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Steve Bartlett was appointed as CEO of The Social Chain Group at the age of 25. Steve was a recent winner of Young Entrepreneur of the year – and deals with some of the major brands in the world, including Coca-Cola, Apple and Warner Music. Here Steve talks about running such a large global business at a young age, brands, social media and his love of Manchester.
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Interview With Steve Bartlett, CEO of the Social Chain Group.
Scotty: We are very delighted to welcome Steve Bartlett who is the newly appointed twenty five year old CEO of the Social Chain Group. The Social Chain Group delivers annual revenues in excess of one hundred million and consists of over twenty companies within marketing, media, commerce and technology and is now Europe’s leading social marketing agency, working with big big brands such as Coca Cola, Apple, Fifa and Warner music. Steve recently won Young Entrepreneur of the year at The Great British Entrepreneur Awards. So first off tell us a bit about yourself.
Steve: I’m twenty five years of age now which to me seems quite old. I was born in Africa, Botswana.
Lee: My friend was born in Botswana.
Steve: Really, much hotter than here in Manchester! Moved to Plymouth when I was one, that’s the South-West in Devon and lived there till I was eighteen. At eighteen I moved up to Manchester to study at university, dropped out after one lecture…..
Lee: Not for you?
Steve: Yeah I figured out fairly quick, pretty sure it was the wrong lecture as well! I started a business after that at age eighteen and that kind of led me to where I am now. I’m the CEO and co- founder of Social Chain Group which is one of the world’s largest media areas but also in my humble opinion one of the best social marketing agencies in the world.
Lee: How would you describe what Social Chain do to someone like me who’s not necessarily…..
Steve: Sure, Social Chain is two things and we call it the Social Chain Group for that reason. On one hand you have Social Chain which is the social marketing agency which is based in four countries around the world and the biggest brands come to us when they want to understand how to market themselves on social media effectively. Social media is this thing that changes every time we wake up. It’s the only form of advertising which updates itself every day, so they need agencies that can keep them on the very front of what’s possible and that’s what we do. On the other side we have Media Chain which is one of the world’s largest media owners and we have almost four hundred million followers across our channels on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and we have hundreds and hundreds of big channels that a lot of people listening might be familiar with.
Lee: Where did the idea come from then?
Steve: That question would imply that there was a grand plan. Hind sight is a wonderful thing. I can look back and tell you it was intentional, but I think the key to our success has really been in moving in the direction of opportunity , listening and moving in that direction. When I was eighteen I started a student notice board, kind of like Gumtree for students. In trying to figure out how to market that because I needed people to come, I learned a lot about social media and I started building big social media communities with my partner. The social communities that we built could drive a million people to my website every single month. That became more interesting to me than the website, because the social media communities have millions and millions of people and my website was just extracting twenty five per cent of them over to my website so really all the attention and the source of the attention was social media.
Social media is this thing that changes every time we wake up. It’s the only form of advertising which updates itself every day, so they need agencies that can keep them on the very front of what’s possible and that’s what we do.
Lee: What kind of impact are you having then for your clients, because you just mentioned hundreds of millions of followers there?
Steve: The brands we work with vary from, am I allowed to say brands on this show? Cool, so the brands we work with vary from brands like Apple, to Coca Cola. We’ve worked with brands like Nike; Superdry is a great client of ours, Boohoo Group which are from Manchester, so there are five big brands and Puma. The types of work we do is twelve to eighteen months to try and transform the brand, using this new and fairly newly exciting media called social media. We’re responsible for nine of the top ten branded live videos of all times. Our top branded live video did two point five million comments in sixty minutes. We’ve delivered millions and millions of downloads for an app in a couple of days; we’ve done some real internet- breaking work. I think the stuff we’re most proud of is changing the perception of a brand. Taking a brand like, oh I won’t say names but a brand that people might have forgotten about let’s say, we call them sleeping giants, something that might have been pertinent to our childhoods that we now think of as uncool or whatever.
Scotty: Could I put an example out there? The Ellesse brand, it was a tennis brand. I remember when I was a kid sort of mid to late nineties, it was pretty big and then it sort of died away and I’ve noticed now I’ve seen it a lot more back, I don’t know whether that’s an age thing.
Steve: When brands die their real hope of coming back sometimes is either re- branding and changing perception or riding off retroness I guess, and I think Ellesse is one of those brands which has nostalgia and retroness, to make it cool again. That only what happens when it dies right?
Scotty: Exactly. It sort of has to go to come back if that makes any sense.
Steve: I’ll give you an example of a brand. This is not one that we’ve worked with so I can say this. A brand like Blackberry right. So when we were all growing up all of us had ……
Scotty: Do they still exist?
Steve: Probably not but we all had Blackberry’s, so those are the kind of challenge of brands that excites me the most ‘cos they’re the toughest challenges. Our job would be to use social media to make the world care, love and transform the brand that is Blackberry.
Lee: What’s kind of the magic formula then for social chain?
