What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the World’s Greatest Youtuber - by Ariel Renous and Alexandre Dewez
Hi ! A few weeks ago, Alex reached out and suggested we write the first business deep-dive on MrBeast. He’s one of the most prolific business writers in Europe, check his newsletter out! Disclaimer: this essay is independent from my work at Jellysmack. It relies on no other information that what’s available on the web. Some ideas may have been borrowed from smart consenting friends. Enjoyed this piece? Would love to connect on Twitter or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The story of MrBeast is a tale of hyper-obsession. It is the story of Jimmy Donaldson, a 11 year old North Carolinian kid with acne, who through unparalleled intrinsic willpower and global platform changes became MrBeast. It is the story of how this kid became the greatest Youtuber on the planet. This is the paramount 21st-century story: absurd and awesome.
If you don’t know yet about MrBeast, you need those two quick facts: his Youtube channels count more than 200 million subscribers and generated 23+ billion views.
This piece is divided into two parts: history and facts, and playbooks. It explores in turn the major milestones in MrBeast’s meteoric rise and the playbooks that made it happen. Jimmy Donaldson is not a random kid who has been blessed by an obscure almighty algorithm. Jimmy is the ultimate entrepreneur: a hyper-focused leader, driven by a clear vision, setting objective milestones, achieving them through stellar work ethic.
This piece is not about how to become the world’s greatest Youtube star but about how to become the greatest at anything, period.
Jimmy had no headstart, no connections in Hollywood, no money. This is not a story about luck. Yet this now-23-years-old guy built a multi billion-dollar global media brand from a small town in North Carolina. His story proves it: hyper-obsession and unequaled work ethic breeds greatness.
Where does Jimmy’s rise end? Nobody knows. But upon doing research for this piece, we felt more and more confident in this prediction: within ten years, MrBeast will be the biggest celebrity on the planet. Now let’s dive in.
PART I: HISTORY
- In 1998, Jimmy Donaldson (aka MrBeast) is born in Kansas. He grows up in North Carolina where he still lives today.
- In 2010, Jimmy starts Youtube at the age of 11 - Youtube is then only 5 years old.
- In February 2012, at the age of 13, Jimmy launches his main channel. He starts with gaming videos on Minecraft, Pokemon and Call of Duty Black Ops 2. He was doing commentary videos on gaming gameplay. Sometimes, he would speak about the game. Other times, he would talk about other topics about his life or Youtube.
"A lot of my earlier videos, they sucked because I just wasn't entertaining back then, I was stupid. Every night before bed. I'd just be like, it sucks. It's a lot of work. And I feel like I'm not getting anywhere, but if I just do it long enough, eventually it will click, eventually I'll figure it out."
- In Sep. 2013, Jimmy publishes a 1-min video in which he says that if it ever reaches one million views, he would then invest the resulting advertising revenues to come up with an epic video. Interestingly, this concept of leveraging its programmatic revenue to fund production of new video concepts is now at the core of MrBeast's playbook.
- In 2013 and 2014, Jimmy switches slightly away from gaming and starts publishes a series of videos in which he estimates what money generates top creators on the platform like PewDiePie or CaptainSparkles.
- In 2015, Jimmy is 15 year old. He is diagnosed with Crohn's disease - causing inflammations to his digestive tract. It refers to it as a turning point in his life. Jimmy had to wait several months to find the right treatment, losing a lot of weight. He was drained, had no energy, lost all motivation to go to school. He even had to stop baseball - his second life passion besides Youtube. When Jimmy starts feeling better, he decides to go all-in on Youtube. From then on, no more gaming videos, Jimmy starts telling stories.
- Mid-2016, Jimmy’s main channel still has less than 30k subscribers.
- In 2016, Jimmy is making enough money from Youtube to drop out from college and move out from his mom’s place. His audience starts growing faster through several new real world formats: challenges, vlogs, money giveaways, absurd tasks.
"From the moment I dropped out of college that is where I just went all in. I would wake up, work on videos and then I'd go to bed. That's where I just went hyperdrive is definitely where I got really weird with it."
- In January 2017, Jimmy goes viral by publishing a 40-hours long video of him counting to 100,000. This was his firt real hit - it was absurdely unique and new.
"I kind of just realized that like, if I really go all in, I really be creative and unique and I do things that just no one else would do because they're so hard and takes so much effort, right. People have no choice, but to watch it because it's just interesting."
