Founded in 2009, CelebrityNetWorth.com has grown from a Los Angeles side project into one of the most ubiquitous databases on the Internet. Cited in countless articles, the site is a go-to source for celebrity wealth across the globe, raking in tens of millions of visitors per month. Recently CEO Brian Warner talked to Quartz about why he founded the company, what he hopes to do with it and why he thinks so many people are obsessed with finding out exactly how much money Kim Kardashian makes.
Why did you decide to found a site dedicated to celebrity net worth? Were you worried it might be too niche?
I have an unusual fascination with celebrity. But to some extent, most everybody has this fascination with the wealthy. I was just one of those people who was constantly reading about billionaires and how to get rich. Those interests all came together with the creation of Celebrity Net Worth. I was really excited about launching the site, but I noticed pretty quickly that it struck a nerve with a lot of like-minded people.
I think one of the main reasons why people get really excited about things like the Forbes billionaires list is it creates a definitive display of wealth that others can look at and aspire to. I don’t think anybody is really that interested in these billionaires in Europe who inherited their dad’s money. But they can look at the Forbes list and see men like Michael Jordan or the Snapchat founders—it’s exciting because they seem like real people, people we might one day be able to become. The Snapchat guys lived right down the street from me!
For me and I think for anybody who reads these kinds of sites generally, you’re not so much interested in [Swedish multi-billionaire] Stefan Persson, you want these stories of real people. Those are the articles our visitors love to read.
But what is it about celebrities that appeals to people rather than, say, the latest Silicon Valley “it” kids?
Celebrities add a whole new level of curiosity. These men and women live their lives so publicly already. You take someone like Kim Kardashian, today you see every step she has ever taken in her like, and it no longer feels unnatural. Love her or hate her, there’s definitely a curiosity factor with celebrities that didn’t exit a few years ago. With all of the data points now provided by the Internet and social media, there’s so much more information available, and with that, a desire to learn more.
Is figuring out a celebrity’s net worth more parts science or art?
I think there’s definitely a level of guestimation or ballparking built into the process. The advantage of having a profile like that of Forbes or Celebrity Net Worth is that we get a lot of feedback. I was literally just in a meeting with someone trying to tell me their client was worth $50 million. I said, there’s no way this is true.
If we end up too far off, there is always some kind of backlash. There have been a handful cases when we’ve been proved to be off, and we’ve corrected it. But I do think our users understand we’re talking about the best possible ballpark—when you get it down to the dollar, it honestly doesn’t even matter that much. When you’re as wealthy as some of the people we appraise, a lot of times, people won’t even know their own net worth.
Does being immersed in the minutiae of personal fortunes day after day ever make you a little depressed?
No, I don’t think so. To be fair, these celebrities have given me a pretty good life. Sometimes it is a little distressing to write about Kim Kardashian making so much money from nothing. But generally, our site focuses on the positive and the aspirational. We’re not TMZ, we’re not looking to air anyone’s dirty laundry.
Who is your most popular celebrity?
Last year, boxer Floyd Mayweather was the most popular search, followed by Kim Kardashian.
Floyd is actually the perfect example of a guy who used to be in the news maybe once a year. He’d have a fight and then disappear again. Now he’s posting photos of himself standing in front of his car collection, next to his private jet collection. [Social media and the internet] has really enabled celebrities to create a constant stream of publicity—he’s really almost a cartoonish figure at this point.
What do you make of the rise of lists that deal exclusively in personal fortunes, like the highly-antipicated Forbes Billionaire list or its competitor, Bloomberg Billionaires?
I think if you are really wealthy, it’s a little weird to care too much about where you rank on these kind of lists. If you have enough money to be tracked by us or by Forbes, you’re doing pretty well in your life. You should probably go focus on something else.
On the other hand, if you’re not wealthy, I think it’s a very natural human human need to organize data—the more data out there, the more demand to see some kind of representation to it numerically.
But can one learn anything from them, or are they purely for entertainment value?
One hundred years ago, if these lists had existed, you’d be wanting to start an oil company or a bank. That’s because these lists ultimately help show trends in the world, and how finance and the global economy is changing.