What does it take to become a popular YouTuber? This question may have crossed your mind before considering nearly a third of the young population (Gen Z and Millennials alike) chose YouTube or Blogging/Vlogging as their preferred career path. This exact question was one that haunted Jimmy Donaldson, better known as ‘MrBeast’ when he set out to pursue is career as a professional YouTube content creator.
Who is Jimmy ‘MrBeast’ Donaldson?
Jimmy Donaldson, born May 7th 1998, grew up in the city of Greenville, North Carolina. He began his YouTube career while still studying in Greenville Christian Academy, a local private high school. Like many others his age, Donaldson had the desire to gain popularity and attract the largest audiences on the video blogging platform. Driven by this desire, he uploaded his first video in February 2012 at the age of 13. His early content was primarily characterized by ‘Let’s Play’ styled videos: a popular format which documented gameplay while also including the gamer’s commentary and/or a camera’s view of their face.
Posting videos under the handle ‘MrBeast6000’, Donaldson saw limited success with mastering the YouTube algorithm. Without any dents to his aspirations, MrBeast pushed on as his channel saw content evolve through several trends ranging from funny compilations, highlights from video games like Minecraft and the Call of Duty series and so on. He even created a series of videos predicting the net worth or estimating the wealth of many popular YouTubers at that time. That said, there is a massive disparity in the style of content he initially produced and currently produces.
How did MrBeast get popular?
Donaldson’s content started to gain some traction during 2015-2016 when he began releasing his “worst intros” series. This series was designed to comedically mock the worst video introductions made by other YouTubers. It may have been at the expense of other YouTubers but this strategy worked for MrBeast as by mid-2016, he had amassed around 30,000 subscribers.
After graduating from high school, Donaldson enrolled in college to pursue higher education. He made it through just two weeks of college before dropping out, stating “I’d rather be poor than do anything besides YouTube”. He spent the months that followed living and breathing YouTube. Donaldson along with a few close friends devoted their time to studying how the YouTube algorithm worked, tirelessly contacting other successful YouTubers and content creators to learn the secrets of their most popular posts.
His first major breakthrough came in January 2017 when he uploaded a video of himself counting to 100,000. Yes, you read that right. He counted individual numbers – one, two, three, four, all the way up to 100,000. He revealed that recording the entire video took him around 44 hours, parts of which he sped up while uploading to keep the final video under 24 hours. At the end of the video, a sleep deprived MrBeast hazily asks “What am I doing with my life?”. Today, the video stands at over 22 million views. It’s this completely unrequired, mesmerizing feat of pure willpower that skyrocketed MrBeast to the position he is in today.
What led to MrBeast’s current style of content?
The counting video was a revelation to Donaldson. He was rewarded for sheer effort and willpower. No amount of studying an algorithm could replace giving his audience a passionate display. The challenge of the counting video gave his audience something to root for, something to look forward to. His success in completing the task he set out to do, regardless of how meaningless it was, created a sense of satisfaction for both him and his viewers.
This led to Donaldson creating the ‘Challenge’ format. He went on to create videos performing more and more exorbitant challenges. He watched fellow YouTuber Jake Paul’s “It’s Everyday Bro” music video for ten hours, he spent 24 hours spinning a fidget spinner, he even spent 24 hours living inside a house made entirely of ice. One of his recent challenges involve him being buried alive for 48 hours straight. Extravagant would be one way to describe these videos, but they earn him views which is effectively YouTube’s currency.
MrBeast turns Philanthropist
Donaldson, in recent times, has made a name for himself performing various charitable and philanthropic acts in his videos. His first act of philanthropy came in a sponsored video. He received $10,000 as a part of the sponsorship deal with the company Quid. In the video, MrBeast gave away the entire sum received from the deal to a homeless man he’d met at an intersection. It was at that moment that Donaldson realized charity was something he liked doing, that gave him a sense of fulfilment. So, as more and more sponsorships came in, Donaldson continued giving away money: sometimes to Twitch streamers, to his friends and family, and even to his subscribers/followers.
The method of his giveaways ranged from hard cash to assets such as houses, cars, laptops, tablets, etc. These variations helped him maintain his audience’s interest in his videos. Apart from the obvious euphoria he derived from his giveaways, Donaldson also realized that the higher the value of his giveaway and the greater the extravagance of his chosen method, the more interactions he received from his audience. Thus, Donaldson constantly looked for means to make his next giveaway bigger than his last.
By the end of 2018, MrBeast had given away over $1 million. At this point, he made a video clarifying where his money comes from and how he can afford to give away such generous sums of money. As several fans had already guessed, a large proportion of his donations come from brand sponsorship deals. Still, he remains heavily reliant on his fans as if the enormous views he receives stop coming in, so do the sponsors. The value of his brand deals scale proportionally with how viral his videos become. It’s an infinite loop, more views get him bigger brand deals which lets him give away larger sums of money which in turn gets him more views. This unique revenue model has earned MrBeast the title “YouTube’s Biggest Philanthropist”.
Donaldson himself has stated that he never came from a rich family. All of his money came from YouTube and at present, he runs his primary channel at a loss. Not that you should be concerned, he has other channels as well as a merchandise store and a restaurant chain as income sources. That said, his path to YouTube glory is fairly unique. His first six years saw him amass a meagre 6 million views that dwarfs in comparison to the 122 million views generated annually when he turned 18. Currently, at the age of 22 he generates nearly 4 billion views per year. In his words, “The beauty of YouTube is double the effort isn’t double the views, it’s like 10x. The first million subscribers you get will take years, but the second will come in a few months.”