Social Chain CEO Steve Barlett says his Manchester-based influencer marketing business can be a “billion-pound company”.

Social Chain is absolutely flying – and Barlett has come a long way since his first serious internet business, Wallpark.

He exited the virtual noticeboard for students in December 2013 after four years, having founded the firm at age 18.

There he met the Social Chain co-founder Dom McGregor, who ran a ‘Student Problems’ Twitter page in his free time.

Realising the enormous potential reach of social media, upon leaving Wallpark the pair began to seek out the authors behind other irreverent millennial blogs with mass followings.

After a year of travelling and consultancy work – at one point Bartlett found himself advising Bebo in San Francisco after sending a witty email about chatting up girls to founder Michael Birch – they took £300,000 investment from NVC, a talent management firm, to found the Social Chain in London.

The team runs hundreds of social media pages across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other channels. Among its Twitter accounts are @BeFitMotivation – which has 1.67 million followers – @BritishLogic and @PrimarySklProbs.

The firm has run campaigns for global brands such as Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, MTV, Spotify, Microsoft, the UFC, Huawei and PUMA. It can get hashtags trending within minutes and claims to have a total reach of 300m people.

Social ChainSocial Chain
CEO Steve Bartlett in the Social Chain office

NVC has to date invested more than $2m – for no equity – in Social Chain, such is its confidence in the ability of Bartlett and the team to control the online conversation – regardless of how the social media landscape alters.

“It can get as big as we want to make it. It can be a billion-pound company,” he told BusinessCloud.

“You have to constantly disrupt yourself to succeed.

“Whatever is making you money today probably won’t be making you money in 10 years. It probably won’t be making you money in five years. It probably won’t be making you as much money next year.

“There might be 25 people behind you ready to take little pieces of that money away. Either a younger, more agile and hungry person will disrupt that model, or you can do it yourself.

“Social media changes all the time but when one door shuts, it shuts for everybody – and another one opens.

“People who were relying on that platform have no answers. They need someone to solve it for them – which is us. We ride that change.”

Does that make him alert, or paranoid? “Both.”

Bartlett told BusinessCloud that he had to create his own birthdays and Christmases as his parents were so poor.

There seem to be no limits to Bartlett’s imagination – which explains the success he and his company have achieved.

He says he wants interviewees to "roll in with whatever they wear on the weekend so I can get to know the person, without the wrap”.

Social ChainBartlett during our interview

The company only launched in November 2014 but has already opened offices in Berlin and New York. It retains a presence in London, having moved its headquarters to Manchester.

Its first success was with mobile puzzle game Tippy Tap, which achieved two million downloads and was number one in the UK Apple App Store for two weeks after the Social Chain helped it become the trending number one topic worldwide.

“Dom and I are like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle,” he says of McGregor. “There are no gaps. We’re very complementary.

“Social Chain has changed him: when I met him he was so thankful for the opportunity, super nice – too nice, almost – and now he’s a little more worn.

“Like a stone in a river, you come out a little bit different, a little more rounded off and hard.

“I’m way different too – you’ve got to be. I’m a lot harder than I was, but in other ways I’m a lot softer.”