- In June 2017, Jimmy gives away $10k to an homeless person. This is his first brand partnership video (the brand offered him $5k and Jimmy negotiated $10k to have a more powerful title for the video). This concept went viral and paved the way for a philantropic mechanism that became core to MrBeast’s channel: building on revenues from advertising and sponsorship to shoot massive giveaways. Philantropy as a virality generator.
"So I had this idea if I take this branded money and I give it away in the video, that video will do well. And then I take the money from that video and I give away in the next video and that video will do well and kind of like create this cycle. That's when I was like, I want to use brands to allow me to help people. I was like, I think this would be like a really cool thing. And I was just like freaking out. I was like, I think I just cracked the code."
- In 2018, Jimmy publishes several videos orchestrating a fake battle between a music channel called T-Series and PewDiePie to become or remain the largest channel on Youtube. He bought billboards in his city and attended the Superbowl wearing shirts promoting PewDiePie and bought online ads to support PewDiePie. He said PewDiePie 100,000 times in a video.
- In October 2019, after reaching 20m subcribers, MrBeast announces his intention to raise $20m to plant 20m trees in a project called Team Trees. He successfully raises money from people like Elon Musk, Tobi Lutke, Marc Benioff, Jack Dorsey, Susan Wojcicki as well as from corporations like Verizon, Discovery, Elf, Cookpad or Electronic Arts. 1k+ creators also participated in his crowfunding campaign by publishing videos on their channels.
- In 2020, MrBeast strikes a deal with Spotter. Spotter is a fintech company offering Youtube creator upfront cash in exchange of their monetization rights on their back catalogue (think revenue-based financing for Youtubers). Jimmy uses Spotter to fund the initial cost of doubling its videos for its Spanish channel.
- In June 2020, Jimmy partners with MSCHF to release a one time multiplayer mobile game called "Finger on the App”. The concept: the last player to take a finger off the app wins $25k. Four people ended up winning $20k each after keeping their finger more than 70 hours.
- In Octiber 2020, MrBeast investes into Backbone - a controller that turns IPhones into gaming consoles.
- In Dec. 2020, MrBeast launched a virtual burger chain called MrBeast Burger.
- In Feb. 2021, MrBeast signes a deal with Jellysmack to re-purpose his content and distribute it on other social media platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat.
- In March 2021, MrBeast's management company, Night Media, led by Reed Duchscher and Ezra Cooperstein launches a $20m venture fund to invest up to $300k initial tickets in consumer, gaming and in the creator economy startups. Night Media is a talent management company working with creators like MrBeast, ZHC, Preston, Matt Stonie or Unspeakable.
- In March 2021, MrBeast partners with Creative Juice to invest up to $2m in a fund investing $250k tickets into Youtube channels in exchange of an equity stake.
- In April 2021, MrBeast invests into Current, a neobank for teenagers.
- In November 2021, MrBeast publishes a remake of Netflix’s show Squid Games with 456 people and a $456k cash prize. He recreated and adapted several games from the successful Netflix show. This massive video concept cost him more than $4.5m and generated more than 220m views.
- In January 2022, MrBeast launches a D2C food brand called Feastables starting with a line of chocolate bars marketed with $1m in prizes for buyers.
- In March 2022, MrBeast passes the 90m subscribers threshold.
PART II: Facts
- MrBeast's main channel growth really started to take-off in 2018. It means that it took MrBeast 8 years of consistently uploading videos to finally witness exponential growth.
- In 2021, MrBeast was the fastest growing creator on Youtube, adding 37m subscribers in one year.
- In 2021, MrBeast launches new channels in which he dubs his videos in 10 other languages (including Spanish, Portuguese, French, Japanese, Arabic). Results are great: for instance, in January 2022, MrBeast en Espanol added more subscribers than MrBeast's main channel (2.6m vs. 2.4m). Another example: in Nov. 21, MrBeast launches his French channel. In Jan. 22, he sponsored an Amixem's video to promote it. Today, MrBeast has already 930k subscribers on his French channel.
MrBeast’s multi-channel strategy
- MrBeast has developed a a multi-channel strategy on Youtube:
- MrBeast (92.7m subs): main channel with big concepts, 1-2 publications per month.
- Beast Reacts (16.5m subs): channel where MrBeast watches and reacts to videos or other content formats (e.g. most viewed TikToks, Moments Before Disasters, Most Dangerous Tourist Destinations).
