadulterated good luck are likely to be the more common denominators in finding wild success at a young age.

Millennials are coming of age in a post-Mark Zuckerberg world. We’ve seen Steve Jobs ascend to one of the most prestigious roles on the planet and we are having the myth of the visionary founder sold to us through prestigious, auto-biographical movies. In conjunction with ‘self-made success stories’ like that of Gurner and Jenner, is there any question in internalising the ideology that we are simply one revolutionary idea away from joining the rich and/or famous? We’ve borrowed the boundless capitalist impulses of the past and woven them into a “if they can do it, so can you!” culture, which promotes likely unobtainable ambitions for the common person.

This is not to imply or deter you from having ambitions – no sir, not at all. To eventually reach a millionaire status is a possibility for anyone. However,  when holding people up as the hallmarks of success, the media needs to acknowledge that the distribution for opportunity is sometimes unequal.

What works for a Kardashian might not work for a full-time student, who has to pay rent and purchase their weekly avo toast.


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