When Steven Bartlett was 12 he would pause the TV while watching Dragons’ Den, deciding whether or not to invest in the idea he’d just heard. Then he’d deliver an answer as if he was the sixth Dragon.
At 23, when his social media company Social Chain was making waves, he told his team over WhatsApp that one day he would be a Dragon.
And last week, at 28, Steven was confirmed as the youngest ever Dragon on the long-running BBC show – making reality of a childhood dream.
But he isn’t joining Dragons’ Den just to smile and nod.
The entrepreneur is determined to not fall under the influence of what he calls “happy to be here syndrome”. So he made some things clear. Like, don’t expect him to wear a suit.
“If you type in ‘CEO’ on Google, what you see is white men in suits,” Steven told BBC Radio 1Xtra’s.
During his chat with De-Graft Mensah and Roshan Roberts on the If You Don’t Know podcast, Steven gave lots of advice for succeeding in business, including the idea that quitting is for winners.
“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.”salaam
When it comes to taking the first step Steven – who shares insight from his life on his Diary Of A CEO podcast every week – says there’s no “perfect place to start”.
“When you’re starting a business you have a list of 100 things that need to be done. So just pick one of them and make a start on that.”
Another bit of advice Steven gave was around the way we talk about entrepreneurship.
“These binary words like ‘entrepreneur’ and these taglines like ‘be your own boss’ – they’re super unhelpful if you start buying into them. You should be a bit more broad and say: ‘I would like autonomy in my work’.
“You can find autonomy and control in your work whether you are working at Tesco or running Amazon or running a podcast. You can find autonomy in your work and then you’ll say ‘I want to do something I enjoy’. That’s more important right?”
“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… or anybody that comes from an underrepresented background, and I will let them know that they can sit at the table.”
When asked how he deals with the pressure, one of Steven’s most important coping mechanisms is to not take life too seriously.
“I approach the biggest challenges in my life – whether it’s Dragon’s Den, starting a business or a podcast – with this video game mindset where I’m holding the controller, I am not in the game. And that means the character can die.
“At the end of the day if I fail at anything I’m doing, I’m going to be fine. I’m just holding the controller here, I’m not in the game.”