Black entrepreneur who dropped out of school to build a social media agency agrees $9m sale to rival

Abu Mubarik March 16, 2023
Steven Bartlett,. Photograph: Andrew Farrington/PA via Guardian

Social Chain, the social media agency founded by Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett has agreed to sell the firm for at least $9 million (£7.7m). The deal was announced by the Social and digital media group Brave Bison.

The 30-year-old founded the Social Chain in 2014 in Manchester when he was only 18 years old, and stepped down as CEO in 2020. However, it is unclear whether he retained a share in the company.

He grew the firm he founded from his bedroom into a $600 million venture, which has 122 staff with offices in Manchester, London, and New York, according to ITV. What is more, Social Chain has worked on social media advertising with brands like Amazon, TikTok, and Apple Beats, and also performs influencer marketing services. 

The success of his company saw him become the youngest ever investor on BBC’s hit series, “Dragon’s Den,” a show he unsuccessfully applied to be featured as a contestant 10 years ago. In 2020, he got featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30 as one of the emerging entrepreneurs to look out for.  

Becoming an entrepreneur and a business owner has not been smooth sailing for Barlett, who dropped out of school and once stole food from corner shops. Born in Botswana to a Nigerian mother and a British dad, Bartlett did not have the nice things other people had. For him, that was a signal that he had to create his own path to success.

His family had experienced financial challenges when they relocated to a middle-class neighborhood in Plymouth, Devon, for a new beginning, The Guardian reported. The financial struggles of his family and the experience of lack as a young boy motivated him to seek higher heights and a better life in his immediate future.

He ventured into entrepreneurship after enrolling at Manchester Metropolitan University to read business management. He earned a living organizing school trips and brokering deals with vending machine companies, and took his cut. He later quit schooling just after one lecture to focus on entrepreneurship.

“You’ve got the employment world that requires a 2:2 for jobs. You’ve got the university who are getting paid to drag you in and keep costs low, and then you’ve got the schools, which are ranked by grades,” he told The Guardian, explaining why he dropped out of college. 

“It’s an archaic system that hasn’t moved with the modern world fast enough. Information is almost redundant by the time universities publish their textbooks. There’s probably not that many that have been written about blockchain, but we know it’s a pivotal part of our future.”

Bartlett now runs Flight Story Fund (FSF), aside from Social Chain. The company supports startups and female-led unicorn companies. The company plans to invest $100 million to support emerging female-founded business ventures disrupting the norm, and also invest between $1 million to $10 million in early-stage European startups yearly, according to Billionaires Africa.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 16, 2023


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