The 50-year-old founder of Rockstar just got a $3 billion check from PepsiCo

Key Points
  • PepsiCo's deal for Rockstar Energy Drinks has made Rockstar's founder a billionaire.
  • According to press reports, Russell Weiner owned 85% of the company, so his payout will be over $3.2 billion.
  • The deal caps one of the great underdog entrepreneur stories of the business world.
Rockstar energy drink
Arun Nevader | Getty Images

He failed as a politician. He couldn't sell his business idea to a vodka company. And he mortgaged his house for $50,000 to launch a business everyone said would flop.

But today, Russell Weiner is a cash-rich billionaire after selling Rockstar Energy Drinks to PepsiCo for $3.85 billion. According to press reports, Weiner owned 85% of the company, so his payout will be over $3.2 billion. The other 15% of the company is held by his mom, Janet, who was CFO. Pepsi and Weiner declined comment on Weiner's payout or ownership stake.

The deal caps one of the great underdog entrepreneur stories of the business world – and instantly creates a huge cash fortune for a spiky-haired, 50-year-old rebel famous for his yachts, collection of mansions and bevy of super-models always touting his products. "I'm proud of what we built and how we've changed the game in the energy space," Weiner said in a statement this morning.

Like many entrepreneurs, Weiner's original life plan didn't work out. Born and raised in Marin County, Calif., Weiner is the son of famed conservative radio host Michael Savage and inherited his dad's passion for politics. After graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in political science, Weiner ran for California State Assembly but lost. He went to work for Skyy Vodka and pitched the company on the idea of starting an energy drink company. Skyy turned it down.

So, according to Forbes and other reports, Weiner took out a $50,000 mortgaged on his condo, developed a drink and painted an old limo with the Rockstar Energy logo to distribute and promote the drink around San Francisco in 2001. While industry experts said the energy drink space was already saturated by Red Bull and Monster, Rockstar came in at a lower price point with a 16 oz can, twice the size of a Red Bull.

Weiner's combative personality was both an asset and a curse. A distribution deal with Coca-Cola in 2005 later collapsed over strategy and frequent conflicts. Weiner also didn't spend the marketing dollars that Red Bull and Monster spent – opting instead to sponsor wakeboard, motocross and surf athletes, and deploy young models dressed in gold and black bikinis.

As Rockstar grew, so did Weiner's lifestyle. Although Rockstar is based in Las Vegas, Weiner lives in Florida (so he likely won't have to pay state-income taxes on his billions). He bought a collection of mansions, including a $20 million mega-home in Miami Beach and an ocean-front estate on Delray Beach for $11.6 million. He has since listed both homes for sale. He also renovated a mansion in Beverly Hills that he listed in 2017 for $45 million.

Weiner is also famous for his 161-foot yacht, "Rockstar." The yacht briefly made headlines in 2014 when it was passing under a drawbridge in Florida that collapsed, damaging one side of the yacht. The yacht was later listed for sale for $17 million, and it's unclear whether Weiner is still the owner.

What will he do now with all his cash? Since neither Pepsi nor Weiner specifically said in the release that he would continue to run the company, it's possible Weiner is looking to his next chapter. Whether that includes politics or another business idea remains to seen. Either way, he won't have to mortgage any of his mansions.