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Steven Bartlett Virgin StartUp


Steven Bartlett: how I built Europe’s fastest-growing social media agency

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Steven Bartlett Virgin StartUp

Social Chain is an award-winning and hugely innovative social media marketing agency, with a collective reach of over 200 million millennials across their platforms and an enviable global client portfolio that includes Apple, McDonalds, and the BBC. Social Chain was set up in 2014 by two young entrepreneurs - Steve Bartlett and Dom McGregor - who dropped out of university to pursue their business venture. Steve Bartlett, Social Chain’s CEO, tells us how they made it.

How it all began

I moved to Manchester to enroll on a Business Management course at Manchester Metropolitan University, but that didn’t last long with the business vision I had on the side. I wanted to create a social media-assisted platform based on common interests and university life, designed to connect students in the same city. I envisioned it as a place where students from the same cities could connect, to share anything from advertising an event to selling old textbooks; a Gumtree for students. So with that in mind, I dropped out of university to focus my energy on Wallpark.

Whilst working to grow Wallpark, one of the main things I learnt more about was the behavior of young people on social media, on Twitter in particular. During this time I stumbled upon a Twitter page aimed at students run by a student at Edinburgh University; his name was Dominic McGregor. Dom was posting extremely funny and relatable student content that in turn attracted thousands of followers. I saw the opportunity to use these platforms to connect a brand with its audience. If there was a way to weave a brand’s message seamlessly into the page, and engagement and following wouldn’t suffer, I wanted to create it. I got in touch with Dom and shared my vision, and soon enough he ended up ditching his studies too. Together we set up Social Chain.

Achieving Success

Our first client was a gaming app called Tippy Tap. The brief was to market the game and boost app downloads. Uncertain of the results it would yield, we launched the campaign into an unknown space and hoped for the best. And the result? Tippy Tap sat at the top of the app store for weeks and even made BBC headlines. It was then we knew that we were onto something. This was a real breakthrough moment for Social Chain.

So where are we today?

Fast-forward two years, and a few awards later (including The Drum’s Social Media Marketing Agency of the Year), we are now one of Europe’s most influential marketing agencies. We work with brands such as Spotify, Microsoft, Comedy Central, 20th Century Fox, P&G, Puma, Just Eat and Hungry House, to name but a few. And we take their campaigns all the way from conception through to execution.

After attracting the attention of German media power house Glow Media, we managed to secure a hefty amount of investment that fueled international growth. With this investment, alongside more impressive client wins, Social Chain has expanded into new markets including Germany, and most recently the US with our New York office. I split my time between all our offices, but Social Chain HQ, situated in the heart of Manchester, is my home. It’s a really cool place too! We’ve got a slide, ball pit, fully stocked bar, table tennis and a puppy park. Our environment is recognised as something special – which makes work that we produce pretty special too.

We’ve certainly come a long way since the days when it was three of us sharing a one-bedroom flat in North London, and it’s crazy to think that was only two years ago!

If I were to write a letter to myself at the beginning of my business journey, the first thing I’d say is that you’re right to feel how you feel. You’re right to believe that there is another way that isn’t just following the conventional path society tries to make you go down. You are capable of achieving the things you want to achieve, no matter how much your parents or peers might try to convince you otherwise.

My 3 lessons for ‘Making It’

Believe in yourself. Self-confidence is the key to taking charge of your life and making the necessary changes to achieve greater success. Self-doubt is often one of the biggest things that holds people back from taking that next step in their career or starting their own business, so it’s so important that you think positively and work on gaining that confidence in order to keep moving forward. Do not undervalue yourself. Understand your worth, and demand more than you think you’re worth.

Learn how to sell. As an entrepreneur you’re always selling. Selling potential candidates the position to work with you, selling your ideas to investors to gain their support, selling your strategy internally to your team, and most importantly selling a product or service successfully to your customers. Before I started my own business I spent a lot of time working in call centers. Did I enjoy it? Not particularly. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. The selling skills I learned became invaluable as I progressed in my career.

Master your craft. Don’t just work to get the job done - work hard to do the best job you can. Immerse yourself in your work and become fully engaged, and in turn you’ll improve your ability. Think of yourself as a craftsman, not just a carpenter. A tip for achieving this is to read more. Reading will build your knowledge, keep you mentally stimulated and improve your focus and concentration.