How to monetise your “persona” – learning from Obama

obama umbrella net worth

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If you are at all engaged with entrepreneurial threads on Reddit, Quora or Facebook, you will see at least once a day advice on how the wealthy got their current wealth and how they stay wealthy. One of the key lessons of the 21st century is that now anyone can monetise their persona. With the introduction Instagram, having your “personal brand” became a real thing. The concept is not new. However, over the past decade it has become far easier to enrich yourself by establishing your own personal brand, especially after the introduction of social media.

How do you monetise your persona, and how do you continue to find alternative sources of income? One of the most common examples that is usually given is the Kardashians. However, this time around, we decided to take a different point of view, and look at the former U.S. president – Barack Obama.

Why Obama

Obama has not (yet) been in any movies, tv series or commercials. Yet, in 2018, it has been reported that the Obamas net worth increased 30-fold, since the 2009 election win, making his net worth as of 2018 $40 million. This means that a look into his financial life offers us a chance to consider other revenue streams, which could be generated by someone who has made the most use of their personal brand.

Book deals

Rykov.Media - obama's book deals.

From 2006 to 2016 Obama has been reported to earn $15.6 million from books, such as: “The Audacity of Hope”, “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters” and “Dreams From My Father”. We can only assume that sales surged dramatically following his first election win in 2009.

A book deal is a great way to increase your income if you have a big following. If Kim Kardashian published a book on endangered pigs from Papa New Guinea, regardless of the topic, because of her social status, a minimum number of sales is pretty much guaranteed.

Attention sells. If you are known by thousands of people globally, they are more likely to stop by the bookshop (or search an online kindle shop) and open the first page of your new book. Publishers know this.

Finding someone who would not know who Barack Obama would prove difficult. It’s an easy bet for any publishing house, and this proved to be a very good deal for all parties involved.

Key lesson: build your following and “sell their attention” at a later stage.

Speaking at events

obama events payment
Obama giving speech, Rykov.Media

Business Insider reports that since leaving the White House, Obama has been paid on average $400,000 for any public events that he spoke at. Why the big bucks for an ex-president? Well – same reason as the above. Who wouldn’t want to take a picture of the former U.S. President or even potentially shake his hand at a live event? Put “Obama” on your event’s guest list and it will sell out.

It is no wonder that most former politicians made the big bucks this way: as an example, CNN reported in 2016 that Clintons made up to $153 million between 2001 and 2016. Not too shabby!

Fees for speaking at events can vary – if the audience’s credit rating is higher than average, fees are likely to be higher as well. Obama earned $800,000 for speaking to Northern Trust Corp and Carlyle Group in 2017, and an astounding $1.2 million for three Wall Street talks.

Key Lesson: Keynote speaking can be a great way to earn more. Become an expert on a topic, or, once again, utilise your large following to ensure that any event organiser would be estatic to have you on board.


Every truly wealthy person has dabbled in investments, one way or another. Mr. Obama is no exception. For starters, in 2007 the former president bought Bright Direction College Savings 529 Plans for his daughters, to pay off their college in the near future. Each account had somewhere between $100K and £250k in them.

As of 2015, Barack and Michelle Obama have been reported by CNN to hold somewhere between $1 million and $5 million in U.S. Treasury Notes (gaining about $15-50k in interest per year), $250k-500k in U.S. Treasury bills in a SEP-IRA and $300k-$750k in three different Vanguard index funds.

As you can see the former first couple clearly knows how to diversify their investment portfolio!

In addition to the above, Obamas are also no strangers to real estate investment.

In 2018 they purchased a house in Washington, DC, having previously rented it. The house’s price was $8.1 million.

In 2019 they also purchased a house on Martha’s Vineyard for another $11.75 million.

Key lesson: Invest your money. Diversify your portfolio. Look into bonds investment and real estate if you wish to build passive income and have savings after you get tired of continuous personal brand promotion.

“Obama Production”

In 2018 Barack and Michelle Obama agreed a deal with Netflix to produce movies and tv series for the streaming service. The new production company became known as “Higher Ground”. In 2020, their first project, “American Factory” would win an Oscar for the Best Documentary.

While the particulars of the deal are unknown, similar five-year deal with Ryan Murphy, for example (“American Horror Story”) was worth $300 million. So, there is no reason why Obamas couldn’t come close to this figure, earning up to $60 million/year from the deal.

While this may seem like a long way from “monetising your personal brand”, however if you are well-known, you can: attract high-skilled professionals who would love the idea of working with someone of your stature, attract other well-known celebrities and actors (which in turn would lead to higher viewership of the new film/series) and you can also secure more financing for your project. The majority of finance firms/banks would love to count their own “Obama” as one of their clients.

Image result for american factory american factory

Key Lesson: entertainment industry can be cruel, but it can also be very lucrative. Are you well known outside of your inner circle? Use it and tap into this goldmine.

The perks of your old job

And lastly – you may have a number of investments and have an ongoing revenue stream from your books and speeches. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from your last workplace. In Obama’s case, The General Services Administration is obliged to cover travel and business expenses for the former president, which can be quite a substantial bill…and benefit. An equivalent for anyone who is not a former president would be: equity in companies where you have worked before, any other ongoing benefits (for example free samples from the company), etc.

Key Lesson: get the most out of your current employment, leave on good terms and continue to cash in on some of the bigger/smaller benefits from that company.

Continuing to evolve

You don’t have to be the next Obama to do all of the above. Your personal brand, however, can serve you in so many different ways, that all you would need once you reach a certain height is hold up a bag and fill it up with money that will rain down on you. Is it that easy? Of course not. Is preserving your wealth via smart investments easy? Also not. But by learning from others and careful planning, and evolving your means to wealth-building, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to figure out your own path to success.

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