Dragon’s Den’s new entrepreneur, Steven Bartlett, 29, reveals how he went from being a ‘broke, lonely drop-out from a bankrupt family’ – who tried and failed to pitch on the show at 18 – to amassing a £300M fortune
The new series of Dragon’s Den will welcome its youngest ever dragon – a millionaire yet to hit 30, who’s written books on how to find success in life and love – when it returns to screens on BBC One next week.
Steven Bartlett, 29, will join Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden, Touker Suleyman and Sara Davies on the panel of the business reality show, which sees entrepreneurs decide whether to invest or not in ideas pitched to them.
His place in the lair is a far cry from his first brush with the programme, shortly after he dropped out of university ten years ago, when he applied to pitch to the dragons but was turned down.
Describing how he feared he’d never make a success of his life after quitting his course at Manchester Metropolitan University, Bartlett, who’s currently single, wrote in his book Happy Sexy Millionaire, which was published earlier this year, that at the time he was a ‘broke, lonely, insecure university drop-out from a bankrupt family.’
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Steven Bartlett, 29, will replace Tej Lalvani on the latest series of Dragon’s Den, which is back on screens on January 6th; the CEO of social media marketing agency The Social Chain is worth £300 million
The businessman, who admits he felt like a ‘broke, lonely drop-out’ after quitting university aged 18 will join, from left, Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies, Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones on the latest series
The BBC One trailer released ahead of the series suggests that Bartlett might also be one of Britain’s most eligible bachelors. He’s heard saying: ‘I’m a single 28 year old guy trying to find a girlfriend.’
Next week, Bartlett, now CEO of social media marketing agency The Social Chain – currently valued at £300million – will officially be anointed as a new dragon when the new series airs on January 6th.
Tweeting today, Bartlett, who set up his company from his Manchester bedroom after dropping out of university at 22, wrote: ‘10 years ago at 18 years old, I applied to pitch to the Dragons. 10 years later at 28 years old I have the honour of sitting amongst them.’
The young entrepreneur, born in Botswana and brought up in Plymouth, has replaced Tej Lalvani, 46, on the show. After quitting university, he started Wallpark, a platform for students before setting up Social Chain and Media Chain – brands that have worked with names including Apple, Amazon and Coca-Cola.
Ahead of filming, he told BBC Radio 1Xtra’s If You Don’t Know podcast, that he was determined to join the panel as there ‘has not been a young, black man on the show’ and he wanted to be a role model for others.
He said: ‘Much of the reason for me wanting to be a Dragon and wanting to do the show is because I know the show is a big platform and I am not represented on that show as an entrepreneur. There’s not been a young, black man on that show.
‘I feel like I have a responsibility to do this because it will show 12-year-old Steve, or other 12 year old Steve’s, that they too can be business people.
The new dragon pictured during filming of the latest series – the 19th – of Dragon’s Den
The new series sees the young businessman unafraid to voice his opinions, leading co-dragon Touker Suleyman to ask ‘what do you know about business?’
Read all about it: Steven is also driven by a desire to appeal to the ‘underrepresented’ and encourage and enable people to thrive in the business world
Dragons’ Den’s youngest ever Dragon, CEO Steven Bartlett, has reflected on making show history and his hopes to appeal to the ‘underrepresented’
‘To see someone like me on the show as well that’s not going to wear a suit, and that is into all the same things you’re into – like hip-hop music, jollof rice, Manchester United and whatever else it is – I think is an enabler.
‘Because role models are most powerful when you can relate to the path they’ve walked.
Steven is also driven by a desire to appeal to the ‘underrepresented’ and encourage and enable people to thrive in the business world.
He said: ‘If you type in “CEO” on Google, what you see is white men in suits. I’m not against white men in suits, but I am against leaving talent off the field because they don’t feel included.
‘And so by being a black man in a snapback, I will appeal to other black men, and women, in snapbacks. Or anybody that comes from an underrepresented background, and I will let them know that they can sit at the table.
Inspiring: Speaking on BBC Radio 1Xtra’s If You Don’t Know podcast, Botswana-born Steven said he was determined to join the panel as there ‘has not been a young, black man on the show’ and he wanted to be a role model for others
Bartlett, pictured on This Morning earlier this year, says his success is down to a positive confidence cycle – where trying something new propels you to keep going. He said: ‘What’s happened with me since I was very young, is my self belief has compounded positively upwards. I tried something, “omg I did it, and didn’t die! I’m gonna try something else”.
