YouTube star MrBeast (a.k.a. Jimmy Donaldson) has always had a knack for entrepreneurship. He started his first business as a teen and doubled his investment with his first sale when he started a side-business selling digital items for the video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO).
“My mom probably doesn’t like this story, but I used to play a lot of CSGO back in the day…so I would buy Counter-Strike knives and then just resell them,” says Jimmy in an exclusive conversation with Shopify.
Jimmy bought the digital products for around $10 and resold them for $20, a sweet 100% markup. He admits he didn’t sell too many, but he was ecstatic to be able to make money.
Once his mom found out, she told him to quickly shut down shop, but the business lessons he learned from his first entrepreneurial stint stayed with him for years.
As of November 2022, MrBeast is one of the most successful creators in the world, with more than 109 million subscribers on his main channel. While millions know him as a YouTuber, he is also a shrewd entrepreneur and on track to grow a business empire. Over the past few years, Jimmy and his team have launched and scaled three businesses:
- ShopMrBeast (a merch store run on Shopify)
- Feastables (a better-for-you snacking brand powered by Shopify)
- MrBeast Burger (a delivery-first restaurant brand with over 1600 delivery locations; its first brick and mortar restaurant is in New Jersey)
Being a creator has given him a competitive edge as an entrepreneur, says YouTuber Samir Chaudry, co-host of the channel Colin&Samir, a platform about the creator economy.
“I think that everyone is going to be very surprised at what creators like MrBeast can build, because of the mindset that we’ve developed around putting out our product ,” says Samir.
“Wherever we release something, we get an immense amount of feedback and data that we can take into consideration in the next launch of our product, which, for some creators, happens every day.”
Below, Jimmy shares insights on his entrepreneurial journey, from creating video game content in his bedroom to building multimillion-dollar companies.
Going viral is a journey: How MrBeast grew his channel
Jimmy’s creator journey started when he was a pre-teen. Growing up in Greenville, North Carolina, he was an avid video gamer, spending hours in front of the TV while battling players worldwide. One day, MrBeast found a hack for the battleship game Battle Pirates and uploaded a screen recording to YouTube to share with fellow gamers. The video quickly hit 20,000 views—an unusually large number for someone with only a handful of subscribers. MrBeast realized he could gain subscribers if he produced unique content, so he started experimenting with uploading videos.
While MrBeast’s first popular upload went viral by chance, his rise to the top happened because he wasn’t afraid to take risks, worked long days, and carefully studied his audience.
Like many creators just starting out, MrBeast started filming on his phone, with virtually no equipment. The first few videos on the channel MrBeast6000 were low-fi, and some of them tanked. Nevertheless, he persisted and eventually got monetized on YouTube. A true entrepreneur, as soon as MrBeast started making money, he reinvested every dollar into new equipment for his channel. This is a practice he continues today—sometimes investing upwards of $3 million to create a single video.
Over the next four years, MrBeast leveled up his production values and tried new types of content to attract more engagement. Finally, he found a content idea that allowed his channel to take flight, a series of more than 70 videos called Worst Intros. In them, he reacted to what he considered terrible intros from other YouTube videos. By 2016, he had amassed 30,000 subscribers.
Being a creator is a grind that often involves taking risks and sacrificing sleep, but if you keep at it, you might eventually find success, one win at a time. In late 2016, MrBeast left East Carolina University after two weeks to pursue full-time content creation. Taking a chance paid off—a year later, one of his challenges went mega-viral after he posted a video of himself sitting in one place until he counted to 100,000—a feat that took him over 40 hours.
Cultivating community by studying your audience
From his earliest days on YouTube, Jimmy has analyzed how to hook viewers, keep them engaged, and nurture a community of subscribers.
“I don’t think we’ve seen anyone study a platform or a distribution mechanism the way that Jimmy did,” says Samir. “What he actually studied beyond how YouTube works was viewer and audience satisfaction. He put an emphasis on that.”
After every video launch, Jimmy examines the data, such as when people drop off from the video, what part of the video was most replayed, and which thumbnails have the highest click-through rate. Jimmy says details like these that may seem minor can make a big difference. Jimmy’s analytical skills, and passion for his audience, help him make the best videos possible—and also make him a brilliant businessman (but more on that later).
In the earlier days of his channel, Jimmy would spend all day on Skype analyzing videos with other aspiring YouTubers. They called their group Daily Masterminds. From 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., they would break down the anatomy of each other’s videos, study popular YouTubers, and brainstorm ideas. Jimmy credits these group calls with helping him perfect his craft and intricately understand his audience.
