Creators, Please Don’t Only Hire Your Friends


Last week, YouTube’s biggest star, Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson, faced criticism after saying he didn’t consider himself rich. In a Feb. 15 Time Magazine profile, the 25-year-old said that despite making around $700 million a year, he doesn’t think of himself as wealthy because he reinvests most of his revenue into his future business prospects. 

The Time profile also mentioned Donaldson can afford a personal chef and trainer. He also bought an entire neighborhood for his workers to live in. So, understandably, many people thought that logic was a bit… questionable.

However, all this debate might have distracted us from a more nebulous yet important detail in the Time profile about how the MrBeast business is run. A Business Insider article from earlier this week smartly pointed out that the Time profile also revealed that Donaldson doesn’t like to use “traditional” job titles for his employees.

So what does MrBeast prefer to call his employees? FOFs — friends of friends.

“Jimmy gets uncomfortable and gets angry when people use language like PA [production assistant] because it’s too industry,” one former MrBeast staffer told Time.

While this may seem like a small detail, it could have some dangerous consequences. Business Insider spoke with a variety of human resources and business operations experts, who explained these dangers in detail. In summary, a lack of professional boundaries and clearly defined roles can easily descend an organization into “chaos.” Without a proper HR system in place, accountability is hard to enforce.

In MrBeast’s case, we’ve already seen this play out. Former employees told the New York Times in 2021 that MrBeast’s companies “have been rife with favoritism and bullying.” Employees revealed that many of those hired were close friends, family, and acquaintances. Some were propelled to fame after being featured in videos.

Of course, at the beginning of a creator’s life cycle, this makes sense. Creators often start out by making videos with their closest friends. 

In this regard, the advent of social media provided upward mobility for a small group of creators and their loved ones. Early creators, like mommy bloggers or YouTube friend groups like Rhett & Link or Smosh, were a trailblazing class that eschewed the gatekeepers of days past. In order to have a creative career, it was no longer necessary to break through the glass ceiling at major media corporations or agencies. You could just make some money hanging out with your buddies.

But things have changed as more money rolled into the ecosystem. The old-school narrative about the creator economy — that it’s an easy way to make money doing fun things with your friends — can at times distract us from the difficult conditions of social media work and the growing financial power of social media titans. 

As Passionfruit contributor Lon Harris explains today, YouTube is now the top streaming giant — eclipsing both Netflix and Amazon Prime. The top “creators” on YouTube today are no longer mom-and-pop shops. They are media empires.

And while the top class of creators like MrBeast have eschewed traditional gatekeepers, the creative people working underneath them have also been gutted of the traditional benefits of working for a media company. The 40-hour work week, health insurance, paid time off, promotions, steady career progression, child labor laws, discrimination protections, legal rights to organize — these protections are few and far between for most creators.

It’s been widely discussed that creative people don’t necessarily make great managers. Take the YouTube-originated “Hazbin Hotel” animation studio. Passionfruit reporter Steven Asarch recently spoke with over a dozen former employees of the studio, led by a popular YouTuber named “VivziePop.” Some said the studio allured young animators with its “indie luster” and promise of creative freedom. However, as it grew from its YouTube roots to become a studio working with the likes of A24 and Amazon, it had a lot of scaling issues. Namely, its founders were ill-equipped to handle HR problems, and no formal HR manager was ever hired. 

When YouTubers gain traction, they often hire video editors, assistants, accountants, and so forth to help them out. Soon, someone who once was just a person making videos in their bedroom becomes the manager of a team of people who depend on them for their livelihoods. When you add friends and family to the mix, it’s easy to see how nepotism might taint the experience. Not to mention how bad behavior might be enabled by those seeking to siphon off fame and wealth for themselves… just think of the Vlog Squad.

Things like harassment, nepotism, bias, and DEI training are only barely being addressed at more mainstream companies in other fields. In the creator world, they’re basically nonexistent. That’s a problem, considering the massive diversity, racism, and discrimination issues currently impacting the creator economy.

If you want to make a fun podcast or YouTube channel with your friends, of course, go for it. That’s the beauty of the internet. And it’s not always a bad thing to hire friends. Sometimes, it can be a good thing. 

But if I were you, I’d heed the HR experts warning call: When it comes to running a company, it’s not about making “friends.” It’s a lot of responsibility. And too often, creators who get thrown into the limelight don’t take that responsibility seriously.


YouTube Is America’s #1 Streamer. What Happens Next?

Business men with tv heads that say youtube in front of shadows attached to strings

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