‘That’s why I felt a sense of responsibility. It felt like this wasn’t really about me, it was about enabling a lot of people like me.
‘You don’t have to wear a suit, you don’t have to pretend to be someone else, you can just be yourself and sit there.
‘I’ve never worn a suit in business. There’s not been a day at Social Chain where I wore a suit, not one day in almost a decade, where I went to a meeting, a pitch, to meet an investor, where I wore a suit.
‘So why would I then change for TV? I’m trying to represent the real modern world of business and the real world of entrepreneurs and that’s not suited and booted for the majority.
‘It’s the internet, social media, it’s wearing whatever you want. Right now it’s like working at home. Imagining going on Dragon’s Den wearing a suit when 80% of the world are remote working in their boxer shorts.’
Discussing his age and going onto the panel alongside fellow older multi-millionaires Touker Suleyman, 67, Sara Davies, 37, Deborah Meaden, 62, and Peter Jones, 55, he said: ‘The other thing with going on that show, especially with the age component, is to feel “happy to be here”.
‘There is such a thing as respecting an opportunity more than you respect yourself. People do that when they get jobs and they don’t speak up, or they just want to blend in.
Goodbye: Former dragon Tej Lalvani announced in January that he would not be returning for the show’s 19th season and stepped away from the Den following a four-year stint. Right: the young pretender; Steven Bartlett will take his place in the 19th series
‘It’s like “happy to be here syndrome” – where you never saw yourself this high, so you’re just trying to hold on to it. Whereas if you saw yourself higher, when you get there you’re still striving, you don’t feel like you’ve punched above your weight.
‘You can have “happy to be here syndrome” where you just wanna, you don’t wanna do anything that might risk the position you’ve reached. And you’re just holding on thinking “oh my god I can’t believe I’m here”.
‘And that comes from the immigrant mindset and also, me not seeing another Dragon like me on the show, is going to give me a bit of “happy to be here syndrome”. And I know that I’ve got to counteract that.
Steven also gave his tips for succeeding in business, citing the importance of ‘quitting’ before taking a leap of faith.
Dragons’ Den has been delivering high-stakes TV drama since 2005 and for its 18th series moved from BBC2 to BBC1
He said: ‘Everyone glamourises starting… but you usually have to quit something before you start. The quitting part is actually the really hard part. Letting go of the branch and falling is much harder than grabbing on to a branch for me.
‘People don’t talk about the art of quitting and how pivotal that will be, probably even more important for you to become a success.
‘Everyone says this in my DMs. It’s like “I just don’t know where to start”. And the truth is, that is a mental Mount Everest that we choose to put in front of ourselves. Today, instead of trying to move Mount Everest, pick up one stone and move it out the way. Think of the name of your business today.
‘There’s not a perfect place to start – in fact when you’re starting a business you have a list of 100 things that need to be done now. When you’re starting you have name, website, etc… all at the same time. So just pick one of them and make a start on that today. That is the truth. You just need to start.’
‘What’s happened with me since I was very young, is my self belief has compounded positively upwards. I tried something, “omg I did it, and didn’t die! I’m gonna try something else”. And when you get in that positive confidence cycle… then you get to a point where you start to believe there’s not many things you can’t do.
‘Not taking life too seriously is one of the most important coping mechanisms anyone can have when you go into a high, intense, chaotic situation.
The BBC show sees budding entrepreneurs given three minutes to pitch their ideas to five multi-millionaires in the hope of securing financial backing.
This year Steven released a book titled Happy Sexy Millionaire and he also hosts a podcast called The Diary Of A CEO. Steven said he is ‘honoured’ to be appearing on a show he has watched since he was just 12, Metro reports.
Tej announced in January that he would not be returning for the show’s 19th season, and would be stepping away after four years on board.
Tej, who serves as CEO of the UK’s largest vitamin company Vitabiotics and has an estimated net worth of £390million according to the Sunday Times Rich List, joined the show in 2017.
He said of his decision: ‘I’m truly excited for the upcoming series of Dragons’ Den, which looks set to be one of the best.
‘However after an incredibly enjoyable four years as a Dragon I have decided that this next series will be my last.
‘My commitment to the international growth and expansion of my core business and the numerous investments over the years sadly means I will be unable to dedicate the necessary time moving forward.’
Dragons’ Den has been delivering high-stakes TV drama since 2005 and for its 18th series moved from BBC2 to BBC1.
The last series was filmed in 2020 after the introduction of fresh guidelines allowing TV production to resume during the pandemic.
Dragons’ Den airs on Thursday January 6th at 8pm on BBC One