“[My new ideas] are usually just whatever interests me and whatever I think the audience will get excited about,” Jimmy says. That intersection between his interests and his audience’s interests is where the magic happens for both his content and his products. This audience-centric approach is something creators looking to scale their channel can learn from.
At the MrBeast headquarters in Greenville, North Carolina, Jimmy and his team of more than 100 employees (including his mom, stepdad, and crew of best friends) sometimes spend 16-hour days coming up with new ideas, building elaborate custom sets, and shooting and editing videos. Even at this level of success, MrBeast and his team still grind, because they’re passionate about creating the best videos possible. Content creation isn’t easy, but it can pay off if you keep at it.
As MrBeast’s channel has evolved, he’s become famous for his epic giveaways and philanthropic challenges. His videos have provided millions of dollars to people and philanthropic organizations in need, including his successful #TeamTrees fundraising campaign, which helped the Arbor Day Foundation plant 20 million trees in 2019. These donations are often made possible due to income MrBeast makes off of his videos, via sources like his merch store and brand deals, that he chooses to pay forward to others.
Connecting commerce with content
In 2021, Forbes ranked MrBeast as the highest-paid YouTuber. His estimated $54 million in earnings comes from a mix of sources: advertising revenue, brand integrations and revenue from his enterprises. While YouTube ad revenue can be incredibly lucrative for creators like him, who get billions of views, Jimmy also multiplies the money he makes by launching businesses.
This September, Jimmy’s delivery-first restaurant brand, MrBeast Burger, opened its first retail restaurant at the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Few things can get people to completely pack a mall in the 2022 era of online shopping, but a record-breaking crowd of more than 10,000 showed up to the restaurant on opening day, and thousands camped out to be first in line for a taste of the MrBeast experience.
That’s the magic of MrBeast—he creates experiences people want to be a part of. In turn, he has grown an engaged customer base.
In January, Jimmy launched Feastables, a better-for-you snacking brand. Feastables co-founder and chief executive Jim Murray, the former president of protein bar company RXBar, says it was Jimmy’s ability to build products his audience loves that attracted him to Feastables.
Jim’s instinct about his co-founder’s business skills was right. Within 72 hours of launching on Shopify, the brand sold more than a million chocolate bars via Feastables.com. Following the success of Feastables.com, the team expanded its consumer base by selling Feastables at Walmarts across the country.
Jim says the success of his co-founder’s business ventures reflects a broader trend—creators are launching high-performing businesses.
“I was familiar with Jimmy through watching the launch of Beast Burger,” says Jim in an interview with Business Insider. “I had caught the news of that, and I really started to understand what was going on in the creator economy.”
Creating brands that can outlive content
As Feastables chief executive Jim noted in his interview with Business Insider, creator-led businesses like Feastables are becoming increasingly common. According to a 2021 venture capital firm Signal Fire report, content creators are the fastest-growing type of small business. Several other top creators have recently launched successful product lines on Shopify, such as Emma Chamberlain’s tea and coffee line Chamberlain Coffee, beauty guru Jackie Aina’s candle brand Forvr Mood, and Mark Rober’s engineering subscription business Crunchlabs.
So why are so many creators exploring entrepreneurship?
Like traditional celebrities, creators have strong personal brands and large, loyal followings that can double as a built-in consumer base. Often product lines are an extension of a creator’s interests and can be seamlessly integrated into their content in a way that feels more authentic than a typical brand deal.
It doesn’t take much time to set up [a Shopify store], making building and hosting the website easy.
Jimmy’s entrepreneurial journey is a great case study on how creators succeed as entrepreneurs. Like many creators, his first official business was a merch store built on Shopify in 2018 called ShopMrBeast. Using Shopify allowed Jimmy and his team to launch and manage ShopMrBeast seamlessly. “It doesn’t take much time to set up [a Shopify store], making building and hosting the website easy,” says Jimmy.
Many creators launch merch stores because it is relatively easy to produce items using print-on-demand services or a wholesaler. More importantly, branded swag is an essential part of community building, as it helps fans signal to one another in real life that they’re part of the same digital community.
Samir says wearing a shirt from Seek Discomfort, the merch line by the YouTube channel Yes Theory, recently sparked an awesome conversation with a stranger at a coffee shop.
