Meet The Data Nerd Who Made Billions from Batman, Dune & The Hangover

Meet The Data Nerd Who Made Billions from Batman, Dune & The Hangover

Blue Collar Billy of The Week: Thomas Tull (00:00:00)

  • Thomas Tull is the "Blue Collar Billy of the Week".
  • He started his career in laundromats, then auto repair shops, and eventually bought small accounting practices.
  • He rolled up 500 worldwide locations for his accounting business under the banner of American Financial Services.
  • Tull had no private equity background and came from a blue-collar upbringing.
  • He worked hard and eventually learned about the private equity business.
  • Tull grew up with a single mom and didn't have much money, so he started businesses to fill a need.
  • He is a data nerd and even used surge pricing for his laundromat business.
  • Tull's success is attributed to his ability to identify and fill a need.
  • He started with laundromats and then moved on to auto repair shops and accounting practices.
  • He was able to roll up 500 worldwide locations for his accounting business.
  • Tull's success is also due to his data-driven approach.
  • He used surge pricing for his laundromat business and was always looking for ways to improve efficiency.

Moneyball strategy for movies (00:02:29)

  • Used data analysis to find undervalued movie assets and build successful movie projects.
  • Created Legendary Entertainment, a movie production and financing company.
  • Produced hit movies such as The Batman series, 300, The Hangover, and Dune.
  • Sold Legendary Entertainment to the richest man in China for $3.5 billion.
  • Started from humble beginnings in laundromats, auto repair shops, and tax firms.
  • Met a movie executive who complained about film financing, which sparked the idea for Legendary Entertainment.
  • Realized the movie business lacked private equity focus and decided to bring capital to the industry.
  • Raised $500 million to start Legendary Entertainment.
  • Partnered with Warner Brothers to co-finance 30 movies.
  • Built a data team to analyze which movies to invest in and how to promote them.

Formula for box office hits: Bigger is better (00:05:20)

  • Bigger budget films with a guaranteed reason for people to watch (e.g., popular IP, A-list actors) have a higher chance of success.
  • Leaned heavily into licensed IP, mainstream actors, and directors.
  • Produced successful movies like Straight Out of Compton, Dune, Inception, The Hangover, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight.

International appeal (specifically China) (00:07:25)

  • Identified China as a big market with a lack of American films that can cross over.
  • Focused on creating movies with simple-minded plots that can transfer into China past the language barrier (e.g., Batman).
  • Partnered with a Chinese company, China Film, for distribution in China.

Data analytics for movie marketing (00:08:22)

  • Thomas Tull, former CEO of Legendary Entertainment, revolutionized movie marketing by using data analytics and performance marketing strategies similar to those used by brands like Procter & Gamble and Dollar Shave Club.
  • Tull's approach involved extensive A/B testing of movie trailers using biometric data and heart rate monitoring to gauge audience reactions and optimize trailer effectiveness.
  • Legendary Entertainment employed a 50-person applied analytics team, far exceeding the industry standard, to analyze data and optimize marketing campaigns.
  • Tull prioritized creating trailers that would generate excitement and interest, viewing them as crucial to a movie's success.
  • Despite the failure of "The Great Wall," the analytics guy insists that the data showed Matt Damon was under-indexed in China, and he believes the trade-off between the price for Damon and his cache with the Chinese audience was a good one.

Flywheels at the highest level (00:13:15)

  • Thomas Tull, a former college football player turned entrepreneur and investor, made billions from successful investments in movies like Batman, Dune, and The Hangover.
  • He sold a majority stake in his Chinese company to China's richest man and now focuses on investing in defense technology companies.
  • Tull believes China poses a threat and uses his influence to lobby for increased defense spending, benefiting his defense tech companies.
  • He also raises awareness about the potential dangers of TikTok and other Chinese-owned tech companies.
  • Tull has a cameo appearance in The Dark Knight Rises as a partial owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • He purchased a large tract of farmland in Pittsburgh to learn about advanced farming robotics and sustainable living practices.
  • Despite lacking a traditional finance education, Tull achieved remarkable success through his unconventional approach and understanding of the market.
  • He identified an opportunity in the auto repair industry in Pittsburgh and established a successful business by acquiring auto repair shops.
  • Tull discovered the need for defense technology while working on movies and decided to fund more defense technology companies, believing there was a genuine need for it.
  • He compared his approach to "Moneyball for movies," focusing on identifying and targeting the "swing voters" in the middle who might be persuaded to watch a movie based on specific marketing strategies.
  • Tull emphasized the importance of creating a dataset that links advertising email addresses to actual movie ticket purchases to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts.

Moneyball for X (00:24:31)

  • Moneyball for X can be applied in various industries beyond sports.
  • Examples include politics, finance, and even HVAC businesses.
  • Data-driven decision-making can provide a competitive advantage in any industry.

Applications of Moneyball for X (00:24:31)

  • Obama's and Trump's presidential campaigns successfully used data analytics for marketing.
  • The Red Sox won the World Series using the Moneyball approach.
  • Quant funds and hedge funds employ data analytics in finance.
  • An HVAC business has found success by leveraging data analytics.

