Jimmy Donaldson didn't seem like the future multimillionaire celebrity he is today in the fall of 2016.
The shy 18 year old had been posting videos to YouTube from his mother's North Carolina home for five years without much success.
He dropped out after just two weeks of college. He spent his time editing videos on campus instead of attending classes.
"That's what I always talked about in school." In September, he told podcasters Colin Samir and content creators Colin and Samir that he thought 'I was a freak. People would say, "All you talk about is YouTube videos." You are too obsessed with YouTube. Get a life.''
He says that his mother, after he left school, was so upset with him, she threw him out of her house.
His decision was a good one.
MrBeast, also known as Donaldson, has more subscribers on YouTube than anyone else.
He has 85 millions followers on TikTok, and 39 more on Instagram. He was the first to reach one million followers in Meta's brand new social app Threads. This is before CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He celebrated his success with a familiar gesture, giving a Tesla car to a random fan.
He is 25 years old and oversees an empire worth up to $1 billion.
He built his empire by staging expensive and eye-popping acts, as well as generous cash giveaways and acts philanthropic - like funding cataract surgery for 1,000 blind people in order to help them see.
I just want to make better videos. He told Colin and Samir that he didn't care about money. I just want to create the best videos in the world.
He re-enacted the 'Squid Game', tied up an FBI agent, and crashed a large train into a pit.
MrBeast's most action-packed videos begin with Donaldson explaining the setup breathlessly in the first seconds, before launching into a series of fast-paced stunts, jokes, challenges, and gags.
He is surrounded by a group of friends who are all dressed in jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies. Donaldson's scraggly hair and constant excitement set him apart.
In a clip from last summer, Donaldson tied a FBI agent to a table, gave him a knife, and offered $100,000 to the agent if he caught him before midnight. The chase involved a hedge maze and a disguise, as well as an escape on a private plane.
Sara Fischer, an Axios media reporter, believes that Donaldson's accessibility and authenticity play a major role in the appeal of his videos.
It's him in his normal clothes, not a suit. He's hanging out with friends.
She told CNN's Jon Sarlin that Donaldson has money and can afford to take viewers to see places they wouldn't otherwise be able to. In a video, Donaldson is shown visiting luxury hotels around the world, including a castle where a room rents for a $1 million per night.
Fischer: 'That is an interesting model because it gives video viewers the opportunity to see something that they wouldn't otherwise be able to see. Who do you know who gets to stay at a million dollar hotel?
Some videos show ostentatious displays, such as a video showcasing the world's most costly plane ticket. Or his recent video where he and crew hung out on yachts with NFL star Tom Brady and comedian Pete Davidson.
$1 vs $1,000,000,000 Yacht!
Miller explains that despite MrBeast being rich, he, his friends, and their family still look on with wide-eyed wonder at all of their adventures. They are not cynical, nor privileged, making him relatable.
MrBeast saw a spike in subscriptions last year when he staged an actual version of the Netflix hit drama 'Squid Game', in which desperate individuals compete in deadly competitions to win a large sum of money. As far as anyone knows, no one died in MrBeast’s version. The clip has already been viewed more than 460 million time.
MrBeast has become more popular, and his budgets have increased. In a video clip, he crashed an entire train into a huge pit. Donaldson said that he spends about $1 million per week on his videos.
His videos are an unique form of charity
Donaldson promises to cure blindness in a video released by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) on January. Surrounded by doctors, Donaldson pledges that he will cure blindness. He gives some patients a suitcase full of cash as they emerge from cataract surgery. Some are in tears.
He tells a woman to fall to the floor and scream as he offers her $10,000. "Is she okay?" Donaldson, bemused, asks.
In a second video, from May, he purchases prosthetic limbs to help 2,000 amputees.
Donaldson has been accused by some critics of exploiting vulnerable individuals to generate views and revenues.
Vince Miller, a professor of sociology and cultural study at the University of Kent, UK, and author of a scholarly article on MrBeast argues that Donaldson was innovative in his use of YouTube's revenue sharing model to support charity causes.
