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The Times: Steven Bartlett is not the tycoon he claimed

No less a paper of record than The Times has entered the fray of the still-raging debate over the sale of The Social Chain with a damning piece from James Hurley entitled “Why Steven Bartlett is not the tycoon he claimed.”

Prolific North reported last week how social media commentators were questioning the economics of how a company allegedly valued at close to £600m just a couple of years ago had been sold for just £7.7m, an argument Bartlett appeared to have dismissed with a lengthy online explanation of the corporate structure and business model of parent group Social Chain AG.

The rumours just won’t go away however. In a lengthy piece today, The Times reports, as Bartlett has already admitted, that he was no longer involved at The Social Chain AG when it achieved its multi-million valuation.

The Times cites data from Refinitiv, as well as a former Social Chain employee, to claim that Bartlett’s co-chief executive role at Social Chain AG following its merger was “largely ceremonial,” and that at the time of the Manchester agency's merger with the larger German entity Lumaland Bartlett “owned less than a quarter of the Manchester group.”

There certainly appears to be a degree of smoke and mirrors around Bartlett’s actual worth, which The Times has, perhaps rightly, picked up on. The Social Chain founder, Dragon’s Den star and Diary of a CEO podcaster has made some hefty edits to the online biography on his own website since the Twitterati started delving into his affairs.

A lengthy response to one thread on Twitter, in which Bartlett appeared to successfully refute claims that he was not featured in Social Chain AG’s prospectus, the formal document that details share offerings and lists key shareholders, when it floated also appears to have been partly removed at the time of writing.

One can’t help questioning The Times’ motives, however. There’s no doubt that Bartlett can be a divisive character, and part of the reason for that is that he does seem to love bigging himself up. He’s hardly alone in the corporate world in having a high opinion of himself, however, and probably not alone in maybe, just maybe, somewhat exaggerating his achievements on occassion.

The Times piece relies heavily on social media quotes from Timothy Armoo, founder of the social media agency Fanbytes, essentially a direct competitor of The Social Chain. We quoted Armoo ourselves in last week’s piece, though given that Bartlett’s former rival may not be the most objective commentator in the circumstances we also took his version of events into account.

It’s worth noting too that Wanja Oberhof, who was very definitely the CEO of Social Chain AG during its most successful times, has jumped to Bartlett’s defence, describing the ongoing online debate as “gaga”

Are there elements of Bartlett’s rags-to-riches story that are less than fully transparent?

Absolutely – find a successful business venture that doesn’t have grey areas in its history, but it would be hard to claim he’s not successful.

The chart topping podcast, best-selling biography, constant TV appearances and the fact that The Times even cares are testament to that, even if he has indulged in some muddying of the waters to get to where he is.

Bartlett is the Botwsanan-born child of working class Nigerian-British parents who brought him to the UK as an infant in the mid-nineties. He dropped out of a Business Management course at Manchester Metropolitan University very early, by his own admission, but went on to form or invest in several succesful companies, including Social Chain in 2014. He has made a legal complaint over The Times article since this story was first publiushed.

The Times is a London-based national newspaper, first launched in 1785, that a 2017 YouGov survey, published in The Times, found to be "70% right-wing." It once employed former PM Boris Johnson, whose tenure was cut short in the late 80s by then-editor Charles Wilson, following a scandal over invented facts regarding, of all things, archeology, according to biographers Andrew Gimson and Sonia Purnell.

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