- MrBeast Gaming (26.6m subs): started in Apr. 2020, where MrBeast plays with friends on video games like Minecraft, GTA 5 or Among Us.
- MrBeast Shorts (12.8m subs): launched in Aug. 2020, TikTok-style videos (vertical format, under 1 minute) where MrBeast and his friends are doing random funny things.
- Beast Philanthropy (8.0m subs): channel in which all the revenues generated (merchandising, ads, sponsorship) are used to fund a food bank.
- MrBeast in French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.: channels where the MrBeast's back catalogue is progressively translated and republished. MrBeast plans to have 30 foreign languages channels by translating MrBeast, MrBeast Gaming and Beast Reacts videos in the 10 most spoken languages in the world.
A Multi SKU-Creator
MrBeast is a Multi-SKU Creator - meaning he combines several revenue streams. As opposed to most creators, Jimmy did not diversify his revenue streams to be less depedent on Youtube or to generate more profits but rather to increase his content production budget for his main channel (bigger videos and faster growth).
He generates revenues via advertising on Youtube, sponsorship deals in his videos and on social media, merchandising with MrBeast branded items as well as via side businesses such as MrBeast Burger (virtual burger chain), Feastables (D2C food brand) and venture investments:
- Programmatic Revenue from Youtube:
Creators can leverage Google Ads to monetize their videos with automatic ads that will be place at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of their videos. This type of revenue can become pretty substantial for big creators like MrBeast.
- Sponsored Posts:
In his videos and stories, MrBeast promotes brands with 30-60 seconds pitches. He worked with companies like Supercell, Experian, Coinbase, etc. For a creator, the challenge is to make a pitch that is entertaining and fit the video so as not to kill retention. Sponsors typially offer temporary rewards to viewers to boost conversion (e.g. get $10 of Bitcoin when you join Coinbase with MrBeast's code).
MrBeast has also a shop where he sells merchandising items (mainly apparels). He has multiple collections over the year with limited items available and a drop distribution strategy. He also does collaborations with third party IPs (e.g. Dreamworks and Shrek).
- Beast Burger:
In December 2020, MrBeast virtually launches a 300-places burger chain called Beast Burger. He partnered with Virtual Dining Concepts and it took one year to make it happen. Beast Burger does not rely on dark kitchens but have been working with 300 local restaurants across the countries. They take order from all delivery apps (DoorDash, Ubereats, Postmates etc.) as well as on the proprietary Beast Burger app. This became an instant hit: the app was downloaded more than one million times and restaurants were overwhelmed by orders. Today, MrBeast Burger is close to having generate more than $100m in sales, is working with 1.6k restaurants (+50 per week) and is planning to open a physical restaurant in the coming months.
In January 2022, MrBeast launches a D2C food brand, Feastables. It's a gamified commerce brand: anytime you buy a chocolate bar, you get a gamified experience in which you may get rewards (mystery tickets, appearances on MrBeast's videos, Teslas, headphones, etc.). The bars are distributed directly on Feastables's website but also on GoPuff, Walmart.com and on certain MrBeast Burgers' locations. They have hired a strong team to run business led by Jim Murray who has a 10-year experience as president of RXBar (snack D2C brand).
- Venture Investments:
MrBeast has invested directly or indirectly into several startups. Night Media (his management company), launched a $20m venture fund in March 21, investing across consumer, gaming and creator economy startups (e.g. Italic, Lolli, Pearpop). MrBeast has also invested into companies like Backbone (gaming controller), Creative Juice (tools for creators) and Current (neo-bank for teenagers).
PART III: Lessons for Entrepreneurs and Creators
When Jimmy Donaldson posts his first Youtube video, we are in 2010. At that time, Jimmy is not yet MrBeast. He is an awkward 11 years old North Carolina kid. Call it luck or destiny, his first post reached a couple thousand views. From this very moment, he was stung and Youtube became his only obsession.
Obsession is what sets Jimmy apart from the bulk of other Creators. All his other successful traits stem from an abnormal focus on a crystal-clear objective: becoming the greatest Youtuber of all time. Listen to him speak and you cannot help but be reminded of the obsessiveness and intensity of the greatests entrepreneurs of our time. To be sure, Jimmy ranks among them.
North Star Metric
When Logan Paul tells Jimmy that he watches all his videos until the end, Jimmy smiles: “Man, there is no better compliment than this one”.
