The 23-year-old CEO who’s running a £6m company

Social Chain is Europe’s largest influencer marketing agency, with access to hundreds of Twitter accounts – so many, in fact, that it’s difficult to say exactly how many. They directly control somewhere between 200 and 300, and are able to post from the accounts of many more, including celebrities, YouTubers, essentially anyone who might fall under that all-encompassing category of “influencer”.

How effective is this kind of marketing? According to Steve Bartlett, the company’s 23-year-old founder, they can make a hashtag top of the trends within 30 minutes.

The story of Bartlett, his co-founders and the company is an interesting one. Raised in Plymouth, Bartlett went to Manchester to enrol in a business-management course, but dropped out to create Wallpark, a social platform for students. With no initial investment money, Bartlett did everything from sleeping rough in London after buying a one-way ticket so he could attend a meeting through to sitting in cafes all day using Wi-Fi.

Eventually, after establishing Wallpark, he left to travel and do consultancy work for various clients on social media. It was while doing this consultancy work that Bartlett conceived the idea for Social Chain, getting the company off the ground by tapping into the clients he was working with.

“We were working with Unii to set up a social platform for students,” says Bartlett, “and they needed help with social promotion and influencer engagement. Creating Social Chain to do that seemed like a good idea.” It initially raised £300,000 in seed funding, and is now up to around £1m. With around £6m in projected revenue this year, that investment looks like a very safe bet. This year will also see its first hires outside the UK, as they expand to Berlin, and the aim is to be a lot, lot bigger.

Bartlett claims the company is as much a media owner as an agency – and a big one at that. Owning hundreds of accounts gives the company a channel, which allows it scope to come up with big ideas and execute them effectively.

Despite being only 23, Bartlett is a wellspring of good advice for startups. He describes the core principles of his approach to his fast-growing team as being simple: “Be nice to people. If you start from there, you’ll end up with a loyal team.”

For anyone starting their own company, the advice is equally straightforward. “Talk to people as soon as possible to get validation for your idea. Those people shouldn’t be the ones you know will be supportive – so not your mum or your friends. Talk to people in the industry, and listen to their feedback,” he says.

“As an entrepreneur, you need to be a bit delusional. You need to have your idea, really believe in it, and be able to sell it to other people. But you need to understand that you’re delusional, seek out all that feedback, and take it on board.

“And once you have some validation, don’t go in half-hearted. Being 50% committed is not enough – you need to put everything into your idea and your business if it’s going to succeed.”

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