Miller believes that Donaldson wants viewers to simply watch his videos to be entertained and not donate their time or money. The more people who watch his videos, the more Donaldson can earn and donate to charity.
He says that it's powerful to tell 10-year-old kids who have no money or limited agency, they can raise funds and help others by watching MrBeast videos.
Miller says that the videos can also send the message that wealthy people are better suited to solve social problems through philanthropic donations than by relying on more systematic government initiatives.
Miller believes that MrBeast’s formula for viral video success is a combination of several things: his Everyman appeal, his enthusiasm and high production values, their elaborate stunts and the wads and wads cash.
Miller says Donaldson's celebrity is due to his unique philanthropy. He tells his viewers that they are engaging in ethical consumerism by watching and sharing his videos.
One of his secrets is that he uses a large portion of the income from the videos to create even bigger and more spectacular prizes in subsequent videos. Miller states that he often uses the income from previous videos to surpass himself in his new videos.
Donaldson's philanthropic arm, the Beast Philanthropy Channel, has nearly 15 million subscribers. Through this channel, Donaldson has raised millions of dollars to plant trees, to clean the oceans from plastic waste, and to donate clothes to people in need.
I gave away $2,700,000.00 in free clothes
Donaldson said in previous interviews that he had studied the YouTube algorithm and other creators’ stats to develop a formula for making his videos successful.
Miller says that the contest format in many of Donaldson's videos encourages the viewer to stay to the end of the video to see what happens. This results in more advertising revenue, both for Donaldson and YouTube. The algorithm is also more likely to recommend Donaldson's videos.
Kristen Ruby is a social media expert, CEO of Ruby Media Group, and says that he puts a great deal of thought into the content he creates. He has mastered YouTube.
Ruby says Donaldson is a role-model for millennials, Gen Zers and other young people who aspire to be successful creators or influencers in social media.
"He has a lifestyle that people want to imitate because he gives the impression of being able to do whatever you like."
He began with a laptop and a handful of followers. He now runs a rapidly growing business empire
Donaldson began his YouTube career over a decade before, using an old laptop.
He first posted videos of him playing games like 'Minecraft,' and Call of Duty in his Greenville bedroom in North Carolina. His mother did not know about his YouTube channel until she read it in his high-school yearbook.
In 2017, one of his viral videos was filmed in which he sat on a chair and counted up to 100,000. This stunt took 40 hours.
In an interview, he explained that he had a "click" when he realized, "Oh, if i do interesting things people will watch,"
He poured back his meager earnings as he began to gain followers and attract advertisers. This led to better and bigger stunts.
In an interview two years earlier, his mother stated that it took her a moment to understand. Once I studied his business model it all made sense. It worked for him - although I'm not sure if it was a good idea or not.
Donaldson is currently in charge of five YouTube channels, which have a combined following of more than one quarter billion. His videos have been dubbed into other languages. His expanding empire includes Feastables snacks and MrBeast Burgers, a mostly virtual chain of restaurants offering delivery and takeout.
Google, the parent company of YouTube, declined to comment about how much money Donaldson earns from his content. However, Guinness World Records reports that he is the highest-earning YouTube Contributor, with an income reported in 2021 of $54,000,000.
Now, he operates out of a massive studio complex worth $10 million near Greenville. It has 100 acres and multiple warehouses to shoot videos.
Donaldson even goes back to school on his terms.
In November, East Carolina University said it would partner with him in order to launch an education program for content creators on campus.
In April of this year he also taught at the Harvard Business School.
He posted on Instagram: 'I taught at Harvard, which is funny because I only went to college for two weeks. Haha.'
Time magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Donaldson acknowledged in a recent article that fame can have its downside. He claims that he cannot go to the grocery store or anywhere else in public without being mobbed by fans for photos and trying to follow him.
He says that during a stopover last year in Chile, he agreed to have a selfie taken with a young airport fan. The fan then posted the picture online and so many people flocked to his hotel, he was forced to hire security.
Even so, MrBeast still says that he has a tremendous passion for his work.
He says, "I have been doing this for 10 years and I love it." If you took away my channel, I wouldn't know how I'd react.