Business lessons from the UFC (00:26:42)

  • Max Holloway won the BMF title at UFC 300 by defeating Justin Gaethje in a thrilling fight.
  • Holloway won all five rounds and then challenged Gaethje to an all-out brawl in the last 10 seconds of the fight.
  • Holloway knocked out Gaethje with a powerful punch in the last second of the fight.
  • This moment was one of the best moments in sports history, showcasing courage, bravery, entertainment, recklessness, and stupidity all rolled into one.
  • Mike Fleiss is a data analyst who has worked on blockbuster movies like Batman, Dune, and The Hangover.
  • He uses data to make decisions about everything from casting to marketing.
  • Fleiss believes that data is the key to success in the entertainment industry.
  • Fleiss started his career as a data analyst for a small movie studio.
  • He quickly realized that data could be used to make better decisions about movies.
  • Fleiss developed a data-driven approach to movie-making that he calls "the Fleiss Method."
  • The Fleiss Method uses data to analyze every aspect of a movie, from the script to the marketing campaign.
  • Fleiss believes that data can help to identify potential problems and opportunities.
  • He also uses data to track the performance of movies and make adjustments as needed.
  • Fleiss's data-driven approach to movie-making has been very successful.
  • He has worked on some of the highest-grossing movies of all time.
  • Fleiss is considered to be one of the most successful data analysts in the entertainment industry.

We give Zuck PR advice (00:31:03)

  • Mark Zuckerberg's appearance at the UFC event was a great PR move for him.
  • He should create his own "Zuck bonus" of $500,000 for the fighter with the most badass performance, regardless of the outcome.
  • This would generate a lot of positive publicity and excitement for the UFC and Zuckerberg.

What Dana White taught me about marketing (00:33:02)

  • Dana White, the president of the UFC, says that he doesn't organize fights, he sells "holy [ __ ] moments."
  • This is a great marketing lesson, as it highlights the importance of selling emotions and experiences rather than just products or services.

Level 1: Sell a product (00:34:06)

  • Level 1 marketing is simply selling a product, which is what most failing companies do.
  • This approach is not compelling because it doesn't focus on the customer's needs or desires.

Level 2: Sell a solution not a product (00:34:46)

  • Level two involves selling a solution to a problem rather than just selling a product.
  • Many companies sell products, while a smaller number sell solutions to problems.

Level 3: Sell a Lifestyle (00:35:20)

  • Level three involves selling a lifestyle associated with a product.
  • Lululemon and Slack are examples of companies that sell a lifestyle.
  • Lululemon didn't market yoga pants, they marketed the idea of doing yoga and the benefits of yoga, which led to increased demand for yoga pants.

Level 4: Sell a feeling (00:36:55)

  • The key to success is to sell a feeling rather than just content.
  • People are drawn to content that evokes strong emotions and makes them feel something unique.
  • Dana White, the president of the UFC, understands this concept and focuses on creating "holy [ __ ] moments" that captivate audiences and keep them engaged.
  • Great brands like Disney, Louis Vuitton, and Nike excel at creating specific feelings associated with their products or services.
  • Disney sells the feeling of a magical family experience, Louis Vuitton conveys a sense of status and importance, and Nike inspires a feeling of greatness.

Conclusion [N/A]

  • To achieve success, content creators and brands should prioritize evoking emotions and providing unique experiences that resonate with their audience.

Level 5: Identity in a box (00:39:18)

  • The most effective marketing strategy involves selling an identity to consumers, rather than solely promoting a product or solution.
  • The UFC excels in emotional marketing by creating a sense of belonging and purpose for its fans, similar to how cigarette ads and luxury products cultivate a cool self-image for their customers.
  • While many marketers focus on addressing pain points, the best marketers prioritize selling an identity and establishing an emotional connection with their audience.
  • The speaker recommends observing UFC fights and the fighters' stories to grasp the power of emotional marketing.
  • The podcast aims to inspire listeners to take action and achieve success, while also providing a sense of community and connection for those interested in business and entrepreneurship.

Why Sam's new project will fail (00:46:49)

  • Sam's List, a website created by the speaker, connects people with accountants based on recommendations from friends.
  • Despite spending $15,000 on development and conducting extensive research, the website struggled to attract accountants to its lead generation service.
  • The creator discovered a shortage of accountants and a lack of interest among existing accountants in significantly growing their businesses.
  • Unlike financial advisors, CPAs are not as eager for business and are overwhelmed with work, making it difficult to replicate the successful lead generation model of websites like
  • Due to the lack of profitability, the creator plans to shut down Sam's List on May 30th if it fails to generate revenue.

Shaan workshops Sam's idea (00:52:38)

  • Praises the website's design and the no-email-required pop-up.
  • Suggests adding a "Thank God" button after the pop-up to take users down the funnel.
  • Appreciates the inclusion of Twitter profiles and information about accountants.
  • Recommends displaying prices on the front page to add value to users.
  • Proposes creating a "Sam's speech bubble" with endorsements from clients of the accountants.
  • Explains the reason behind not implementing the client endorsement feature yet.
  • Mentions the unique design inspired by old Microsoft and the use of Clippy from Microsoft Word.
  • Expresses uncertainty about the business model and whether to focus on selling leads to small accountants or generating leads for a few large companies.
  • Shaan concludes the discussion by complimenting Sam on his work and jokingly refers to their conversation as a "double banger."

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