The meteoric rise of Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, is one-of-a-kind in Youtube's history. Donaldson has a rare talent for grabbing attention, and has built his following and reputation on a series of stunts that range from the sublime to the ridiculous: He was most recently in the news for using his money to cure 1,000 peoples' blindness, an act one could either interpret as benevolence or "charity porn".
Either way, it works. Donaldson's videos have amassed over 40 billion views and his personal wealth is estimated at around $54 million. And as well as buying up medical operations en masse (following blindness, his next stunt was curing the deaf) Donaldson has been getting all Industrial Revolution on us, buying up various properties in a cul-de-sac in Greenville, North Carolina, to house himself, his family, and his employees.
This just about fits the definition of what was once called a company town—accommodation and indeed entire communities built or curated by companies for their workers, the most famous example being Cadbury's Bournville. Donaldson grew up in Greenville, so the choice of location is no mystery, and he's focused on buying up various properties around the home he bought for himself in 2018.
That's a two-storey four bedroom house that went for $320,000, per the New York Post, which helpfully adds that the master bedroom has an ensuite bathroom with "a double vanity, a whirlpool tub and shower." No wonder he always looks so clean. Since buying this property Donaldson bought a second nearby for $263,000, in 2020, then in 2021 negotiated an off-market deal for three more nearby properties, acquired for $1.45 million.
Here’s how many YT views I’ve gotten every year of my life. Another successful year 🥰24 - 19,135,206,77223 - 13,265,311,41422 - 8,184,185,54421 - 3,324,451,66020 - 2,099,879,91119 - 464,282,51718 - 122,441,81317 - 5,482,59616 - 202,00015 - 125,63414 - 41,14813 -…May 7, 2023
This means Donaldson owns five out of the six properties in the neighborhood. "My understanding is the folks who are holding out is similar to any reason why would anyone would have held out—it's the best school district in the area, and they have kids in school," said Aaron Bowden, one of those who sold his house to Donaldson.
"I wouldn’t know anything for a fact because I don’t walk in their shoes, but they may change their minds when their kids are out of high school and off to college," added Bowden, before going on to say Donaldson had told him of the plan to move his employees and family into the various homes.
Well, that's one way to spend your money. I'm never quite sure what to make of Donaldson, who seems like an unprecedented mix of philanthropist and P.T. Barnum, though he increasingly feels like one of the spirits of our age. That combination of altruism and algorithm-gaming success feels emblematic of the contemporary influencer ecosystem and no-one does it quite so successfully as Donaldson.
For his part, Donaldson has been open about his long-term goal, saying in 2020 he wanted to "run my main channel at a loss and grow as big as possible. And then use my main channel’s influence to one day open hundreds of homeless shelters/food banks and give away all the money." If indeed that is where it all ends up, who could really criticise?