“I had someone come up to me and pick up a conversation because they saw I was wearing a Seek Discomfort shirt—it was a sign that we’re in the same community,” says Samir. “Similarly, if I see someone drinking a Chamberlain Coffee or eating a Feastables bar, I know we have common ground immediately.”
In addition to community building, commerce empowers creators to diversify their income streams and take a step back from non-stop content creation. In MrBeast’s case, he now has the room to take more risks with his videos and even cut content so that he only releases his best work.
Like MrBeast, creators Colin and Samir also diversify their income via commerce with their merch store. “That breathing room is so important in the business of creativity,” says Samir.
New income sources also allow creators to take breaks and manage burnout, something nearly two-thirds of creators reported experiencing in 2021, according to a 2022 report by ConvertKit.
Blurring the lines between marketing and content
While having a vast following helps Jimmy sell his products, innovative marketing has been key to his success as an entrepreneur. He experiments with interesting creative concepts that blur the lines between ads and content to build hype for product launches, increase conversions, and connect with fans.
Take, for instance, the Feastables launch. When it came time to unveil his new brand, MrBeast didn’t just film a video of himself unboxing his new line of chocolate bars—he invited his audience to join in on the fun. People who bought Feastables chocolate bars had the chance to win epic prizes like Teslas, Seadoos, and a lifetime supply of chocolate.
He also invited 10 lucky winners to fly out to meet him and compete to win MrBeast’s chocolate factory (a replica of the fictional Willy Wonka’s whimsical chocolate factory).
Naturally, it was all filmed for his YouTube channel. In the video, MrBeast plays the role of Willy Wonka (purple velvet suit included) as he guides players through a series of challenges on a set reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s factory. The chocolate factory features chocolate waterfalls, life-size lollipops, and tons of Feastables signage and branding.
Most of the challenges were Feastables-centric: Players competed in a Festables eating competition, rode gondolas down milk chocolate rivers, and created chocolate-based desserts in a cooking competition judged by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
Jimmy’s unique, content-centric approach to marketing has worked; the Feastables brand has grown exponentially in a short time. According to Business Insider, as of May 2022, Feastables has already made over $10 million in sales, and the brand isn’t even a year old.
The other reason Jimmy’s marketing is successful is that he carefully analyzes audience data for his businesses, too. Samir notes several parallels between optimizing audience engagement and converting consumers to buy products.
“What happens when someone wants to buy chocolate? They’re going to compare the packaging of the chocolate bars at the store,” says Samir. “That’s essentially like choosing a video based on a thumbnail, right?”
What happens when someone wants to buy chocolate? They’re going to compare the packaging of the chocolate bars at the store. That’s essentially like choosing a video based on a thumbnail.
In short, many skills that creators learn, like thumbnails, user engagement, and subscriber retention, are transferable to entrepreneurship. Jimmy has mastered using data to market his products and get people genuinely excited about his product drops across multiple businesses. For example, in 2021, Jimmy offered people who bought his latest ShopMrBeast drop the chance to win a FaceTime call with him.
“If I make a shirt and I go, ‘Hey, buy this shirt!’ it’ll sell well, obviously, because I have fans,” says Jimmy. “But if I say something like, ‘Hey, if you buy this shirt, I’ll sign it,’ it does way better. Whenever I attach content around what I’m trying to say, it gets my fans way more excited.”
Jimmy’s next act
Jimmy says he still has a lot of ideas he’s excited to bring to life, like shooting a video in Antarctica and possibly filming in outer space one day. “You get big ideas like going to the moon. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do stuff like that, at least not within the next 20 years,” he says. In the short term, Jimmy plans to reach for the stars figuratively, as he expands his businesses worldwide. Within a decade, Jimmy has evolved from creating low-fi YouTube videos on his smartphone to selling his line of snacks in every Walmart in America, managing three booming businesses, and owning the top YouTube channel. And he’s only 24 years old. So what exactly is next for Jimmy? Time will tell, but one thing is sure: his entrepreneurial empire is on track to reach meteoric heights of success.
How did MrBeast become famous?
MrBeast is famous for his epic YouTube videos, which feature super-sized stunts, competitions, and giveaways. In 2017, one of his challenges went mega-viral after he posted a video of himself sitting in one place until he counted to 100,000—a feat that took him over 40 hours. Today, MrBeast is widely considered the content-creation king, with a subscriber base of more than 109 million and multiple YouTube channels to his name.
How many subscribers does MrBeast have?
As of November 2022, MrBeast has over 109 million subscribers and more than 10 billion views—making him one of the most successful YouTubers on the planet.