Steve: I think for social media in general the first thing that popped in my mind when you said that is – the world is such a busy place, so many people trying to tell you to love them and check them out and buy their stuff. But on the other hand we’re only getting busier so everyone’s late, it’s raining outside, they’ve got a flat tyre they’re on their way to a job that they might not like and you pop up telling them to love the thing that you’re working on that means so much to you. Most of the time nobody is going to care and this is the thing that I came to learn about social media from doing this for the last couple of years advertising brands and stuff. Nobody really, really, cares about you. They only really care at the most fundamental level as to what you can do for them. So the appeal isn’t – you know when I launched my company, my first business, I was on social media trying to tell people to come check out my website under the assumption that they (a) knew what it was (b) loved it as much as I did and(c) kind of knew the struggle I went through to get there. So on that day when I launched it nobody came! And then it wasn’t until I realised that my job as a marketeer is to win this sort of desperate and lucrative fight for attention that people started to come! Make people care is the thing in this day and age. One real way to leverage that I think is using emotion, make people feel something; Donald Trump is a great example of that.
Most of the time nobody is going to care and this is the thing that I came to learn about social media from doing this for the last couple of years advertising brands and stuff. Nobody really, really, cares about you. They only really care at the most fundamental level as to what you can do for them.
Lee: You’ve based your business up in Manchester, is that right?
Steve: Yes the headquarters is here which is because this is a very special city, I think.
Lee: What is it that you are liking about Manchester, the workforce?
Steve: I moved to London for a little bit when I was twenty-two and then I moved back after about seven months. I think Manchester offers the big city feel and the big city opportunities whilst still feeling a little bit homely.
Scotty: It has character Manchester, I don’t find London does.
Steve: Yeah, I don’t want to offend anybody from London but I just preferred Manchester because of that kind of nature.
Lee: What is the average age of your employees actually because I’ve been told its twenty-one or twenty-two?
Steve: Twenty-one, so we have one hundred and sixty people full time now and the average age is twenty-one. It was our company’s third birthday this week.
Scotty: We’ve got our seventh birthday coming up in just under a months’ time December the tenth.
[A short break follows.]
Lee: You’ve got a blog at the moment, Everyday Steve which is something that I’ve been following. Can you just tell us a little bit more about that as well?
Steve: Yeah, so every day of my life at 8 p.m. a video goes up on YouTube on my channel Everyday Steven just documenting the story of being a young entrepreneur that’s building a big global business. Obviously there’s a lot of things that happen and for me, the purpose of that is to give a very honest view of what it takes and what it involves, because much of the media and the content out there about being an entrepreneur is so overly glamourized and there’s this kind of perception that you are kind of like a rock star and spending your time on jet skis and stuff, so really offering behind the scenes of that will hopefully help people decide if it’s for them.
Lee: I’m guessing you’re very busy all the time. How do you kind of switch off?
Steve: I don’t really switch off.
Lee: Okay well another question then is where do you go to chill out, how do you relax?
Steve: Old Trafford.
Scotty: Really, at the moment even when we’re sort of like 2-1 up with five minutes to go, I couldn’t imagine that’s very relaxing?
Steve: It could be worse, could be Anfield!
Lee: Congratulations on winning……. was it this week you won the award?
Steve: It was yesterday, I think.
Lee: How did that feel being down there?
Steve: I’m going to be honest. I really always appreciate recognition in any way because it’s somebody saying ‘well done’ and it means a lot to myself and the team but, at the same time I also realise that I shouldn’t care about awards because and I’ll be completely honest, the reason I don’t like awards shows is because it makes me care about something that I know I shouldn’t care about. When you’re sat there and your name comes up on the screen with a list of other names and they’re like and the winner is ……… immediately in the moment I care about them saying my name but I shouldn’t care about that because, an award or lack of an award shouldn’t really define us or the way we think of ourselves, or our belief in ourselves. I’m honoured, Nat West, I really appreciate it but at the same time I try not to get too carried away.
Scotty: If you hadn’t won you wouldn’t have lost much sleep over it? It’s not something that’s going to hinder you in progression or….?
Steve: Absolutely not. I think if that was the case then our sense of our self-belief would be coming from a very external place.
Lee: On that point then where is it that you get your motivation or self-belief to continue to move forward?
Steve: Answering where I got my self-belief is a tough one because I can’t really take credit for that. I was born and I experienced some stuff. I was a blank canvas when I was born and so I guess I give that to my parents almost inadvertently, probably made me realise that If I was going to be anything it was down to myself and experiences showed me that I could. The thing I think is most self-belief building is trying some stuff and then after perseverance being able to, and any case study helps you go to the next experience and realise that, actually you probably can do more than you thought you could. The key to building self-belief is really breaking yourself, right , breaking your notion of what you thought you could do, just like muscle-fibre in order to grow you have to break it.
Lee: I’m guessing Social Chain wasn’t your first business, you had a few before. What obstacles did you face before you got to Social Chain and how did you overcome them?