Because he knows the only thing that matters as a Youtube Creator. The root of success, the source of money and fame, it all comes down to one thing: watch time. Aka retention. Aka attention people trade you in exchange for entertainment. “Attention is the most valuable resource in the world”, Jimmy keeps on saying.
Youtube is an ad-supported business whose business model relies on people spending time on their platform. The algorithm is essentially based on retention. Follower count does not matter. Likes and comments do not matter. Only watch time does. Jimmy repeatedly states that a great video from an account with hundreds of subscribers would generate millions of views.
He trained himself to become allergic to boredom, to level up the intensity level in every new video. Because Jimmy knows that if retention means success, then boredom kills it, especially in the first minute of a clip. Take the first 40 seconds of this video where MrBeast got hunted by an FBI agent. In such a short time, context is set, the main characters are introduced, action begins, you know what will happen at the end. A new frame is introduced every second. Several narratives are laid down, you are just hooked.
A great video is a video people watch. Creativity, spending and efforts are worthless if they do not improve retention. Jimmy and his team know their North Star.
Studying the Algorithm like a Mathematician
In a mindblowing sequence of the Joe Rogan podcast, Jimmy explains he used to connect to Skype with three other Youtube friends and study the Youtube algorithm. He did that for 1,000 days in a row. He studied Youtube like others studied for college. As a result, his understanding of the platform reaches an unmatched degree of granularity. For months, Jimmy and his small group of friends delved deep into the most specific details of the recommendation engine: to what extent does brightness in a thumbnail influence viewership? How many angle cuts should happen in the first few seconds of a video? What is the optimal posting rate?
MrBeast approaches content creation like a cold-blooded mathematician. The goal is clear: watch time. The greatest Youtuber of all time will be the one with the highest retention. Every decision is carefully studied, backed with data, discussed with other creators and his team, sometimes even experimented in other channels. There are some trials and errors, but there is no luck involved.
This level of dedication from a then 17-year old is insane. So is the fact he is still doing that to this day. Jimmy has weekly calls with fellow creators set up. He coaches a handful of them on their thumbnails, titles, video dynamics, etc. He doesn’t ask to get paid - MrBeast needs no money - he just wants to test new formats, new ideas on the algorithm.
MrBeast’s passion for learning about Youtube seems to have no limits. And guess what he does in his free time? He watches Youtube.
The Long Game
Although Jimmy Donaldson typically tips Lamborghinis and gold bars in his videos, he still lived in a small house in North Carolina until recently (he moved out for security reasons). Jimmy may be a billionaire on paper, he is cash poor: every single dollar he generates is poured back into his content, that makes between two to five million dollars a month.
But this is not new. Since day one, Jimmy has reinvested all he earned through Youtube back into content. His first brand deal helped him buy a microphone. Then a camera. Then a better camera. Now, he is giving millions of dollars to his fans every month, building insane custom sets for each video, hiring literally the world’s best visual effects professionals, generating millions and reinvesting it all. His grand vision faces no production budget limit.
“Every dollar I made I spent it on content” Jimmy keeps saying. Jimmy does not care about money, Jimmy only cares about Youtube. From day one. Simple compounding strategy.
No Compromise on Quality
In an interview with the tech Marques Brownlee, Jimmy drops a jaw-dropping fact: one out of four videos they shoot never makes it to Youtube. Costs do not matter. Some challenges are simply not as impressive as they were on paper. Other videos just end up being scrapped because the editing is not powerful enough in Jimmy’s eyes. In 2019, Jimmy even deleted a video after publication as the compilation of clips of philanthropy did not match the $500,000 mentioned in the thumbnail.
Jimmy is uncompromising on quality to a degree that borders insanity. But MrBeast is unshakable because he is on a mission - and only this grand mission matters to him.
When Youtubers Colin and Samir flew to Greenville to tour the MrBeast facility, they reported that during a creative meeting, an employee called out on one of Jimmy’s ideas for not being ambitious enough. How did Jimmy react? He loved it. Jimmy somehow managed to pass his drive and obsessiveness onto his team.
But this is not all blue. In 2020, Nate Anderson started working for MrBeast as an editor. She only lasted one week. Anderson quit as Jimmy is too much of a perfectionist and making unreasonable demands, the New York Times reports. This degree of intensity is not for anyone.
