Top businessman, speaker and investor - achieving all before the age of 30 - he says success is a self-fulfilling prophecy and that decentralised finance is the way of the future
Sharjah, 19 December 2022
Making even a 1% change can alter the trajectory of your career, business or life. This was the core piece of wisdom offered by Steven Barlett, one of the world’s foremost serial entrepreneurs, social media marketing guru and top podcast host, on day two of the 6th edition of the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival 2022 (SEF).
One of the most awaited sessions of the festival, Bartlett’s fireside chat - Tuning into your Instincts, the Making of an Impactful Entreprenuer - featured useful pearls of advice based on his rags-to-riches story built on grit and determination, from building international businesses from his bedroom in Manchester, creating one of the most influential social media marketing agencies in the world at age 21, and taking it to a valuation of $600 million. The speaker, serial entreprenuer and host of Diary of a CEO, one of the world’s most popular business podcasts and author of the bestselling book Happy Sexy Millionaire: Unexpected Truths about Fulfillment, Love, and Success, spoke about success being an evidence-based, learned behaviour and a self-fulfilling prophecy, and having authentic reasons for one’s goals.
Born in Botswana to British father and Nigerian mother, Bartlett spent his childhood in the southwest of England, along with three siblings. Being the only black family among 1,500 children in school, the biz whiz attributes those early years, before age 10, as having effectively shaped his adult life. “The things we're most invalidated for is what we most seek validation for later in life,” he pointed out. “I wanted to fit in, have nice shoes and a house.”
As the youngest of four children whose illiterate mother was busy running a store, Bartlett realised from a young age that whatever he wanted was “up to my own actions'. Already a successful business owner at age 14, he credits his mega success in recent years as a result of “building up evidence of what one can do, which is what confidence is really about”. “You might think of confidence as a choice, but it isn’t really, it’s the result of what actions and life has shown you. The same applies to beliefs, they are based on evidence that is either available or not. I was blessed with a lot of evidence that it is possible to make things happen and that set me up for future successes.”
Bartlett noted that, like many other facets of life, success is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If actions are reinforced, it becomes self-fulfilling. Growing my own business reinforced the innate belief to do more things: it made me optimistic. It’s a cycle. The same applies if you spiral down: if you try something and fail, it leads to lack of confidence. You can get into a pessimistic loop and keep repeating that behaviour.”
He also stressed the importance of having genuine and authentic reasons behind one’s goals and ambitions. “Whether it’s a relationship or a job or a business, if it is superficial, you won’t be successful. There was a time I thought success was having a Lamborghini, a six-pack, and loads of cash. But none of them were about the value that I, as Steven Barlett, brought to the table. I then worked in different fields, expanded my horizons and focused on being a good person to my family and girlfriend, and that was more rewarding than any physical or worldly success.”
The speaker and investor also highlighted that academic achievement had nothing to do with real-world success. “I got kicked out of school, lasted one day in university, can't do math or spelling, but my companies have raised about a billion dollars in equity value in the last 10 years,” he noted.
Echoing many other leading figures and self-help gurus, Bartlett presented the idea that making incremental changes in a consistent manner can lead to big changes and turnaround in career, business or life. “The most commonly used phrase in our office is ‘change the 1%’. Making small but effective changes and transitions pave the path for improving efficiency and leading to success in the larger picture,” he said.
A big supporter of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, Bartlett believes that decentralised finance and tools are the definite path of the future. This year, he raised $24 million in funding for a new blockchain business, called thirdweb, in a deal which values the company at $165 million. The idea came after he decided there wasn’t enough digital infrastructure to help start-ups build their own blockchain technology platforms.
“The fundamental blockchain technology is incredibly secure. I think in web1, web2 or web3 there’s always going to be vulnerabilities to systems and technologies and web3 as a technology actually solves tons of the security issues,” he said.
Bartlett is also famed as the youngest dragon - or wealthy investor on the show panel - of the BBC show Dragon’s Den. “People invest in people and that is at the core of what most ventures are and that is what I keep in mind while raising funds for companies,” he said.
SEF 2022 hosted several intensive sessions sharing ideas and best practices among a community of entrepreneurs and leaders, gathering over 150 changemakers for two days of life-changing dialogues and remodelling mindsets with focus on sustainability, culture and drawing inspiration from business roots.