The Gobsmacking Hubris of MrBeast

PLUS: “Pizza Commerce”
September 15, 2023

Pictured (left-to-right): Jason Calacanis, Jimmy Donaldson (aka MrBeast), and Chamath Palihapitiya at ALL-IN SUMMIT 2023. 
“Retail is easy because you put it on the shelf and people buy it.” — MrBeast

This week, speaking live from the ALL-IN SUMMIT, Jimmy Donaldson (aka MrBeast) let us in on his formula for CPG success: 

  • Step 1: be really, really, ridiculously famous
  • Step 2: put products “in Walmart where 100 million people come in every month”
  • Step 3: profit

This exchange reminded me of a classic Funny or Die sketch with John Mayer.

In the sketch, Mayer pays a team to handle the harder parts of his day-to-day business; including doing drugs for him (cocaine gives him “the farts”) and to write love songs.

“This song is about how you can’t get the girl,” explains one of the paid writers on Mayer’s team. “I don’t understand,” says John. “If I can’t get the girl, why don’t I just tell her I’m John Mayer?”

This is the gist of the MrBeast roadmap for CPG success: be MrBeast. “Retail is easy,” he said, without a hint of irony. “Because you put [product] on the shelf and people buy it.” 

Of course, we know that it’s hard to synthesize any [airquotes] insights [end-airquotes] out of that. If we can learn anything, it’s that MrBeast has spent a longer amount of time investing in his brand than any other CPG challenger brand at present.

Since the age of thirteen, Donaldson has been leveling up his production enterprise on a bi-weekly schedule that rivals Hollywood studio output. The scale of sets (multi-million-dollar buildouts), the size of team (up to 250+ people in Greenville), and the audience (he’s the third-most-followed person on planet Earth, after Ronaldo and Messi), prove that he’s found content-market-fit. 

He’s a product of incredible dedication and deft risk-taking. He continues to double-down on his enterprise, week after week, and “reinvest” in the business.

“I think that the 10,000 hours needs to be rethought,” said Donaldson to ALL-IN moderator Jason Calacanis. “That’s only, what, three years? I think we should think about it more like 10,000 days.”

The hubris of MrBeast may be the key to his success. He’s wrong on so many levels —  firstly, in his critique of companies like Hershey and Nestlé’s failure to innovate, and secondly, that they’re “tired brands” that are “100 years old” — that it’s almost impressive. He has a bravado about him; the kind you need to compete with global CPG giants.

The Innovators’ Dillema author Clay Christensen famously said “Disruptive innovation can hurt if you are not the one doing the disrupting.” Jimmy’s Feastables brand is certainly making waves, but is it disruptive? His email creative is innovative, and his packaging is irreverent; but what innovation is disruptive here? 

“It feels more like a sly attempt to build cash flow to justify a growing list of expenses,” said one attendee of ALL-IN SUMMIT who wished to remain anonymous. “Sounds like a giant ponzi scheme that he’s pulling on himself,” said another.

Rather than disrupt, perhaps this is just the next wave of celebrity CPG brands that aim for an exit. In the era of LIV Golf and Inter-Miami + Messi — where players and content creators are co-owners, having co-ownership of a brand has many paths. Those partnerships (read: paydays) may result from a rollup or acquisition. The most logical path for MrBeast is to build a brand too big to ignore, and to assimilate into the “100 year old” Borg Collective that is a giant CPG.

Last point here — old and stodgey CPG brands are part of the culture. You grow up with them. These cultural brands adapt with the times, as much as they define the times. Take Mondelez, for instance; a company that has built DTC, customization, B2B and influencer partnerships across dozens of their portolio brands.

One can hardly say that Oreo has failed to innovate; and I have firsthand knowledge that their global eCom scale makes MrBeast's current "$200M run rate" volume look like a rounding error.

Given enough time — say 100 years? — maybe Jimmy can do the same. 

That’s a wee bit longer than 10,000 days.

— Phillip

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