Steve Bartlett moved effortlessly into self employment after just one lecture at University told him higher education wasn’t for him. Through working with Dominic McGregor in that business, they recognised the market need for a social media specialist, and the rest, they told BQ, was history.
What did you do before you started this business?
I’m originally from Devon, and came up to Manchester to study Business Management at the University of Manchester. Dominic is originally from York and was studying Geography at the University of Edinburgh. I dropped out of university after just one lecture. I thought Uni was a bit of a waste of time. I then set up Wallpark, a virtual noticeboard for students and whilst looking for ways to promote it I came across Dom, who had a twitter page 'Student Problems' with loads of followers.
What inspired you to start up?
The company started as a result from selling my first company in 2014, Wallpark. This was a virtual wall where students could connect in the same city and share anything from advertising a sporting event to selling old Uni textbooks.
I sold my stake in the company and moved on, which is one of the best decisions I ever made. One big takeaway from Wallpark was learning the behaviour of young people on social media. Twitter was where I really noticed this as there were these huge accounts that had hundreds of thousands of followers.
Our co-founder Dom was running one of these pages which was aimed at students, he posted content that was funny and relatable and in return amassed thousands of followers.
I contacted Dom and started talking about how his page and thousands of other like his could be used as a conduit to connect an audience with a brand.
The reason people followed and engaged with these pages was for the content, so if there was a way a brand’s message could be seamlessly woven into a page, the engagement and following should not suffer. This was the inception of Social Chain.
Tell us about your business in 100 words
We're an influencer marketing agency, working with some of the most successful social influencers in the UK and have the ability to leverage these hundreds of social communities to essentially control what gets talked about online, through carefully created content, determined by in depth insights.
We generate creative campaigns for our clients and roll these out across of extensive social reach which is now over 200 million, directly marketing to a huge millennial audience. Clients we’ve worked with include Microsoft, Spotify, Comedy Central, Disney, Topman and Puma to name a few.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
I’d try to explain that we’ve built up a platform where we can reach a mass audience.
I’d probably try and make an analogy to something she understands. I’d tell her that it was like having a busy pub, and we own a big megaphone where we can broadcast a message to everyone, but it’s all done online.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I don’t have a mentor in the traditional sense, but each of the now 42 team members at Social Chain all contribute my constant learning, so without trying to sound cheesy, I guess we are all each other’s mentors in a way, helping and supporting each other.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
We received an initial investment of £300,000 to get Social Chain fully operational, but It didn’t take long before we became profitable. We have just received a $2m investment from NVC; a talent management firm in London and Germany. The investment will see Social Chain become international, through the opening of an office in Berlin alongside scaling up it’s UK operations with a big recruitment drive and office expansion to accommodate.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Winning the Social Media Agency of the Year Award at The Drum Awards in December 2015.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We’re probably one of the biggest media owners in Europe on Social Media. We have over 220,000,000 people in our Social media network across over 300 social media pages.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
I’d say the best thing about being my own boss is having freedom of choice, even if it’s just being able to wear what I want. From a business perspective, one of the main benefits is having no obstacles in the way of your ideas, being capable of building solutions and taking on new challenges.
One of the biggest difficulties we're faced with however is managing people. Yes, we manage the business, but we have a lot of employees now and it can be challenging to manage our own time and remaining sensitive to everyone else's needs. Essentially, every problem is our problem so making time for everyone and everything can be very difficult.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
We have big ambitions for Social Chain, but to be honest it's difficult to say. 15 months ago we had no idea we would be here, so who knows what might happen a few years down the line. We understand that we're working in an ever changing landscape so I guess we've just got to stay responsive and we'll see where it goes.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just make sure you love it. Building a business is so hard that you better love it or you’ll quit when the going gets tough. If you don’t love it, you’ll also be unwilling to put in the long ground work. Find something you would do for free because you love it that much.