How I Became A Millionaire, Why I Left The Tech Company I Built And Vowed To Never Be A CEO Again
Steven Bartlett’s The Diary of a CEO regularly tops the UK charts, pulling in 6.6 million streams a month and more than £1 million ($1.2 million) a year in advertising.
He’s had a roster of high-profile guests, including Molly-Mae Hague, Craig David, Liam Payne and Piers Morgan, and despite this, he still says: “I don’t think of myself as an interviewer or a podcast host.”
In an interview, the man who seemingly has it all reveals some truths about his journey.
He is, after all, the millennial who dropped out of university at 18 and later founded Social Chain, a social media marketing agency that was valued at €186 million (£160 million) in a public listing in 2019, making Bartlett a multimillionaire at 27.
After leaving Social Chain in 2020, Bartlett became Dragons’ Den’s youngest dragon on the BBC investment show.
But how did this all come to be?
The youngest of four siblings, Bartlett was born in Botswana to a Nigerian mother who left school at the age of seven and a British father who was a structural engineer and “very, very smart,” he told The Guardian‘s culture correspondent Nadia Khomami.
They moved to Plymouth, Devon, where they “struggled financially” and, as a mixed-race family in a predominantly white area, faced racial abuse and attacks, including the torching of their car.
Barlett described his parents’ relationship as dysfunctional: he says that his mother once chased his father through the house with a kitchen knife and screamed at her husband constantly – his parents are still together.
His mother was a serial entrepreneur, but her businesses failed. Money wasn’t flying around like it is for him now, and Bartlett says he was often ashamed that he didn’t have the same gadgets or clothes as his middle-class peers.
Not to mention – school was a struggle. “My brothers were really smart and studious and I was falling asleep in class all the time,” he told Sirin Kale from The Guardian.
He was one of the only people of color in his school and straightened his hair to fit in. “A lot of people ask me: ‘Why are you so motivated?'” he says. “The answer to that is based on a lot of underlying context about shame. Insecurity was my biggest motivator when I was younger.”
It wasn’t until he went to university and then dropped out that he gained motivation.
Bartlett signed up to study business management at Manchester Metropolitan University but dropped out after just one lecture.
Instead, he founded Social Chain, a social media content and marketing firm aimed at millennials, which he built from his Manchester bedroom. By the age of 23, Bartlett was a millionaire.
Social Chain now has a market valuation of around $600 million (£450 million), and Bartlett is worth an estimated $61.5 million (£50 million).
He’s documented his journey on YouTube, where it shows how at one point, he was ‘homeless’ going from couch to couch, having no money, and randomly reaching out to others.
Leaving the company
Despite his personal brand being connected to his identity as an incredibly successful young CEO, he didn’t really enjoy running a business, according to The Guardian.
“When I left Social Chain, I said to my girlfriend: I’m never going to be a CEO again, ever,” he told the paper. Managing a large company was “brutal, but I don’t think I allowed myself to admit it.”
He resigned from Social Chain in 2020 after a disagreement with the board about the direction of the company. “One of the things that I’m good at, and I enjoy, is the top-level strategy of where we are going, the vision,” he added.
“And I could no longer make those decisions because I didn’t own enough of the company.” He initially wrote a strongly worded resignation email, but deleted it and wrote one instead from a “place of gratitude … these people had basically changed my entire life and believed in me.”
He has later co-founded two more companies – Flight Story, which builds retail investor strategies, and Thirdweb, which helps developers without coding knowledge build blockchain-related apps – but he is not involved in the day-to-day management, preferring to consult on strategy, fundraising and growth.