Steve: Starting out you face the same obstacles, you have people telling you not to do it, in my case my mum telling me she wouldn’t speak to me for two years until I went back to university. You have people judging you, you have to raise money, I had no money. I came to Manchester with fifty quid, I spent that, got CCJs, bailiffs letters, moved to Moss Side where my rent was one hundred and fifty pounds a week. I couldn’t pay my rent there, had no electricity, went to the very very bottom but because I loved what I was doing (a) I was as happy then as I am now and (b) that allowed me to carry on despite the lack of financial immediate rewards. Perseverance can take you a long way.
Lee: In the morning when you get up, what are the first thoughts that make you jump out of bed and hit the day?
Steve: It’s a subconscious thing – there are no thoughts. I wake up in the morning and it’s like let’s go its show time you know what I mean?
Lee: How do you stay positive throughout the day?
He said: Again that’s another subconscious thing. Things that keep my mood in check, I just tend to stay level. If we win the biggest client and we win the best award in the world, I’ll be right in the middle and if everything’s on fire I’ll be right in the middle. I think that’s super important, I always say there are two kinds of people in the world. One of them will be in a room that’s burning down and they’ll say to the other person in the room the room is on fire the room is on fire the room is on fire. The other type of person, the room will be on fire, they will not mention the fire and they’ll just talk to the other person about how to get out of the room.
Lee: You’re just reframing the context of what’s happening to you.
Steve: Yeah, try to focus on moving forward as opposed to the situation you are in.
Lee: Tips you’ve learnt so far. So for people setting up their own business what are the most valuable tips you’ve learnt so far?
Steve: One of the big things is to struggle on purpose. I think this is just for people that want to do anything and I think we are conditioned to run from resistance whenever we feel that feeling of uncomfortableness or that anxiety of – oh god I’ve never done this before; our default is to run back to comfort. Only in hindsight have I realised that those are my growth moments those are the moments where, again like the muscle fibre, I’m breaking a little bit and I’m becoming better so to struggle on purpose is one of the key things.
Lee: And what does the future hold for you, or what do you want it to hold for you?
Steve: Same thing I said to my investors, I have no idea.
Scotty: That’s brave.
Steve: That’s also honest right and that’s also in my opinion the best answer, because we are open to change and we will move in the direction of change, so if Facebook and all the social media platforms shut down today, then we’ll move in a new direction and I’ll start a radio station and podcasting. That willingness to change and not having our flag set in a particular place is what’s allowed us to win, because I didn’t know three years ago I’d be sat here, or two or one.
Lee: Some other tips then for people who are just looking at obstacles in their own business, the challenges, thinking, right okay I want to move to the next step. What are your lasting tips for them?
Steve: I think in business in general the way that you win is, you double down doing something you love doing. Don’t think so much about the immediacy of rewards or being a millionaire this month because you won’t be. Focus on doing something you love and when you encounter those moments when most people would give up and it makes logical sense to quit, you will persevere because you love it anyway. Just after that moment of things being really hard and it not making sense to continue is where all the rewards exist. You’ll only ever get there if you love it and that’s something that I learnt in hindsight when I had no money, I’m literally having to go to corner shops and takeaways in the hope that someone’s left some food on the side. I could have run home to my parents, they would have fed me but I didn’t because I loved it. All those moments of rejection I only surpassed those because I genuinely just loved what I was doing. Then you look back, you wake up three years, four years later and you have a huge tens of million pound company and you’re all over the world and passion did that.
I think in business in general the way that you win is, you double down doing something you love doing. Don’t think so much about the immediacy of rewards or being a millionaire this month because you won’t be. Focus on doing something you love and when you encounter those moments when most people would give up and it makes logical sense to quit, you will persevere because you love it anyway.
Lee: Right, congratulations.
Scotty: It’s an amazing story. Obviously a lot of it runs through social media so I just wanted to give you this chance to put any of your business social medias out there maybe personal ones. If you’ve got any fun social media like maybe your Instagram is a bit more personal than the business end. Anything to put out there for people to check, maybe they’ve heard this and they want to check a bit more about who you are.
Steve: Obviously I’ve got a blog which we’ve mentioned, I’ve got a podcast as well which recently went to number one in the business charts which is exciting. That’s just called the diary of a CEO and that’s all the behind the scenes stuff. That’s me at 3.am in the morning once a week talking for thirty minutes into a microphone about the very very personal deep things in my diary, which most people won’t share like my deep details of my romantic relationships and the business and the stresses and all those things. My twitter you can tweet me, Instagram me @steve bartlettsc.
Scotty: One quick point just to wrap it up. You mentioned Old Trafford, do you think it could be Man. United year this year or are you a bit worried about what’s happening in the blue half of Manchester, or as long as we’re not Arsenal fans is everything okay?
Steve: I feel like I’d almost rather lie than say I think Manchester City will win the league, so I’m going to say I think Manchester United will win the league.
Scotty: Let’s hope for that one. It’s been an absolute huge pleasure having both of you guys on Unity Radio this morning and I hope some of the listeners just like me have been sat there with a bit of a jaw drop like ‘wow’ because I’ve learnt a lot from that. Thank you for coming on and hopefully we’ll have you on again in the not too distant future Steve.
Steve: Thank you I appreciate it.
[End of interview.]
Article Transcription by Terry Capostagno
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