Clarity is contagious. Passion is contagious. Drive is contagious. Jimmy’s team adopted his madman mindset, and those who did not were left on the side.
The Rise of Youtube
When Youtubers Colin and Samir ask Jimmy what other platforms he likes his answer is direct: nothing compares to Youtube. MrBeast was early on Youtube - he posted his first video on there in 2010. He must have been one of the firsts in the world to think of Youtube as a career path. Needless to say, Jimmy was early. He bet at the right time on the right platform.
The two fundamentals of business are: product and distribution. This also holds true for content. MrBeast is not only pushing the frontier of content on Youtube, he is also scaling the way his content gets distributed across the internet.
- MrBeast Reacts & MrBeast Gaming
- Distribution across platforms:
Like most Youtube Creators, MrBeast has secondary channels: Beast Reacts (16.6M subs), MrBeast Gaming (26M subs) & Beast Philanthropy (8M subs). What’s the rationale? Lower production effort videos to increase Youtube and generate extra cash. What for? To be reinjected in the main channel, of course.
Every day, 5 billion videos get watched on Youtube but another 4 billion also get watched on Facebook. Professional creators need to edge platform risks by diversifying their presence on several platforms. Also, platform expansion means more fans and more revenue. Jimmy knows this.
In April 2021, MrBeast announced his partnership with Jellysmack (disclaimer: I work at Jellysmack), the global creator economy company helping video creators go multi-platform. Jellysmack is managing top Youtubers’ presence on other platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, enabling them to reach new fans and generate extra revenue using advanced technologies.
Only about 5% of the world’s population are native English speakers. And the United States is not even Youtube’s largest market (India comes first). How could MrBeast be the biggest Youtuber of all time then? In July 2021, MrBeast launched a new channel: MrBeast en español. He dubbed his videos by famous Mexican actors (MrBeast and Spiderman have the same Spanish voice). He then launched similar channels in Russian, French, Portuguese, Hindi, Arabic, Indonesian and Japanese.
Athlete Mentality, Athlete Lifestyle
MrBeast’s first video to go viral is a webcam recording of him counting from 1 to 100,000. It took him 40 hours. Call it genius, stupid or insane, it certainty was all three. This performance is an absurd demonstration of willpower.
MrBeast's videos are full of crazy challenges: last one to take hands off Lamborghini keeps it, last one to leave a circle wins $500,000. Jimmy is a competitor at heart. “I would win any of those challenges” says Jimmy. We surely would not bet against that.
This may not come as a surprise then, but Jimmy is a workaholic. Little drinks, little parties, no Lamborghinis, no drugs. Jimmy seems unbelievably down-to-earth for a 23-years old worldwide celebrity. But no human being is exempt from vice and Jimmy is a gambler.
Jimmy is a dreadful poker player. He bought 8 crypto punks. Jimmy is consistently going all-in, placing big bets on himself. Playing big, plus drive, plus lucid competitiveness, is a guaranteed path to greatness. His vice serves him well.
But success did not make Jimmy move to Beverly Hills. He built his $10m studio facility in Greenville, North Carolina, the place where he grew up. The city of less than 100,000 inhabitants is the HQ of the world’s biggest Youtube brand.
As soon as he made enough money, Jimmy retired his mom - she now works full time with him. So does his older brother, Charles Donaldson (who also has a 4M subscribers Youtube channel called MrBro). He employs his friends and family in his hometown. When success hits that hard, you need to stay grounded.
Conclusion: Where Does The Madness Stop?
Jimmy Donaldson just seems to be made different. He has been obsessing continuously about Youtube since he was 11. He conveys an unusual intensity, a burning drive and passion that make others around him look uncomfortable. His resistance to pain and discomfort stems from another planet. Jimmy Donaldson ranks amongst the Musks and Kanyes of this world.
What comes next for MrBeast? Will he ever get bored? Will he ever run out of ideas? How can someone over years and decades continuously outdo oneself? Where does the madness stop?
Jimmy Donaldson will be the greatest Youtuber of all time. No doubt here. But the road ahead is still unclear. Rarely in history has a man and a team put as many resources, creativity and passion for the sake of entertainment. His continuing meteoric rise will be fun to watch. Sit back and enjoy the crazy and the successful unfold.
Thanks to my dad and to the hardcore creator economy enthousiasts Whatsapp group for their feedback! Liked this piece? Would love to connect! Feel welcome to pop into my Twitter DMs or email (email@example.com).