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Features | 10 Nov 2021

BBC Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett: ‘I was a business muggle’

Steven Bartlett was recently announced as an ambassador for Vodafone’s small business support programme. The social media mogul, investor, and author explains why he temporarily downed tools to write a book, the importance of learning, and why start-ups should focus on the moment.

Steven Bartlett obviously leads by example. He is a university drop-out who built one of the world’s most successful social media companies, took it public in 2019, then resigned as CEO in 2020 aged just 27. Today, the Social Chain, the social media company he founded, has a market valuation of around £300m.

More recently he has turned his focus to investment, and the Bartlett brand is the most successful client on his roster. His podcast, ‘The Diary of a CEO’, is the most downloaded business podcast in Europe, and he was recently revealed as the latest entrepreneur to take a seat on the BBC hit series, Dragons’ Den.

So, coming from a world of wealth, luxury and digital influence  – Steven has more than 100m followers across social media – why write an old-fashioned book?

“Writing a book was fascinating and amazing for me, the antithesis of social media. It’s slow as hell! If you want to become wiser, take some time and a medium where you are forced to unpack and share what you’re experiencing,” he told Vodafone UK News.

“I learnt more from the book and process than in the previous five years. By getting to the core truth of an experience, you end up learning more about life.”

Contrary to first impressions of the book title – “Sexy Happy Millionaire” – this twentysomething is reflective, not boastful, and here to help, not preach. Which might explain why the hardback was a best-seller on its opening week.

This passion for learning also explains Steven’s support of Vodafone’s V-Hub, part of the company’s Business.Connected programme. V-Hub offers free tools, resources and training to small and medium-sized businesses along with one-to-one consultations.

But self-development and ‘upskilling’ is much more than just a nice thing to do, he says, it’s a necessity, because innovation is like a “steamroller” ready to flatten businesses that fail to adapt.

“You need to keep changing, even if uncertainty feels like a risk.”

“The best businesses accept this and instill a philosophy of change. At the Social Chain, every day our team would get a WhatsApp telling them what had changed in the last 24 hours. And our clients knew that when change happened, we’d be there at the forefront.”

V-Hub aims to equip business owners with the tools they need to start, build and grow in a fast-changing landscape. This includes podcasts and access to learning resources like Udemy, through to TikTok social media marketing tutorials.

It was this breadth of content that impressed Steven.

The Diary of a CEO
Now one of the most downloaded business podcasts in Europe.

“The V-Hub saves businesses from making mistakes which they otherwise wouldn’t need to make, it closes the deficit in knowledge. When I started at 18, I didn’t even know I had a business. I was a business muggle in simple terms.

“Thinking of a name, a brand, then how do you register it? That took me four months. Then probably four or five months more just to find out how to build a website. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by how diverse the advice and support was on V-Hub.”

Closing this gap in access to knowledge is central to the Business.Connected campaign, which plans to help 150,000 businesses.

“Business owners can feel intimidated to paralysis when they feel the void in knowledge is too great – what is Tiktok?! – and it becomes an Everest. The V-Hub breaks this down into smaller hills to climb.”

Steven’s ethos is clearly rooted in helping as many people as possible to prepare for change, and his book attempts to do this through personal reflection. For example, one of the opening chapters is titled: ‘Happiness is now or never’.

So what’s the one thing small businesses should consider ‘now or never’?

“Everything you have comes from how you use your time,” he reflects, “and in business you can waste time on things: overplanning, not executing.

“For me, early in business I wasted time on the hypothetical opportunities. Meeting for coffees, networking, and the more my profile progressed the more requests I had.

“Now I believe in the unrelenting importance of saying ‘no’ to even the most tempting of things, to focus only on the moment.”

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