Steven Bartlett: from dropout to millionaire podcast host
The 29-year-old businessman behind The Diary of a CEO podcast is worth around £50m
When Matt Hancock gave his first interview about his career-derailing affair with an aide, pundits might have expected a veteran broadcaster to deliver the grilling.
But rather than the likes of Emily Maitlis or Laura Kuenssberg, the former health secretary this week gave his personal take on the scandal to Steven Bartlett, on the 29-year-old entrepreneur’s The Diary of a CEO podcast.
In just ten years, Bartlett has gone from a penniless university dropout to a chart-topping podcaster, TV star and millionaire tycoon.
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.
The family 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.
“I was pretty much the only black kid in an all-white school,” Bartlett recalled in a recent interview with The Sunday Times’ Rosie Kinchen. “I was relaxing my hair so that it’s straight, trying to be as white as I possibly could at that age because I didn’t really understand what it was to be different.”
Unlike his siblings, Bartlett did not excel at school. “It wasn’t that he was disruptive,” according to Kinchen, “he just didn’t care. He didn’t hand in homework. Quite often, he didn’t turn up for school at all.”
But “he did start to realise that he had other skills”, she added.
“By age 16, I was running pretty much all the school trips in my year group and I would take a cut of the money and give the rest to my school,” he told GQ last year. “I was doing all of our school parties. Then I started launching businesses on the internet at about 16 or 17.”
Millionaire by 23
Bartlett signed up to study business management at Manchester Metropolitan University, but dropped out after just one lecture. He looked around the room of hungover students and “realised this wasn’t going to take me to where I needed to go”, he told The Guardian’s Khomami.
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 $600m (£450m), and Bartlett is worth an estimated £50m.
Bartlett left the company in 2020 to pursue opportunities in blockchain and biotech, and has since launched another two businesses: a Web3 tech platform called thirdweb, and marketing consultancy Flight Story, which recently acquired a PR agency whose clients include dating apps Tinder and Hinge.
Bartlett launched his interview-based podcast in 2017. Along with Hancock, his guests have included Rio Ferdinand, former One Direction band member Liam Payne, David Gandy and Jimmy Carr.
Though “formulaic”, Bartlett’s podcast is a “stone cold smash”, said The Telegraph, which reported that The Diary of a CEO brought in revenues estimated at £1.2m last year. The bulk of this income was widely reported to come from lucrative contracts with meal replacement company Huel (of which Bartlett is a non-executive director), freelancer platform Fiverr and renewable energy product manufacturer Myenergi.
An episode with former Love Island star Molly-Mae Hague, now one of Britain’s biggest social media influencers, went viral in January. Hague was criticised for “gross” and “tone deaf” comments on wealth inequality, The Independent reported, after a YouTube clip of the interview was shared on Twitter.
Former minister Hancock said he chose to tell his story to Bartlett because of his ability “to get people to be really honest about themselves”. Hancock added that he was “completely hooked” on The Diary of a CEO, which the Tory MP described as “one of the most self-aware podcasts that I’ve listened to”.
But Hancock’s podcast appearance was mocked on social media, with allegations that the politician was trying to cultivate a “down with the kids” image.
“I’m not like a regular disgraced ex-minister, I’m a cool disgraced ex-minister,” wrote Novara Media journalist Ash Sarkar in a tweeted jibe.
Youngest ever Dragon
Bartlett signed up to join the panel of investors on BBC series Dragons’ Den last year – around a decade after he unsuccessfully applied to be a contestant. He is the youngest investor, or “Dragon”, in the show’s history and feels “a responsibility because there’s never been a black, young Dragon on the show”, he told The Guardian’s Khomami.
In March 2021, Bartlett also published a memoir, Happy Sexy Millionaire: Unexpected Truths about Fulfillment, Love and Success. In his book, which became a Sunday Times bestseller, he said that he “became a happy sexy millionaire when I realised that striving to be a happy sexy millionaire was the one thing that stood the greatest chance of stopping me from becoming one”.